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Voices from Ukraine

By Peter Baird, Higganum.

(March 3, 2022) — Over the last several years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with several Ukrainian academics.  I found them to be delightful—smart, funny, full of life and totally Western in their outlook and in their vision for Ukraine.  I consider them friends.

As I’m sure everyone reading this knows, on February 24, 2022, Ukraine was invaded, unprovoked and without justification, by Russia from the north, east and south. While the Ukrainians and their leaders have fought with bravery and determination, they are hopelessly outgunned and outmanned.

Of the four individuals I worked with, one left the country, with his wife and children, to stay with relatives in Poland on February 22, just two days before the war started. Of the three remaining, one lives in Kharkiv on the Russian border, one in Dnipro in the center of the country, and one in Mykolaiv on the Black Sea in the south. Kharkiv and Mykolaiv have seen terrible war. So far, Dnipro remains safe.  Each has been messaging me daily, stories of bravery and love and desperation and abject fear.

Darya, in Kharkiv and Sasha, in Dnipro are young researchers without children.  Natalya, in Mykolaiv, is a single mother with two teenagers. Some of these messages and conversations have been in English (which they all speak) and some in Russian, a language I know a bit from studying in college.  Any translation errors are mine. My comments are in parentheses.

Feb 23rd

Natalya

Natalya (Myklolaiv): Hi, Peter.  We have a state of emergency. Our local authorities say the Russians are coming. I have an international passport, but my children do not. I need to get them urgently, but I can’t get it so fast.  I’m not sure what to do.

(I tell her to keep her children safe and be ready to go if she needs to).

Natalya: tomorrow I will stock up on provisions.  I’ll get food, water, flashlights, matches, candles…

Feb 24th 

(I message my friends that the war has started, and ask if they’re ok)

Natalya (Mykolaiv): We are very scared. Grandmother called; the airport is being trashed.  There is a nearby military town. I see the bombs and explosions from my apartment. My nerves are stretched like strings….

(and later)

Planes fly so close! I’m terribly afraid of the sound of an airplane in the sky!  This is my phobia. My blood boils in my veins when they fly close….

Sasha (Dnipro):  It’s sirens, all the time, but so far no war comes to us. I go to the metro but it’s so cold there, and everyone cries and is scared. I’m always on edge.

Darya

Darya (Kharkiv): Peter!  Oh my God.  Here was just a wave of panic, people were running to the subway– we decided to stay in the subway for the night. The city introduced a curfew, after 10 pm you cannot go out. I’m very scared… I can’t leave this city, it’s just me and my best friend… my family is far away.

(later)

We hear explosions again. No one sleeps.…

Feb 25th:  

Natalya (Mykolaiv):   It begins again. We will be strong. The might promises to be very hard. My children are my support.

(She later sends a video of her children and her in a dirt cellar… the boy looks scared, but resolved. The girl has eyes the size of saucers, but she tries to smile when she sees her mom is filming her)

Sasha

Sasha (Dnipro): Unfortunately, or fortunately, I have a great love for our country. I am not going anywhere! and if necessary, I will stand with the warriors on the battlefield. I’ll be a nurse or a military man, I don’t care! Anger develops every hour. It’s horrible! I understand that the Russians are not to blame, it’s all the authorities. But alas, the Russian government has hung a huge stigma on its people … for a millennium.

(Sasha is in her 20’s, a petite young woman with big eyes and even a bigger smile)

Darya (Kharkiv): It’s very cold here. Little heat. I really want to go home. I want my family, but they’re far away and there’s no safe escape. I hope this ends soon…

Feb 26th:

Natalya (Mykolaiv): We are a very peaceful people.  For us it is a tragedy.

I imagine when the war ends, and all people will exchange glances with each other. We will walk past people and people will walk past us. And looking into the eyes of every passerby, we will see courage, pride and a single grief and a single victory.

