Slava Ukraini! Dispatches from Kyiv: Part One

February 28, 2022 | 10 11 min read

Millions staff writer Il’ja Rakos and his family live in Kyiv, Ukraine. What follows are his Facebook posts from the ongoing Russian invasion, many of them written from a bomb shelter, reposted with his permission and the assistance of his friend Mark Slouka.

Feb. 23 at 6:24 a.m. EEST

We’ve heard massive explosions near Kyiv. Friends in Odessa (south), Kharkov (east) and Chernihiv (north) report the same. Last night, Putin gives a speech where he promises to “demilitarize” and “de-nazify” (sic) Ukraine.

He is insane (this is not a metaphor). The loss of life will be catastrophic should he press the attack.

Wherever you live in the western world, be aware: you will soon be hit with substantial cyber attacks and disinformation from arguably “reliable” news organizations and media. I have seen one recent, odd piece of 100% pure Russian propaganda from someone named Tucker Carlson. I don’t know who he is; it was deeply unsettling to see phrases spoken by an American newsman that we hear EVERY DAY from Russian sources who dream about “the glory of the USSR”.

Putin is chief among those who think the USSR needs to be restored.

He is acting on it this morning, 5 a.m. Kyiv time.

Feb. 23 at 6:49 a.m. EEST

An update: reliable Kyiv source says that the explosions here are Ukrainian anti-aircraft shooting at drones. No further explosions for about 45 minutes now – 6:45 a.m.

Feb. 24 at 7:07 a.m. EEST

Air raid sirens in Kyiv. More rumbling. Прогремели кононады as they’d say in these parts. Kyiv is short on bomb shelters.

Feb. 24 at 8:02 a.m. EEST

Feb. 24 8:26 a.m. EEST
Update: Russia is hitting military installations across the entire country including Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk in the far west. Attacks are tactical – I would interpret them as attempts to paralyze/panic the civilian population. We’ll see.

Feb. 24 9:27 a.m. EEST
Final update, maybe for a while. Got bigger fish to fry: again, reliable source – Russian tanks have crossed the border at multiple points from Belarus (to the north). They have apparently penetrated deeply, beyond Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy.

Putin states: he will capture, arrest, try the “criminals” who got rid of his friendly puppet president here in Ukraine in 2014.

When Ukrainians protested, freely, and then elected, openly, a government that would no longer bow to Moscow, Putin called it a “junta” a “coup”.

He has stated openly: “Ukraine is not a real state.” “Any state that builds itself on human rights will fail.”

So, now the man who holds those views sends tanks. Any word you would never say in front of your grandma applies to this man. He is, in the most charitable interpretation I can muster, insane.

Americans, call your congressional reps. Hit Putin hard. Hit him personally.

True: Putin doesn’t care “that much” about money. But without his billions, his loyal followers – including his security forces – will think twice about following his orders. With Putin, it’s all about his delusions of grandeur – the “moguchi russki mir”.

Well, apparently it takes a legion of tanks and a shitstorm of lies to accomplish a “grand Russian world”.

Worry not. This was, in 2014, and now, in 2022, Putin’s fatal mistake. The thing he was incapable of understanding: Ukrainians are TOUGH AS NAILS.

His security apparatus has been polluting our news/information in this region – all across the old USSR – with his bullshit for at least the last 15 years. The “disinformation” techniques he uses in the west – in the UK, Europe, the US – he perfected here. We were the testing ground.

Watch your own media critically, with your heart, your mind, and your eyes open. There are sinister agents of chaos at work – their objectives include domination, immiseration, death. Their tactic is, as it has been, the lie.

Ukraine is a peaceful, if maddening, often chaotic place. But it is home. If you have been my friend, take this admonition in the spirit in which it is sent.

Peace from Kyiv, Слава Україні!

Il’ja, Anya, Seva, & Jarek

Feb. 24 at 5:20 p.m. EEST

Jara and Seva in the bomb shelter. Heavy fighting at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant. This is madness. Pray. And then call your congressman. Ukraine is too much alone in this. Thursday 5:15 p.m.

Feb. 24 at 6:22 pm EEST

Ukrainian forces, outmanned and outgunned, have stopped Russian/Belarusian forces at Chernihiv, are stifling them at Kharkiv and are holding fast at Mariupol. Downed 6 jets, firebombed 4 tanks. 4 copters. 50 Russian dead.

But Russia took military airfield 30km outside Kyiv. Planning major troop airlift. Kherson region under heavy assault. Kyiv could be overwhelmed by the weekend.

