Ukraine: A view from a city ‘frozen in horror’

The Russian invasion is like a robber has broken into our home and destroyed everything we hold dear, but we will not surrender, writes a resident of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

A crying woman sits on a bench outside a building damaged by bombing in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv
A woman weeps as she sits outside a building that was damaged by bombing in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine [Photo by Aris Messinis/AFP]

On Thursday, I woke at 5am to the sound of my hometown, the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, being attacked. For those first few moments, I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. Then I switched on my phone and the messages poured in – friends and colleagues across the country telling me that their cities, too, were under attack.

It should have been an ordinary working day for me. I was supposed to take the train to the capital, Kyiv, where I was due to speak at a conference about Russian disinformation and later meet some friends. Instead, I rushed to pack a bag, ready to evacuate.

But almost immediately, I started to receive calls from news outlets around the world, wanting to know what was happening. Interview after interview followed until most of the day had passed. In those hours, my mission had become clear to me: instead of leaving, I had to stay in Kharkiv for as long as I could and become a source of information.

So I write this from my apartment in downtown Kharkiv, my emergency bag close by and my curtains closed in the hope that will protect me should an explosion send shards of glass flying into my home. Occasionally, I peek through them to see how many lights are on in other windows.

But, this city of 1.5 million people 40km (25 miles) from the Russian border, where I was born and raised is frozen in horror. This formerly vibrant place of university students, coffee shops and IT firms, sometimes referred to as Ukraine’s “Silicon Valley”, is now a place where mothers hide with their small children in metro stations and basements. The streets are deserted. The shelling continues.

But, despite this, our morale is high and we are determined to defend our country.

In a local group chat on a messenger app, people share jokes, emergency information and requests for help. In these awful times, the Ukrainian people are more united than ever.

I am glued to my screens, collecting news from across the country. I give constant updates to the outside world, with the aim of documenting Russian war crimes so that they might, one day, be punished. But the unreality of this unjustified war strikes me constantly. Yesterday, a Russian missile hit a residential area two kilometres (1.2 miles) from where I live. It landed five metres from a home in a busy residential area. Luckily, there were no casualties but it made me feel so angry. It is like a robber has broken into your home and destroyed everything that is valuable and dear to you. I don’t want to let Vladimir Putin get away with these crimes.

People sit on the floor of an underground station in Kharkiv
People shelter in Pushkinskaya underground station in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on February 24 [EPA-EFE/SERGEY KOZLOV]

Yesterday, I visited my nearest metro station, a five-minute walk from my apartment, to check if there was enough space there, in case I needed to evacuate urgently overnight. Some of my friends who live in areas where there is heavy shelling spent the night in shelters. Others sleep in corridors or in baths, to be as far from the outer walls of their homes as possible.

Russia has turned the lives of Ukrainians into a nightmare. It is trying to destroy Ukrainian military infrastructure and force Ukraine to surrender. But this will not happen. Ukrainians will fight. We feel that this is our only chance to protect our country. There is huge emotional support for our military. But the support extends beyond this.

In Kharkiv, volunteers are joining Territorial Defence units en masse. They are patrolling the streets. A reporter I know has joined them and now carries a rifle.

Ukrainians have started numerous volunteer initiatives to support the army with medical aid and food supplies. There are queues at blood donor stations because people want to help the army with everything they have.

People are sharing information on how they can help. They are reporting on the number of Russian troops they see and checking the rooftops of houses. Ukrainians are approaching Russian soldiers and telling them to go home.

As for me, I will stay in Kharkiv until the last moment, bringing the voice of Ukraine to the rest of the world because we are a brave and proud nation and will not surrender.

Source: Al Jazeera