We all know how it started. On Thursday the 24th, under the veil of a dark February night, Russian armed forces launched attacks on the Ukrainian sovereign soil, with Kyiv – the capital city of almost 3 million people, being the first target. I remember the first conversation with my family, shortly after 5am on the Ukrainian clocks. “We woke up to the sound of shots and explosions” my mother said, “They’re all over the country, everywhere.”
Over a week into the Russian invasion, the vicious attacks have not slowed down, with devastating destruction and constant airstrikes continuing in major cities and their surrounding areas.
Early last Tuesday, a sizable part of the Freedom Square in the city of Kharkiv, the biggest square in Europe, along with the regional administration building, were struck by a Russian rocket coming from Kharkiv’s long-time sister-city of Belgorod. Later the same day, in Kyiv, a Russian rocket hit Babin Jar, an importnat historic location, where over 100 000 Jewish Ukrainians were executed by Nazis during World War II. A day prior, in the town of Hostomil, near Kyiv, the largest cargo plane in the world and a great feat of international engineering, Antonov An-225 “Mriya” (“Dream” in Ukrainian), was destroyed while parked at a local airport taking no part in the current military actions. Later in the week, the Russian military surrounded the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, Europe’s largest power plant, and shot directly at one of its reactors, risking a nuclear catastrophe 10 times the size of Chernobyl.
To endless dismay, the aggressor has not limited themselves to attacks on military objects, governmental structures and important landmarks of Ukrainian history. Civilian population, many forced to hide out in metro stations and basements for days at a time to the sound of their homes, workplaces and infrastructure being destroyed. Hospitals, schools, orphanages and dormitories, not to mention residential buildings located nowhere near military objects of any kind, have been blown to pieces along with those inside. Peaceful, unarmed citizens outside of their own homes have been shot dead for as much as being Ukrainian.
The Ukrainian nation, of course, did not take this unprompted and spiteful aggression lightly. Born and raised with the spirit of our ancestor’s love for their motherland and willingness to fight for it, Ukrainians jumped right into action to protect what we value most. No longer defined by our cultural divisions – no longer seeing each other as Ukrainian or Russian-speakers; not the left or right wing; not the Orthodox or Catholics, or the Jewish, or the Romani, our nation banded together like, maybe, never before, as Ukrainian, first and foremost.
The collective Ukrainian effort to fight for our country once and for all has yielded impressive results with most cities still flying the Ukrainian flag days into the fighting. Many citizens are taking to creative resistance strategies, each offering all they are able to. In the Kherson region, a Romani group took over a Russian tank and proceeded to tow it to a scrap metal yard in a nearby town. In Dnepro, the homeless population volunteered to help gather bottles for Molotov cocktails. All over the country, volunteers have been weaving camouflage nets, packing urgent provisions to be sent towards the Eastern and Northern regions (where food and medications are starting to run low) and sorting donations coming in from all over the world. Blood banks have started turning away new donations due to the high volume of volunteers in the first few days.
Someone on social media made a timely joke: “You think you’re an all-powerful dictator who can take over another country in days…and then you end up being f*cked by the captain of a regional comedy team.” That is not what he is anymore, of course. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s current president, has become a part of Ukrainian folklore in his own right for his brave and composed stance in the face of adversity. They say Americans offered to evacuate him; his response “I need ammunition, not a ride” has proven him a leader that this strong and resilient country truly deserves. Our parliament has shown admirable perseverance as well, putting all political and ideological differences aside and standing in unity on the dangerous streets of Kyiv to comfort and encourage their nation.
The brave Ukrainian army, on the ground and above it, have made strides to protect their home, continually diverting attacks on strategic points and big cities. The Ghost of Kyiv can of course not go without a mention. This mysterious pilot has single-handedly shot down at least 10 Russian planes over the Ukrainian capital in the first week of fighting. Official sources report that the Ukrainian military have destroyed 39 planes, 40 helicopters, over 250 tanks, over 900 armored vehicles, 105 artillery systems, 50 MRL systems and more enemy machinery, proving that faith and will to fight for your land are no match for an enemy army, regardless of the numbers.
Ukrainian media have too shown outstanding professionalism and fearlessness, having been seen broadcasting from bomb shelters, battling fake news and coming together in an uninterrupted 24/7 news-cycle airing on all national channels, as well as online, in their quest to deliver the newest and most accurate news. The so-called “couch battalions,” regular citizens hiding out at home, along with international hackers, have taken down multiple important governmental websites of the aggressor in persistent DDOS attacks, proving no one person is too small to make a difference.
It is said that every nation needs its heroes and in the face of our warriors, our journalists, our medics, our ever-so resistant leaders and our fearless civilians, we find our new heroes, as well as remember those fallen for this nation before them.
The outstanding support from all over the world has been a source of added motivation for the Ukrainians battling the world’s ‘second most powerful army’. Having lived in a shadow of Russia for decades, European yet not quite, we in Ukraine could not begin to imagine the degree of support we have seen from the international community in the past week and a half. From stunningly large protests for the autonomy of our nation; to the effort to help spread the information about what is really happening in Ukraine; to all of those donating, volunteering their time, taking in and helping to transport refugees – our international friends have given us hope that we will not be alone at the end, no matter what the end might be.
In the past days, I must have gotten a message from everyone I know. Friends from all over the planet, genuinely concerned from the bottom of their hearts, have gotten in touch to see if there is anything they can do. One question dominated the conversation every time: “Are your family and friends alright?” and I have come to develop a template of an answer:
“They’re strong, hopeful and won’t give up without a fight.”