Feb. 24 at 10:19 p.m. EEST

Ministry of Defense suggests we be ready around 4-5a.m. for the next air assault. Airborne has been parachuting in all over. Fighting just north of Kyiv, maybe 30 miles away.

Ukrainian troops are fierce, taking chunks out of the invaders. Chernobyl Nuclear Plant has fallen to Russia. This is potentially catastrophic.

All 4 of us on 3 yoga mats! The worst camping trip imaginable. 😳

My boys are calm, asking questions no 6 or 8-year-old should ever have to confront.

Walking through the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil, for He is with us.

Feb. 25 at 9:15 a.m. EEST
The bombs have arrived in Kiev. Take care of yourself friends and your loved ones. Strength and endurance to all. Glory to Ukraine. Glory to the Heroes.

Feb. 25 at 11:18 am EEST

So. Good news bad news.

Significant, but not yet critical gamma radiation spikes in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone since the Russian takeover of the complex yesterday. Hard to say exactly why, likely the soil being stirred up by the tanks rolling through. (map below, red dots = not good).

Bombs falling in Kyiv in residential areas. Our neighborhood, most neighborhoods, unaffected so far. Ukrainian forces shot down Russian bomber, civilian deaths.

Ukrainian 4th Rapid Response Brigade (trained by USMC, Semper Fi!) took back from Russian control an airport just north of Kyiv. Russians still hunting a suitable airport they can use for major troop/supply incursions.

Family is tired but well, considering. Seva, our oldest, better grasps the implications and is on edge. Jara, 2 years younger, is glad for the days off school. Anya is a rock. Me? I didn’t survive Covid in a Kyiv hospital just to be taken out by the likes of that homunculus in Moscow. We’re packed. If we ever get back into our flat.

Russian airborne landing in northern Kyiv neighborhood, a 15-minutes subway ride from us. Ukrainian National Guard is fighting like hell.

Now, for the commentary and a request. Call your representatives. Ukraine is a flawed nation, but it is making a serious attempt to deal with its problems for the past 8 years now. It has, by large majorities, rejected the Soviet model of corruption that continues in Russia. It deserves better than this.

Why you should care: Because Russia won’t stop here. Russia is a mafia state, with a Godfather and his lieutenants. It is a crime syndicate run by men with no moral sense. None. When I was serving in Ternopil, I had occasion to hear the confession of an SBU General (KGB). For six days, I listened to this man, body riddled with cancer, as he sought absolution.

The point: Putin’s worldview is the worldview shared by that general, the KGB worldview. Your life, the lives of your loved ones, are insignificant. Particularly if they get in the way of pure exercises of power and control.

I am not crazy, paranoid, or seeking fame. If my just under 30 years of living in this part of the world means anything, trust this: there are true agents of evil at work, lurking in search of whom they might devour.

Today, it’s Ukraine. A nation that just wants to be like us. To live in a place where life, family, business, faith, and intellect are not objects of manipulation for the moneyed class.

This is no Marxist manifesto – this is human nature. Ukrainians want for their kids the same things you want for yours.

Putin and his ilk couldn’t care less.

What you can do of an earthly nature: Ukraine is outmanned, outgunned. Contact your congressmen, your MPs, your leadership and tell them to push for the Establishment of a No-Fly Zone over Ukraine. Before it’s too late.

Our boys are showing, over and over, that they can take the Russian force on, despite its superiority in numbers and firepower. But Ukraine lacks the air presence to sustain this.

And so, here we are. We’re hanging in. Your words of encouragement are a gift beyond measure.

Sirens going off again. Back into the pit.

Peace from Kyiv

Feb. 25 at 5:38 a.m. EEST

Her name is Irina Tsvila. She has 2 kids. She’s a school teacher. She is a Ukrainian Army Reservist who has battleground experience from 2014–when Russia first attacked eastern Ukraine.

She was killed last night defending Kyiv.

You know who Goliath is in this story. Now meet David – we called her Irina. David fights on: The giant will fall.

Rest in Peace, my beauty.

Feb. 26 at 7:25 a.m. EEST

Feb. 26 at 11:04 a.m. EEST

Explosions about a minute apart for the last 10 minutes. Don’t know if it’s anti-aircraft or Russian ordnance. Saturday morning, sunny, mid-40s, 10:58 Kyiv time.

Confirmed report that rocket was brought down by UA anti-aircraft, targeting the Kyiv Dam. The Russians are specifically targeting civilian population and infrastructure.

War crimes.

The dam, if it fails, will flood regions of Kyiv with a civilian population of about 1.2 million, including our neighborhood.

Down to the bunker.

Feb. 26 at 11:06 a.m. EEST

Last night or the night before. Not sure.

