While Ukraine is fighting, all eyes turn to its courageous people who are now relentlessly standing up not only for their freedom, but also for the key values that are the foundation of our Western world. Anastasia is a 22-year-old university graduate, who for the past few years has been working and building her future in the city of Lviv. Even though she has a family and friends in Poland, she decided to stay in Ukraine and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thursday, February 24th. Tell me about this day – what did you think? What did you feel?
Terror. It was so overwhelming! I did not expect that to happen – I was quite naive, actually. I though that there is no way that in the civilized world like ours there could be war at any day. It was just stupid to think. But right now it’s different. Today it is mostly anger – righteous anger – that keeps me going.
This anger is something we can see in the news everyday – right next to the incredible bravery of Ukrainians…
It is all connected. You have your freedom and consider it your birthright – a basic human right. Then suddenly you have it taken away from you by someone you don’t even know. It definitely makes you angry. And this is probably what makes our army so powerful and all of us so powerful. When we heard how our army is protecting us we felt even stronger urge to go outside, do the work, to volunteer, to donate blood, to make camouflage netting, to collect and prepare bottles for Molotov cocktails. Even the smallest of tasks to do gives us strong motivation.
At the moment of our conversation the situation in Lviv is quite stable.
Yes. We had relatively peaceful few days. Everyday we hear sirens but thankfully the alarms pass quite quickly and we can get back to our tasks. The first siren we heard in Lviv was the first morning of the war. It was completely terrifying and my first thought was of course to flee the city and stay with my family which is far West, very near to Polish border. I also got calls from my family and friends in Poland offering place to stay, urging me to come.
But you refused…
I couldn’t do it. I thought – if everyone goes, who is going to do the work? How can I really protect my family? Everyone I love is in my home village but all I can do if I go, is just sit in one place and probably go crazy feeling helpless. I needed to act. I cannot imagine it any other way. The work we’re doing here is exhausting, both physically and mentally. But we do it not because someone told us to, but because it’s the only way to win this battle. Unfortunately many people, not only Ukrainians, who live in safe regions or outside the country have this ‘survivor’s guilt’ for not doing the most they can to help. And my heart breaks for every person who feels like that. It’s so important to know that even a simple message with kind words or re-posting information on social media does make the difference. I want to thank everyone for that.
What do you do now, how does your day look like?
There is a kitchen here where we prepare food for soldiers and refugees. One time we spent all day just cutting onions. Everyone who can comes here and do whatever needs to be done at the moment. You don’t expect it but people keep coming and they keep doing the job. It is so important because there is so much to do on every level you can imagine. And you can feel how much stronger we are together. Than we give out food to the refugees – there are a lot of them in Lviv. Me and my friend spend around 7-8 hours outside doing it. And then there are multiple other things to do depending on the current needs. Everyone is doing their best, staying focused.
The train station in Lviv is constantly filled with refugees. Can you tell me what is the situation there?
We are working there with women and children. We give away food, hot beverages and organize place to stay while they are waiting for the trains. We talk to them and comfort them. It is hard to see so many people with babies as young as few months or even few weeks. Elderly mother and daughter who were trying to flee to Poland but the mother suddenly felt sick and couldn’t get on the train. Pregnant women with young kids. A family who was begging us to find shelter for their beloved dog they couldn’t take with them. It’s tough. But it is still amazing to be able to make these kids laugh and forget about what’s going on. A lot of emotions here – I cannot even put it into words.
At the moment we speak, over 670 thousand refugees from Ukraine are already in Poland and more are on the way. Do they trust they will find here what they need the most right now?
I would say that the main feeling that rules any railway station in Ukraine nowadays is anxiety and horror of being displaced from your home, taking the bare minimum of your stuff and going into the complete unknown. Thankfully I’ve heard so many uplifting stories about amazing Polish volunteers and thousands of regular people who are willing to help each and every one of our citizens. People feel much better knowing that there is peace and safety waiting for them and their children ahead. There is hope in their eyes.
Your president, Volodymyr Zelensky impressed the entire world with his strength of character and leadership in this darkest of hours.
We are so grateful for him! Nobody actually expected this kind of resistance. He stood up for us and he keeps fighting and this is so inspiring. We need him very much and Ukraine will fight till the end.