WAR IN EUROPE OP-ED
Christmas in Ukraine: Our country keeps moving forward despite Russia’s deadly attacks
Ukrainians woke up on Christmas morning to warning messages showing the entire country coloured red, warning of missile attacks.
It is early Christmas morning in Kyiv. The streets are sprinkled with white untouched snow, hints of holiday decorations peek out here and there from people’s windows. You can actually feel the crisp winter cold outside, so I’m immensely grateful to have heating and electricity today. I’m having my first cup of hot coffee of the day while the sirens are going off in the city, disrupting the still life of this Kyiv Christmas morning.
This image is what every Ukrainian saw this morning, well those of us able to charge our phones: a message with every last bit of our country coloured red to indicate a possible missile attack.
This means the Christmas morning is over, this image is a call to stop whatever you were doing and immediately seek shelter. This image popping up on your phone means Russian terrorists are preparing yet another mass missile and drone attack to destroy what is left of our critical infrastructure and target civilians. As my city is waking up to air-raid sirens on this Christmas day, the Russians are ready to kill, terrorise and destroy.
I’m listening to sirens and all I can think about is how much I miss my kids back in South Africa, today more than ever. I have a job that often takes me from place to place, from one city to another, from one country to the next one, yet today it feels very different. Yesterday I had a day that, without a hint of a doubt, gave me a different outlook on life. Yesterday I was granted a front-row seat to all of Putin’s and Russian terrorism and how it ruins, kills and terrorises our citizens every single day. Yesterday I was in Mykolaiv:
Mykolaiv, once a very buzzy seaside city of half a million people, now seems quiet and empty. It is our hero city which became front-line from the very beginning of the Russian attack on Ukraine. Mykolaiv is our shipbuilding centre and transportation hub, as the city has access downriver to the Black Sea and it is one of our key cities to keep control in the south.
Mykolaiv was shelled by the Russians from the very first day of the invasion. It still is. The last report I read at the beginning of November stated that from 255 days of the war, Mykolaiv was not attacked by Russian missiles, bombs or drones on only 44 days.
The same report showed that half of the people chose to stay home, in their city. So, even under near-daily attacks, Mykolaiv is still home to 230,000 Ukrainians.
I went to this heroic city as part of the programme of the Conference of Ambassadors of Ukraine, “War and new horizons in the world”. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t frightened to go – I was. But, I’m grateful I did. I fully agree with president Zelenskyy on this: diplomats need to see for themselves how Ukrainians are surviving and how our courageous country keeps moving forward no matter what.
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All of the ambassadors attending the Conference in Kyiv and our minister of foreign affairs Dmytro Kuleba caught an overnight train to Mykolaiv. We got to walk the streets and visit places where the war and destruction are on full display. We saw ruins of once beautiful buildings that played their role in the city’s life, we saw craters from missile attacks, ruined homes, destroyed lives… When you walk around you can see the life still hanging on: even in destruction, with the bookshelves filled with books, kitchen cabinets hanging on, the wallpaper people must have lovingly picked out one day – all on display because there are no walls to protect this life anymore.
We’ve visited the bombed administrative buildings, we’ve been to the heavily damaged buildings of the Mykolaiv Regional Military Administration and a city hotel. We saw ruined schools and universities. Standing in front of a shelled building of Gymnasium #2 or Admiral Makarov National Shipbuilding University, you know that the Russians will stop at nothing – destroying our lives and targeting our kids to break us is the number 1 priority for them. Standing there, though, even as I could not disregard the absolute disgust I feel for these murderers, I felt so much pride for every Ukrainian standing up to the evil. And I know that we will prevail.
Shortly after we arrived in Mykolaiv air-raid sirens went off and we had to take shelter. Later we found out that, at that exact time, the Russians bombed the busy city centre of Kherson, filled with people doing last-minute shopping before Christmas eve. Ten hearts stopped beating yesterday in Kherson and dozens more are still in the hospitals, fighting for their lives. Mykolaivska district is right next to Kherson and being so close to so much death and destruction was indescribable… Although all I could think about was my oldest son, who’s still a child, telling me he wants to become an architect or a city planner to rebuild all of the destroyed cities. That is my hope for tomorrow, and that is how I know we are going to survive and be stronger, and better and build an amazing and free democratic Ukraine.
When we arrived in Kyiv’s Central Train Station late last night we were met by 60 ambulances waiting to take our injured heroes to hospitals, our heroes who came from different parts of Ukraine, from the front lines.
I will do everything possible and impossible, I will tirelessly work 24/7 and will do everything within my power right until our victory. DM
Liubov Abravitova is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine in the Republic of South Africa.