Welcome to Putin’s World: Dispatches From Ukraine

March 11, 2022 | 2 min read

Millions staff writer Il’ja Rákoš and his family lived until recently 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.

We’re about to make our way to the border. Don’t know what to expect there. Reports range from “30-hour wait to cross” to “not all that busy”. If I had a choice I wouldn’t be leaving at all. I can’t put my wife and my boys at risk for the sake of my principles. Ukraine is home: we’ll be going back when this is over.

Choice? None. Welcome to Putin’s world. It feels as if we’ve been stripped of all agency. It’s felt like that for a while now, if I’m honest.

To be completely honest: if it weren’t for Mark Slouka (dare I call a writer of that heft a “colleague”?), we’re not quite sure what we would do. Our options were clear. Become a refugee and become a burden to somebody else. In our case that was relatives in Slovakia, some government or foreign aid agency, or the Slouka clan. Flipped a coin, Mark, and you lost.

With luck, with grace, we’ll be in Prague in two days’ time. And then what. The only thing I know is that we are at a point where we depend heavily on some combination of the EU rule of law, the good will of nations, and the kindness of strangers. Mostly on the latter.

My sister and brother in the US have been privy to detail of what that means for us practically. And apparently, they’ve acted on their insider status. They say some of you have sent money to help us out already. I don’t even know what to say about that. “Thank you” is not enough to describe how we feel. I can’t lie: I am floored, humbled, and devastated all at once. That it would come to this.

They insist that I pass the information on, so I’ll do it. Contact my little sister Barbro Rakos on Facebook. I don’t know how it works, but Barbie knows the details.

I can be pretty sanguine when the situation calls for it, but this isn’t one of those. When we’ve settled we’ll be doing paperwork, looking for work, decompressing – probably in that order. And the whole time we’ll be leaning on the goodness of others.

The fact that you all read what I write, well, it’s the gold standard for a writer. I can only say thanks. You lift us up. We know we’re not alone.

One other thing: I’ll keep writing these, keep trying to put a picture of the lives of these people before you.

June 13th would have marked my 26th year in Ukraine. Crossing the border feels like sailing off the end of the world. Between Covid and this my hair’s gone solid silver this year. Hey, I earned it.

My heart is too heavy these days.

Peace to you from Nenka Ukraina

Il’ja, Anya, Seva, & Jarek

See Also:
Slava Ukraini! Dispatches from Kyiv: Part One
Slava Ukraini! Dispatches from Kyiv: Part Two
Slava Ukraini! Dispatches from Kyiv: Part Three
Slava Ukraini! Dispatches from Kyiv: Part Four
Go Home While You Can Still Draw Breath: Dispatches from Ukraine
The Flame of Hope: Dispatches from Ukraine
How Shakespeare Can Help Us Understand the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

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.

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