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The First Day of War

Serge AApr 16, 2022 (0)

The following will be a recollection of how the war began. The beginning being the first moments when it finally hit home one brisk early morning on February 24th. It is a vastly important concept in this war and its history. Other details of the war will be lost in memories just because so much has happened and keeps on happening every day. But, that one moment that makes you understand that a war has finally and inevitably came to your doorstep is something that one who has experienced it, will never forget. This is my recollection of that first day, the first moment when a shockwave went through my body and my heart skipped a beat - literally. 


 We all watched, glued to the computer screen, as Putin gave his meta historical vision of subjectively obscure history. They say that history is written by the winners. It is too early in this conflict to say who will be writing the history but one thing is for sure - Putin will never be a winner for the Ukrainian people. 


 After Putin's speech, I had a few interesting messages from some of my friends. Here is a screenshot of one of them. A friend sent me a YouTube link to Putin's speech and alarmingly commented - “Man. He is angry.” 



 The point here is that to many people here in Ukraine, Putin was an intimidating figure as was he to most people in the west with one major difference - for Ukrainians this murderous face sits right over the border. My friend, the author of the message captured in the screenshot, packed and left the COUNTRY! the next day. It was fear that drove him. He is a rational man, a smart man. But when war knocks at your front door, being smart and courageous are two completely and conceptually different notions, which have no direct correlation and are not mutually exclusive. Courage has nothing in common with intellect. Courage is something completely separate from emotional flexibility. You can have all or neither. What drove this man away from his country where he was born, grew up, created a family, established a business and raised his children? It was probably pressure combined with panic. It was probably his ability to be flexible and not so courageous. These are the factors that seemingly drove him out on February 22 of 2022. What is being stated here is speculative because we never talked about it. The reason that this never came up is that Ukrainians, who left, feel ashamed. The ones who stayed have no intention of hurting the feelings of those who fled, although a certain hint of negative disposition is still felt. This is stated as objectively as possible being observant of those who participate in our stand against tyranny. 


 On February 21, most people were not aware of what was coming. Putin's speech revealed only that he intends to officially recognize the separatists as a sovereign state. Mostly, people thought that this was a political statement. His statement was that he recognizes the republic as sovereign. However it stated nothing about the borders of this recognition and most just thought that this is a political move. 


 Even when soldiers disclosed to some that they are being called for duty, most people around them just thought of this as a precautionary move from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. After all, we were all too used to having a borderline-insane neighbor and literally thought nothing of it. 


 February 22 brought a lot of discussions to the kitchen table. At offices and home people were commenting on Putin's speech. Some developed notions of implied intention of aggression. While others just spoke about Putin's skewed view on history. This continued on through the twenty third and it was that particular evening when everything changed. I received some alarming messages from the then already existing front line - keep it in mind that our front line had been existent for almost exactly eight years at that point. 


 The first alarm bell came in at around 11 pm on that same day, when a close friend wrote that they were not sleeping, he was fully armed and equipped and his platoon was ready for deployment. After that, along came other messages stating the same. I even got a time frame from a source telling me that at 3:30 am an attack will take place. The following is from experience - mentally you are never prepared for such news and you can't help but feel a certain note of skepticism. What? In 2022, a large-scale military attack is impossible, you think and hope for the best. 3:30 am came and there wasn't a word from the front lines. My body gave out, exhausted by the precluding days of the guessing game of what is to come, I passed out on the couch in front of the TV. But, not for long. 


 At around a quarter to five, my Telegram started blowing up with messages. All local public groups were reporting explosions, in all major cities around Ukraine. I live in a major city - the third largest city in Ukraine with an official population of a little over a million - and I heard nothing, no explosions. Now, we were subjugated to fake news through the years, having developed immunity, I instantly started thinking that this was fake. Fake! Despite the news from the front lines, despite the reported explosions at 5 am, I was still thinking that this is not happening and at about ten minutes past 5 am I decided to go outside to my backyard. There I saw a glimmering sunrise, the morning looked peaceful. I got up and decided to watch the sunrise, which was soothing after the winter months. 


 As I opened the door to my Florida room, my dog jumped up happily in her anticipation of our morning walk. As soon as I opened the back door she sprinted across the lawn that was covered by slightly frozen dew. I stood near the door while my dog did a few laps in front of me and then the unspeakable happened. 


 I suddenly felt something impacting my body. For those who have experienced an explosion wave before this isn't new, but for those who haven't - I can confirm that it is in fact strange when you feel something wrenching inside of you but can neither hear nor see anything. It was 5:20 am on the dot. The wave comes first. I wasn't sure what it was but my heart either beat twice or skipped a beat. I felt the explosion wave with every inch of my body and heard my windows give under its force. Then there was the sound. The bang was loud, my dog started barking and jumping around. But, still the feeling was stage because I never saw the fire of the first bomb. There are valleys around me and the bottom of a valley was probably the first target the bomb hit. I went inside. 


 While picking up the phone, I noticed unread messages, in the hundreds. Personal messages saying “все, почалось” - which in Ukrainian translates as - “that's it, it all started”. It was at that particular time that the realisation of the fact that the war started hit me like that first bomb that I felt. 


 Still in disbelief, at about 5:40 am I stepped out of my house again. Perhaps it was me trying to reconfirm that everything is in fact alright and that the first explosion was possibly a terroristic diversion; just something to make the people nervous. Exactly at 5:45 am it happened again, only this time closer, harder, louder and up went a flaming mushroom from the point of impact. 


 I went back into the house to see my wife coming down the stairs with trembling hands, sleepy and confused. She looked to me for answers anticipating the worst but hoping for a better answer than the one I had. She asked what happened? As calmly and as assertively as I a could, I said, “yeah, a bomb, an explosion. Relax, go upstairs and get our daughter, come downstairs where the walls are thicker and there are concrete slabs covering the ceiling”. 


 I made myself a cup of coffee and watched as the president announced that it was time to get your sh*t together and self organize. Little did I know what that really meant. 

Serge A is of Ukrainian descent, grew up in Brooklyn and is volunteering in Ukraine as a legally armed member of a Territorial Defense Group.  He was a columnist for the newspaper at Pace University which he attended as an undergrad. 


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