Report of a Ukrainian: One month of the war in my homeland - Ukraine …

I still can’t believe it could happen, but this is the reality now. We live in the war.

I’m a youth worker from Kharkiv, which is my hometown. Also, I’m a Russian-speaking Ukrainian and patriot of my country. All projects I’m developing are connected to active citizenship, democratic development, and European values advocating. Because I always wanted to see Ukraine as a free country that is open to the world in trade and culture, accepts democracy as the only political system, and celebrates diversity in all its forms.

But one morning at 6:30 AM I was woken up by my family’s screams and bomb explosions.

24th of February 2022 Russia has started the war against Ukraine. Vladimir Putin and his supporters say it's all about NATO, protecting Donbas from ‘‘nazists, radicals, and drug-addicted political leaders’’ and Russian state security reasons. But it’s only propaganda. The goal of this war is quite plain in my opinion, it’s all about invasion of independent country and absorbing its territories into the political entity of Russia.

Why do I think so?

Well, we have already documented facts that in occupied communities of Ukraine, such as Kherson, Melitopol, Berdiansk, Svatove, and Vovchansk, Russian soldiers change the Ukrainian flag to the Russian one on public buildings; forbid Ukranian as a training language at schools and insist to use Russian as ‘‘a true language of this land’’; plan to establish the Russian ruble as a local currency instead of the Ukrainian hryvnia, etc. Also, Vladimir Putin himself said in his TV address on the 22nd of February that Ukraine is ‘‘a failed state’’, ‘‘there is no sovereign Ukrainian nation’’, and ‘‘Ukraine was invented by Lenin in 1922 when the Soviet Union was created’’.

Despite that, the war brought so much destruction and violence to our homes. I will never forget the moment when I first heard an aircraft fighter flying over my house, the walls and roof were trembling so heavily, I was thinking this is the end of my life.  My mother had a panic attack and we didn’t know what to do at that moment. It had struck the downtown and surroundings of Kharkiv, the second-largest city of Ukraine. I still can see the red sky at midnight in my memory, the fire of explosions was so intense. Also, the Russian army uses a lot of artillery shelling, every single day we can hear sounds of these weapons at work and how they destroy 98% of the time civil infrastructure including apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, etc. For example, the building of the Faculty of Economy of V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University and Karazin Business School, the last place I’ve graduated in 2020, is totally destroyed. Kharkiv has located just 40 km from the border with Russia, so they easily target the city and launch missiles from their territory. Now we have almost 1000 heavily damaged buildings and nearly 300 civilians and innocent people killed only in Kharkiv.

Almost all of my relatives and friends have left the city to the west part of Ukraine or even flee abroad in order to find peace. Now more than 3.5 million people run away abroad and 6.5 million to the western regions of Ukraine. It makes 25% of Ukrainians as refugees and displaced people by the war. And even more can come, because, unfortunately, there is no safe place in Ukraine now. Russia has already struck Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lutsk, and other places in the west of the country. People are dying everywhere. We have thousands and thousands of dead and wounded civilians and innocent people.

The most devastating situation is in Mariupol, the biggest city of the Donetsk Oblast, which is totally encircled by the Russian troops. The mayor of the city, Vadym Boychenko, has reported that there are more than 3000 city dwellers are dead due to ongoing shelling and humanitarian crisis in the city. People don't have enough food and medication supplies. The first survivors who could escape the war zone in Mariupol are saying people are catching street birds (like pigeons or crows) and cooking them on the open fire outside because there is no electricity or gas as well as drinking water and mobile signal. My many friends who are from Mariupol and have relatives there confirm all of this information.

The irony of the situation is that most innocent people killed in Kharkiv, Mariupol, and other places are Russian-speakers whom Russia and Vladimir Putin personally had claimed ‘‘to protect and make free’’ from ‘‘the fascist authorities in Kyiv’’.

Also, we’ve got other terrible news from the territories which are temporarily occupied by the Russian army. There are some cases of looting shops and marauding of private households, raping of women and executing of men, detention and torturing of local activists and politicians by Russian soldiers. They do all of that in order to diminish the resistance from the local population and sometimes just use the opportunity ‘‘to have some fun’’. This is what the war brings. We have many reports about those crimes, they are coming and coming every single day. But, unfortunately, we still don’t understand the whole scale of them.

Today Ukrainians fight, struggle, and die. However, we still believe we can win and protect our country from Putin’s project of the ‘‘Russian world’’. In this project, he sees Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine as one nation in one political unity where autocracy, repression, state-controlled media, corruption, and loyalty to one leader are everything. But Ukraine doesn’t want it, we consider ourselves as Europeans and embrace the values of an open society. We want to see our land free and independent. That’s why we fight, struggle, and die.

The date I’m writing this report is the 24th of March. I hope this wartime nightmare will be over really soon. However, I definitely know, our lives won’t be the same as it was before the 24th of February. We will have to heal our war mental traumas, rebuild our communities' infrastructure, repair our economy, and recover our environmental heritage. But you know what, we will make it because it’s our country and we care about our homeland, our Ukraine.

This is what I’ve seen, this is what my family, friends, colleagues, and I know and understand right now. We hope and pray. The peace will come and the light will shine in the darkness.

P.S.: Don’t forget to volunteer and help Ukrainian refugees if you meet the ones, all support matters and we need all kinds of help for the victory of democracy over authoritarianism.

By Taras Syvukha

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