‘I Owe This To My Home’ — Why a 24-Year-Old Stayed in Ukraine Despite the Russian Invasion.
CHORNOMORSK, UKRAINE — When the Russian bombs started firing on February 24th, it was still before dawn in Arina’s home city, some 15 kilometers from the port-city Odesa (population 1M). The sound immediately shook Arina, her sister, and her parents out of bed.
“I immediately understood what was happening. I didn’t want to believe it, but I understood that the Russians are coming,” recalled Arina when we talked over Zoom on the 8th day of the Russian invasion. “But you know the funniest thing? I don’t remember much else from that day. It’s as if I don’t feel anything anymore.”
The day the Russians entered Ukraine, Arina’s family stayed in the basement of their suburban country cottage, bringing canned food downstairs, horrified to come close to the windows or doors. They then spent the entire day scrolling the news feed on their smartphones, accumulating as much information as possible, worrying about their friends and extended family’s whereabouts. They immediately encountered fake news about Russians taking over Kherson and Kharkiv. This increased the panic temporarily but was soon dispelled by another news source, saying it was Russian propaganda at work. By midnight, Arina tried to fall asleep but couldn’t. She had to take a double dose of sleeping pills to calm herself down.
The next day, Arina’s parents shook her awake early in the morning and said, “Get up. Quickly. You’re going to Poland right now with your sister. Take your passport with you. You might never come back.”
This was a critical point for Arina. She had to decide: whether to flee now for safety, whether she’ll ever see the room she grew up in again, or stay, amidst the fear of Russians taking over Odessa. She chose the latter.
When I asked her why she decided to stay, she asked me to promise not to laugh. When I did, Arina said that the main reason was that she couldn’t take all her pets with her.
“We might have taken the dog, but we could not have taken the cats. And so you sit, look at them, look at your room, at everything. This is your home. You grew up here. This is your city. And you may never see your family or this…