A letter from Ukraine: ‘It has become a normal thing to see a tank under your window’

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Courtesy Teenagers of Chernihiv region, Ukraine,

The Chernihiv Regional Pedagogical Lyceum for rural gifted youth and Junior Academy of Sciences of Ukraine have suffered in the recent atacks.

17-year-olds of Chernihiv region, Ukraine, (Names withheld by their request)

Thursday, Feb. 24. That was the very day when all our nightmares came true.

We were asleep solidly in one of the college hostels in Chernihiv. Suddenly, voices awoke us. They were spreading all over the corridor, creating the atmosphere of something terrible, something making our hands tremble and our skin whiten. We immediately told our neighbors about the upcoming threat.

We are trapped, isolated from the world, trying to defend everything we have: our house, this small island of hope; our family, our lives. ”

My sister and I took only essential things: passports, some money, and a bank card. Having put our jackets on, we ran to the shelter located under the building. It’s crazy and hard to process the fact that the storm cellar, which was built in the years of the Cold War, when the menace of nuclear weapon usage fulfilled the world, can be used nowadays, in the 21st century!

Most of the students cried; they were desperate, they burst into uncontrollable tears. Others were astonished, trying to comprehend everything that occurred. But even then, we supported each other, hoping for the best.

My sister and I didn’t cry. Perhaps it was shock and that we were not able to do anything besides watch the others. We explained that since 2014 our Army has changed and now is much more substantial. We firmly believed in everything we claimed.

Since the Internet and mobile connection were poor, we couldn’t call our parents. They might have been sleeping peacefully while we were somehow protected! Luckily, we were able to find a place where the Internet worked and called them. My sister informed our family about what had happened. In an hour, our mom and family’s friend came to Chernihiv. We managed to gather our clothes and get out of the hostel.

While we were moving, we saw people in enormously long queues to ATMs, shops, and gas stations. We listened to the current news about the invasion from the Russian border and understood that until the evening they would be near Chernihiv . . .

Sirens can sound several times a day, and we anticipate the explosions that follow after.”

As soon as we arrived home, we started packing our backpacks and filling up our water bottles. Our mom went to the shop and stocked up on and made food. We arranged our cellar with all the necessary stuff. With each sound of the siren, our hearts begin to beat wildly. We’ve already trained on how to dress and take our bags quickly. Every time we hear an aircraft, it reinforces the horrors of our situation. We always hope that it is Ukrainian and does not pose any threat. Sirens can sound several times a day, and we anticipate the explosions that follow after.

The streets are empty. Most people stay at home. We have a curfew from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m. in our region. The street lights are off at this time. It feels like we are alone and nobody is here. It’s quiet. When cars pass by, ruining the silence, we listen to them carefully. We try to be attentive to everything that happens outside, bothering the serenity of the night. We are trapped, isolated from the world, trying to defend everything we have: our house, this small island of hope; our family, our lives. We got used to sleep dressed and have the shoes beside our beds. This ensures a quick leaving home during the siren.

Unfortunately, some people want to cash in other people’s grief. They are called marauders. It seems miserable. Fortunately, there has not yet been a case of looting on our street. However, we monitor our house and yard constantly.

It’s terrible that we have to shudder at the explosions instead of enjoying music. It’s awful that we have to see deaths. It’s unacceptable in a world of democracy to live fearful of the next day. It’s unbelievable that peaceful people, children, and our military are becoming memories. But the most horrible fact is that we are gradually getting used to it all.

This challenge has enabled us to prove that we are an unbreakable nation that fights for freedom and democratic values until the end.”

Hearing the distant rumbling of the explosions, some people don’t even flinch while this sound would have caused them to panic a week ago! It has already become a normal thing in the cities to see a tank under your window! The sunsets are bright red as though soaked with innocent blood. How long will it take to repair all the hearts that have suffered?! An indefinite eternity . . .

Despite all the bad happening now, we look to the future with optimism. We will surely rebuild all the destroyed cities and be safe again. This challenge has enabled us to prove that we are an unbreakable nation that fights for freedom and democratic values until the end. We should realize that we now have to live for all people who are not with us anymore and that we need to turn their dreams into reality. In this way, we can demonstrate gratitude for having their moral duty done.

(Editor’s note: The teenaged authors of this report from Chernihiv region, Ukraine, asked to remain anonymous.)

–March 3, 2022–