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The Ukrainian flag (Photo: Getty Images)
The Ukrainian flag (Photo: Getty Images)

OPINIONSocietyFebruary 26, 2022

My Ukraine in flames

The Ukrainian flag (Photo: Getty Images)
The Ukrainian flag (Photo: Getty Images)

Ukrainian-New Zealander Olha Viazenko describes how it feels to watch the Russian invasion of her home country from 17,000km away.

“It’s already started!”

“I’m happy that my parents died, so they can’t see this”

“I do not know how to explain to my little son why a country of his father is bombing his mother’s country”

“I bought new underwear, if I am killed today I don’t want to be ugly”

– Facebook quotes, 24 February

Ukraine. 24 February 2022, 5am. Heavy bombing wakes up the largest country in Europe. Its neighbour to the east has decided to invade it “for peace”. The Russian army is committing a war crime disguised as “military operations” against the Ukrainian people, targeting many Ukrainian cities and towns. First they hit airports, military bases and infrastructure; now they are shelling residential areas, killing civilians. One of the most recent victims: a young boy in Chuhuiv, a small town near to Kharkiv. A real one killed by the Russians – as opposed to the fictional one “crucified by Ukrainian fascists”, a blatant lie used to justify an earlier war. There are reports of explosions in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and others. The Ukrainian armed forces and the Ukrainian people resist and fight for their freedom.

New Zealand. I can’t sleep. I’m checking my phone every five minutes. I know that I have to wake up early, but I can’t sleep. My mum in Ukraine says “Good night, I will not call you till the morning” and in five minutes she is online. She saw an explosion.

Ukraine. The new reality. Thousands of men and women in line to register in territorial defence to fight for their families and loved ones. Long queues to the blood donation centres. Ukrainian soldiers keep fighting; we have first casualties. Russian military plane fires missiles at a residential building. First civilian deaths. At least 10 Russian attack aircraft are now confirmed downed by Ukrainian defenders, in addition to at least 10 cruise missiles and several drones.

New Zealand. Ukrainians in New Zealand do not sleep. We are not sure will we sleep the next night or the night after. All are shocked. All our plans rapidly changed. Everything that was important a couple of hours ago means nothing now. Tons of supporting messages, tons of questions, nobody understands what is happening and why.

Ukraine. Russia attacks Ukraine. Missile strikes, military equipment, tanks, aviation. The invasion troops occupy the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The risk of nuclear blackmail by the Russians is high. Before, Chernobyl had been isolated through the efforts of the whole world. Now, the tragedy of millions is becoming real again. Russia attacks from the east, north and south. In the Donbas region, there are confirmed reports of a ground battle near the town of Shchastia – more than 100 Russian invaders are reported killed. Mariupol is under siege. Berdiansk was shelled from the sea.

If someone tells you the Russian state defeated fascism, don’t believe them. It adopted and nurtured it, creating a new monster with the same animal grin and the same insatiable appetite for blood.

New Zealand. The community is doing whatever they can – organising protests, searching for the information, keeping in touch with media. It is important to be involved, it is impossible to sit still and twist your thumbs. I realise that I haven’t eaten for more than 24 hours.

Ukraine. One civilian was killed by Russian shelling in Mariupol. Six people were killed during the attack on the city of Podilsk. A Ukrainian border guard was killed by missile shelling coming from the occupied Crimea. Eighteen people were killed during Russia’s shelling of Lypetske. Six people were killed in Russia’s morning shelling of a Kyiv suburb. Russian bombardment killed a child in the city of Chuhuiv. Thirteen brave soldiers are killed defending the Zmiiny Island, refusing to surrender. Their last words to the Russian war ship: “Go fuck yourselves.” I can go on and on, naming all the victims and all the damage and grief brought to my land. I will never forgive.

New Zealand or Ukraine? I don’t know any more. The distance and the borders disappear in a blur. If I see a helicopter I want to hide, I shudder from loud noises, just like my Ukrainian friends and family. We feel for Ukraine. We are Ukraine. I can’t reach my mum, she doesn’t pick up, and I feel my hair turning grey. Most of my friends in Ukraine decided to stay at their places and fight for their sovereignty, freedom and our country. It is hard to synchronise between the time zones. Night in Ukraine. Morning in New Zealand. People from both countries on Facebook have green dots next to their names – nobody can sleep. Another 24 hours begin. Russia fires more than 150 ballistic and guides missiles at Ukraine. Now most of them fall on Kyiv. They’re falling on apartment buildings.

Finally I reach my mum. She is in the shelter she pretends that she is not afraid. My aunt decides to stay in her flat; she can’t leave my grandmother who is 97 and can’t move. My friends hide in the basement with their special child who is afraid and they can’t even explain why she has to sit quiet in the dark. The second day of war just started in Ukraine. The second sleepless night for Ukrainians in New Zealand. The second day of a Third World War when the world stands aside.

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