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Ukrainian Dream

An AIR Exclusive Interview With Refugees of the Ukrainian Conflict

It is hard to describe the feelings that one has when he returns back to home after being away for a long time. All these feelings are engendered by meeting one’s relatives, friends, and, of course, beloved city. My city has changed a lot over the time I was absent. For example, Lenin monument was destroyed so there is only plinth left. Also, there is not much New Year illumination decoration around – it shouldn’t come as a surprise since the city tries to save electricity and turns the lights off three times per day two hours each time. However, there is a traditional big and very beautiful New Year tree on the main square. But it doesn’t really improve the overall atmosphere, which remains quite somber. Until recently I couldn’t understand a new joke that says: “Be careful. There are some fake New Year decorations in the stores. They look just like usual ones but they don’t create festive mood”. Now I do understand it. The cause of this gloomy atmosphere is the fact that Ukraine is at the state of war. And Kharkiv, my native city, is extremely close to the site of military conflicts. As for now, there are more than half a million refugees in Ukraine, many of who are in my city.

Not that long ago, one American journalist, who held a conference in Kiev, Ukraine, advised to “look for people and tell their stories”. And in this article I will try to adhere to his advice. I could write about stories of wounded soldiers that are currently in hospitals or about stories of mothers with small children that are living in refugee camps. Different stories that share common feeling of grief, anxiety, and hope. Hope that the war will end very soon and that peace will come to this land.

I believe that young people, who were born in independent Ukraine, can help their motherland to change current situation and undergo complete revolution. They want to decide their fate themselves and not rely solely on the state, like their ancestors had been doing for more than 70 years of Soviet history. And because of this belief, I decided to tell you the story of those, who feel the situation better than all of us and who are ready to work for their country – high school students from Lugansk and Lugansk region – zones of military actions. Now, they are hosted by specialized lyceum for gifted students with a telling name “Giftedness”, which is located in Kharkiv. These students, who are like us in age, had to escape their homes and leave behind their normal lives and their parents. I was lucky to get a chance to talk with these students and I asked them certain questions about their plans for future and their thoughts on the war.

Eugene Vorob’ov(11th grade), Sergiy Bichkhidgi(11th grade), Ruslan Timchenko(11th grade), and Vlad Bordaev(10th grade) are pretty confident about their future. After graduating from “Giftedness”, they want to apply to Kharkiv or Kiev Universities and major in physics or engineering. In 10 years all of them plan to stay in Ukraine and work for Ukrainian science and energy departments – “if [they] are able to find a job in 10 years, of course” added Ruslan.

But Anna Prigodei(11th grade) and Vlad Anisimov(10th grade) are not so sure about their future. They want to study engineering and foreign languages but they don’t know where. Neither do they know where they will be in 10 years. As Anna and Vlad said “We don’t even know where we will be even next year, and not in 10”.

Regardless of their predictions and plans, all 6 of them said that “[they] don’t know what life has saved for them”. One thing they are sure about is their willingness to stay in and work for their motherland – Ukraine.

But it is not the only thing they are certain of. One of the questions that I asked the students was “Do you even think of going into politics?”. And practically all together they replied “No way”. They reasoned it by saying that they “just don’t like politics” and that they “don’t want to take responsibility”. Also, Ruslan noted that “one needs a lot of money and good connections to get into politics”.

Their response to the question is very disappointing. It shows the distrust to the government and “political inactivity” of these children. And if they, talented and progressive young people, are not willing to “take responsibility”, who will do it? Once, Ukraine was in a similar situation, when undereducated and unscrupulous folks got to power. Their motto was “Bribery and Cronyism” rather than “Efficiency and Justice”. Such attitude resulted in poor economy, miserable healthcare system, weak armed forces and much more. This couldn’t last forever and not that long ago, it ended with the Maidan revolution. But it seems to me that in the future history may repeat itself. In order to prevent this, Ukrainian current government needs to return the trust of the youngsters and make going into politics more of an appealing option for them.

But there is another important issue Ukrainian government is facing right now – war in Donbass. And opinions about causes of this war vary across the country. Some people say that the war started because of conflict of customs and moral values within the Ukrainian society while the others blame Russia solely. That’s why I inquired about our interviewees about their opinions regarding this. They should know best since they witnessed everything. “Well, it is a hard question without a definite answer” – said Eugene – “it is both conflict of moral values and invasion of foreign powers”. Sergiy added that “this war is not people’s war and most of Donbass people would like it to end”. “But everything is decided by people in power and not by us ordinary citizens” – summarized Anna.

I also had an opportunity to talk to a teacher from the destabilized region. Kolomoiceva Elena is a teacher from Donetsk. Currently, she works in the same lyceum “Giftedness” and she agreed to tell her story.

The school that Ms. Kolomoiceva used to work at is now closed. Local government decided not to open it this year for two reasons: the school was severely damaged after being bombed and there are not many teachers or students; most of the student body and faculty decided to flee the city. However, teachers of that school still try to keep in touch with its students and ensure either smooth transition in new schools in other cities or home education.

“Now, it is too dangerous for anyone to be at the school. It is only 8km away from the Donetsk airport, which was and is the place of the most intense fighting.” Ms. Kolomoiceva recalled that during the summer when the school was still working “there were a couple of days when teachers were forbidden to even approach the school because something exploded very close to the school”.

For most people, especially Andover students, it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like living in a war zone, to have school cancelled due to bombings, to be afraid of being shot on the street. Especially during this time of year, when families should be together celebrating the Holidays and New Year, these students can’t afford to.

The last question that I asked was “What is your New Year wish?”. All of the students and the teacher responded alike. Anna’s answer summarizes everything: “Before, we would’ve asked for new devices, new clothes and etc. Now, the only wish we have is for the war to end”.

One Ukrainian journalist once wrote: “We will win. But no one knows what this victory will look like”. These students know. Our true victory would come when children are untied with their parents and friends, when everyone is alive, and when the eyes of Ukrainians are filled with joy and not tears.

Peace and Unity is the Ukrainian dream today. And when it finally comes, I hope there will be more to dream about.

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