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Editor’s note: Brian Stuhlman, a Palmyra native and PHS graduate lives in Columbia, Mo. with his wife, Marvna, a Ukrainian native. This is his third story updating readers on how things are going in the war-torn country and about family still living there.
by Brian Stuhlman
In Ukraine, hope is a wonderful, though sometimes scary, thing.
The past two weeks in Ukraine have brought a cautious and wary optimism to citizens and supporters of Ukraine. This week marked the passing of the 200th day of fighting since the “operation” in Ukraine was kicked off by Russian forces.
As has been reiterated daily, Russia has been surprised time and again by the failure of their own tactics, and by the tenacity of the Ukrainian people. Though “on paper” Ukraine has been out-matched in every way, Russian forces have found that “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
Now over 200 days past the 24th of February, Ukraine continues to defend its sovereign and separate country from Putin’s plunderers. Quick incursions meet fierce and immediate resistance, as they have from the very beginning.
As immediate was the world’s re-discovery of the extents to which Russian forces cannot be trusted under Putin’s cruel thumb. Actions turned promises into savage lies, dirty tricks and diversions.
Sworn oaths that civilians had every reason to rejoice and no reason to fear are shrieked in torture chambers and mumbled over mass graves. Claims of “noble goals” and “anti-Nazi objectives” have been incinerated in mobile crematoriums and whispered in the ears of the thousands of children who have been abducted from Ukraine and “given new homes” in Russia.
There have been a number of weeks when it seemed that the sheer numbers of Russian forces were going to take the day. Bucha…Mariupol…Azov…Kherson…Kharkiv…now-familiar names repeated on the news, paired with images that just never seem to capture the agony of the people murdered, tortured, raped, and those witnesses who survived. In Ukraine, the light of hope ever shines, but there have been times when it has definitely dimmed.
This week, though, brought a few events that seemed to fan some flames. In a tactic that took weeks to plan and foreign military aid to equip, Ukraine pulled a massive ‘fake-out.’ Ukraine managed to convince Russian strategists that they were going to focus on Kherson in the south…and while Russia bolstered their forces there, Ukraine instead went after Kharkiv farther north.
The past two weeks have seen Ukraine retake over 2,000 square miles of territory from Russian control. The sweep continues as Russian forces evacuate and retreat. They leave behind arms and ammo, but they also leave behind what was feared…evidence of torture chambers and mass graves where hundreds…perhaps thousands…have been interred.
Russia still has a hold on about a fifth of Ukraine’s land…but by all accounts, this week has been recorded as a ‘W’ for Ukraine. I’ve asked several family and friends in Ukraine for opinions uncomplicated by the filters of national news; the overwhelming response has been of “cautious hope.”
More people are returning to Kiev and other “safer” places from their varied places of refuge, and trying to engage in whatever normalcy they can find. Our brother is contributing to the rebuilding that has started in some cities, even though the hope that inspires reconstruction also inspires fear that any work done could be destroyed again.
Other work continues. Our brother-in-law has had a few days of furlough from his post in the Ukrainian army. Our sister has spent a lot of time in the country, growing and canning vegetables that may be quite necessary in the upcoming winter, which has promised shortages and rationing of foods, electricity, gas and more.
Our mother (I call her Mamochka) holds the fort in Kyiv. Rarely straying far from home, just in case, Mamochka joins many other pensioners in doing what they can…helping each other with daily or emergent needs and giving each other support and somebody to talk to. She is prepping the apartment for a potentially long winter ahead, but she does so with hardy sass. As the nuclear power plants of Ukraine have come under threat, she often brings up that she and her family survived Chernobyl…there’s no scaring the people of Ukraine with threats.
Other friends and family in Kyiv and beyond are doing much the same — working when they can, helping each other, celebrating the wins and preparing for the worst that may lie ahead. Hope remains high that the Ukrainian forces are going to reign victorious, and that the Russian encroachers will be sent packing.
The hope is scary, though, as there is no guarantee when it comes to Russia. Some officials have expressed concerns with Russian strategies and methods; some of those same officials have “accidentally fell from windows” or “accidentally ingested some poison.” Though Ukraine is not faultless in bending some rules of engagement, it is Russian forces that are kidnapping children, looting houses, raping women while children watch and torturing innocent civilians before cramming them into mass graves. It has been proven time and again that when it comes to statements about Ukraine…the Russian regime simply cannot be trusted.
The hope across the board, as nerve-wracking as it may be, is that this week’s successes are multiplied in the coming weeks; that Ukraine with natural grit and western weapons will take the day, and secure the future security once again. There are still fears that this hope will only come after much more bloodshed, even of their own people (over 50,000 Russian soldiers killed thus far.) Ukrainians remain stalwart that there is no choice…their country will be defended, and it will be free.
There is NOTHING good about this war. Though I do so with nervous worry, I join in the Ukrainian hope for a better day of freedom yet to come.