Ukrainians Speak Out in Santa Barbara
Relief Efforts Ramp Up & Russian-American Talks About Putin’s War
By Nick Welsh and Nicholas Lui | March 17, 2022
Santa Barbara is a notoriously small town. But it’s an even smaller world. Nothing illustrates this more than the sudden emergence of Tatyana Taruta as a public figure. Every night during the city’s film festival, Taruta — tall, elegant, and articulate — stood vigil in front of The Arlington Theatre, dressed in the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag. Taruta is a Ukrainian, trapped by Russia’s war on Ukraine, in Santa Barbara. Her husband, Christo Artusio, a former diplomat with the State Department, is a Santa Barbara native and Supervisor Das Williams’s best friend from childhood. Taruta also happens to be the daughter of a member of the Ukrainian parliament who happened to run for president in the 2019 election that brought to power the onetime stand-up comedian and TV actor Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Taruta’s hometown of Mariupol has been all but obliterated by Russian missiles. Taruta’s childhood home has been wiped off the Google map. This Saturday, Taruta — the daughter of an oligarch — sold bread at a bake sale by Paseo Nuevo to raise funds and awareness of Ukraine’s plight.
In Santa Barbara, there are no six degrees of separation. Just one. For the world right now, the same is true. As we struggle as a nation seeking ways to end the Russian invasion while trying to prevent World War III and nuclear war, Taruta and other Ukrainians living here struggle with our struggles. In so doing, they attempt to impress upon our reality the cold horrors of their own. The following articles attempt to illuminate this in some ways while offering choices for those seeking to help.
Raising Money and Awareness in Santa Barbara
Tatyana Taruta Appeals for More Weapons to Be Sent to Ukrainian Army
By Nick Welsh | March 17, 2022
The following interview with Tatyana Taruta has been edited for length and clarity.
It’s a dumb question, but … How are you doing? It’s terrible. I’m sick with worry about my relatives and friends in Ukraine, especially those in Mariupol. Haven’t heard from them for seven days now. We were supposed to go back last Saturday to Ukraine. My husband is from Santa Barbara, and we spend three or four months a year here so he can be with his friends and family.
I understand you are originally from Mariupol. What do you hear from there? All my closest friends, cousins, nephews, uncles, aunts are there. And now there is no connection with them whatsoever. Sometimes there is a group chat, which has been how I can sometimes find out how my friends and family are, and I check this chat constantly.
In Mariupol, even those areas that are not bombed, people are lacking fresh water and are running out of food. What Putin did — his army specifically targeted groceries, big grocery stores, and grocery warehouses. When it was snowing in Mariupol, people were melting snow to drink.
Obviously, they don’t have any heating or gas or electricity, so they go outside when they are not being bombed and make fires for cooking what food they have. It’s so inspiring to see those people. They are being shelled constantly, constantly. The Russians are shelling residential areas. There are no military bases in Mariupol. I know the areas where they are shelling.
I have a video of Mariupol before the war. [To watch, see independent.com.] I want people to know what a beautiful city it was. It actually reminds me of Santa Barbara, but it’s bigger, with 400,000 people, and is located on the Azov Sea, so it had beautiful boulevards along the marina. Kids went sailing, and we had fountains and beaches and beautiful parks. Mariupol had big stadiums and basketball and soccer teams. The city had two big universities, where many of my friends work. I just wanted you to know what we have lost. Now the city is completely destroyed.
But what do you think the West should do? I’m not trained, but basically we need things that can shoot missiles, things that can prevent missiles from bombing our cities. America is sending Javelins, but this is to hit helicopters. I know what I hear from the ground. We do not have enough of those.
I want to stress how important it is to provide military aid right now. It must be provided now, within days. We don’t have months. He destroyed Mariupol, a huge city, almost half a million people, within 12 days. So we don’t have that much time.
I hear that, okay, but we don’t want to get to World War III. We don’t want to get to nuclear war. What is the help that we can give while at the same time maintaining some illusion of distance? I know the sentiment; it’s not just the U.S. The whole world is afraid of WWIII, right?
Putin is saying, “If you send your military, I will consider it war” … So we are talking about a terrorist who has a nuclear weapon.
But there are other nuclear dictators. They are taking notes right now on what they can do. Then they will follow Putin’s example.
If Putin is not stopped now, then he will not stop. Moldova, for example. Is Moldova next? Nobody wants to have WWIII over Moldova. Georgia? Armenia? Estonia? Latvia? These are NATO countries. Nobody will want to have World War III over these countries that are 10 times smaller than Ukraine. Why don’t we give them to Putin now?
But the dangers of nuclear war are real, are they not? The way I see it, Russian troops have already occupied two nuclear power plants in Ukraine, one of which is the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe. It’s 10 times bigger than Chernobyl.
These nuclear power plants are occupied by Russian troops, by Chechen divisions. I don’t know what you know about Chechens, but they aren’t known for being nuclear engineers.
If we are talking about nuclear disaster, if they are concerned about a nuclear catastrophe, I think Putin has already put Europe at risk.
And your father in Kyiv. How is he? I can still get in touch with him. He joined the civilian army. He’s 66 or 67 this year.
Does he have to stay in Kyiv? He wants to stay. He doesn’t want to leave Kyiv. I don’t think I can talk a lot about what specifically he is doing. Coordination. We have this civil army, people who don’t have military training, but they want to help, can sign up, and then they help coordinate. For example, some of my colleagues and just random people, when Russian troops were bombing Kyiv, they were going outside to see if there are marks, the Russians were leaving marks on houses to navigate their attack systems. If they see those marks, they would cover it with something.
What did you think of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy when he was running for that office? To be honest, I didn’t vote for Zelenskyy. He was a comedian who had never run for office and never was a businessman, but he turned out to be a very, very brave man. He risks his life every day by staying in Kyiv. He is showing an example to the nation that he is willing to sacrifice, to face death. Ukrainians don’t want to live without democracy. They are dying in great numbers to not be part of Russia. In this Mariupol chat, people say we will fight to the end. Nobody said, “Let’s surrender.”
But do you see any way for a face-saving victory for Putin — what diplomats call an off-ramp? I am praying every night that God sends a miracle. I don’t think Putin can just withdraw troops. It would be too painful for him.
I advocate for more military help. Ukrainian people are so brave; they are willing to fight. But they need weapons. You cannot go to a gunfight with a knife.