For months, Ukraine has been worried and anxious about a possible invasion. But in just over a week of hellish warfare, Ukrainians have proven to be some of the bravest people in the world. In the face of Russia’s full-scale assault, civilians across the country proved brave, even terrifying, defiant.
There is the man who stood in front of a Russian tank, pushing it to prevent it from moving forward. And the man who picked up an unexploded mine on the road with his bare hands and carried it deep into a forest with a cigarette in his mouth.
There’s the woman who approached a Russian soldier and told him to put sunflower seeds in his pockets. That way, when he dies on Ukrainian land, she explained, flowers will grow. And then there’s the already legendary story of the 13 defenders of Snake Island who, when asked to surrender, refused in gloriously colorful terms. (The phrase they used has become something of a rallying cry for proud Ukrainians, including government officials.)
Yet these heroic displays barely scratch the surface of Ukrainian resistance. From sharing food to taking up arms, Ukrainians across the country are united to repel invaders and protect our homeland. President Vladimir Putin was apparently convinced that Russia would defeat Ukraine in two or three days. But he chose the wrong nation to play with.
The Ukrainian army, destroying enemy tanks and intercepting missiles, was remarkable. And behind her stand legions of Ukrainians who have made camouflage nets, sent humanitarian aid and raised funds. The sums, for a country under attack, are staggering: in one day, Ukraine’s most trusted military aid nonprofit, Come Back Alive, raised more than $680,000, more than the amount collected in 2021. The National Bank of Ukraine, which opened a special account to raise funds for the Ukrainian army, received almost $10 million on the first day of the war.
Some stories, like that of Alisa Zhuk, 8, from Kiev, are particularly touching. The little girl sells her drawings for $20 and up, donating all proceeds to the military – to ensure Ukrainian soldiers have enough food and clothing, she said. “Our children,” his mother told me, “will grow up proud of Ukraine.”
Many citizens went further in their support and joined the territorial defense units. As of February 26, two days after the Russian invasion, 37,000 Ukrainians were conscripted. Now journalists, artists, musicians, television hosts, comedians and thousands more patrol the streets. Using conventional weapons and Molotov cocktails – which have become something of a revered national weapon – they apprehended saboteurs, shot down drones and stopped enemy tanks. In the defense of our country, they have been indispensable.
Ivan and Danylo Stolyarevskyi, brothers from Kiev, wanted to join them. But because resources couldn’t keep pace with the overwhelming number of volunteers, they were turned away. So the brothers joined the Ukrainian resistance online instead.
Ivan, 27, now spends his time writing Google reviews of Russian cafes and restaurants. But these are no ordinary reviews. “Russian troops have been bombarding Kiev and its peaceful inhabitants for 4 days,” it read. “Come out on the street – stop the death of children.” By flooding the places where Russians congregate online, Ivan and the hundreds of others writing similar posts hope to spread the truth about Kremlin atrocities.
Danylo, 30, plays a different role. He is part of “IT Army of Ukraine”, a group chat with more than 285,000 participants on the Telegram messaging app. There, web developers from across the country are coordinating cyberattacks on Russian and Belarusian websites. The method is quite simple. Regular websites in Russia and Belarus are not equipped to handle a large number of visitors, so to destabilize them, a group of people reload the webpage several times. Dozens of strategically important websites have been taken down, including that of the National Bank of Belarus. “It’s a drop in the ocean, but you feel your small contribution to the common cause,” Danylo told me.
This is something every Ukrainian does, to a greater or lesser extent. Even under the bombardments, people lined up to donate blood, bringing vital aid to hospitals across the country. Volunteers bring food and supplies to underground shelters where hundreds, if not thousands, of people are gathered. People care for each other and acts of kindness are the norm. In Kharkiv, which has been under heavy shelling for days, an English-speaking Ukrainian accompanied dozens of international students through subway tunnels, helping them board a train to evacuate.
This support extends to those who leave as well as those who stay. For the approximately two million people who have fled the country or are traveling within it, volunteers are helping to organize accommodation and, if possible, transport. Ukrainians abroad, mainly in bordering countries, have collected humanitarian aid trucks to support arriving refugees. No matter where they are, Ukrainians have the support of their compatriots.
This takes nothing away from the drama of the situation. After more than a week of war, the Kremlin’s objective seems to be to surround and capture major cities, regardless of the death and destruction that Russian forces leave in their wake. Already, the toll is heavy: in the first week of the conflict, according to the United Nations, 227 civilians were killed and 525 injured. The Russian army, loaded with artillery, will continue its brutal bombardment of the country. For the Ukrainians, on the run, in combat or under cover, there will be no respite.
But we are defiant. With every act of bravery and courage, Ukrainians show that we are ready to pay the highest price for democracy – ours and the whole world. In this battle, we will not surrender and we will not capitulate. Because our freedom is immutable.