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A Bomb Shelter is our New Home

On the evening of February 23rd, I was dressing up for the dance club. After seeing that Putin was giving a speech, I immediately turned on the news. For the last eight years, I have lived in the reality of war; however, in light of the dramatic escalations of tension at the Ukrainian border, I was on pins and needles awaiting an imminent invasion. The news confirmed my worst fears: Putin announced the commencement of a military operation in my home. Right away, I had to call my parents and wake them up, saying, “the war has begun.”

When I was only eleven, our school went on strike to join protesters calling for an end to the authoritarian regime during the 2014 Euromaidan protests. My father was protesting on the streets of Kyiv with around one million other people. In that moment of revolution, arms locked with my teachers and classmates, I believed in a free and democratic Ukraine.

Yet, now, as my country confronts an invasion, I fear that I will not have a home to return to. I fear for the lives of my friends and family in Ukraine. My mother and my 13-year old brother had to flee our home to our acquaintances in western Ukraine, while my father is leading an engineering team building fortifications all around Kyiv. I still wake up two to three times a night and cannot fall asleep until I read all the news.

However, we do not intend to give up our freedom to anyone. Facing one of the largest armies in the world, people have unanimously stood against the enemy. The recruiting centers ran out of weapons as men and women volunteered to join the fight. Teenagers and people unable to fight formed an IT army, which obtained a lot of classified information and brought down vital Russian digital services and propaganda. Ukrainian diaspora around the world organized protests with thousands of attendees and ran fundraising campaigns which collected millions of dollars. Seeing all this happening, the entire world finally fulfilled its promises and stood up for us, supplying Ukraine with new weapons and humanitarian supplies.

Despite all this, the fear of tomorrow never coming is a part of our daily lives. Russians are shelling cities and bombing apartment buildings, hospitals, orphanages and shopping malls. Their propaganda channels portray Ukrainians as neo-Nazis and fascists so they do not feel guilt or shame for killing innocent children. My friends and I keep receiving messages saying that we are committing genocide against Russian-speaking people, even though—as a native Russian speaker myself—I have never felt any oppression. By the time you read this article, every Ukrainian will have learnt by heart what an air raid siren and a missile explosion sound like. In my most recent call with my dad, he kept calling the bomb shelter “home.” This is what our daily lives look like.

I could not focus on studying for almost the entire week, and, luckily, Carleton offered me help. However, me not catching up with my classes is the least of the problems facing my country now. If you want to support us in our fight for freedom and democracy, you can donate money to the army or the medical organizations through one of the links from my campus announcements email or the posters you can find everywhere around campus. What could have been a cup of coffee for you might be critical medicine for a kid in Donetsk. The light comes after darkness, but you might help one more person see it with their eyes.

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