Views of Odessa Residents: First Day of Putin’s Invasion

Foreign Policy Brief #145 | By: Yelena Korshunov | February 25, 2022

Header photo taken from: Courthouse News Service




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Damaged residential building in Kiev. February 24, 2022.

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I spent my childhood years in Odessa, a sunny seaport city in south Ukraine, on the Black Sea shore. I remember bright cozy streets, flourishing acacia, tall poplars, shady sycamores, the smell of the sea, and smiley people whose humor and unique mixed multicultural talk became known as “Odessa’s language”. People of more than 133 nations and nationalities have been residing in the Odessa region for hundreds of years. This multicultural melting pot induced tolerance to each other’s traditions, cultures, and languages. That is what was engraved in my childhood memory.

Also, there were a lot of civil government holidays that we celebrated altogether: Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Bulgarians, and many others. February 24th, the day after the former Soviet Army holiday, turned out to be the date when Putin’s army invaded Ukraine, bombing, shelling, and killing. Ukrainians will remember this day forever. I’m intentionally not saying “Russia’s army”. Putin is not Russia, and Russia is not Putin. This is Putin’s governance that seeds violence on Ukrainian land and in his own country, jasiling Russian citizens who are brave enough to protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

I still have part of my family and friends in Ukrainian Odessa and I made multiple phone calls today to find out what’s going on in the city.

Irina lives in an apartment building in a quiet green block. Her family now hosts their friends. People try to not stay alone in their apartments. “We heard explosions at 5 in the morning, then at 10, and then at 1pm. I can’t describe my feelings. It’s scary. We still have water and electricity, but who knows what’s gonna happen? TV reports that Russian troops are about to invade the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Withdrawing cash from ATMs is very limited. People stay in lines to get at least some bills in their pockets. Gas stations limit gas sale to 20 liters (5.28 gallon) per person.”

Sergey’s family escaped from invaded Eastern Ukraine to Kiev years ago. “We ran away from the war in Donetsk, but it has caught us up in the heart of the country, in its capital.”

Victoria and Igor are parents of three. Their two kids, a high school student and a college student, had their lessons remotely today. “Entire week we had a daily shelling drill”, says their daughter. “Inexpensive food and medicines disappeared from shelves this morning”, tells me Victoria. “There are enormously long lines to the gas stations. People wait for hours to get their 20 liters of gas. But there is enough food and medicine if you can overpay and there is no panic in the streets. People are walking back and forth, and it looks like a routine day. Farmer markets work as usual, though some supermarket networks and McDonalds are closed, and some merchants in local stores say that they’re gonna be closed in the afternoon.” Vera, Victoria and Igor’s older child is trying to get to Odessa from Kiev at this hour. Small bus (“marshrutka”) is full of people and is moving very slowly. There is a huge traffic jam on a Kiev highway toward Odessa.”

Sofia has been living in Moscow for more than 20 years. Her parents are in Odessa where she was born. “I’m frustrated and scared. I don’t know what to do to help my family in Ukraine. It’s a nightmare. It just cannot be a reality”, she says.

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Ukrainian men banned from leaving the country and urged to join the army as Russian troops advance on Kyiv

Photo taken from: iNews

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Curfew in Odessa is announced from 11 pm tonight through 6 am in the morning. This is something that my cognition refuses to absorb. In 21st century’s Europe, at this hour, my motherland is invaded by a neighboring country. Many families from both countries have been traditionally mixed up for centuries. Many Ukrainians (including me) have Russian as their native language. And today my family, friends, and their neighbors in Ukraine are praying just to stay alive.

 Military service in both Ukrainian and Russian armies is mandatory for young men when they turn 18. Today Russian youths are thrown to shell the land of their neighbors and — probably — relatives. 

Ukrainian youth risk their lives to defend the motherland, while mothers on opposite sides of the border cry and pray to see their children again, coming back home alive. I wish Ukraine peace. I want to go there and see this land as beautiful and flourishing as I saw it years ago through my child’s eyes.

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