“Mom, the bombing has started.” After a tremendous bang woke me up in the early hours of Thursday morning in Kyiv, I hoped against hope that a thunderstorm was passing by. I wrapped up myself in a blanket, ran into the next room, and woke my mother from Odesa. She didn’t believe me at first, but I was trembling and crying.
I opened up Facebook, where a friend had written a post saying, “War! My Ukraine is under attack!” Missiles had rained down across my native Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv, Odesa on the Black Sea, and other major cities.
We had to get somewhere fast. My mom and me quickly decided to use the stairs in our apartment. Soon we were running down fifteen flights of stairs. Outside, we passed a group who had clearly been drinking all night and asked them if they’d heard anything. Their response was that they heard explosions. My mother was skeptical. “They’re just drunk,” she whispered.
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We saw the missile explode in front of our apartment block, right next to the local subway station and shop. The grass was littered with broken glass and twisted steel. Russia claimed that it was only targeting Ukrainian military installations, but this residential street does not have such a claim.
We entered the station which was now a temporary shelter for bombers. An electronic billboard projected the Ukrainian flag. After a while, I thought it was over. It is this moment that will determine everything.
We emerged from underground to find crowds of people moving in every direction after an hour. Many people were carrying luggage along the streets, while others carried their pets. One man was putting tape across his windows to prevent them from being smashed in an explosion. We saw him. All were fleeing from their homes, and many fled. It didn’t even matter where—they just wanted out.
Russia invaded Ukraine in a large-scale war. One of my friends felt the urge to give blood, while others were happy to be called up as army reserve soldiers. Many others got in cars and headed off to different parts of the country or the border.
We returned together to my apartment with some items that we had left behind. Standing in the middle the living area, I thought: What if it never happened? I was finally greeted by a thousand years worth of Russian imperial ambition.
How will I remember my generation? Tell your children what you will do. Can we imagine what the future holds? Only one solution is available: The fight for freedom.
In 1989 I was born in Crimea, a small peninsula which juts into the Black Sea. It is brimming with magic. This is where you can find total joy. It was that way when I was little. Even though it was the difficult years of the 1990s and its poverty, the country suffered greatly from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ukraine then became an independent nation. However, we believed that this would mean the end of centuries of bloodshed. But we were not completely free. Russia continued to influence events and control our country’s government. As a teenager in Russia, Moscow tried to influence the 2004 presidential election. My family rebelled and created what is now known as The Orange Revolution.
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As a 32-year-old Ukrainian woman, I’ve seen a lot of upheaval in my country in my lifetime. My family had to move from Crimea due to the financial crisis that followed the Soviet collapse. We moved to Odesa to be closer to the coast. Beautiful, lively cities with beautiful ports. There is also a waterfront where restaurants offer grilled fish and locals dance till the early hours. This city is home to a wide variety of cultures. For centuries, it has been home to peacefully mingling between Gagauz and Gagauz populations, such as the Jewish, Bulgarian, Moldovan or Bulgarian communities.
There, I attended a new school, lived in a new house, and life started to feel good—what life should be.
There’s a well-known saying that you can’t become an Odesan, you must be born one. Although I lived in this city for over twenty years, I have never considered myself an Odesan. Still, you can’t be indifferent to a place where you have grown up, a place where you have felt sadness and fallen in love. Odesa was my second home.
My favorite thing about Crimea was the beautiful mountains and meadows. In 2013, Viktor Yanukovych was forced by the Kremlin to renounce a trade deal with Europe. Ukrainians marched to Yanukovych’s head during 2014 pro-democracy Maidan demonstrations. Although we thought that we had finally been freed, it was not.
Instead, Russia annexed Crimea with force. President Vladimir Putin then started a war against eastern Ukraine. Russia supported this bloody, armed rebellion for eight years. Some 14,000.Many civilians were also killed in the fighting.
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Three years later, Volodymyr Zelesky was elected president. He promised to resist Russia. On February 24, Putin attacked Ukraine in full scale.
We spent Thursday night in the basement of my cousin’s apartment building. As we hunkered down, around 100 of us of different ages listened to the sirens. Others brought their pets and dogs. My cousin’s 7-year-old daughter was so scared. Hugging her toy pig close to her chest, she kept asking us, “Is this happening because I did something bad?”
It is hard to believe that the only belongings taken from my apartment were a file with all of my papers and photos of our deceased father (COVID-19), which I am still checking. Without him, it is hard. It would be so unbearable without him. “At least you are not here to see this hell,” I think.
The sirens alerted us at 7 AM on Friday to get up. As all the shops are now closed, we had some bread, chocolate, and tea with us. It was very nice to have these things on hand. Kyiv has been hit with more bombs. To fight the Russians our government gave 11,000 guns to the civilians. Men between 18-60 are forbidden from leaving the country. We are being surrounded on all sides—Russian tanks could enter Kyiv at any moment.
We aren’t panicking. Many are making plans and finding ways out. I’ve had enough of moving, so my mom and I are staying put. Perhaps we will try to travel by train from Kyiv to a western city. We aren’t leaving Ukraine. This is where we call home.