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David Junk: Heroes in Ukraine

by David Junk June 2, 2023 6:54 PM 5 min read
A first responder at the site of an attack on Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 30, 2023. (Pavlo Petrov via State Emegency Service)
This audio is created with AI assistance

I was in Kyiv the night Russia launched six hypersonic missiles and 12 cruise missiles at the city. Russia had launched a hypersonic missile at Kyiv one night earlier as the Eurovision Song Contest came on TV. American Patriot systems intercepted all of them. It was the most lethal air attack since the war began. Now more than ever, Ukrainians deserve our continued support.

We often hear about the heroism of President Zelensky and the Ukrainian army here in the West, but what surprised me were the heroism of regular citizens during wartime.

I have seen this heroism in many places, starting with the train workers who brought me safely along the 17-hour journey from Warsaw to Kyiv. Trains are as crucial to the economy as they are to the military in wartime. Every train ran on time.

The taxi drivers who pick up passengers during cruise missile attacks are heroes, including the one who drove me through the streets of Kyiv back to the safety of my hotel while air raid sirens were blaring. The hotel workers who quickly shepherd guests to the bomb shelter in the basement are heroes. Even while cruise missiles were heading to the city, they never stopped working.

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Over 500 spectators of the Odesa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater stood in a deep silence before the start of a performance of the “La Bayadere” ballet in late April. Some of them had tears in their eyes. The audience was commemorating the opera’s late ballet dancer, Rostyslav Yanchyshen…

The mothers having babies during wartime are heroes. My colleague’s son told me about the birth of his daughter and the challenges for his pregnant wife, who had to climb up and down eight flights of stairs to the bomb shelter every night, sometimes in the dark after the Russians knocked out their electricity.

The parents explaining this criminal war to their children, who are undoubtedly traumatized by the explosions, fire, and fear they see and hear every night are heroes. The thrust of the explosions caused by American-made Patriot systems intercepting incoming Russian cruise missiles rushes through their bodies. A colleague of mine, Yana, explained how she held her son in her arms in the bathtub during the previous night's attack. She could feel it in her lungs. How do you explain that to a four-year-old child?

Near Kyiv is the town of Bucha, the site of some of the first war crimes discovered in Ukraine. I met an older woman there, a church worker. She described the horror of hiding in the church basement for days while Russian soldiers were on a murderous rampage up above. Dead bodies were uncovered in mass graves behind the church after the Russian soldiers occupying the town finally left. The war crimes committed in Bucha made international headlines at the start of the war. She's still there, heroically keeping the church open to memorialize those who suffered.

A woman and her son move the remains of their burnt house in the village of Andriivka, Kyiv Oblast, on June 1, 2022, amid Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)

In Hostomel, where Russian paratroopers tried and failed to seize the regional airport, I met Tanya and Yuri, who had fled to the Carpathian Mountains. They've returned with their children to rebuild their lives despite the destruction of their town. They told me how Russian soldiers viciously murdered their neighbor for no apparent reason.

The Russian army's path of terror also ran through the northern suburbs of Irpin and Borodianka, where I saw in the town square how Russian soldiers shot up a statue of the poet Taras Shevchenko, a great national hero of Ukraine whose poetry inspired generations. It was in these small towns where the heroism of local volunteer units stopped Russia’s advance on Kyiv, saving the capital.

My colleagues in the Ukrainian music industry who continue working during wartime are heroes. Many men and women who were singers, songwriters, artist managers, and record producers before the war are now on the front lines or supporting the army.

Anton is a sound producer; his father is fighting on the frontline in the trenches in Bakhmut. Anton's wife, Kler, is a pop singer. She lost her voice when the Russian tanks were only a few kilometers from the city. It took her a couple of months to get it back, and now they are finishing her debut album. Seeing them make music during wartime is inspiring. And despite the war, Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 and placed sixth this year.

Anna Myroniuk: Russia’s war has cost me friends, colleagues, loved ones
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in the op-ed section are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of the Kyiv Independent. I am laying flowers on the coffin of my former colleague, journalist-turned-soldier Oleksandr Bondarenko, who was killed on the front line near Kremin…

On the train from Kyiv back to Warsaw, looking at the Ukrainian countryside, I was reminded of the farms of Ohio, where I am from, and where planting season had begun. It's also planting season in Ukraine. The farmers risking life and limb to clear landmines from the fields left by the Russian army to prevent crops from being grown this season are heroes. We need Ukraine's farmers to feed the world, like America's farmers.

Ukrainians are fighting for the same values we Americans also hold dear: democracy, sovereignty, and freedom from tyranny.

Anyone who questions America's strategic interest in this war should visit Bucha to see what the Russian army can do. It's a war of good versus evil; Ukrainians want their territory back and justice for Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, and many other places where atrocities were committed. Ukrainians have demonstrated incredible heroism and courage on the battlefield and the homefront. Americans should be proud of our support of Ukraine; we must continue supporting these heroes.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in the op-ed section are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of the Kyiv Independent.

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