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Ready to fight


WORLD Radio - Ready to fight

Ukrainians are preparing to defend their country against Russia’s invasion

People rest in the Kyiv subway, using it as a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press Photo

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday the 25th of February, 2022. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler. First up: fighting for freedom.

BROWN: After months of waiting, Ukrainians are now facing the reality of war. While some people are trying to evacuate to safety in neighboring NATO countries, others are stepping up to defend Ukraine against the much larger, and better equipped, Russian military.

BUTLER: Joining us now to talk about the situation on the ground is WORLD correspondent Jill Nelson. She recently spoke with Christians in Ukraine who are facing some difficult decisions. Good morning, Jill.

JILL NELSON, REPORTER: Hey, good morning, Paul.

BUTLER: I appreciated your report yesterday on WORLD Digital. Tell us about your early morning conversation with Oleg Magdych on Thursday. Who is he and what was he doing when you guys talked?

NELSON: Well, Oleg is a former pastor who lives in Kyiv with his wife and two kids. And since 2014, he has been taking supplies to Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines who have essentially been fighting Russian backed forces there off and on for the past eight years. So they deliver things like helmets, food, medicine, bulletproof vests. And when I spoke to him in the early hours of the Russian invasion, which began yesterday, at about four or five in the morning, Ukraine time, he was still a bit shaken by what he experienced there. He and his friends had stopped at a gas station outside of Kharkiv, that's in eastern Ukraine, when the shelling began, and he could see it coming from three different directions. So they called the soldiers on the front lines, who told them to turn around. And as they scanned their evacuation options, they could see fire and smoke in one direction. And they could see artillery fire aimed at Russian planes that were bombing the area.

BUTLER: In your story you wrote: “In some ways, [Magdych] 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.” When you spoke with him, what did he say?

NELSON: Well, you know, he acknowledged his fear in this situation. And, you know, we've all seen these troops building up on the Ukrainian border, but many people wondered if Putin would really have the audacity to invade on multiple fronts. So he said it was a bit surreal. He just did not expect an encounter with rockets when he woke up early that morning. But he really hoped this kind of fear would mobilize Ukrainians to fight for freedom. He said they did not want to live under Putin's Russia. And he knows there will be casualties in this war, but they are going to fight. And he also had a few things to say about the West’s reaction to Moscow's assault. He said they they don't want American soldiers on the ground dying for their country. But he pointed out something that others have pointed out to me as well, including Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institute, who was a former ambassador to Ukraine. Back in the 1990s, Washington convinced Ukraine to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, which was the third largest in the world at that time. And the U.S. signed what was called the Budapest Memorandum in 1994, along with Great Britain and Russia. And all three countries committed to respect Ukraine sovereignty. And so Ukrainians, including Oleg are wondering what the West is going to do about this because right now, it just does not seem like we are willing to make some of those hard decisions that would change the trajectory of this invasion.

BUTLER: When you interviewed Magdych, he was headed back to Kyiv to help his family evacuate. Did you hear if he made it? And what does he plan to do next?

NELSON: Yeah, it was about a three hour drive to Kyiv. And he was able to get his family out of the city. They were planning to head somewhere northwest of Kiev. And then he and his friends were planning to return to the frontlines to deliver those much needed supplies.

BUTLER: What else are you hearing from people you’ve spoken to over the last few months? How are they doing?

NELSON: One person I've spoken to is a missionary with Mission to the World, MTW, named Bob Burnham. And he's lived in the southern city of Odessa for about 25 years. And that's where some of the explosions were heard when this invasion began. And when I spoke to him at the end of January, he and his family were staying put in Odessa. There were about 100,000 troops surrounding Ukraine at that time, and the U.S. had not issued a mandatory evacuation for everyone at the embassy. But that situation, of course changed last week and Burnham and his family moved to a city near the Romanian border, about a three hour drive west of Odessa. And I believe they drove back to Odessa for church on Sunday and to pray with two of their congregations there. And then when I touched base with him yesterday, he was in transit, evacuating his family to Romania, and then planning to drive to the Lviv where a lot of churches have been mobilizing, and really preparing for a massive wave of refugees heading their way. And then another friend I spoke to who lives in Kyiv was supposed to fly with his family to Turkey today, of course, now flights are all canceled. He was trying to figure out a way to cross the border and catch a flight from Poland or Moldova but of course, there is some concern about those long lines at the border crossings.

BUTLER: You’ve spent a lot of time in Ukraine and know the country well. Tell us a little bit about the Ukrainian people. What are they like and how does that affect their response to this invasion?

NELSON: Well, the Ukrainian people are no strangers to hardship. I mean, their history is marked with great sorrows and difficulties. And in some ways they've been living in the shadows since 2014. And I think Oleg really captured this when he described what he saw in Kharkov as the attacks began. He said some Ukrainians were driving fast, fleeing to safety, and others were just going to work. I mean, they clearly heard the explosions and were just going on with their day. And this mirrored what he saw in 2014 on his first trip to the frontlines. They were driving in an armored vehicle wearing bulletproof vests, they could see black smoke in front of them. At the same time, there were kids playing in the streets of villages and guys were fishing in the local river. So he describes it all as a bit surreal. And he, you know, he summed things up by agreeing with the words of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. If there's a full scale war the Russians will see their faces not their backs.

BUTLER: Jill Nelson is a WORLD correspondent based in southern California. Thanks for joining us today.

NELSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.

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