Ukrainian Content Creator for Novinite: It Feels like We are Not Alone for the First Time
The past 48 hours have been filled with an influx of reports regarding the crisis in Ukraine. On February 16th Russia announced that it would not attack Ukraine and withdrew some of its troops from the border with Ukraine. The media regarded this perceived act of calming as indication that crisis has been averted. However, the US warned of additional deployment of Russian troops on the border and President Biden remained convinced that an attack on Ukraine will happen. What followed was mutual accusations of shelling between Kyiv and the separatists, including reports of general mobilization and first victims in the conflict zone. Last night, in an unprecedented speech, Putin recognized the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk republics as independent states. The EU and NATO quickly condemned this escalation of the status quo and announced that sanctions will be implemented on the Russian Federation. While the West was busy with reactions and opinions, military columns moved into the Donbas region sent there by Putin as “peacekeepers”. With such a dynamic and fast-moving development, we offer you a glimpse into the ordinary life of a young Ukrainian girl and how her life has changed due to Russia’s aggression on her homeland (the interview was made prior to last night’s events).
Mihaela Mihaylova from Novinite.bg contacted a famous Ukrainian blogger and content creator on the platform TikTok called Xena. She’s a girl living in Western Ukraine that wanted to share how a young, ordinary person sees the threat of a Russian invasion. She grew up in Crimea and is a political science student. As a person who saw the beginning of the conflict in 2014, Xena began sharing videos on TikTok in order to reveal to the world her views on the Russian occupation.
Novinite: Hello, Xena. Thank you for accepting my invitation for an interview about the current situation in Ukraine. The readers of Novinite.bg and Novinite.com would be interested to know a bit more about you as a person. Where in Ukraine do you reside right now and what’s been going around you in the last few days?
Xena: Hello, Mihaela! Thank you so much for this opportunity. Here’s a little something about myself: I was born and raised in Crimea – a peninsula in the southern part of Ukraine, along the northern coast of the Black sea. I have never been to Bulgaria, but I imagine we probably have a lot in common with the Bulgarians from the seaside regions: tourism-based economy, love for the sea and life that revolves around summertime. I moved from Crimea after the Russian army occupied the peninsula in 2014, and I currently reside in one of the Western Ukrainian regions.
Ever since the Russian aggression against Ukraine has begun with the 2014 annexation of Crimea and war in Donbas, life’s never been the same: it’s filled by the constant news of death and destruction from the Eastern, war-torn regions of Russia-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk. In January 2021, when Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, released his “article” (very questionable definition considering the utter lack of reference and actual knowledge of the region in the material; my University professors would’ve failed him) talking about the so-called unity of the Ukrainian and Russian people, I knew we are facing a new wave of the military escalation, and it was quick to follow: Russia began gathering its military on our borders since the beginning of the last year, which reached alarming rates during the past couple of months and peaked last week.
The constant warnings of the escalation of the Russian invasion from our Western allies (albeit done in good heart) and constant war-mongering rhetoric in the Russian media have definitely been challenging for us all here in Ukraine; for instance, we went to bed on February 15th to the barrage of news claiming that the invasion was about to begin. So past few days have been extremely nerve-racking for everyone here; people are very much in the ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst’ mode.
Novinite: Recently there were reports of women and children in Donetsk and Luhansk being evacuated. Are people afraid of escalation in the region in the coming days? What is your personal opinion on these developments?
Xena: The so-called “evacuation” is looking extremely grim: unfortunately, this is not the first time for the Russian government to force Ukrainians and other peoples from their homes and resettle them somewhere in Russia (or Central Asia back in the Russian Empire/Soviet days). According to the accounts coming from the people of Donetsk, a mass panic caused by the Russian propaganda made the most vulnerable ones leave under the pretense of going to Rostov-on-Don, Taganrog, Voronezh and other Russian cities close to the Ukrainian border; however, it turned out upon arrival that a lot of them were forced onto the trains going to Siberia and Magadan (legitimately terrifying names for most people of post-Soviet heritage).
The Russian media has been trying to portray the situation in Donbas as an ethnic conflict: for a very long time, their goal has been to paint Ukraine as a place that discriminates and oppresses the Russian speakers. I find it absolutely ridiculous as a Russian-speaking Ukrainian myself; however, the point of the propaganda is not, to tell the truth, but rather to lead as far away from the truth as possible. In showing the Russian public hundreds of “evacuated” people from Donbas, most of whom are Russian-speaking, the Russian media makes it seem as though the Ukrainian army is targeting the Russian-speaking population: look, here’s the proof! Oh no, would you look at the poor grandma, she’s so terrified she’s willing to go to Magadan of all places, things must be really bad there!
