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by Brian Stuhlman
I wrote my first (daily) Facebook post on a Thursday, 52 days ago. The newspaper commentary that followed a few days after detailed the fear that was just beginning to descend on Kyiv, heralded by air raid sirens and frightening reports of “shots fired.”
Fast forward 52 days. My family is, as of this moment, still safe, mostly still in Kyiv. My mother-in-law (I call her Mamochka) decided early on that she would stay, suggesting that her age would make it difficult to move as quickly as she might need to and admitting that she would rather younger women and children got out first.
She’s been joined by our sister and her kids (grown nephew and niece, and her husband) in the ground-floor apartment on the north side of Kyiv. There have been shells/missiles hit in their region…not close enough to damage their building, but certainly in walking distance. As the Russian military has been pushed out of the city (first into the Chernobyl region, and then north into Belarus), there has been a tense normalcy return to the city.
Clean-up efforts have begun; my mother-in-law contributes to these efforts by tending the garden outside their window of the tall apartment building. Mamochka has been using the money she saved to visit her grandkids in Columbia to buy supplies for the family AND for pensioners living in their building. Sister does grocery runs for those unable to get around; they even bought a wheelchair for a neighbor in need.
They’ve also started to try to care for local orphaned animals, giving money for food and some much-needed attention. Following the discovery of atrocities in Bucha (where my wife had her first summer camp as a child), many orphaned animals were brought into the city for care and adoption; the family fostered a new puppy from Bucha for a time; many of them are now being trained for military service.
Our brother-in-law continues his service in the Ukrainian military. Though retired several times, he has been in service since the first week of the siege and is likely not to be released for some time. However, he has remained safe as he helps to train young soldiers for the ugliness ahead, and he is still able to contact the family often.
Our father lives in a small village north of Kyiv which did see some early action. Russian soldiers on the way to attack Kyiv were held up for days and weeks, and the smaller villages took the brunt of their looting and pillaging…actions which has earned them the nickname of “orcs.” The family has been able to ship groceries.
I have many friends and former students still in Kyiv, AND outside of Ukraine, who are doing amazing work in the ways they can. One student is a soldier, proudly fighting. Another is translating at a kind of mobile medical unit outside of Ukraine. Another reports daily from Kyiv the daily goings-on. Another lives in California, and raised a lot of money for a children’s hospital. My dear friend Lilia is working with a school in Budapest to keep refugee children learning in school. I am so proud of my kids (former students).
The feelings of Ukrainians I know and love and hear from remain the same…this has been an unprovoked and unnecessary attack that has resulted in so much pain and despair, destruction and havoc, and a crushing waste of life and livelihood. There are no guarantees. People report no trust for any promise or offer made. 52 days of lies and liquidation have left them wary, weary…and continually begging for assistance that just doesn’t seem to be coming.
The first incursions were coupled with an announcement of the Russian goals…to “demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine.” The “special military operation” was being staged to free the Ukrainian people from years of bullying and genocide by Ukraine’s government, with specific goals of liberating the eastern region of Donbas.
Fast forward 52 days.
Russian tactics have proven to be decidedly “Nazi-esque” in their brutality and inhumanity. From the butchery of civilian men, women, and children (at close range) in Bucha, just north of Kyiv, to the devastating massacre in Mariupol, it is not hard to compare mindsets and techniques of this new Russian Reich to its WWII predecessors. Reports of Russian atrocities cover all bases of brutality, including digging up some corpses to play mental warfare on citizens and burning other corpses in mobile cremation units to hide numbers.
The “freeing of the Ukrainian people” continues to take the guise of slaughter at ranges close and distant. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of the mass-bullying of which Ukraine has been accused. Instead, there is evidence, strengthened evidence of late, of a genuine desire to escape from Russian-style iron-fist leadership in favor of a more Western, democratic style. The Russian perspective is that this growing mind-set is bringing NATO closer to its border, and with it a promise of freedom that scares Russian leadership. If the Russian population were to lean too far in that direction, the elite loses their already-shaky grip on the throne and the key to the royal coffers.
Donbas appears to be the next target, the next battleground. The battle has the potential to be epic in its scope, its importance, and its carnage. The current Russian definition of ‘liberation’ seems to skew towards annihilation and genocide.
The waiting continues, with the lives of Ukrainians, the existence of Ukraine, and the conscience of the world hanging in the balance. My hope, and the hope of those I know and love there…let us act, and soon, in the spirit of love, justice, freedom, and kinship. Let us act in a way that will make us proud, and that will make future generations proud, too.
Editor’s note: Brian Stuhlman, a resident of Columbia, is a native of Palmyra and is a PHS graduate. He continues to write about situation in the Ukraine at https://www.facebook.com/brian.stuhlman