“We’ve shown that the formidable Russian army is just a myth” “WHAT HE’S DONE IS CRAZY... WE DIDN’T EXPECT IT TO BE A REAL WAR”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. Since then, the severity of war has been evident in all its dimensions: thousands of civilians dead, millions of people having to leave their homes and completely besieged and destroyed cities, such as Mariupol in south-east Ukraine. Despite this, many Ukrainians are convinced of their strength and believe that they will be able to withstand the onslaught of the Russian army. This is the case of two young men who have no doubt that their country will defeat the Russian invaders.
Journalist Vitali Tkatchuk spoke to our sister publication, La República, from Kyiv. Prior to the conflict, he worked as a sports journalist for one of Ukraine’s oldest agencies, Ukrinform. The war has turned everything upside down, and Tkatchuk has now started to report on what is happening in his country. “We have to tell the truth to the Ukrainians. I work from home, I’m safe here,” he says, explaining that Kyiv is under full control of the Ukrainian army. However, he added that Russian bombing was continuing and that many civilians had been killed and buildings destroyed. “All Ukrainians are now defending the capital: both the military and civilians who are part of the voluntary defence force [people who received weapons voluntarily to defend the country]. Checkpoints have been set up at the entrance to Kyiv, and the Armed Forces and Territorial Defence are guarding the city. Civilians are hiding in bomb shelters and the underground system,” he said. Tkatchuk reflects on the military’s ability to resist. “Our resistance is strong for many reasons. Firstly, because during the eight years of conflict our army gained experience in defending Ukraine in the Donbas region [to the East]. Secondly, compared to 2014, our army has improved in qualitative terms (our equipment, weapons, etc). Thirdly, we have motivation: we know why we are fighting. In addition, Ukrainian president Zelensky has become a leader who inspires the entire nation – even though without him we Ukrainians would still fight to the end. We have shown that the formidable Russian army is a myth, so we will win.”
The question of whether they expected this attack by the Kremlin is almost an obligatory one. Tkatchuk says yes, they had been expecting it for months. “The situation in the Donbas was critical because of the constant actions of the Russians and their mercenaries. The large-scale invasion became apparent when Russia withdrew a large number of its troops abroad on the pretext of manoeuvres. From then on, it was clear to me that the attack was just a matter of time.”
Aleksandr Oleinik is a young Ukrainian who arrived in Barcelona a few weeks ago. He spent a month here last autumn after walking the Way of Saint James [Camino de Santiago]. Oleinik could not have imagined that his life would turn around a hundred and eighty degrees. This young man explains that he has always enjoyed travelling, and because he has his own digital marketing business, his work has allowed him to work from different parts of the world. A few weeks before the Russian invasion, he had travelled with a group of friends from his hometown of Odessa to Thailand and Sri Lanka. From there, they kept track of the information they received. “We knew the Russians were close to the border. We learned that the US embassy was moving from Kyiv to Lviv. On February 24 we received the news that Russia was invading Ukraine... It’s really hard, because we know every city that’s being bombed,” he explains. “Every morning, every lunch, every dinner we went online to get all the news and find out what was going on,” he adds. “The trip was supposed to continue for another week, but we decided to get back near to Ukraine, but without entering,” he said. “We chose to be in Europe because it’s a good place to be able to help our country from abroad. Some friends went to Poland; others to the Netherlands,” he added. “If it weren’t for the invasion, I would have returned to my flat in Odessa to work online, as I always did, but now that’s impossible. I can’t be a soldier either because I have vision problems,” he explains. Oleinik thinks that he can be more useful to Ukraine in the economic sphere, working and helping via social networks, than going to his country and enlisting in the army. “I have no military training, I have never even picked up a weapon,” he says. He now lives in a flat in the centre of Barcelona that he found through a Ukrainian woman who has been living in the Catalan capital for years. The community is doing everything it can so that compatriots who arrive find a place to live these first months. His mother does not want to leave her country, for the time being at least. “I talk to her every day. I always talk to her about leaving but it’s her decision,” says Oleinik.
The two young men’s anger is palpable when the name Vladimir Putin is mentioned. “What he’s done is crazy... We didn’t expect it to be a real war, like World War II,” Oleinik says. For his part, Tkatchuk believes that “Putin is constantly lying.” “None of the arguments he has for attacking Ukraine make sense. And 70% of Russians support this war. They have killed peaceful Ukrainian civilians and razed dozens of cities. They deserve all the sanctions.”
international ukraine crisis
“We won’t stop fighting”
Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Tkatchuk says: “Ukrainians will not stop fighting until Russia withdraws its troops from the whole of Ukraine, including Crimea and the Donbas, and Putin’s regime collapses. Tkatchuk believes that pressure from the international community will become tougher against Russia in the coming weeks. For his part, Aleksandr Oleinik believes that the territorial unity of Ukraine is guaranteed and that the territories of the Donbas will not be ceded to Russia. “I am confident that Ukraine will keep its borders,” Oleinik says.