The Russian invasion has not come as a surprise. It has been hanging over our heads ever since Russia annexed Crimea eight years ago. But life went on as usual for us. During my final year at the Kyiv Trade and Economic University, I found love when I met Liza, my future wife. We now have three lovely children—daughters Valya (5) and Ivanka (3) and son Leo (4). We are also parents of Federico, a Labrador, and Martyn, a cat. My family owns a local coffee house chain, Vasha Kava. Last year, we moved into a new house that took us three years to build. We were happy with everything life has given us. But we knew the war had arrived when Putin ordered his military into the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Preparing for War
A phone call from a relative in Brovary, four km from Kyiv, confirmed our worst fears. The war had begun. We turned on the TV and saw horrific scenes of bombed military units, airfields, energy stations and other strategic facilities throughout the country. I asked Liza to wake up the children, collect their things and documents, and I myself went to the other end of the city to pick up my father—a war invalid who suffered two strokes in recent years—and my brother, a student.
On the way, I saw serpentine queues at ATMs, grocery stores and pharmacies. At gas stations, the queues were kilometres-long. There was panic on the roads as people drove at break-neck speeds as they tried to leave the city. There were terrible traffic jams on all roads, and many bridges had been blown up. We knew that if we were stranded halfway, we would be left without shelter, food and medicines. After some thought, we decided that it was better to stay put.
We set up a bomb shelter in the basement of a kindergarten next to our house. We stocked drinking water, medicines, bread, warm clothes, mattresses and blankets. Our army is fighting heroically on all fronts. We began to organise ourselves into territorial defences—building checkpoints and barricades, preparing Molotov cocktails, removing road signs and doing everything we can to defend our cities. War is not only scary, it changes you. It overwhelms your senses, makes you excessively emotional. Very soon, the rage replaced the sense of hopelessness. We found out that the “great” Russian army was not so great, after all. They did not know the terrain, they had no local support. Every bush in Ukraine shoots at them, a Molotov cocktail flies from every window, old women and children block the streets, preventing enemy equipment from entering the cities. More and more Russian soldiers are being taken prisoner. They are demoralised, hungry, cold, frightened. We saw how Putin had vilely sent to certain death young men who are no more than 18–20 years of age.
The air raid signal goes off 4-5 times a day. While we are successfully defending our native city, terrible battles are taking place in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, Sumy and Chernigov. The enemy has launched artillery, aircraft, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems, warships, and more. Russia is using every dirty trick—shelling orphanages, hospitals, residential buildings. It is killing civilians using prohibited weapons. We constantly hear explosions and gunshots. With each airstrike, the ground trembles. We are trying to be useful to our defenders. We hand over materials for Molotov cocktails to the territorial defence troops, we deliver food, we help strengthen the checkpoints with sandbags, car tyres and sheet metal. We are also actively participating in many groups on Viber and Telegram, where we promptly transmit information to our army about the movement of enemy forces noticed by our friends and relatives in different parts of Ukraine. We opened two of our coffee houses in Priluki and two in neighbouring cities. Our baristas fill thermoses with hot drinks free of cost for our soldiers. We also help financially by transferring part of our savings to army support funds. Everyone helps as much as they can. The whole society has become one. If I get the opportunity to participate in combat, I will certainly fight for my homeland. But my main priority remains to ensure the safety of my family without interfering with the work of our military personnel.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Ukraine Diary")
Maxim Maksimenko (Is a 33-year-old Ukrainian living in Priluki city, 130 km from Kyiv)