(Reading this, my heart breaks.  I tell my three friends that many of the Western capitals are lit up in colors of the Ukrainian flag tonight)

Natalya: Thank you for being with us!  I’m sure God hears the prayers of the world🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

Sasha (Dnipro): you have no idea how nice it is to see this! We all rejoice at seeing all this. You are so good 😍🥺

Darya (Kharkiv):  Thank you for your support.  When you ask me if I’m ok, I read it as “I love you, and all will be well.”

Feb 27th:

Natalya (Mykolaiv): I’m at home now. But we run to the basement then home, from the house to the basement.

I have no more strength. I have small food supplies, no cash, credit cards are blocked, the stores are closed, and the few stores that are open have empty shelves, there are no provisions in the city. Peter!

Sasha (Dnipro): My mom acts strangely. She says it’s not a real war, and to not worry.  And she says “so we’re Russian now, who cares?” I think she’s in shock.

(I tell her that her bravery and the bravery of her nation is remarkable, beyond anything I’ve ever had to show)

Sasha: I hope you really, really hope that you never have to show courage like this. ❤️

Darya (Kharkiv):  The war is so close to me now. Very close to the house where I live now. Guns are constant. Sometimes there are huge explosions. I don’t know what to do but be brave…. and fight. I asked how to shoot a gun. They said they will give me one….

Feb 28th:  

Natalya (Mykolaiv): I was scrolling through the photos on my phone and I caught myself thinking as if I am now 80 years old, and I look at these photos and think how cool I was.

This war is like a wall that has grown between the past and the present, and of course with the future.

We are now in the apartment, there is a strong wind outside the window, the sound is similar to a flying plane.  The day has come for me when I realize that I am afraid of the sound of the wind outside the window.

But I look at my children and I am amazed at their courage and resilience, I clearly understand that my children are stronger than me, they are my lifeline.  I feel like I’m small compared to them.

Sasha (Dnipro): Today we were in the church all day, we brought more things for the children, and helped sort out other things. My heart aches for our warriors. I pray for victory.  We’ll never be Russian, ever.

Darya (Kharkiv): I went to bed at 7 pm. I know that they start shooting in the morning. it is now 4 am and outside the window they are bombing very heavily. I see fireballs, explosions, it seems like bombs just ring us. Kharkiv fights for all Ukraine. And for Europe.

March 1: 

Natalya (Mykolaiv):  I’m on the border of Moldova.

(what???)

There was a pause in the fighting. Only one bridge in Mykolaiv remains.  Three women and our four children got into my small sedan and drove through the city. We saw soldiers, buildings destroyed, some roads were impassible. When we got to the bridge they lowered it, and we drove across.  We sit now at the border, it’s going to be a long wait, but we’re safe.

Darya (Kharkiv): Good morning J.  Each day I praise God to be alive.  They shoot at night and in the morning, but I’m already used to it. Today I am going to a safer apartment, we will live there until the end of the war. Now it’s dangerous even in the subway—one of the stations was destroyed with people inside.

(hours later)

Now explosions everywhere. We ran to the basement. Planes scream over us. Bombs, bombs, bombs. My God….

March 2:

(My friend from Mykolayiv has been at the border to Moldova, waiting to cross, for 24 hours now, but they’re inside the country, just not through customs. It’s freezing, but they feel safe. She sends me her location sometimes on her phone. When they’re finally through customs, they plan to rest and sleep, and then go to Romania, and then “as far away from Russia as possible.” The children with them are 16, 13, 9 and 7 years old. She doesn’t think Putin will stop with Ukraine.

I don’t hear as much from my friends in Dnipro or in Kharkiv lately, but Darya lets me know every day that she’s still alive. And she asks me if I’m ok.

Darya’s life is running to shelters, then to the apartment for clothes and quick meals, helping distribute food and erect defenses, it’s a cycle. Today, March 2, she sent me videos comparing her ice skating (clumsily) in the main town square two weeks ago, and the bombed out ruin it is today. She often starts her messages to me by saying “If I survive this…” She’s 25 years old.)

 

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