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Serge AApr 18, 2022 (0)
The second day of the full fledged war was February 25th. The day after isn't any less memorable than the first by any means. It was a day of total confusion and psychological rejection. The confusion came with vast amounts of different media channels, reporting different versions of a story about the same incidents for example. The rejection was sourced from a disbelief that this, all of this is actually happening. We were all too used to having an open military conflict here but the conflict that started in 2014 in the Donbas Region in Ukraine was nothing like this.
All of us bore witness to the hundreds of thousands of people being displaced from the Donbas Region in 2014. People neighboring the Donbas Region got a first row seat to the misery of this exile. We saw many people leave their loved ones, their homes and everything that they have attained and had no reasons for giving up - just pack a bag and leave, run. Imagine, leaving everything. Your cars and apartment, your house and that little coffee place around the corner where you got your cup of Joe are just gone, completely out of your life. I saw these people come to my city. Wide-eyed and scared, they came at you with an obvious settled instinct of flight. They looked at you as though you're not from around here, or they are not from here - whichever one it was, it put an obvious kink in Ukrainian people's usual behavior. They were after all Ukrainians in Ukraine - no different from all of us here. But, they were in fact different. They saw you as a foreigner. A foreigner who lived just a couple of hundred kilometers away from their own home. But, now they obviously felt that they were on somebody else's turf looking for help, looking for a new home or rather just a safe place. Times passed, eight years almost exactly on the dot and if you can imagine many of the same people were faced with the same thing all over again. Dropping everything, again and moving, running away. When people ran they didn't even know where exactly they were running to. Many headed to the West of Ukraine only to pack up and leave for Poland after the first rocket strikes on Lviv and the area around. Running away - that's how to put it in a nutshell when you describe the second day. It was the most talked about topic amongst everybody although it made no practical sense.
Here's a friend who wrote to me at 7 am on the 24th. He wrote in English - no translation needed.
And this is him writing to me the day after.
I received many more such messages, too many. People were horrified and couldn't help themselves. They drove, through rugged roads, minced to pieces at that time already. Our new Ukrainian roads were shredded by the army delivering tanks and war machines, guns and ammo. But, those who were running away could care less. They never gave themselves the opportunity to look back at their decision. They weren't able to consider the alternatives. They couldn't even fathom that perhaps running westward is as dangerous and perhaps even more so than staying. The friend who wrote the messages above drove for 3 weeks because of the traffic with 2 little kids in the car. They slept on the side of the road. They attempted to cross the border starting from Romania moving up north to Poland. But, they couldn't. They have 2 children and by law a man needs 3 underaged children to be given the permission to leave Ukraine because he is potentially obligated for military duty. They never got out of Ukraine but they never came back either. The rout of devastation is not something you'd want to repeat again. They are currently somewhere in the western part of Ukraine. Going from city to city, still hiding from shelling. The point is if you start running, you can never stop. Once that flight instinct kicks in, you will run without even knowing why you are running at this particular time. Ukraine is being bombed by long range missiles that can reach every single part of the country. Russia is our neighbor, we share 1700 miles of border with them and this isn't even mentioning Belarus where Russian planes and rockets are launched daily towards Ukrainian soil. A civilian hasn't the slightest clue about locations of strategic military objects. He could find himself near a military base without even knowing about it. If a rocket hits that base, it would be as if he found the rocket and not the other way around. This is not something that regular people think about but this is something Ukrainians must think about on an hourly basis. You must be conscious of everything you do, everywhere you go. If one would like to visit a crowded place, think twice because a crowded place is a likely target for the Russian army. Every time I leave grocery shopping my wife wishes me luck and it is not that good luck, beak-a-leg type of a moment. Instead it is a Good luck, come back home in one piece.
I have other friends who decided to run away together. They gathered 15 people and 3 cars. They drove their caravan for about 500 miles before they were ambushed by criminals. Yes criminals, nobody said that war automatically made criminals disappear. But, scared and stressed people are not able to be rational. My acquaintances got robbed for their money and jewellery. As they broke free, they crossed the Ukrainian border as soon as they could. They never found who it was. It makes sense though - think about it. People are running away. They are running for good. Of course, they will take all expensive belongings with them, especially when they are going by car. There weren't many such stories that I know of, but they most certainly happened. A week into the war, the National Security Agency and Territorial Defence were tasked with eliminating such occurrences. By week 2, the very worst that you could hear about is shoplifting.
Later in the day, there was advice. Some people couldn't understand why I am not running.
Truly yours is no hero by any means - just a regular guy with a regular family, a dog and home. But this being said, it is precisely at these times when you realize - are you a runner or a fighter? I am just not an exception. There are many folks here who deliberately chose to stay, chose to fight, no matter if it is at the front or the back. No matter if it is staying even to help facilitate the economy, to keep at least some gears of the Ukrainian economy grinding. Statistics tells us that even though 3 million people crossed the border and 10 million are displaced, this still leaves 75% of the country who will not break and are not willing to give into their fears. Every person who stayed considers this their own personal war. The reasons are different, and that is ok, as long as the goal is the same. We are here, we will fight.
Day 2 also brought exhilaration. Not before long, we had these images on our phones.
I remember as my hands shook when I laid eyes on these images. It actually meant that we were going to fight them, even in the air. After, we heard rumors that certain member state officials of the EU gave Ukraine 48 hours, after we heard all military experts say that Russia will overpower Ukraine in the sky, the planes and rockets started coming down. They came down in the fields and cities, small and big, flaming and not. I started getting personal notes that we are successful in deterring the Russian forces here and eliminating them there.
The day after is a day that could perhaps be more memorable and important than the first day of the Russian - Ukrainian war. It is the day that showed you who you really are. It is that day that shows you who the people around you are. Once the smoke cleared, you lift your head up and write - “hey man, are you still here?”. It melts your heart when the answer is yes. No matter if it comes from a soldier buddy of yours at the front line - he wrote back, it means that he is alive - or if it came from a civilian who stayed here with you. The day after bound people together stronger than anything ever did. It is said that when war comes to your doorstep, it divides people into 2 categories, the people who you know and the people who you think you know. The greatest example of this tragic but heroic concept is President Zelenskiy. After all, he is our face of resistance.
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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