It is not heroism that is creating the long lines to enlist in the country’s fight against Russia, nor is it the opposite that explains the refugees trying to get out alive. There is a single objective for both.
They joke in Ukraine now — and our sense of humor is more tenacious than ever — that when you’re required to enlist in the army in peacetime, everyone is sick; but when there’s a war, everyone is healthy.
Yes, there are literally lines — sometimes six to eight hours long — to join the fight against the invading Russian forces. The “lucky” ones get to be trained in combat, while the rest of the “territorial defense” units are engaged in all manners of logistics, baking bread, delivering food. Though far safer, they are the unlucky recruits.
There are even reports of would-be combatants offering bribes to get a ticket to the frontline. More dark humor or a revealing truth about the state of mind in Ukraine right now.
Everyone believes in victory
Thousands of civilians desperately flee bombings in Kyiv via strategic checkpoint of Irpin, west of Kyiv.
Goktay Koraltan/Depo Photos via ZUMA Press Wire
One of the members of Kyiv's territorial defense, a journalist for the Ukrainian newspaper Pravda, Vadim Petrasyuk, keeps a blog about his service. "On the first day of the war, they took everyone who came in. On the second day, there was already a line, as there used to be at the Lenin Mausoleum," he writes. “To go to war through connections — such is now a sign of the times. Such is corruption, such is cronyism.”
I was able to speak by telephone with another journalist from the Ukrainian newspaper Novoe Vremya, Yuriy Matsarskiy, who is currently on patrol in the Kyiv military.
"Everyone who knows how to handle weapons is involved in the capital's military defense, and there are long lines of those who want to join, but the first ones we take are those who have experience," Matsarskiy says. “Our youngest fighter is 18 years old and the oldest is 65. There are many girls and women of older age, but mostly men. Both Kievers and people from other regions, everyone understands the strategic importance of Kyiv.”
You feed the murderers.
He speaks positively about the armament of the territorial defense forces but says that more NLAW and Javelin missiles wouldn't hurt. "The most important thing is that there is not a hint of weakness or sadness in the ranks of our fighters,” Matsarskiy adds. “It is true: Everyone is unanimous in the belief in victory and therefore moving only forward.”
He saves his final words for anyone in Europe who is still doing business in Russia: “I would like to say: You feed the murderers, get out of there, trade with normal countries, do not finance their war…"
Never more united
Soldiers and civilians pray together at Church of the Most Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Lviv
The territorial defense performs secondary military tasks to help the Ukrainian army: guarding checkpoints, catching saboteurs, blocking roads. Even if I understand why the rest of the world is calling them heroes, as a Ukrainian, I see all of the new recruits as perfectly natural. They really could not have acted otherwise.
In the decades since the end of World War II, we in Europe have somehow forgotten what it means to lose everything overnight: A shell hits your home and there is nothing left. A plane bombs your city and destroys your street, the school where your children study, the restaurant where you meet your friends, the park where you walk your dog. This bomb, that missile, fired by the hand of an enemy who hates you, wants to take your life, the lives of your loved ones, to destroy everything that is dear to you and that you call home.
Ukraine right now is a nation of a million separated families.
What would the people of Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, New York do in such a situation? Exactly the same. They would pile up tires at crossroads, sandbags at checkpoints, feed each other, grab weapons without a backward glance. Because it is their home: there is no second Kyiv, as there is no second Paris.
Some wonder, at the same time, about all the refugees leaving Ukraine. My daughter Sofiia, her nine-year-old brother and my mother made the journey from Kyiv to Paris. They are among the women, old men, and children who cannot fight, who must save their lives to rebuild the country after the war. They will return, they all wait every day for the war to end so they can go home. To the home that those heroes are now defending.
Ukraine right now is a nation of a million separated families, entire cities and populations torn apart — and we have never been more united.
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