What it looks like is an orchestrated move meant to create “Casus Belli”: there have been intense shellings from the Russia-occupied Donbas onto Ukraine-controlled territory in an attempt to provoke the Ukrainian army, and numerous attempts by the Russians and their puppet separatists in the occupied territories to fake attacks and make it seem like they are coming from the Ukrainian side. So the escalation is already here, it’s simply being contained within the two Ukrainian regions for the time being.
Novinite: There was information in the media about ordinary Ukrainians, including women, taking self-defense courses in preparation for a possible invasion? Is this true and can you share your thoughts on this topic?
Xena: Yes, a lot of people opt for self-defense courses, many people are stocking up on canned food and I believe most of us at this point have emergency backpacks ready in case push comes to shove. However, many of us have been mentally prepared for something like this to happen: the Russian aggression against Ukraine has been ongoing for the last 8 years (yesterday was the 8 anniversary), we have already lost 15.000 people, so none of what’s been happening comes as a huge surprise. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s the “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” mentality.
Novinite: Many Ukrainians have been mobilized since the start of the conflict. A lot of your compatriots have family members, friends or colleagues who have been or currently are in the military. Do you have any close ones who are currently mobilized? What is the government telling them about current affairs and possible future missions?
Xena: I think almost all of us have friends and family in the military. The general mood has been unchanged for the past 8 years: keep calm and defend Ukraine. We believe in our army and rely on them greatly: they are the only barrier between us and the possibility of invasion.
Novinite: Do you think some information is hidden from the soldiers or the general public?
Xena: The general public has been relatively protected from the horrors of war, especially the atrocities committed against our soldiers and Ukrainian people on the occupied territories (the horrors of Izolyatsia prison in occupied Donetsk comes to mind); the military is, of course, very much aware of the reality of the situation. I cannot even fathom the strength that they possess knowing what they have to go against on a day-to-day basis.
Novinite: Do you think war is a real possibility in the coming weeks, months?
Xena: The war has been here for the past 8 years, but the world is finally waking up to it, and it’s encouraging to all of us here in Ukraine because it feels like we are not alone for the first time. The possibility of escalation is always here; however, it’s important to remember that the West has all the power over the Russian elites. They are nothing like the Soviet officials: Russian upper echelons have their assets, business, investments of all sorts, their yachts, mansions and villas, their lovers, ex-wives, and children in the West. Hitting them economically and introducing the most decisive final package of sanctions will do wonders for world peace.
Novinite: How has your life changed in the past months as the whole world was watching and talking about Russia and Ukraine? Do you think the West is exaggerating or is the paranoia justified?
Xena: It’s been a lot to take in, and, of course, the panic has never helped anybody; however, there’s always a positive aspect to everything, and finally having some attention on the war and aggression against our country has been incredible. Some of the Western media sources have definitely been reckless in their statements; the biggest issue with that is not even the panic that it causes all of us here in Ukraine, but an additional weapon that it gives to the Russian propaganda. However, I understand where they are coming from – they mean well, and at the end of the day, it’s still better than the dead silence we’ve had before. As for me personally, I began making videos about the situation in Ukraine on my TikTok account (@xenasolo) – talking about the situation in general, touching on the history and key details, sharing my perspective – and I’ve been so humbled by the response. There’s a great demand for a Ukrainian perspective in the world – you are one of the greatest examples! For the first time since the annexation of Crimea has robbed me of control over my life, I feel like I have a voice.
Novinite: Lastly, in TikTok, you post videos related to the Donbas region. Do you think there is an information blackout and people in Europe are not aware of what is really happening? If so, how long do you think it will last?
Xena: For as long as Donbas is under the Russian occupation. Even we, people of Ukraine, only hear scarce voices from the real people of Donbas: through the text messages addressed to their family and friends here, through social media, through group chats. It is only possible to trust them because everything else coming from the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk is Russian-state-controlled propaganda. Unfortunately, this is one of many sad realities of living under the occupation.
If Bulgarians and people from all over the world want to help the people of Ukraine they can do so by donating to a non-profit fund called “Come back home safe”. It’s a great option for those who are interested in helping Ukraine and the Ukrainian army directly, people to people, without any unnecessary connecting links or additional meddling. This is what we, Ukrainians, use here to help our soldiers. Here’s the link: https://savelife.in.ua/en/donate
Thank you <3
- Xena (@xenasolo)
The interview was conducted by Novinite.bg editor Mihaela Mihaylova
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