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POTAPOVA: A Letter From Ukraine

Dear Friend:

I’m sorry for the delay with the answer, just couldn’t collect myself and my thoughts after seeing the atrocious footage and death tolls from Bucha and other towns outside Kyiv that have been liberated by Ukrainian forces. The whole country is utterly shocked. We all are mourning the killed civilians up there and praying for the people in Mariupol and Donbas where they have heavy battles right now.

Despite the pain, I want to use every opportunity to talk to a foreign audience about the war crimes the russians (yes, that is correct, since the war started we here write the names of the aggressor country and its president in lowercase letters) commit on our land. I will try to share my thoughts on what it’s like to be in a country that is at war. For security reasons I don’t go into much detail when it comes to locations.

The picture that I’m attaching to this email was made by my daughter three months before the war. That day we saw a theatre show, ate some street food, and enjoyed the sun in the center of Kyiv. That day Kyiv was a peaceful place, probably the best one on Earth, I love this city so much. And I believe peace will be restored to it soon.

So, let’s do it. Sorry if the text comes unstructured, it is more of a free writing thing.

My name is Tanya, I’m 38, happily married, mother of two. Currently, I’m the communications lead in one of the top law firms in Ukraine. I live in Kyiv but a few days after russia invaded we made a decision to flee to a safer region. It has remained relatively safe up until now and I hope it will stay safe.

On Feb. 24 we woke up from a phone call. It was 7 a.m. The babysitter of our younger son called to ask whether she should come that day. I said yes and she asked, “Are you sure? Have you heard the news?” I immediately went online and the first headline was saying: “putin started a war.” Of course, there was fear then. There is fear now but it goes with an overwhelming feeling of the people’s unity, rage, and determination.

We have air sirens every day and especially at night. That is why we spend the nights in a shelter. It seems we took other things for luxury before, our new luxury is to have food and water, electricity and internet, to take a shower, go for a walk, play with kids. At least it is a luxury for now because every new day might change everything.

I was lucky not to experience shelling, rocket attacks, not to lose loved ones, to remain alive. But I know people who lost their homes because of bombs, their loved ones died in the shelling or were shot during evacuation.

Mariupol, Bucha, Irpin, Gostomel, Borodyanka, Kharkiv, Sumy – it’s heartbreaking to think of people there. Handcuffed, tortured, raped, burnt, starved, strangled, humiliated, blocked, deprived of their homes, killed by the obedient herd to satisfy the monstrous reincarnation of Stalin and Hitler in one.

What the russian troops have been doing are war crimes. And war criminals who gave and executed orders, crafted and promoted the propagandistic agenda for decades, and then publicly denied the atrocities done by their army, should and will be punished. This is why Ukraine will fight no matter how much time and effort it takes.

You know, I think Ukraine reinvents itself right now. We literally see the country shaking off the rudiments of the Soviet past–pro-russian political parties and propagandistic media, the language issue (many people I know who spoke russian before the war started using Ukrainian in their everyday life). It’s great to see a dignified and resilient nation in the making. The nation that undoubtedly will prevail.

Every single person I know contributes to the victory by helping the army, refugees, neighbors, animals, anyone in trouble. I stayed in Ukraine and decided to spend as much time with my kids as I can. Having an incredibly supportive employer, I continue working remotely, and this was another commitment – to get myself together and continue doing my job because a stable economy helps Ukraine to get closer to victory. I use every chance to spread the truth about the war across the world. And I donate: to the Ukrainian armed forces, to the widows of the killed, to refugee centers, to free Ukrainian media.

Growing up, making friends, falling in love, giving birth to kids, living, working, and traveling in Ukraine was fantastic before the russians came to try and take it all away. Since 1991, our country has been paving its way to the EU and NATO. We struggled with reforms. We voted in democratic elections. We fought for the right to choose our own path. It’s not that we haven’t made mistakes. We did, but who doesn’t when trying to emerge out of a communist past as a democracy?

Obviously, Ukraine became a pain in the ass for russia – no dictatorship likes free-minded neighboring countries. We didn’t obey and give up as they planned. We fight for our freedom and shield the freedom of Europe. The cost is tremendously high though: devastated land in place of beautiful modern towns and cities, mass graves in the backyards of residential areas, kids becoming orphans, and infrastructure being destroyed. War crimes and genocide–this is what it is, and there can be no redemption.

When the war ends with our victory and russia gets stuck in the deadlock of the sanctions, military and economic losses, international isolation, and the eventual fall of putin and his regime, Ukraine will need financial, humanitarian, diplomatic help from the international community, just as it needs it now. Along with that, the world would need to deal with the aftermath of the war and do its homework. It should include efforts to redesign the international security framework and face the challenges of the global food crisis caused by the war. Basically, when the war ends helping Ukraine to come back to normal life will mean helping the world.

My Bosniak friend, Riada, a journalist who often writes about genocide in her country in the ‘90s, keeps supporting me during this time. The other day she sent me an open letter from a Sarajevo siege survivor to Ukrainians published on BBC. The letter was about the message on her 30-year-old teeshirt that sustained the woman during 1425 days of the siege. Modified for us, the message was “Ukraine will be, everything else will pass.” This is what we here think now.

Oh, and you asked whether I have pets. Well, our older daughter asked for a dog many times. My husband and I always thought two kids are enough to keep ourselves busy and our apartment a mess. Now we’ve had a deal that we would get a dog after the war is over – we want to see our apartment the happiest mess ever. Today it’s 40 days since we left it.

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