During our recent visit to Kyiv, we found overwhelming evidence that the war in the Donbas is manned, supported and financed by millions of Ukrainian volunteers. Politicians, medical professionals, soldiers, security experts, students and journalists have decided that during this time, they will do all they can for the sake of their country. It was, and still is, truly inspirating to see.
The mood on the streets in Kyiv was realistic: everyone knows there is a war happening in their country. The war is a daily worry. The streets aren’t filled with people anymore – many are staying home to save money while others are worried about the war coming to Kyiv. There aren’t as many people sitting in the cafés, patios or in the restaurants. The events of the last couple of months have begun to take their toll: fireworks are now shunned as they are reminiscent of the Maidan Revolution and the sounds they make conjure images of the front line troops being bombarded by the Russian artillery. This year has marked a significant change for Ukrainians, it has awakened their national consciousness but it has also cost them the lives of thousands.
Volunteers are the majority of the regular army now. They have been through unimaginable hell for the sake of their country. In an interview with the New Pathway, some wounded soldiers explained that Russians freely opened fire upon them. The problem that these soldiers point out can also describe the overall problem of Ukraine’s superiors. The general of their unit was not very effective. As the soldiers say: “you could set your watch to his inspections…He was shot at once – just once – and he left.” Another example the wounded men gave of the brutal conditions along the front was the 18 hours of Russian artillery bombardment they suffered. Their medic – a three year Afghan war veteran – could not handle this and left.
Civilian volunteers flock to help in the war effort. At the ‘Patriot Defence’ initiative's office there were instances where medical students would give a helping hand compiling the much needed first aid kits sent to the front lines (stuffing medical gloves into a small bag is not an easy thing and good luck to any volunteer stuck with that job). The New Pathway heard stories of old women giving away their pensions or bringing food to soldiers at the front. Canadians from the Diaspora spend their own money to finance programs that are dependent on their generosity.
Another factor in this war is the youth. When meeting with representatives of the Democratic Alliance in Kyiv, the typical politician was expected: gray haired and male. Instead, two young Euromaidan activists showed up. Alisa Ruban and Iryna Zemliana are adamant that their “goal for Ukraine is full lustration”. The country is truly coming into its own – the war is the only thing stopping it from becoming a democratic country. When asked by the New Pathway about what is to be done in the war in eastern Ukraine, Democratic Alliance stated that “there needs to be a dialogue between the people who live in the east because a lot of these people support the pro-Russians. We need to understand why that is…” This example shows the dynamics of these young Ukrainians – they understand the importance of opening up a dialogue in order to be understood. They also understand that “Ukraine needs a positive image” and this positivity can only come from the work of volunteers. These volunteers work diligently to spread the truth about the situation in Ukraine through traditional media and social media. They only ask why not so many in the West’s mainstream media seems to understand what is happening in Ukraine.
The situation in Ukraine is worrying and concerning. Russian troops have officially now entered Ukrainian territory. However, among all the worry, sadness and international ignorance to what is happening, Ukraine does have a positive future. The people of Ukraine now realize what exactly it is that they are fighting for and are willing to fight for it. The young people of Ukraine will volunteer their time, energy, strength, blood, sweat and tears for their country. Oleh Bazar indicated in his blog on uainfo.org that about 80% of all medical aid coming into the ATO is from donations. It is because of this that Ukraine will come out of this war like a phoenix from the ashes. Russia has helped reinforce something previously unimagible in Ukraine: national unity.