‘I Have Equipment Ready’: Young Ukrainians on the Threat of War with Russia

We talked to young people in Ukraine living in the shadow of a potential Russian invasion.
Ivan Vasyliev, Vlad Makhovyk and  Yana Borodina
Ivan Vasyliev, Vlad Makhovyk and Yana Borodina. Photos: Supplied

The eyes of the world are on Ukraine as more than 100,000 Russian troops amass on the border and warnings are issued of an impending major invasion.

When Ukrainians overthrew their pro-Russian president in 2014, Vladimir Putin’s Russia seized control in Crimea and backed pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, in a conflict that has claimed more than 14,000 lives and continues to this day.

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For many young Ukrainians born around or after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s steps to prevent the country from joining institutions like NATO is a direct attack upon the independent nation they grew up in. Although life continues as normal for many in Ukraine, living on the cusp of an invasion is not easy. We spoke to young Ukrainians about what it’s like living in a country that could be on the brink of war.

Yana Borodina, 25, yoga teacher, Kyiv

Yana Borodina in the Carpathian mountains.

Yana Borodina in the Carpathian mountains.

“Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, and since then our country has been destabilised. [Thousands] of Ukrainians have already died in this war, and the numbers are constantly growing.

“Lately, there is even more negative [and] disturbing information around. The news is not positive and inspiring, so planning anything is almost impossible now. 

“I know that a lot of people are trying to get citizenship to other countries or buy tickets to leave Ukraine. But the majority will stay in Ukraine, and they are ready to protect their country and their families because this is all they have.

I have equipment and supplies ready to take with me in case of an attack on Kyiv.

“I’ve changed my routine now so that I now follow the news on the conflict closely and check info sources more thoroughly. I also have equipment and supplies ready to take with me in case of an attack on Kyiv, but I don’t want to believe that an attack will happen.

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“If Russia’s idea is that Ukrainians are their brothers, then why is it so difficult for me to get to Crimea to see my mother and lots of my friends do not have such an opportunity at all? My biggest fear is that Crimea will become Russia. Crimea is Ukraine, my childhood is in Crimea. Only Russians have a direct ability to talk to their government and demand it to stop invading other countries, spreading pseudo-historical propaganda like [denying] that Ukraine is an independent state. Russia must stop pretending to be a blessed helper and protector.

“The future will not be easy for Ukraine. Our task is not to lose our position as an independent state, we must talk about our rights and spread the truth. In Ukraine, we have a right to speak up about our government and problems, so we should use this precious right that does not exist, for example, in Russia or Belarus. If you are silent, it’s the same as agreeing with the crime and becoming a part of it.”

Yulia Romanets, 28, personal stylist and IT support worker, Lutsk

Yulia Romanets.

Yulia Romanets.

“For me pressure from Russia is nothing new. The war in eastern Ukraine has been going on for 8 years. But lately, I read about new threats and troops drawn to our borders. Tensions are rising, but still, I don't panic and want to believe that full-scale war will not break out. I haven't made any preparations yet, but maybe I should. I don't know. 

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I think that freedom is one of the most important values that belongs to people

“I am a positive person and believe in happy endings. Ukrainians are people with big hearts and strong spirits. I felt this energy during the revolution in 2014. I want Crimea to be Ukrainian again and for all military actions on our territory to stop. But the situation is so unstable that it is impossible to predict anything. 

“Russian authorities cannot accept that we are an independent country. They constantly interfere in our international and domestic politics. They want to re-establish the Soviet Union, which, in my opinion, is terrible. 

“I think that freedom is one of the most important values that belongs to people. I don't want to lose it. I don't want to feel the impact of a country where human rights and freedoms are not respected.”

Ivan Vasyliev, 30, works in marketing, Kyiv

Ivan ukraine.png

Ivan Vasyliev.

“When I first heard information about the 100,000 Russian troops near our borders, I was worried, like everybody here. But don't forget, Ukraine has been living in a war since the Crimea occupation. The Ukrainian army is now stronger than any other time I remember. But still, it's hard to live calmly when you know there’s a risk of invasion.

“You know, we are on a knife-edge. Nobody knows how this situation is going to be solved. Maybe it's a political chess game or something like that. But if it's not, it's scary of course. Who is not scared of war? But I still have hope there is not going to be a war. 

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Putin's Russia wants to create the Soviet Union 2.0

“I thought about moving to Europe for a few months, to see what was going to happen. Some sources told us that the invasion was going to be on the 20th of February. But who tells you the date of invasion, if you’re going to occupy your neighbour? I try not to panic. There is a lot of disinformation in social media, news etc. As I said, I am trying to keep my mind calm.

“I don’t understand how Russia can behave like this in the 21st century.  If you are a big powerful country, it would be better to build a strong economy, protect human rights, pay attention to climate change, LGBTQ+ rights and other civilisation stuff, but no. Putin's Russia want to create the Soviet Union 2.0

“I hope when I’m a grumbling old man, I will grumble about pigeons, not corruption, courts, police or something else.”

Vlad Makhovyk, 26, bartender and dancer, Kyiv

Vlad Makhovyk.

Vlad Makhovyk.

“I feel awful about [the political situation]. I feel that all this war is pointless and in the 21st century, it seems unbelievable that we are talking about physical war. It’s so crazy that people need to lose their lives because of a political game.

“Since 2014, Ukraine has struggled with strikes and intense political relations with Russia. I saw Kyiv at that time and it was awful. We still read plenty of articles every day and news reports about everything that’s happened and there’s no break. There isn’t a crazy panic in the streets but everyone is thinking about what to do.

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“People are tired already and there is nothing we can do about it. It looks like we have an [oncoming] apocalypse but we still need to go to work! Of course, in the worst-case scenario, I’m taking my family to another county as a refugee if that’s possible because I don’t want anyone in my family to have war experience.

There isn’t a crazy panic in the streets but everyone is thinking about what to do

“I think Russia is behaving aggressively and stupidly. I truly don’t understand violence and how it can solve problems. Of course, if someone invades and tries to ambush your home you need to protect it, and I understand what it will be like after Russia starts to attack. But I truly don’t want it to happen and hope that all that’s going on is just an information war and in 2022 we can manage it without people’s blood. My biggest fear is that the Third World War will begin and some of the leader countries will use atomic bombs.

“Even though I like Ukraine and it’s my home – it becomes harder to live here and now I don’t see myself as a future resident of my homeland.”

Dmitriy Koloah, music and sound producer, 34, Kyiv

Dmitriy Koloah. Photo: Angel Angelov.

Dmitriy Koloah. Photo: Angel Angelov.

“[I am feeling] not really good. But the situation is that people in Kyiv and in Ukraine, we like used to live with that feeling when you're afraid of something. You know, afraid of something really big, really huge, really uncontrollable. It's so big that you as a human being you can't do anything.

You go to a bar not to hang out with your friends but to discuss all the shit that is happening

“You know, we had a war in Kyiv and we have this pandemic, so we kind of used to live with a feeling like that. But now, the situation is a little bit more serious [though] not everybody believes it, because it's not the first time [Russia has threatened invasion].

“In Kyiv, we still have big parties. bars are still overcrowded. It doesn’t matter that there are 5,000 COVID cases in Ukraine – it's a record for us now. People are living their lives but at the moment you go to a bar not to hang out with your friends but to discuss all the shit that is happening. So on each table, at each bar, people are talking about [the situation], with people discussing what they're going to do. It’s like the main topic.”