Ukrainian human rights activist Oksana Horbunova shares her perspective from Kyiv on the current Russia conflict:
The situation is very unpredictable and it’s really difficult to describe what we are feeling. It seems that waiting for the war is harder than the war itself.
What I am observing is that the streets of the capital have become empty. There are not many people in the metro, there are no traffic jams—it is absolutely not typical for Kyiv. This could be because a lot of people are sick as the city is suffering from Omicron, or some people have started to leave the city.
But there is no panic, because this is not a new environment for us. People have adapted to the military situation because we have already been defending the country for eight years. About 14,000 defenders of Ukraine have been killed in the east since 2014.
It is not a new situation, but now, the whole country is under pressure. There are new realities now, as all of Ukraine is under the sight of ballistic missiles.
We are trying to get different information from different sources, and analyze it among ourselves. But we also realize that access to information and communication could be stopped at any moment because we rely on internet connections which could absolutely be undermined if bombing starts. Some people are trying to exchange meeting places or pass routes to maintain contact with the goal to help each other, but we do not know how this could work in practice.
During critical moments like this, it is typical for people to look to the past and remind ourselves of our heroes. Here, Ukrainians are not unique. Looking in our past, I think that life has trained us to be ready to fight for freedom and independence, and to survive—we have experience from the famine-genocide of 1932-33, World War II, the political persecution of dissidents, Chernobyl, and the ongoing military aggression in the east. We also have experience consolidating our efforts during two recent revolutions, the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Revolution of Dignity in 2014.
Our history knows a lot of heroes who fought to protect the nation. We keep in our hearts all of these heroes, memories and experiences of when people quickly self-organized and were resilient, and unexpected groups of people came together to help each other. I hope all these skills will help us again.
I strongly believe in our civil society, which has been hardened for decades. Moreover, I am sure that my belief and the belief of other Ukrainians frightens our enemy. Today we have real hope for our army. There are also many civilians who are ready to protect the country and are already participating in special training. But there are vulnerable groups of people that may find themselves in combat zones—the elderly, children, pregnant women and sick people in the hospitals.
If there is a conflict, we will have to find new ways to organize and survive. But I am deeply convinced that Ukrainians will not accept the dictatorship regime which Russia is interested in setting up here.
There are thousands and thousands and thousands of men and women, from big cities and small villages, who will stand together and will resist—and this feeling unites us.
I hope that our feelings will be reinforced by international solidarity and support from other democratic states and other nations that believe in our victory.
Oksana Horbunova is a human rights activist and pioneer of Ukraine’s counter-trafficking efforts. She founded Ukraine’s first counter-trafficking NGO and leads her country’s counter-trafficking efforts with the International Organization for Migration. Oksana trains law enforcement to take a victim-centered approach to trafficking, focusing especially on child victims of sexual exploitation. Oksana Horbunova was honored as the 2002 Human Rights Awardee at the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards. Her compelling wisdom is also featured in Vital Voices: 100 Women Using Their Power to Empower.
*Views expressed in this article are that of the author and not of VitalVoices.org