The Daily Life, Struggles, and Hopes of a Ukrainian During the War | Jack Shi
On the coast of Ukraine, facing the beautiful Black Sea, lies the illustrious port city of Odesa. It’s the setting of the influential film “Battleship Potemkin” and home to the prestigious Odesa Opera House. Today, Odesa is under attack.
Svetlana, a sixty-four-year-old psychologist living in one of the districts of Odesa, watches the fighting in her hometown day and night. During this troubling time, Svetlana (we are using pseudonyms in this publication for their safety) lives with her husband, her son’s family, and a friend seeking shelter in her home. Twenty minutes away, in the heart of downtown Odesa, civilians build barricades with heavy sandbags on the streets and prepare Molotov cocktails at home. There are unbelievably long lines of men and women outside the military recruiting offices and blood banks. There is no draft in Odesa because everyone is a volunteer. Several times a day, sirens fill the city, and people dash to the bomb shelters. But, Svetlana’s granddaughter is too young to make the journey. Her family can only hide in the crawl space under their stairs and listen to the sound of explosions all night long, too afraid to sleep. Every morning they wake up to the news of more destruction throughout Ukraine, including the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson. Recently in Odesa, bombs destroyed the historical springs of the renowned Kuyalnik Sanitorium Resort. Tomorrow, more of the city’s ancient architecture will be damaged. During the day, Svetlana returns to her job as a psychologist, talking to clients from all over Europe and helping them with their troubles.
This is only a short summary of what Mariya, my Ukrainian American piano teacher, has told me about her close friend Svetlana. They grew up in Odesa, and their families have rich and beautiful histories. Svetlana is half Ukrainian and half Russian. Her father was a Ukrainian artilleryman who fought WWII from the day the war started to the day the war ended. He defended Kyiv during the First Battle of Kyiv in 1941, participated in the Battle of Stalingrad, reached Berlin at the end of the war, and survived to tell the tale. He became a war hero, decorated with countless medals and merits he earned in combat for his outstanding service. Svetlana was raised on stories of the horrors of war, just like many of her generation. At this moment, she wants nothing more than to talk directly to the Russians. She has relatives, schoolmates, and colleagues in Russia whom she loves dearly. The Kremlin is waging a war against its own people that is shattering the brotherhood between the two countries. It torments Svetlana to see Russian propaganda accuse her people of being the fascists that Ukrainians, Russians, as well as other nations of the former Soviet Union, fought shoulder by shoulder to destroy more than half a century ago. And now, due to the city’s location as a strategic military port, Russian troops are building over the Black Sea to prepare for an inva
sion of the Odesa.
Amid such terrible circumstances, Svetlana and Mariya are touched by the support they have received from around the globe. She watches people from around the world extend their sympathy to Ukrainians on television and radio. Svetlana told us, “The people in Ukraine are more united, supportive, and patriotic than I’ve ever experienced. I am also incredibly grateful for all the countries who have supported us against our aggressor.” She wants the world to know that Ukrainians do not need protection or supervision. They want to be in control of the future of their country. In the last two hundred years, the city has welcomed Armenians, Jews, Greeks, and Russians from all over the world, and they have lived in celebrated peace. The Kremlin fears the position Ukraine holds as an arbiter of European democracy that it has valued its entire history, from the Ancient Greeks to the immigrants that have found a home on its blessed soil.
The war in Ukraine is a catalyst for unity and resilience that serves as a beacon of hope for democracy. The courage of the soldiers, teachers, doctors, and parents of Ukraine is proof that ideals are strengthened by the challenges they endure. I hold the most sympathy in my heart for the students in Ukraine my age, whose resolve shines brightest in the world. There is hardly a single school desk in their city where they can sit down and study peacefully. Like Svetlana, they will grow up knowing what their parents fought for and what they deserve.