Ukrainian journalist, 38 weeks pregnant, refuses to give up hope in the fight against Russian invaders: “We will win”
The world watched with reverence as Ukraine, despite all odds, mounted fierce resistance against the Russian invaders.
Experts predicted that Ukraine would fall days after Russian troops arrived on the orders of President Vladimir Putin. But two weeks into the conflict, Russian troops faced major setbacks in their operation.
Yet thousands across the country are believed to have been killed in fighting largely confined to the east. The UN estimates that more than 2 million people have fled the country, the largest exodus since the end of World War II.
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Euromaidan Press editor Alya Shandra, who is 38 weeks pregnant, is among the refugees who have been displaced. She and her husband, Tobias Weihmann, fled their home in Kiev after Russian forces began shelling the city on the second day of the invasion. They sent their two daughters, ages 2 and 13, to Weihmann’s parents’ home in Germany while they temporarily moved to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv with nothing but their suitcases. .
The invasion has now entered its second week and life goes on in Lviv. But despite the remoteness of the fighting, signs of war are still visible in Lviv. One in two people speak Russian and one in four cars has a Kiev license plate, Shandra said. Meanwhile, armed soldiers stand guard on street corners and a 10 a.m. curfew remains in place.
“It’s a city that’s been peaceful so far, but you’re still seeing signs that it’s getting ready,” Shandra said. “It’s just very surreal for me to be in this peaceful town when on the other side of the country people are being killed.”
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Although 38 weeks pregnant, Shandra remains busy running Euromaidan Press, an independent English-language Ukrainian news site she launched in 2014 as the Euromaidan revolution swept through Ukraine. The site, which has no central office, informs Western readers about Ukraine and combats Russian propaganda.
“Ukrainians want to get away from the experience of the Soviet Union. They want to build a democratic country. They see that in the West people live differently and they want to live like them,” Shandra told Fox News. “I think after Euromaidan it became particularly important. People understood the value of being able to just go out into the streets and protest against their leaders, just go and say whatever they want.”
Since being in Lviv, Shandra said she has seen “thousands” of small initiatives, with people from all walks of life volunteering to help defend Ukraine, whether it’s joining a territorial defense, d open their homes to refugees or help in a humanitarian center. What unites them is what Shandra described as an “indomitable spirit”, which Ukraine will eventually triumph.
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“The volunteers at the center don’t have time to read the news,” Shandra said. “They don’t have that feeling of doom. Because those who stay home on the couch and just scroll through their feeds, they start to freak out and say, ‘Oh, it’s over. We are doomed. But those who actually join in the volunteer effort, they don’t have the time to do so. They just work for the win.
“Everyone thinks we’re going to win,” she added.
The contrast in outlook parallels the number of Western nations that predicted that the Ukrainians had no chance of fighting against the most powerful Russian army. Instead, the Ukrainians, emboldened by their leader, President Volodomyr Zelenskyy, fought back.
“The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a round,” Zelenskyy famously said in a video posted to Twitter after turning down a US offer to evacuate the Ukrainian capital.
“Everyone wrote us off,” Shandra said. “I think that’s one of the main things that really irritated everyone here. Like, why are they writing us off?”
“I think the expectations didn’t factor in something that’s immeasurable. It’s the spirit,” she added. “It’s something that wise and calculating men don’t take into account. They thought Kiev would be taken in two days. But here we are.”
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When asked what motivates her to stay, Shandra flipped the question asking “what should motivate me to leave?
“This is my country, I want to live here. I think that’s a very common misconception among people. They think refugees would like to go somewhere,” she said. “No, we want to live here. We want to live in our own peaceful, independent country. We just need a little help driving out the Russian invaders.”
The United States and its allies, including the European Union, have imposed crippling sanctions targeting Russia’s banking and oil sectors, while avoiding direct military contact with Russian soldiers.
President Biden went further on Tuesday by banning the import of Russian oil and gas into the United States, a move that has put pressure on the United Kingdom and Europe, which are more dependent on Russian energy.
Shandra said the measures had been welcomed in Ukraine and acknowledged the price Americans are paying at the pumps, but said more needed to be done to stop Putin.
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“Gas prices are hitting you now, I understand that. And we are grateful for your sacrifice. But you have to understand that Ukraine is not just fighting for itself, it is fighting for the world,” said Shandra. “You have to understand that you can’t turn away because it’s something that will affect you.”
She added: “It’s just a matter of how many civilian deaths it will take to win. How many deaths and how much suffering and destruction? You can help end this death and destruction by helping us to win by giving us the tools to win. There is no doubt that he will win.”
Zelenskyy has repeatedly pleaded for the US to provide his military with more planes – touted as an alternative to establishing a ‘no-fly zone’ over Ukraine to suppress power Russian airline. The “no-fly” idea was earlier dismissed by Washington and NATO as an unnecessary risk of escalation.
Shandra called on the West to “do something now before the situation gets worse”.
“There is still time, but time is running out,” Shandra said. “Because if Russia continues its bombing campaign and Putin turns cities to rubble, there won’t be much to save.”