Feb. 26 at 6:52 p.m. EEST

Starting this at 5:20 p.m. of a looong Saturday.

First things first: we’re doing okay. Everybody’s healthy, and now, after a pot of my world famous ranch beans, well fed. Even the boys dug in; something must be up.

And, it is. Kyiv’s Mayor, Vitaliy Klitschko, has ordered a curfew from 5 p.m. tonight through 8 a.m. Monday. Starting about 2 o’clock this afternoon we had cops everywhere, heavily armed cops.

With good reason. Reliable intelligence informs us that Russia is about to go into a new phase of attack. They’re frustrated by the resistance they’ve faced. Ukrainians have met them head-on, inflicting serious losses on the invaders in 2.5 days of fighting:

3500 Russian killed or wounded, 102 tanks destroyed, 536 armored vehicles torched, 15 artillery pieces destroyed, 14 fighter jets downed, 8 attack helicopters down, and 1 “BUK” rocket system destroyed, countless numbers of rockets brought down and at least two IL-76’s brought down–each with at least 140 paratroopers on board.

Someone back in Moscow must have convinced the Russian troops that they’d just walk into Kyiv with the Ukrainians welcoming them with flowers. Didn’t happen.

So, now they have begun the part of the fight that every international convention prohibits, and everyone fears – war crime tactics. Chemical weapons, civilian infrastructure sabotage, civilian residential bombing, torture, marauding “irregulars” (thugs).

This sounds like paranoia, I know. But Putin has used all of these tactics before–in Syria, in Chechnya, in Russia itself. These are the means the Russian-led “rebels” have been using in eastern Ukraine since Russia first opened that can of worms.

This isn’t meant to be a history lesson, which typically offers a consideration of past events. This history is being made today. This is what Russia has done, does today, will do tomorrow.

And it has begun here – thus, all the cops, thus the curfew. Today, with information shared publicly by Ukraine’s Security Service, the folks in my building went out and scraped freshly spraypainted odd markings off our home. These markings have appeared all over the city – on power stations, heating plants, subterranean access points, and the like.

The objective is to take out the civilian infrastructure, using flourescent spray paint markings that saboteurs can spot at night.

Lenin wrote: the objective of terrorism is to terrorize.

We’re not terrified, just strangely calm. Strange, because we know what Putin, that student of Lenin, is capable of.

Not terrified because this is not new to us. Life in eastern Europe means, in part, coming to grips with how tied in the criminal syndicate is to everyday life.

And in this place, when your Mayor, the 3-time WBO, WBC World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, tells you to lock your doors, tape your windows, get your gas masks and don’t come out until Monday morning because the criminals are on the move, well, you do it.

The explosions started just as I sat down to write. It’s long dark, overcast, and we’ve been told a major offensive is coming tonight. Anyone, me included, who tells you what that might mean is just guessing.

In blunt language: tonight could mean rockets, gas, heavy artillery, paratroopers, and sabotage–or any combination of these.

We spent the day scraping paint, making borscht, making beans, filling bottles and containers with water, and getting sleeping bags laid out in the bathroom–the safest room in the house. Midwesterners who’ve seen a tornado or two know what I’m talking about.

And once I get done typing here, we’ll spend this evening playing CLUE and clicking through counting the hundreds of times you good folks have sent encouragement our way and prayer heavenward. And I am reassured in this: if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father.

Knowing that, there is no fear.

There is nothing else we can know–how, or when, this will end–and yet we are confident that evil cannot endure.

Pray for Ukraine, inform yourself about the enemy it faces, and think kindly on these, my people.

From our home to yours.

Peace

Feb. 27 at 3:53 p.m. EEST

Lots to say, hopefully it’ll be clear. Going on no sleep.

Sunday morning and Kyiv is under curfew through, tentatively, Monday morning.

A geography / civics lesson. Kyiv, like most large cities, is divided by water – here, that’s the Dnieper River. Vikings sailed the Baltic east (to what would become St. Petersburg 700 years later), turned right, found the Dnieper and headed south toward Constantinople. Along the way, they encountered Slavic tribes living along a stretch where the river widened out. Next thing you know, Kyiv appears.

Right about now the historians, political junkies and internet police are screaming “That’s not right!” Cut me some slack. Moscow has been sucking all the oxygen out of any story about this part of the world for centuries and Kyiv’s history is far more complex than we have space for here, and besides, I have a different goal in mind. Not disinformation, not propaganda. I want you to know this: Kyiv is an ancient city in an ancient land inhabited by an ancient people with a culture so rich and diverse it’d make your head spin.

