The world communities have been responding to horrific events in Ukraine with solidarity and profound care. To Ukrainians — in Ukraine and worldwide — the support of politicians, businesses, athletes, artists, and bar owners dumping Russian vodka has been vital. Yesterday many of us marched in Santa Barbara, encouraged by Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams and many other community leaders. As we marched down State Street with flags and signs, people at the restaurants cheered, held up peace signs, and cried. Thank you, from all of us Ukrainians, for your support!
What I want to keep alive, in addition to the stunning and disturbing news reporting from Ukraine, are the voices of our families who are still in basements and bunkers or in long refugee lines at the borders at this moment. Many of our families are spending days hovering underground and away from windows as the Russian artillery and warplanes attack our towns and cities. Ukrainians and we here are watching tanks and artillery rolling through Ukraine.
Other terrifying news, especially for Kiyvites and North Ukrainians, include such events such as the Russian purposeful take-over of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. This takeover has meant not only that tanks and military divisions are rolling through and to Kyiv via one of the world’s most highly radioactive area, where deadly radioactive dust has been left to settle since 1986, it also appears that protective layers established over this disaster plant may be damaged. And so, in addition to being warned about anticipated air strikes or artillery shelling, varied aspects of the marshal law and safety in war times, the residents of Kyiv are now informed again to be aware of potentially increasing levels of radiation. So far I hear that the levels are low, but everyone is now expecting the worst; many of us lived through horrors of that disaster and its aftermath.
Moreover, Ukrainians are being informed that biological and chemical weapons are on the table for the Russian military. Information is now going out on how to use simple ways to protect oneself in such cases. And today we woke up with Putin’s evocation of his nuclear “readiness.” The terrorizing impact of this aggression has no bounds.
For Ukrainians and many others, the spirit of standing up to this violent occupation has been vitally important: the voices of the border guards off Snake island; a Ukrainian woman telling a “piece of s@#$” Russian soldier that he is an occupier while giving him sunflower seeds as a reminder of his violence; a Ukrainian man asking a stalled Russian tank if they needed a “tow back to Russia.”
The world is also learning more about actual Ukrainian history in relation to imperial and Soviet Russia, such as the Holodomor — the purposeful genocidal starvation of Ukrainians by Stalin during the 1930s. Today Ukrainians are incredibly proud of their democratically elected president Volodymyr Zelenskyy who is said to have 100 percent popular support in Ukraine!
Yet, at this very moment, the Russian military is still dropping bombs and shelling Ukrainian territories. Hundreds of thousands Ukrainians are trying to flee, mostly families with children. Putin’s “negotiation” offer has come with a warning that he put his “nuclear deterrent” forces on “high alert.”
Ukraine still desperately needs the world. Please consider donating via such groups as the Red Cross, UNICEF, Direct Relief, and other remarkable human rights and aid groups. And please join the local Ukrainian community in protest and solidarity this Monday, February 28, at noon at the Santa Barbara Courthouse near the arch. Dyakuyu, or thank you in Ukrainian.
Oksana Yakushko is a Santa Barbara resident, psychologist, professor, and Ukrainian immigrant.