WATCH: Mother speaks with East Idaho News from inside Kyiv bomb shelter
KYIV, Ukraine — It was around 4:30 a.m. Friday when Diana and her husband were jolted awake by a loud explosion and orange light outside their windows.
A building in their district in Kyiv had been hit by part of a missile and they knew it was time to leave. The couple woke up their 5-year-old daughter and made their way to a nearby school, which has been converted into a bomb shelter.
“We had our backpacks ready next to the bed with all our documents, money and valuable things,” Diana tells EastIdahoNews.com. “I had to explain what war is to my child because it’s war. This is real war.”
Diana’s family has not left the shelter since Friday morning. They and around 30 other families brought water, food and clothes to the school and each family was given one floor mat to sleep on.
Diana spoke with EastIdahoNews.com via Facebook video messenger. For security reasons, we are only using her first name. About five minutes into our conversation, the school headmaster came into the room and asked for a list of everyone’s names.
“We’ve just been informed that the people in the bomb shelters in Kyiv can be kidnapped by the sabotage Russian groups,” Diana explains. “There are sabotage people from Russia who are coming here or have been staying here for a couple of months already. They leave special marks so that objects can be hit.”
At least 102 civilians in Ukraine have been killed since Russia launched its invasion last Thursday, with another 304 injured, according to Reuters. The actual figures are feared to be “considerably higher”, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Monday.
Kyiv has been attacked once before — back in 1941 by Nazi Germany. Diana’s grandmother, Liudmila Pivovarova, evacuated the country to the eastern part of USSR.
“She lost her beloved father (Peter), who was a great musician. He defended Kyiv in 1941 when the Nazis came and our family never heard anything again from him,” Diana says. “My great-grandmother was waiting for her husband until the end of her life believing that her Peter would come back someday. She had a lot of men wanting to marry her but she said, ‘No, my Peter is coming someday. How can I get married to another man? No.’ My grandma loved her father so much and she could never forgive the Nazis.”
Diana says it appears history is repeating itself as Russian troops invade her city and her country is under attack. Her family does not have a vehicle so they’re unable to flee to another country. They follow the news from the shelter on their phones and post updates to social media pages, but it’s hard to keep track of time as the lights are always on. They have had very little sleep and regularly hear loud blasts – especially after dark.
“We hear the air defense systems at night especially. (The Russians) are so cruel. They start doing this at night when people are asleep. This is an evil country that has attacked us, our liberty, our independence, our right to be Ukrainians, to speak our language and to have our history,” she says. “We support our army a lot – they are real, real patriots. We know they are protecting us and they are such heroes.”
The United States, the European Union and several other countries and entities have implemented economic sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine, but Diana thinks more should be done. She says airspace and all financial channels to Russia need to be cut off permanently and the country should be treated like North Korea “because they really are like Northern Korea. They don’t respect people’s lives.”
Despite the uncertainty, Diana remains optimistic. Her family believes Ukraine will stand strong and Russia will fail in its attempt to overtake the country.
“We really believe that we win. To me, it’s the war of civilizations. People who have never valued their people’s lives and people who do,” she says. “These are two different worlds – those who stay silent and those who defend themselves. In Ukraine, we help each other. We are doing our best to stay calm. We are not scared. We are not terrified.”