Elina Konavalyuk and her family had a relaxed, if not indifferent, attitude towards Russia before all this. Some family members had even felt a bit nostalgic for the USSR over the years. But no more. Not after living under attack from the Russian soldiers who occupied the Kherson region of Ukraine at the beginning of the war, sleeping for months, scared, in a basement, and Konavalyuk, her mother and her grandparents finally making a dangerous escape from their homeland. .
“It was a fight for survival,” she said of living under Russian occupation last winter, something she never imagined could happen to her or anyone she knew. The port city of Kherson, just north of Crimea, was the first major city to fall to the Russians in their 2022 war. “I don’t have that adrenaline rush right now. So all my thoughts were about queuing for six hours.” for a slice of bread. You would see the bodies of your neighbors lying outside your house. It was so difficult both mentally and physically.” because you needed to acquire new skills just to survive.”
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Last winter and spring, I posted some of what Konavalyuk shared with me during his time underground, never using his name for fear of his safety. And, in fact, he says Russian border guards searched his phone and questioned her intensively as she left, distrusting every fleeing Ukrainian. His memoir “Survival Diary” reads like poetry with descriptions of what it feels like to forget the smell of clean clothes and the taste of jam.
Konavalyuk is a journalism student. Documenting what was happening in her hometown and learning for herself what explosions correspond to what kind of weapons are fired so she knows when to run, how to react to the constant noise and shelling around her, she says, helped her get through the long and terrifying months. Now, in the safety of Europe, it is sometimes difficult for her, she says, to see people enjoying the carefree lives of those who do not live in a state of war.
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And Friday was a particularly grim day for people like Konavalyuk, who hail from the Ukrainian territories Russia has just declared as its own, annexing Kherson and three other regions that together make up 15 percent of Ukraine’s territory. Formal annexation followed what have been widely called illegitimate referendums.
“They forced people to vote at gunpoint, stopped them on the street. They came to their houses and threatened them,” Konavalyuk said. “So it’s very easy to refute this referendum.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in the Kremlin’s chandeliered Georgievski Hall, whose gleaming parquet floors seemed to contrast with the somber-faced government officials who filled the room, said Russia would never return those territories. Konavalyuk has a different opinion, that Ukraine will get its land back, but he says “the fact that this is now seen as an attack on Russia complicates things,” he says. “It will be more difficult for us to recover the Kherson region and the rest of the occupied territories.”
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When I ask her who will fight, who will take back Kherson, she says: “Different Ukrainians from different sides are fighting for Kherson. The most incredible thing for me is that Ukraine is now more united than before. There is no difference at all.” right now, whether you’re from the south or the west. In other words, we are united as one people to return our lands. We are also one people.”