Eliza Saftyuk, a 24-year-old Ukrainian citizen, spoke with Daily Hive to give an insight into what her life during the war looks like right now.
Saftyuk talks about the first days of the attack, what she hopes to see from the rest of the world, her thoughts on Putin’s rationale for the invasion, and why she and her friends are choosing to stay.
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“The first two days were really bad,” Saftyuk told Daily Hive in a phone interview.
“We felt really horrible stress all the time. Now it’s getting better and the mood is more uplifting.”
Saftyuk lives in Ivano-Frankivsk, which was bombed on the first day.
“The airport was bombed — there was a lot of panic because nobody expected it to happen here in the west because we are so close to Poland, but now we have a lot of refugees arriving from Kyiv and Eastern Ukraine. We are hosting four of them at our house,” she explained.
“All hostels and hotels are obviously fully booked so people are working on creating shelter in schools and gyms and a lot of people are hosting in their own homes. We have been busy providing humanitarian help in the city.”
In this area of western Ukraine, Saftyuk saw bombings the first two days but none since.
“After the second day you kind of get used to the news and get less overwhelmed,” said Saftyuk.
“Where I am right now there haven’t been any bombings for the past two days, so we feel safer, but I know that in Kyiv and eastern Ukraine the spirits are not lifting at all.”
She says seeing everyone helping “makes you feel really proud to be Ukrainian.”
This attack on Ukraine by Russia may have surprised some parts of the world, but for Saftyuk and other Ukrainians, tension has been building for years.
“We’ve been at war with Russia for the past eight years,” said Saftyuk.
“It’s just been on a smaller scale and only in eastern Ukraine. We’ve been donating to the army and we had a lot of soldiers dying already but, of course, with the threat coming from Russia, Ukraine has been more and more in the news.”
This “smaller-scale” war may have been going on for a long time, but for Saftyuk, the escalated attack on her country was something that the people of Ukraine didn’t expect.
“We’ve been talking about it for the past two months,” said Saftyuk.
She says there had been some hope that there would be a democratic solution to the tension. Particularly in the western part of the country, Saftyuk says no one expected to be attacked because of the close proximity to the European Union.
“We felt like if they hit us, everybody from the European Union would help because it’s very close to their borders,” she said.
“There was a moment three weeks ago I was talking to my friend that here in my city we have an airport that’s been used as a military airport and I told her, ‘Can you imagine if they bombed that one and if that happens in our city?’ And everybody laughed and everybody was like, ‘No, that’s impossible. Come on, we are so close to the borders of the European Union and we shouldn’t be worried at all.’ And then it just happened.”
After days of low-flying military planes, bombings, alarm signals sounding throughout the city, and trails of black smoke stretching across the sky, day-to-day life has become enormously stressful for Saftyuk and the entire country.
No one sleeps, says Saftyuk.
“Everybody sleeps like three or four hours a night. Everybody is extremely, extremely tired. That’s mostly because you’re watching the news constantly so you’re constantly on your phone and constantly checking in on the people you love,” she shared.
“I call my grandpa, my boyfriend, my friends every hour to see how you are doing, if you need help with anything. We can’t do anything else.”
She says the stress of the situation has impacted people’s diets and work habits–everyone is glued to the news wondering what will come next.
Despite being stressed, tired, scared, and more, Saftyuk, along with her friends and family, find ways to help the humanitarian effort in any way that they can.
“We get up, we get ready, we have refugees in our house right now so we are helping them to make food and stuff like that,” said Saftyuk.
“Then we meet up with my friends, we go to the city to see what we need in the humanitarian centres, and they provide us with a list and we try and share it on social media as much as possible so people can get those things. Then we go to the store, we buy those things, bring them back to the humanitarian aid place in the city, then we ask schools if they need any help preparing food.”
The whole day looks like that, added Saftyuk, and in the evening, everyone returns home and turns off the lights, as there is a curfew.
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With the Ukrainian people doing so much and showing such resiliency, it can be motivating to wonder how to help from across the world. Saftyuk spoke about what the Ukrainian people had hoped for and what they hope to see happen now.
“The first two days we were really looking forward to hearing something from NATO and the US because they’ve been talking a lot, but the first few days they didn’t actually provide any sanctions,” said Saftyuk.
“But now the past two days a lot of countries have been offering a lot of help. So now we are getting the sense that everybody wants to protect us. It’s nice, but what we need right now is for NATO to shelter our skies.”
Saftyuk says the Ukrainian Army is “fighting back on a very large scale” on land, but Russia is attacking from above.
“They’re bombing cities. They’re bombing Kyiv. We need NATO to help us to protect the skies. We can do everything else on land by ourselves,” she said.
“When people ask from abroad for example what they should protest for, the only thing we say right now is for NATO to shelter our skies.”
In such dire and dangerous living situations, it’s a wonder why Saftyuk, her family, her friends, and so many more don’t leave the country. Like so many stories of Ukrainian citizens immediately signing up for the military, they just want to be there to help.
“I’ve decided to not leave the country,” said Saftyuk.
“I have all the respect for women with children who are leaving the country right now because if I had children myself I would want them to be safe. But I think if everybody leaves there would be nobody here to help.
Saftyuk praises the military’s efforts but adds she believes Ukraine needs willing people that can fight but can also provide humanitarian help to shelter and feed refugees.
“For example, we are getting a lot of donations. We need to sort them out. They need people here to rebuild the economy, and in times like this, support the economy by buying products. For now, me and most of my friends are staying here and providing humanitarian help for anyone who needs it,” Saftyuk added.
Even in times as difficult as these, Saftyuk and the entire country have found astonishing morale. This is a proud country coming together in a time when it needs it more than it ever has.
“They were trying to do was divide us, but really they united us,” said Saftyuk.
“Eastern and western Ukraine are now helping each other more than ever. It’s been really nice to see everyone mobilize and stand together against something against one enemy.”
That one enemy of Ukraine right now is, of course, the Putin-led Russia. Putin’s claims for going to war with Ukraine was to “denazify” it, and Saftyuk talked about what these reasons sound like to her and why Ukraine is a country she loves.
“That’s complete bullsh*t,” Saftyuk said.
“I’m sorry for my words. Honestly, it’s just a stupid, stupid excuse to do something horrible like this.”
Sartyuk says Russia’s classification of “Nazis” in Ukraine is people who don’t want reform the USSR.
“That’s why they said they want to denazify us but what they really want is they want their f*cking Soviet Union back,” Saftyuk added.
“We are our own nation, we have our own language, we have our own culture, we have our own traditions, and I think they are really pissed off about that.”
It’s difficult to try and comprehend what life must be like for the Ukrainian people right now. It can also be difficult to know if they are aware of our protests here in the west.
Saftyuk has told us about her life right now in Ukraine, and she also tells us what the world’s support means to her and everyone else there.
“I just want to ask people from all over the world to not stop protesting. We really need you guys. It’s been really nice to see the response in neighbouring countries to Ukraine. They have been accepting refugees without any documents — that’s really amazing. We need our women and children safe,” she said.
“We need you to keep pressuring to get NATO to protect our skies, and just supporting us online, that also means a lot. I’ve received so many messages from beautiful people from around the world it really helps to lift the mood here.”
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