The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion I woke up to explosions in Kyiv. It wasn’t the first time Russian aggression upended my life.

Police and security personnel inspect the remains of a shell in a street in Kyiv on Thursday. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)
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Anna Myroniuk is a journalist and the head of investigations at the Kyiv Independent.

I woke up to explosions Thursday morning. I looked out of the window of my building in a suburb of Kyiv, and there was a mushroom-shaped dark cloud. Soon, cars started leaving the parking garage, so I grabbed my laptop, watered my plants and left.

The city looked as alive as ever. I called my mother to make sure she finds a safe spot — but she has experience. She was forced to flee our home in Donetsk for Kyiv in the autumn of 2014, after Russia unleashed war there. She left all she had — her job as a schoolteacher, our apartment. Now, the fear of losing everything haunts her once again.

My family and I have lived with Russian aggression for years. It has divided us and destroyed our sense of safety, and now it has brought us together in anger and fear.

Moscow

LITHU.

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BELARUS

Kyiv

UKRAINE

Donetsk

Separatist-

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ROMANIA

Crimea

BULGARIA

Black Sea

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LITHU.

RUS.

POLAND

BELARUS

RUSSIA

Kyiv

Lviv

UKRAINE

Kharkiv

Donetsk

Odessa

Separatist-

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area

ROMANIA

Crimea

BULGARIA

Black Sea

GREECE

TURKEY

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NATO members

ESTONIA

DENMARK

LATVIA

Baltic

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RUSSIA

LITHUANIA

RUS.

Moscow

GERMANY

POLAND

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Chernobyl

CZECH REP.

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Lviv

Kharkiv

Luhansk

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AUSTRIA

Donetsk

HUNGARY

SLOV.

Odessa

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My aunt called from Donetsk, crying: “You prayed for me then, now I am praying for you now.” A call from my father followed. “I hope they won’t conscript me into the army,” he told me. He is an engineer. He stayed in Donetsk after the war began — he supported Russia and its separatist ideas back then. We did not speak for a couple of years: My dad disagreed with my front-line reporting, and I did not take it well.

As we chatted a few days ago, he cut me off to say something I had never heard from him before: “I understand it all, do not worry. I know I had some doubts when the war started, but I changed my mind a long time ago.”

He does not support Russia anymore. It took him eight years to figure things out. I can’t really blame him. Russia’s propaganda machinery persuaded my father and millions of others to believe what Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted them to believe: that people in Donbas are Russian and the region belongs to Russia.

As Russia recently blamed Ukraine for heavy shelling in Donbas (which Ukraine’s military swiftly denied), it asked residents to prepare for an “evacuation.” That brought to mind my grandmother, who was taken from her home in western Ukraine and brought to Donetsk in the east in the late 1950s. She had no say in it. People were paid for every person they recruited to rebuild Donetsk after World War II. According to her, Donetsk welcomed people from every corner of Ukraine at the time and she heard plenty of dialects of both the Ukrainian and Russian languages on the streets.

I have similar memories from growing up in Donetsk. I spoke Russian, but I sang Ukrainian Christmas carols in church and wore the traditional embroidered shirt on International Vyshyvanka Day in May. Verses from the poet Taras Shevchenko adorned the walls at my school.

This is why Putin’s claims make no sense to me. Right now, all I feel toward Putin’s Russia is fury. I covered the war in Donbas extensively. For that, I was called a traitor and blacklisted by Russia-backed authorities, who cut me off from my home.

It’s clear Putin will not stop until he torments and destroys all of Ukraine. He declares my region “an independent state,” but who gave him this authority? I, a Ukrainian and a native of Donetsk, certainly didn’t.

Just days ago, Putin openly stated that my country should not exist. On Thursday, he launched a massive military operation to vanish it. He must be stopped before it’s too late. In fact, it is nearly too late. I won’t say we have been abandoned by the West, but it seems that we are going to be fighting alone. And yet Putin is not just our villain — he is Europe’s and the world’s problem now.

After I left my building Thursday morning, I walked for three kilometers along unmoving traffic to meet a colleague — he offered a safe place to stay away from the shelling near my house. It hasn’t been that long since I was on the front line in Donbas, so the trauma flared up — I couldn’t grasp that Putin was attacking a city that was so calm just a few hours ago. I check on my mom every half-hour.

“Do not cry,” she says.

“I am not crying,” I reply.

“There’s an underground parking garage next to my building. We can hide there.”

She sounds surprisingly calm.

“I love you. Everything will be fine.”

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