A Letter from Kyiv

-from Americans in Kyiv to our compatriot Americans with love-

I live right in the center of Kyiv – around the corner from Kreschatik, the equivalent of Times Square. Oh, how lively it used to be, only two weeks ago. Crowds filled the street: locals and tourists from other parts of Ukraine, visitors from around the world. We used to complain about the street performers that we could hear late into the evening hours, because they were too loud. How I miss them now! In just two weeks – two short weeks, that have now felt like two decades – Kyiv has become nearly unrecognizable. It’s no longer lively, yet it is still alive.

Kyiv is a beautiful European city with centuries of rich history, picturesque parks, and a thriving art scene. Just two weeks ago, you could take your pick from dozens of operas, concerts, museums, Dnipro River tours, art exhibitions. You could attend fashion lectures that I and other fashion experts were giving at local universities, among a wealth of educational programming open to the public. The restaurant industry was booming. New places opened every month, with amazing interiors, creative and delicious menus, and outstanding service. Of course, we had our favorites, where we were friendly with the owners and waitstaff. It was great to mingle with people, meet old friends and make new ones. Where are they now?

While many have escaped the city, many locals are staying. Without its people, the city would not be breathing and would not be alive. However scary it is to remain, there are many Kyivites who are here to stand against Putin’s attempt to make everyone terrified.

Through restaurants windows we see chefs cooking meals for those in need and delivery guys on their bicycles. We venture out when we can to stand in line at the few stores that are still open, though the shelves are nearly empty. When we run into others in the mostly empty streets, we don’t talk to each other about horrors; instead, we try to support each other and keep each other’s spirits up with occasional jokes. It reminds me of how people interacted in New York after September 11th.

My friend went to the bomb shelter with her dog but came back with two because its owner had a stroke. We have been helping the elderly neighbors in our apartment building obtain the food and medication they need, because they are afraid to leave their homes. Yesterday there were a few old women in the line for the pharmacy. It was freezing cold and they obviously were in a frail state. The other customers not only let them go to the front of the line, but also happily paid for the women’s medications. They even argued with each other for the opportunity to do so.

Putting our galloping fears aside, my husband and I have decided to stay in Kyiv. By being in the midst of the disaster, we can better identify the needs of the families around us and try to be as helpful as we can. The people of Kyiv are our inspiration and they are the main reason we stayed. Now, we feel we are on a kind of mission.

Sometimes I think about younger Ukrainians, who escaped from Kyiv to western parts of Ukraine – those in their 30s, with no children to care for – and I wonder, why didn’t they stay? I understand their decision, but I also sometimes feel that they abandoned their city and their people in a time of need.

Rather than think too much about that, I spend my time volunteering, translating petitions. I also continue giving online English lessons to my teenage students over Zoom while they sit in bomb shelters. It at least provides some distraction for the kids and gives some peace to their parents. My heart bleeds for these youngsters who have not gotten a chance to experience their youth – no dating, no proms, no schooling – first due to COVID-19, and now the War. It’s so sad and painful.

A friend in a nearby village tried to get his daughter out of Irpen, which was under heavy bombing; his daughter was about to give birth. My friend owns a car but that didn’t help much: there was no gas and all the gas stations are shut down. But the neighbors “chipped in” with whatever they had in their tanks, pumping the gas out of their cars. With their help, he managed to get his daughter to relative safety, where she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. At least 400 babies have been born in Kyiv during the war, some of them right in the bomb shelters.

It’s heartbreaking and impossible to comprehend what’s happening in Ukraine at present. The situation in Mariupol is unfathomably atrocious: a starving population cut off completely from food or clean water, dehydrated children, shelling, mass graves, and a maternity hospital full of mothers-to-be and babies and doctors was bombed by Russians.

I fear and dread that the same fate awaits the other beautiful cities of Ukraine.

I urge readers to help Ukraine and Ukrainians. So much has already been done by Ukrainian allies around the world for this great independent country and its incredible people.

The gratitude is enormous. Yet more is needed. It’s urgent and critical that Ukraine becomes a NO FLY zone. This alone will save civilians’ lives. The MIG29 planes that Ukraine requested and that Poland has, should be provided, finally, and not just discussed and tossed between Polish and US politicians.

It’s explicable that politicians around the world are afraid of Putin. But Ukrainians live in immediate fear for their lives now. And we understand firsthand that Putin will not stop with Ukraine if the world permits it: the citizens of many more countries will be in immediate danger and this disaster will continue. Putin must be stopped, by any means necessary!

Please, do not be silent. You can join social media groups and in-person gatherings in support of Ukrainian people. You can contact your government representatives to urge them to #CloseTheSky over Ukraine. I know that it can be tiring to always think and talk about war. But more than 40 million Ukrainians need your help. Russian authorities are blocking information about the war from reaching their own population, but the rest of the world should see their crimes.

We strongly believe that where there are people, there is always the hope — and it’s not a small hope — for peace and for love. And as long as we have the wherewithal and the means to help, we must keep going.