CN: war, trauma
When I woke up on 24 February, I was expecting a day like any other. I’d have breakfast, make coﬀee, and head to work. I’d smile at our customers, trade anecdotes with my colleagues, call my friends and family to ask them about their plans for the upcoming weekend. “Maybe we can go see a movie”, I’d suggest, or “maybe we’ll go out dancing”. I’ve always enjoyed the stability of this routine, the comfort of an ever-constant schedule. That comfort is long gone.
When I woke up on the 24 February, it was to the sound of my mother’s voice through the receiver, an audible tremor in her words as she told me that a full-scale invasion by Russian forces was no longer a threat, but a crushing reality. I wasn’t oblivious to the gravity of my country’s situation — I’d packed a suitcase days in advance, rummaging through my ﬂat for documents, non-perishable food items, essential clothes, and medical supplies — and yet, like most in my social circle, I wasn’t fully prepared for the worst-case scenario.
After all, why would Russia endanger the lives of over 100 000 soldiers, most of them shockingly young and unprepared for combat? How could the Russian government justify its actions in front of the international community? What more could Putin take from us? Hadn’t he taken enough?
Quickly, my disbelief gave way to unbridled panic. I began frantically contacting my loved ones, looking up the nearest bomb shelters, checking which borders had the least amount of traﬃc. The realisation that escaping Kyiv could prove to be more dangerous than staying here was crushing. My family’s initial plans to drive to Lviv and cross the border into Poland were thwarted by the government’s decree, barring all men over the age of eighteen from leaving the country.
Travelling by air was equally impossible, as repeated missile strikes on our airports resulted in the complete suspension of commercial ﬂights. To make matters worse, our train stations were facing an unprecedented inﬂux of passengers, leaving many waiting on the platforms for hours on end, away from the safety of underground shelters.
After a long and tearful conversation, my mother decided to remain on the outskirts of Kyiv, unable to leave her dogs behind, while my older brother and I hurried to stay with our relatives in a diﬀerent neighbourhood. At the time of my writing this, we have been here for three days.
I am fortunate enough to be staying in a place that’s equipped with a bunker and fit to withstand Russian bombardment. I am fortunate enough to have access to food, water, and a place to sleep. Subscribing to verifiable, state-supported Telegram channels (particularly Верховна Рада України, Суспільне Новини, and Готовий до всього) was also a massive relief, as it allowed me to receive information about the latest attacks in a timely manner.
Even then, our waking hours are spent in dread. We shudder from every loud bang, send countless “stay strong” and “I love you” messages to our friends, give our entire salaries to charities and private initiatives (a list of which can be found here), share every donation link through Instagram stories and Twitter threads.
Though we’re doing all we can to spread international awareness and urging Westerners to amplify our voices, it doesn’t feel like enough. At a certain point, educating people who’ve remained willfully ignorant about our country’s history of subjugation and colonisation has become exhausting.
Dispelling harmful myths about our armed forces as a monolith of far-right fascists began to seem like a fool’s errand. I’m under no illusion that a number of Ukrainian soldiers harbour an ultra-nationalist, deeply disturbing ideology. As a gay, transgender man, I’ve long been aware of the far right’s attacks on LGBT+ activists, gay-friendly clubs, and other places that have served as a safe haven for my community.
However, I recognise that a war of this magnitude demands military support. Painful as it may be, the dream for an anti-fascist uprising in my country remains just that: a dream. A distant hope. A reason to keep going.
So I’ll cheer on my coworkers as they deliver warm meals to Ukrainian soldiers and throw Molotov cocktails at invading tanks. I’ll send love to my Russian friends who actively protest their regime, knowing they’ll face the possibility of arrest and public condemnation. I’ll make plans to see a movie and go out dancing to celebrate our country’s victory, our tireless commitment to liberation. Все буде Україна. Героям слава.
Talya Vazheyevskyy is a part-time poet, part-time aspiring ﬁlmmaker, and a citizen of Ukraine. He spent a semester studying in New York before the pandemic hit, after which he moved back to his home country. At the time of publication, Talya has survived days of Russian air strikes in Kyiv.
Readers can access a list of Ukrainian initiatives and organisations here.
Article Image Credit: Sergey Galyonkin