Kyiv is 400 years older – the entire history of Europeans in North America – than Moscow. Kyiv was building architecturally mindbending churches (that still stand) when Moscow was a swamp populated exclusively by rodents and bullfrogs (not that that’s changed much). Kyiv was sending Princess Anna to wed the King of France to teach that barbarian how to wash, hold a fork, and write a sentence a decade or so before the Normans turned their gaze toward England.

My point? Kyiv’s been around. Like the Dude, Kyiv Abides.

So when Vladimir Putin, all 5 foot 5 of him (we call him Vova Nedomirok, ask a Ukrainian friend what it means) starts barking from his tiny Moscow throne about Ukraine as “historic Russian land”, and sends 200K troops alongside tanks and rocket launchers to prove the point, well, like Shrek once said: “looks like somebody’s trying to compensate for something.” Plus, he’s lying. It’s his one true skill. Ukrainians have no more respect for him than they would for a rabid dog.

If I seem angry to you, then give yourself a pat on the back for paying attention.

My boys are terrified. Bombs going off all night, semi-auto fire outside your home will do that. My own little Anna of Kyiv (tall enough to look Vova Nedomirok in the eye) is fighting fierce. (I’m torn between arousal and fear of her.)

The videos you see of Ukrainian villagers stopping tanks, of grandmas cussing out Russian soldiers, of what look like fashion models strapping on Kalashnikovs to go shoot the enemy – these are that different breed of cat that have welcomed me among them for this quarter century. A breed you don’t mess with. A people you don’t talk down to if you’re smart. And, in the current situation, here’s one thing that especially ticks them off: they’re sick of hearing on the news that “well, Russia’s concerns about Ukraine aren’t being taken seriously”…as if this wasn’t Ukrainian land, and that somehow Ukrainians require Russian, or American, or British, or German permission to live on it in whatever way they choose.

If nothing else, learn that about this ancient people living on, and now fighting and dying for this, their ancient land.

Here endeth the lesson. Now for the news.

The fighting went on all night all around the country. It’s about 3:00 p.m. now and we’ve been hearing regular massive explosions constantly since about 10 last night. They come at intervals, usually in groups with a half-hour or so gap in between.

Reports of heavy fighting at Kyiv’s Central railway station. Across the river from us, out near the city’s main international airport, massive shelling. North of us on this side of the Dnieper, Russian airborne was repulsed. The orcs are many.

In other parts of the country, in Kherson – the heart of “Europe’s Breadbasket” – Ukrainian troops have retaken the city and are making a stand that will be a movie one day. But they are in a fight–heavy Russian reinforcements coming up from Crimea, the stolen peninsula. Elsewhere, in stories typical of these events, a band of gypsies managed to stop and steal a Russian tank. I wish I were making this up.

But these heroes are running low on ammunition. The loss of life is taking its toll.

The west – US, Canada, UK, Europe (looking at you, Germany) – are finally taking steps that may give us the time needed to get the Moscow Beast to the bargaining table.

What is happening here will affect you. The US and Europe have finally come together to hit Vova Nedomirok and his pals where it hurts – in the wallet.

I plead with you to bear with us, to bear this cost as best you can when it hits you at the supermarket and the gas pump – and it will – because, in some headshaking fashion it will have helped to keep enough of us alive to send Vova back home to his swamp.

More later.

Peace from Kyiv – Slava Ukraini!

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

is a staff writer for the Millions. An American resident of the post-Soviet space for nearly 25-years, his work has concentrated on the cultural sphere of Eastern Europe, appearing in Russian and Ukrainian at cultprostir.ua and LB.ua. He is the author of an essay collection in Ukrainian, Os' Khristianska Vira. Kyiv is home.

10 comments:

  1. My prayers to you and your family. Thank you so much for telling us your true story. I really do hope that your family are safe and that you continue with your strength and pride. Without sounding condescending, we in the west are very proud of you and your Ukrainian people. We wait for news and updates constantly and pray that you defeat this mad man at your door. Slavi Ukraini.

  2. Praying for the safety of his family and all the people of Ukraine. May you feel God’s presence powerfully! Contacting my congressman as well, evil must be stopped!

  3. The courage that you, your family, and your comrades in arms are showing is awesome. It is earning the respect and help of anyone how crews about the future of freedom. I hope you and your family will remain safe and healthy

  4. Thank you for this report- our hearts are heavy and the madmen are everywhere.
    Stay strong and know there are others dreaming of peace with you.

  5. So grateful for the truth, painful as it is. We Americans must take Putin seriously as a being who will stop at nothing to meet his needs. Yes, contacting Congress people and sharing blog.
    With you in heart and Prayer,
    Leanne

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