“Everybody is worried”: Ukraine’s youth in turmoil over now living in a warzone

Image: An artistic interpretation of Ukraine’s fight against the “moskovian tsar” by Mykhailo Cherkasskiy, drawn in his home in Kyiv during the ongoing battle

As Russia’s invasion into Ukraine reaches its third week young Ukrainians now suddenly have to deal with living in displacement and in a country that is at war. 

Valentin Vodolazhsky who just finished his studies in philosophy in his hometown of Kharkiv explained how his mother, who he lives with, initially was reluctant to flee “as she believed that the war would be over soon.”

After relocating first into his mothers workplace, which they considered to be safer, they however decided to flee westwards after “the explosions got too loud.” After a journey in crowded trains across Ukraine he is now staying together with five others in a two bedroom apartment of his relatives in Lwiw.

Besides the now 2.5 million people that have fled Ukraine to other European states, an additional atleast 1.85 million people have been internally displaced inside Ukraine like Valentin, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. 

Valentin described a “general atmosphere of complete uncertainty” around him. He is torn between fearing “if these events are the start of the end of the world, because someone will start a nuclear war and we will all die” or hoping that this war will be “maybe the end of Russia as a state.” He considers this russian state to always having been dominated by a system of “dictators and slaves.”

Yurii Rassokha, who has also fled from Kharkiv to eastern Ukraine, into an undisclosed location in the Zakarpattia Oblast, also believes that Russians are living in a system of  “severe repression” and that in contrast Ukrainians “value democracy and freedom” and “get to actually chose their president.”

This belief in common values however fuels a strong national optimism and “pride in our armed forces” according to Yurii, who – like Valentin – “has never seen Ukraine united like this before”.

However, besides the strange mix of uncertainty and hopeful patriotism, being at war has also “changed the worth of a life” according to Mykhailo Cherkasskiy, an artist and IT-worker from Kyiv who has chosen stay in the city:

“Maybe because of the war, people are hearing a lot about killing innocent people, so they are kind of lowering the price of life. They see how easy it is to take a life, it is so easy, it is not so expensive as it once was.”

He described an encounter with the local police when he went out to buy weed. “They must have thought that I’m a dealer” he said, and that the policemen claimed that they had “no time” to arrest and try him.

“So they told me that they would ‘kill me here or drive me to the fighting so I can die there’ instead.” He describes being “really scared”, but was eventually let go, with the police telling him he had “10 seconds to run until they would shoot at him.”

Michael said that before the war he usually just got a small fine, but now things have gotten much more harsh. 

He considered joining the conflict himself, like some of his colleagues, but considers himself too physically unfit for it. He believes like Valentin – when he was asked the same question – that he would be no more than “cannon meat” due his lack of training. But like Valentin, he is resolved to fight if it would become necessary for untrained men like him to enlist.

Even though Mykhailo is donating and trying to volunteer to help his neighbours he however still nevertheless still feels like he could be doing more for this country: “When war is knocking on your door, you need to defend yourself, and your home, and i’m not doing it.” 

He believes that after this war people would look back and ask each other:“What did you do during the war?”

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