“Ukrainians are going to fight for freedom”
Stern sanctions from the West have failed to stop the Russian invasion
Ukrainians woke up to a Russian invasion early on Thursday as missile strikes and explosions rocked Ukraine’s major cities and military outposts. Kyiv said Russian units crossed into Ukraine from Belarus in the north and Russia in the east, and Ukraine’s border guard services released photos of what they claim are Russian troops crossing into southern Ukraine from the Crimean Peninsula, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
Oleg Magdych was driving from Kyiv to the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine when the Russian assault began. He and his friends were on their way to deliver supplies to Ukrainian military units that were heavily bombed during the past three days. Some of the men were injured, he said.
At 5 a.m., they stopped for gas outside of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. “As soon as we filled up our cars, we heard this noise that you can’t get wrong. The rocket shelling was taking place, and it was in three different directions near Kharkiv. So they were bombing the air force base that was close. It was less than a mile from the place where we were at that moment,” Magdych said.
Magdych has been delivering food, medicine, bulletproof vests, and other supplies to Ukrainian troops since 2014 when fighting broke out with Russian-backed soldiers. But this time, their contacts on the front lines told them to turn around.
They considered taking the road that goes around Kharkiv, but they could see explosions and smoke coming from that direction. Magdych said he could see Ukrainian artillery fire aimed at Russian planes dropping bombs.
I spoke with Magdych on a video call as he was pulling into a gas station during his three-hour drive back to Kyiv. In some ways, he looked fearless in his camouflage shirt, goatee, and armored vehicle with a muscular comrade by his side. But his hazel eyes projected worry and a measure of fear. “We are afraid, but this fear is not killing us from the inside,” he said. “This fear is allowing us to mobilize. And I hope this fear is the kind of fear that helps us survive.”
Ukrainian leadership said Russia has amassed nearly 200,000 troops on its borders, and at least 40 people have died in the fighting as of early this morning.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Kremlin was not returning his calls and warned that Russia could start a “major war in Europe.” The 44-year-old leader declared martial law and urged people to stay calm as thousands attempted to flee Kyiv, causing traffic jams. Reports of explosions in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa flooded social media.
U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday rolled out a new wave of sanctions targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and two banks tied to the Kremlin and the Russian military. But some experts say that won’t be enough to deter the 69-year-old leader who has been in power since 1999.
Magdych says Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is part of a broader mission: “Many years ago Putin said that the worst geopolitical mistake of the century was the crash of the Soviet Union. And that's his goal. He wants to restore the Russian Empire.”
Putin claims he is protecting Russian civilians in eastern Ukraine, a line he’s used before while invading Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine’s Donbas region and Crimean Peninsula in 2014. He threatened the West during a televised speech as the attack began, claiming that any attempt to interfere would “lead to consequences you’ve never seen in history.”
Putin urged Ukrainians to “immediately put down arms and go home.”
Magdych said this is not how Ukrainians will respond to threats against their homeland. After he helps his wife and kids evacuate from Kyiv, he plans to return to the eastern front to finish his mission and make sure the troops receive their supplies.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know that Ukrainians are going to fight for freedom,” he said. “We don’t want to live under Putin’s Russia. We’re Ukrainians, and we’re going to fight for it.”
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