Daily Life in War-Torn Ukraine

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Photographing the debris of a building hit by missiles in Kyiv, Ukraine, last month. Credit: Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

*Editor’s note: This is a statement written by Dr. Mykola Polyuha, a professor of languages and cultures at BU, regarding the situation in his homeland of Ukraine. Dr. Polyuha will periodically submit updates on his friends and acquaintances in Ukraine. Read his first statement here. BUnow stands with Ukraine and its people. Christian Flynn designed BUnow’s new logo to show our support.

Nowadays, I am frequently asked what it is like to live in war-torn Ukraine. To answer this question, I would like to introduce my friend Ruslan to you. He lives in Ternopil, a city of approximately 250,000 people, located in western Ukraine. Ruslan is a lawyer and he works for the regional department of education. Before the Russian invasion, in his free time, he liked to read about quantum computers and cryptocurrencies, and he took long bike rides exploring the surrounding parks and forests.

On Feb. 24, 2022, his life dramatically changed. Shortly after 5 a.m., his phone rang and his friend told him that Russia started bombing Ukrainian cities. It was the news that he initially could hardly believe. Despite numerous warnings of the possible Russian military advances, most people had preferred to chase away any thoughts of war. The next several hours, Ruslan spent scrolling news websites. There was no doubt – Russia invaded his homeland.

Later, on the same day, the first internally displaced Ukrainians, mostly women with children from eastern parts of the country, started to arrive at Ternopil Main Railway Station. Stressed, they were telling horrifying stories of the attacks. They needed food, shelter and protection. Ruslan volunteered to become a member of the territorial defense forces.

During the day, Ruslan participates in various drills learning how to use different types of weapons, how to build barricades, how to find a safe place during airstrikes, how to make Molotov’s cocktails and how to destroy enemy’s tanks and military vehicles. He also helps with setting up anti-tank metal hedgehogs around the city and with removing road signs, so that potential invader would be at least temporarily disoriented. From time to time, Ruslan still goes to work, but he admits that there is not much to do there, and the topic of the ongoing war dominates all the conversations.

Ruslan’s fiancée lives in Germany, from where she organizes shipments of medical equipment and health care products to be sent to refugees and to the affected territories of Ukraine, where hospitals run out of critically needed medical supply. Ruslan still calls his fiancée daily, but, nowadays, they talk mostly business trying to brainstorm different ideas of how to help people.

When it gets dark, Ruslan goes home where he has to attend his sick father’s needs. On the third day of war, his father contracted COVID-19 and, with all the hospitals being full of wounded civilians, it is impossible to transport him to a medical facility. Ruslan’s father’s health condition has worsened in the last few days, but, because of the war, not much can be done. Due to potential airstrikes, it has become dangerous to turn on lights, and it is not even recommended to light a candle without covering the windows with black film. 

And yet despite all the calamities, Ruslan strongly believes that everything will eventually be fine – Ukraine will defend itself and his father will recover from the disease. Like many other ordinary Ukrainians, Ruslan is a hero of our time. Due to millions of people like him, Ukraine will succeed in stopping the Russian war machine.   

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