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‘Ukraine Deserves Its Own Future.’ The Pain of Watching From Afar as Putin Attacks My Country

4 minute read
Valeriia Voshchevska is a Ukrainian audience strategist based in London, and a women’s rights activist with Women’s March Ukraine.

I woke up this morning at 4 a.m. to the sound of my parents screaming. Our family in Kyiv had called to say that Russia had launched an attack on Ukraine. I grabbed my phone from my bedside table, opened up Twitter and broke down in tears.

I’ve worked in social media for years, but I never thought that social media would become my last lifeline to what was happening back at home and my only option for making myself useful. Thankfully my parents, who normally live in Kyiv, had flown to London three weeks before and were with me. Two days ago, my father told my uncle that he thought the family should leave Ukraine. My uncle pointed out that their mother, my grandmother, was bedridden and unable to leave. And in any case, my uncle said, an attack on the Ukrainian capital was impossible. For some reason, many of us Ukrainians felt that we were safe—that things like this would never happen to us, that full-scale war across the whole of Ukraine was unimaginable.

Read More: The Russian Assault on Ukraine Poses Huge Risks for the Rest of Europe and the World

Today, as the sun rose over London, I sat with my parents on my sofa watching the news, shaking with fear and disbelief as the unimaginable unfolded. Explosions in Kyiv, the city where I was born and spent the majority of my childhood. Explosions in Kharkiv, the former capital of Ukraine, only 6 hours to the East from my hometown. Attacks from Russia on military bases across the country. People moving into bomb shelters. Tanks starting to roll in from Belarus. President Zelensky declaring martial law in Ukraine. A friend in Kyiv texted me; she was packing an emergency suitcase, taking her passport and waiting for air raid sirens to leave her house. Now she is sitting at home with her mother, tired and wanting to sleep, but alert and dressed to leave at any moment. Another friend sent me a photo; she was in an underground bunker with her whole family and is still there tonight. My uncle and grandmother are also in a safe place, stocked up on essential supplies, communicating with us every few hours.

Earlier today, as I watched these events unfold, I had one thought in my head: Putin must have so much hatred for people in Ukraine to attack during the night when everyone is peacefully sleeping.

Valeriia and her friend Viktoria at a protest at 10 Downing Street in London to call on the world to stand with Ukraine, on Feb. 24, 2022.Courtesy Valeriia Voshchevska

This is not just a war of missiles, of bombs, of troops on the ground. It’s also one of stories. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech utterly rewriting history—denying that Ukraine ever had real statehood or was its own nation. And just a few days later, he harnessed that narrative to change all our lives forever.

I’ve studied how throughout history, stories like the one Putin told on Monday have been used to start wars. What Putin is saying is nothing less than imperialism, a desire to subsume a neighboring country that wants a better future into his own empire.

Read More: ‘We Will Defend Ourselves.’ Photographs of Ukraine Under Attack

It’s extraordinarily painful to watch my whole country suffer from afar. This morning, I felt powerless, helpless and guilty over just how lucky I am to have my parents by my side far from the invasion. But unlike my friends and family, who are packing emergency suitcases and trying to find shelter, at least I can try to use my words to fight the fake and harmful narrative spread by Putin. I’ve tried to use my social media to share reliable sources of information, to center the experiences of Ukrainians, and to call out lies that are being spread by Putin about my country.

Ukraine deserves its own future. I want my people to build our own narrative, not have anyone else force one upon us. Ukraine has its own history, its own culture, its own people, its own struggles, its own ambitions. Its own voice. And we have to keep using it.

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