The Ukrainian View
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The Ukrainian View

How I (We) Joined the Ukrainian PR Army

A story from Kyiv, Ukraine during the war

February 24, 2022, a day that will live in infamy for all of us who were in Ukraine on that day no matter what our nationality. I really can’t recall the exact details of that day because my “Marine” brain went into full gear. Don’t get the wrong impression, I was never that great at being an actual soldier of any sort in my early twenties when I enlisted. But there is that Basic Training that just sort of kicks in and rises to the surface immediately when war is your new reality. We had been stocking up on canned goods for a few weeks prior since the predictions for an invasion were running high. It kind of reminded me of what we did as residents of New Jersey and Florida when news of hurricane was coming, although far less frantic than there. Kyivans were calm, cool, collected and we stayed that course. The truth is that we never really expected that Russia would attack. Somehow, we convinced ourselves that Putin was a rational actor. Hahaha!

February 25th and 26th was spent sourcing bomb shelters and gathering whatever other supplies we needed while dodging air raids. The “We” I am using is my wife, Natasha and I as well as our two dogs we brought from the US. By the morning of February 27th, we were well stocked on everything and could probably exist for a good 2–4 weeks if we rationed everything. Luckily, we are Orthodox Christians who adhere for the most parts to the Fasting Rules of the Orthodox Church. This means we can survive on very little food and well, it was Great Lent anyway. So, we were already mentally, spiritually and physically prepared to live on less. We went to church almost every day if just to pray and sometimes for Divine Liturgy. I was getting really angry at the enemy by this time.

February 27th was a big day for me. Natasha had run out to take the dogs for a quick potty break. My soldier blood was boiling and aching to be in the fight. Calls to join the Territorial Defense were everywhere. I put on what soldier gear I had and when Natasha walked in the door, I told her I was going to join up. She took it like a champ. Natasha is a US citizen but she is half Ukrainian and half Belarusian, so the fighting spirit of Ukraine is deep in her soul. Neither one of us is very good at good-byes so I kissed and hugged her before the dogs. I headed down to the location on Kreschatyk (Main Boulevard in Kyiv) where you were supposed to be able to sign up for Territorial Defense.

The first stop yielded no results, they warily sent me to the Kreschatyk Metro stop where headquarters for the Kyiv Military units had been set up. The soldiers there said no, I had to go elsewhere. They told the same to three young Ukrainian men at the same time. One of them spoke a little English and instructed me that the soldiers told them to back to my first stop. We used Google Translate and headed back. No luck. Nobody could tell us anything. Finally, we reached another point and were told we had to go to another location a few kilometers away. Oh, and well, it might be two to three week wait before they could assign us weapons. The three young men were inexperienced but determined. I knew I would be worthless with my limited command of the language and without a weapon in my hands. So, I bid farewell to them and started to head home.

“What just happened?” Natasha texted me not knowing I was already heading back to her. The reality of the situation had just sunk in for her that I might not be returning, ever. I did this on purpose as to not give her time to think about it. She was proud when I left but then the worry set in. Natasha is not a big worrier, but we have been through the wringer together over the last twenty years and are best friends. In fact, she is my true foxhole buddy which is not something that Marines say lightly. I guess the reality was that for her I might die or be posted somewhere, and she would have no idea. I told her I was coming home and that was that.

Now, we were dealing with a lot of fighting all around the city as the days wore on. The bomb shelter was overcrowded and one of our dogs is a bit aggressive, so we stayed in our flat. It’s on the fourth floor of an old building from before the Soviet times. They call them “Tsar buildings” because that’s when they were built. Our windows were taped but the wise may say well, being on the top floor is like asking to be hit by a missile. True, but we are on low ground meaning higher buildings would get hit first and there are quite a few around us. Also, there is another building very close to us that would probably take the brunt of a direct strike (the Marine brain evaluated the situation). Small arms fire, artillery, mortars, air strikes all went on. We lived under strict curfews, some lasting as long as seventy-two hours. Kyiv and Ukrainian units were weeding out saboteurs and collaborators during those times.

My remote job in the US was still going so I answered emails while trying to stay on top of tactical news. Speculative opinions from experts were not of interest. I wanted to know where the enemy was and what our guys were doing about it. Yes, I say “our” even though I have not a drop of Ukrainian blood. You decide to stay and go through a war with them and you become one of them whether you or they like it or not. I’m proud to be with them as is Natasha. Finally, I started writing some stories on Medium and then began looking for other writers on Medium who might still be in Kyiv.

I found an article by Nastya Popandopulos titled “Why I’m Staying in Kyiv Despite the Russian Bombs”. This was in late March after we had gotten used to wartime existence and survival. I was thinking, well, this chick is Greek but let’s give her a read anyway. Well, Nastya is Ukrainian-Greek and I liked her article and commented. We started going back and forth by email or Telegram. She told me about the Ukraine PR Army and I said sign me up, I need to do something to help Ukraine. Nastya told me they needed translators, editors, proofreaders and writers. When I told Natasha, she said “I’m in!”. Both of us have been part of the Ukraine PR Army ever since. We are US citizens from New Jersey fighting on the Information Front. Now, take action! Keep Ukraine in the news. Support all of us here in whatever way you can. Slava Ukraina!

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