Thoughts from a Ukrainian refugee

CN: war, trauma


How do I write that my older brother could go to war? How do I write that I cannot comfort my godchildren, wipe their tears away and protect them from the injustice now taking place? How can I write that the peace in which my goddaughter believes does not exist?

Imagine the place you have always called home, the place where you planned to start a family, being bombed into terror and destruction. This is what I’m experiencing. And I am still struggling to believe it.

The country I proudly call my home is Ukraine. Let us not call this a ‘crisis’. Let us open our eyes to see that this is nothing short of a re-invasion by one aggressor. People are dying, families are being destroyed. Children, women and men are being killed every day. For what? For a rich man to amass more power. In doing so he seeks to destroy a free, independent country, Open your eyes, Europe. 

If Putin is allowed to take his reinvasion of Ukraine to the end, he will not stop there. All of Europe will eventually be dragged into his expansionist war. Whether you like it or not, this is already a battle between democracy and autocracy. The failure to defeat this autocrat will result in constant instability and conflicts on the continent.

One thing I know for sure: Putin’s dystopia will not be realised. Despite its quantitative shortcomings, the Ukrainian army is strong. Public resistance is high. Ukrainians are doing everything possible to protect their history, land and freedom. Ukrainian women and men are learning how to shoot rifles, make Molotov cocktails, and use military equipment to defend their homes.

There are also approximately 16 000 foreign volunteers in Ukraine joining the fight.

As of 1 March, the United Nations confirmed that 227 civilians have been killed and 525 injured, whilst noting that in reality the numbers are probably much higher. Russian forces have been targeting memorials and important buildings in Ukraine’s cities. In a missile attack targeting a nearby TV tower, a missile was dropped on the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial park in Kyiv, which commemorates the massacring of over 33 000 Jews by the Nazis in 1941. So much for ‘de-Nazification’. 

During artillery attacks on Ivankiv, Russian shelling hit the town’s Historical and Local History Museum, where the works of folk artist Maria Pryimachenko were held. The museum was destroyed, and with it so were twenty five of Pryimachenko’s works. Remarkably, locals were able to save ten of her paintings. 

Throughout Ukraine, museum staff are pessimistic about the prospect of saving works of art from destruction. And they are right to be fearful, for there is much to lose culturally if Russian attacks continue against cultural institutions and buildings.

Saint Sophia Cathedral is an ancient and historical monument of Kyiv, which is included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Built in the eleventh century and significantly transformed during the Baroque period of the eighteenth century, the cathedral boasts huge frescoes, mosaics and works of art dating back from the time of its construction. Inside the cathedral’s hidden passages are mysterious graffiti dating from the eleventh to the eighteenth centuries. Only as recently as May 2021 did these graffiti go on display. Today, the cathedral stands in the firing line of Russian artillery fire and bombardments.

Having already dismissed Ukraine’s independent identity and culture, Vladimir Putin will have no issue with destroying, more extensively or in whole, Ukraine’s cultural infrastructure. 

The director of the National Museum of Ukraine in Kyiv, Fedir Androschuk, has urged the international museum community to raise “awareness about the cultural heritage in Ukraine and the threats that it now faces”.

Other Ukrainian cities including Lviv, Odessa, and Chernigov are home to medieval churches, temples, monasteries, and antique collections of religious icons. If they are attacked like Babyn Yar, or destroyed like the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, it will be yet another stain on the Kremlin’s broken moral compass, and a devastating cultural loss for Europe. 

Despite the tragedies being inflicted onto Ukraine, people are still trying to keep a sense of normalcy. I am constantly taken aback by the level of sangfroid displayed by friends and loved ones in places such as Kharkiv. Amid the sound of bombs and artillery fire, they continue to go about their daily routine. Some even try to play sports. What choice do they have? 

There are many ways people abroad can support Ukraine. Sign petitions, talk to political representatives, organise and attend protests, help get aid to those who need it. Demand sanctions on Ukraine’s aggressors. Report Russian propagandists on social media. You can find a list of organisations to support here.

Please stand with my homeland. Слава Україні. 

All views expressed are the writer’s own.

Article Image Credit: Pixabay

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