Ukraine: "When they ask me what I'm going to do on victory day, I always answer the same: I fight"

Ukraine: “When they ask me what I’m going to do on victory day, I always answer the same: I fight”

For Iryna, 44, this struggle has actually been going on for eight years, when the war broke out in Donbass, in the east of the country, and she began to divide her time between Ukrainian Philology classes at the University of Odessa, where she is a professor, the care of their two children and an intense volunteering activity, in support of soldiers wounded in combat.

On weekends, the streets of the southern Ukrainian port city vibrate with people on the move, cafes, terraces and parks are full, there is music everywhere, but for Iryna there is no rest. Lusa finds her in a group of volunteers who handcraft camouflage nets: “This is something I also do for my soul.”

It’s a daily challenge to fight war fatigue, cheering others around you when they get discouraged or seeking help when you’re the one who breaks down. It’s been this 2014, but it was the day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that marked the turning point of his long activism.

“I felt relieved, because there will finally be a logical end”, she vents, justifying this disconcerting feeling with the indifference she felt prevailing in Ukraine, when “the war continued, the military was killed and the rest of the country lived normally trying to forget what had happened”. if it was happening”.

Everything changed on that February 24th and now you know that, eight years after the Donbass, the stagnation and lack of evolution of the crisis gave way to a scenario in which “everything is movement” and this gives you hope that the war will end and with Ukraine’s victory: “This is what I live for”.

And the end was foretold at the very beginning of this crisis, when in the first days of the invasion Moscow’s propaganda was so strong that Iryna thought that “everything had failed”, when she heard that Odessa had fallen. Even she already thought it was true, though she didn’t see any Russians around. She saw other things.

“When I went out into the street, I saw people who know nothing about Ukrainian culture making ‘Molotov cocktails’, camouflage nets, filling bags with Black Sea sand, plus gigantic lines of people donating blood. They were doing what there was to do. It was so amazing that I finally realized that it is impossible for Russia to win.”

It was around her that the teacher went to get her strength and strengthen her volunteering in visiting the wounded soldiers “and making them feel at home and that their sacrifice was not in vain”, in participating in projects to feed the displaced and disadvantaged people, cultural activities and collection of donations, also involving their children and finding in the younger ones a patriotism different from their own: “We, the older ones, went through a lot to get here. In young people, it already comes with the DNA”.

In two days, Ukraine marks the day of its independence, but also six months since the beginning of the Russian invasion and Iryna finds no reason to celebrate, not least because patriotic songs call to tears and once again “these are not times of weakness” , nor when he sees that it is “the best of the Ukrainians” who die every day.

“That makes you think about the price to pay but there is no other option. When they ask me what I’m going to do on victory day, I always answer the same: I fight”.

In a country at war, Odessa looks around every corner for peace and to deceive circumstances, when the Russian lines are at an uncertain distance, but Kherson, just over 200 kilometers to the east, was taken at the dawn of the invasion and Mykolaiv, the about 100 to the north, has been the target of intense attacks for several weeks.

It is from both that many displaced people arrive at the “Pearl of the Black Sea” and wander among the monumentality of the city centre, street musicians, girls who sell kisses and hugs. There’s even a wedding, in a setting where everything seems normal except the daily shriek of air raid alarms or the recurring news of bombings, like the one that happened on Wednesday at a nearby ‘resort’.

“People come looking for ‘peace pieces’, anyway, ‘peace pieces’. They lost children, mothers, fathers, homes and jobs. But this is not real peace when you hear ‘alarm, alarm, alarm’ every day and you don’t know what’s going on in that person’s head… Vladimir Putin, Russian President, Larissol Lora, tour guide, with a ‘tuk tuk’ parked in Gorsad square, in the heart of the city.

The displaced became Larissol Lora’s new clients, who, although she had already witnessed a lot in her condition as an “old woman” and her knowledge of history, had never seen anything like this: “It looks like a movie, but it’s not , is happening, today, now. A few days ago I offered a trip to some people from Mariopol who had lost several family members. And when I talked to them, my legs were shaking, my eyes were crying. It is impossible not to cry.”

Before the war, that ‘tuk tuk’ made about 25 trips a day. “Now, five are lucky and they are almost all displaced or foreign journalists”, says Alexsei, a 20-year-old History and Sociology student, who shares his studies with this activity. He doesn’t need to pull his memory too hard to point out that the last tourist who sat next to him was many weeks ago.

“I would say that there have been five tourists in total since the beginning of the war. It is not enough, but we keep the business to show that we are strong and to respond to President Zelensky’s appeal that the economy cannot stop”, continues Alexsei, agreeing with his colleague Larissa: normality cannot take place in a land that has already suffered. several bombings since the beginning of the war. “We use to say now ‘peace in heaven’, because that’s where the bombs fall”.

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