‘We don’t want to live with Russia and it’s a fake republic’: A Ukrainian in hiding speaks of war and fear

Amidst the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, a literature professor currently in hiding in Ukraine shares her experience, anger, and hope with The Hindu

March 12, 2022 01:36 pm | Updated March 23, 2022 04:04 pm IST

Ukrainian soldiers help a fleeing family crossing the Irpin river in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 5, 2022.

Ukrainian soldiers help a fleeing family crossing the Irpin river in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 5, 2022. | Photo Credit: AP

It had been ten days since Russia declared war on Ukraine. More than a million Ukrainians had crossed borders and become refugees in Poland and Hungary among other countries. It is in this context that Olha Poliukovych, a professor of literature at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, spoke to The Hindu about the pains of the war, resentment among the Ukrainians against the Russians. She was hesitant to share her location because she feared for her life and that of the many others with her.

On the Russian attack on Kyiv

Recounting the night when the invasion began, Ms. Poliukovych said the Ukrainian population was disoriented and there was panic as they had to leave the cities, listening to the explosions behind them as they moved to the borders.

“I’m right now in more or less a safe place. I had to flee my town, which is near Kyiv. But I am staying in Ukraine. I’m not going to leave Ukraine. I will stay here and help as much as I can,” she said.

Calling the Russian forces invaders, she condemned their attack on the Babyn yar Holocaust memorial. “This is the place where Nazi killed the Jews during World War Two; they assaulted the memory of innocent victims there.”

Talking about the mass migration and the current situation that prevails within Ukraine, she said, “It’s not a conflict. It’s not a crisis. It’s a real war. Women and children, they are trying to escape. They are trying to cross the border. And those who could not do that are now living in the basements and in the bomb shelters. Women are giving birth in the bomb shelters, Ukrainian newborns are starting their lives in the shelters.”

On being stuck between Russia and the West

Talking about the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, she said that Ukrainians went to the peaceful protest when the then President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the EU Association Agreement. Mr. Yanukovych, who was pro-Russia and now lives in exile in Russia, had ordered state forces to kill civilian protesters in the capital of Ukraine, she said. But the Ukrainian people had made their choice clear that they don’t want to be a part of Russia. “We don’t want to live with Russia and its fake republic,” she said.

About President Zelenskyy submitting an application to the European Union recently to accept Ukraine as a member, Ms. Poliukovych said that the price of it had become too high as thousands of people had died and more continued to as the war raged on.

On the world’s response to Russian invasion

Ms. Poliukovych said sanctions were good but they were not helping as every day Ukrainians were dying and millions were living in fear. “NATO is hesitant to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to protect Ukrainian sky, saying that it would be the start of the third world war. World, please open your eyes, the Third World War already started. Do you think Europe is a really safe place to live, when one country can invade your borders and in a barbaric manner murder civilians there?” she asked.

Talking about the revolution of dignity, she said that the world stood silent then, and what was happening now was a direct result of that silence. “The fire you ignored then has reached your doorsteps.”

‘Many of my students have joined the armed forces’

Ms. Poliukovych said that many of her students had joined the war as well. “I contact my students time to time. Many of them are staying in Ukraine. They have volunteered to join the armed forces. Many others are helping their neighbours. Everyone is trying to preserve the freedom of Ukraine in whatever capacity they can, and I believe we will win,” she said.

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