Citizen Journalism: Sunflowers under the clear blue sky
Emy went to sleep in DC thinking the 24th of February would be like any other day. She woke to her homeland profoundly altered. This account has been edited for clarity and readability by Clary Estes.
On February 23rd, in the late evening, my significant other and I were listening to the UN Security Council’s urgent meeting from the comfort of our DC home. That night I went to sleep listening to the voices of various representatives and their calls for the alleviation of tensions that had been gathering over the past two months regarding Russia and its threats toward Ukraine.
That night was the last night I still had hope for peace. At exactly 3 am, I was awoken by my significant other looking at me terrified. It took me a moment to realize that something horrific had happened. I had been optimistic that nothing would happen, but I was very wrong. What had seemed impossible and insane just a few hours earlier, had commenced while we slept.
I immediately called my grandma, who lives in Kyiv. The first thing she said was: “Emy, this is war. We are being bombed.” My heart dropped. At that moment, I felt confused and frustrated, but above all, I was terrified. I kept thinking, “How could this happen?”
Immediately after talking to my grandma, I called my parents. They were on vacation in Peru. As I heard my dad’s sleepy voice I burst into tears, “Dad we are being attacked. The war has officially started.” There was just silence on the other end of the line. Nobody knew what to do. Nobody knew how to react. My parents, I, and the majority of my Ukrainian friends had all been confident that the next morning would be just like any other morning.
Of course, no one had forgotten about the war eight years ago in the Eastern part of Ukraine. Yet, none of us expected the war to spread to the rest of the country. On the morning of the 24th, nobody, absolutely nobody, in any city of Ukraine, felt safe.
That day was the worst day of my life. That night was the worst night of my life. I called my other grandma and she cried on the phone, blaming herself for not sending my little cousins away beforehand. My grandma’s cry is something I will never forget, and something I will never forgive. I think about the older generation of Ukrainians who suffered the most under the USSR: the prosecutions, deportations, famine, Chornobyl, everything. I think about the fact that they have gone through literal hell, and they have to go through it again, except now their young families are in danger too. It is unspeakable. I will never forget nor forgive their tears.
The next day there were mass protests near the Russian Embassy in DC, as well as the White House, demanding Russia stop immediately. The atmosphere during those protests was the same: fear, uncertainty, and absolute anger. Nobody could believe that someone would deliberately target the whole of Ukraine, endangering our families, our friends, and our loved ones: every single one of us. I started going to the protests every day after the invasion began. We demanded action and severe sanctions on Russia.
On the second day of the war, there was an attack on a building in my district in Kyiv. I used to go to the gym in that building. It is 3 minutes away from my home. The war feels so real, even though I am far away. Ukraine is still my home. I grew up there, and my friends live there. What if tomorrow I wake up and the first thing I see on TV is an image of my home destroyed?
Since the beginning of the war, I go to bed only to wake up terrified of checking the news. It feels like a very long nightmare from which I cannot wake up. I, my friends, and family have been glued to our phones, reading and watching the news. Every time I call my friends and grandparents they say that they do not know whether they are safe or will be safe. Yet, the fact that I can hear their voices gives me some hope and relief.
More than anything I worry about my grandma. My grandpa passed away when I was one year old. Since then, she has been very lonely and lives by herself. While she was still in Kyiv, I called her as she hid from artillery bombings in the Kyiv subway station. She cried, telling me that she has never felt so lonely in her entire life. All the people who had come down to hide from bombings in the subway had their families with them, their pets, their loved ones, they were all together - but she was alone. Since then I have called her every day. I want to let her know that I remember her, I love her, and I cannot wait to see her again.
I regret not spending enough time with her. Every time I call her I wonder if she will pick up her phone. I just wanted to hug her and not let go. Within the next week, she was lucky enough to escape Kyiv and get to the Polish border where my parents were waiting for her.
It has been a little bit over two months since the nightmare began. Ukrainians around the world have been experiencing emotions that we never knew before. We never thought that we would go through something like this. I’m 21. I’m pursuing my degree in International Affairs, while simultaneously helping raise money for drones and bulletproof vests that will be sent to Ukraine. Never in my life have I imagined that this is how my university life would be.
Nevertheless, every single one of us is making an impact. Today, you don’t have to hold a Ukrainian passport to be a Ukrainian, you just have to believe in freedom and support those fighting for freedom and democracy. Today, those fighting are regular Ukrainian citizens. I am grateful to the people around the globe for their support and their action. I am grateful for my Polish-American friend - Patryk Czerwony, who has welcomed my family to his house in Poland. I believe that light will overcome the darkness and that Ukraine will once again bloom like sunflowers under the clear blue sky.