Letter from Ukraine

Lots of green parks, trees, and plants, friendly and calm people, and excellent infrastructure, but without excessive and intrusive promotion—Vinnytsia, Ukraine has everything to be a great place to live. Still, as the Russian-Ukrainian war escalated, lots have changed, even without significantly impacting the city’s appearance. The main thing that changes is people: mostly their behaviors and talk.

Lots of people start to live double life. They combine their previous work and everyday life with some activities that can be useful for our army. For example, many become volunteers and gather money to buy different equipment and necessary supplements for our army. It might look strange, but Ukraine’s current government can’t provide enough supplies for whole soldiers, including military uniforms, food, and even weapon parts.

As a result, lots of Ukraine citizens have become involved in this process. Even children try to help by selling something, performing on the streets, crafting useful parts. For example, lots of kids in Vinnytsia are weaving camouflage nets for our tanks. Those kids who are not old enough to work with adults play at playgrounds and mostly imitate soldiers’ actions and build “military” posts.

There are lots of injured soldiers all across the streets of the city. Many of them have lost their legs or arms. Those who got lucky and haven’t got severe injuries talking a lot about returning to the front as soon as possible. All the Ukrainians pool together and work as a single organism, as everybody understands that this war is not only about the eternal confrontation between democracy and autocracy. It is also about the survival of our nation, as it seems that Russians are dreaming about destroying the Ukrainian national identity as a phenomenon.

For now, Vinnytsia is one of Ukraine’s leading humanitarian and volunteer hubs. It is one of the top three safest regional centers to live and work in. Only two missiles landed on the city’s territory during the past five months. Just for comparison, about forty rockets were launched at my previous place of residence, Mykolaiv, on only one day in late July. Vinnytsia and the central districts of Kyiv have been secured thanks to the actions of the fifth president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, who helped to set up new air defense systems across these places. And that is one of the main reasons that make Vinnytsia so safe in these hard times.

Seeing how local people reacted to the first missile that landed at the business center near the city was terrifying. They were not familiar with the possible outcomes and not ready to see lots of victims. It’s a big difference when you see all these burned buildings and piles of corpses on TV and when something awful happens near your apartment. Then, there was lots of panic and talks about Russians being about to destroy Vinnytsia, one of the biggest Ukraine’s humanitarian hubs. Still, just a week after that, most people return to their everyday lives.

For now, here in Vinnystia are still functioning many different plants and factories, which grant people work and the possibility to feed their families. Lots of refugees, including myself, find homes and work here. It was easy to spot the refugees in early and mid-spring, as they kept wearing winter clothes. Still, the local population helped and tried to support every refugee with all required clothes and food.

There are many educational and cultural institutions in Vinnytsia, including the Medical University, from which I graduated in 2016. Most of their buildings and classes are set as a place for refugees to live. Most often, people come to Vinnytsia and live in such temporary shelters for the first few months. Then find some work and rent a flat or apartment.

Interestingly, a small part of the population used our shared trouble as a possibility to increase their revenue. I faced the first signs of such groups when I tried to rent an apartment and sometimes got a prive three or four times higher than average. Due to high demand, some landlords decided to earn easy money and increased prices significantly. Moreover, mostly, they didn’t pay any taxes, and there is no way to punish them at the legislative level.

In almost every small talk or conversation snippet, you can find signs of war. Granny and her daughter: “What’s with Sergey? He was near Kharkiv a few days ago, and I didn’t hear anything from him since then.” Two middle-aged men: “Let’s make staples for dugouts today in the evening.” A male in the military uniform via his phone: “Is there any chance to buy a military unloading system we talked about on the weekend?” Sometimes I feel like there is not a lot left from a previous life.

According to my friends, on the first day of the full-scale war, there was almost impossible to find even a working shop in Vinnytsia. Many business owners were shocked and didn’t know what to do next with all their businesses. Finally, only a week after the first massive battles, they started to reopen. Now all cafeterias, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, and shops are working as usual. Still, due to a curfew, all citizens must remain at their homes or shelters except for police, military, medics, and a few other services.

The sixth president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, might look like a good leader, but he lacks the confidence to rule a country and army. He might look like a good leader, but the fact that our army still can fight Russian invaders effectively is mostly the merit of our highly competent generals, allies from other countries, and those Ukrainians who care about the situation on the front.

We a still in a pretty complicated situation, but with such great support, it’s only a matter of time before we win this war. And Vinnytsia, as one of the central humanitarian and volunteer hubs, plays a significant role in the future victory.

Dmitro Kyiashko