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Reflections from Ukraine: “I wanted to hug every flag.”

Date: February 25, 2022
Country: Ukraine
Type: Post
Issues: Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide, War Crimes , Human Rights Defenders , International Advocacy

"I wanted to hug every flag."
By Yuliya Kabanets


As the crisis in Ukraine unfolds, The Advocates is posting through the eyes of human rights defenders who are on-the-ground in Ukraine.


In these anxious days, I remember 2014, and how I felt then in Donetsk and after leaving. Now, I am worried about the Russia's invasion, the provocations in the East and the deportation of our citizens to Russia. But I'm more angry. Russia has already ruined the lives and dreams of many thousands of people. 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), and a bunch of those who could not leave. The latter is a separate topic for me. Many of my first years in Kyiv asked me how it was in Donetsk, what I saw as my family. I'll tell you a few stories.

Eight years ago, I graduated from school in Donetsk. Despite all the pro-Ukrainian actions and the largest flag of Ukraine, which was unfurled on them, what happened, happened. One March evening, there were two parallel actions: peaceful pro-Ukrainian and aggressive pro-Russian. Pro-Russian mercenaries just hit me in the leg with an grenade. I went home before the end of the action, because I was not even 17. Then it became known that one person from the pro-Ukrainian action was killed and several were beaten, among them an acquaintance of mine.

Then began checkpoints with armed men without identification. One was even on my way from home to high school. At the last bell, I wanted to be in an embroidered shirt. I passed an armed man and changed my clothes at the lyceum.

On June 27, we left. These were the last trains. We went to Lviv, because I had to take an external examination, and we really wanted to be somewhere further away. We shook for more than 24 hours on the train and arrived on Constitution Day. Everything was covered with flags, and people wore embroidered shirts. I quickly put on my own - and we went for a walk. I wanted to hug every flag, before or after I have never felt such love for state symbols.

We planned to return after my external evaluation, but then Russian mercenaries came to Donetsk. Checkpoints were constantly closed due to fighting. We stayed with relatives in the Poltava region. I couldn't go home before school. So, my mom and I bought me a pair of sweaters and a jacket, because I was only wearing summer clothes.

After that I was in the temporarily occupied territory several times. I no longer felt at home. My home was taken away from me by Russia. I was already falling asleep to the sounds of explosions and shelling. But one summer in 2015, shells swept over our roof. I sat in the corridor, so as not to [be near] the windows and exterior walls, asked [with] all my strength [for shells] not to come to our house, and thought that was all. This sound is unlike anything else. I will note that many people have been living like this for 8 years.

My case is not representative at all. I was lucky that I entered the university that year. Many people remained in the temporarily occupied territories who could not leave. Starting from scratch where no one is waiting for you is not so easy. Many, of course, and those who were imbued with the ideas of the Russian measures and the young "republics"--do not write to me about it, please. Not about that now. There are our citizens. This is Ukrainian territory. It is temporarily occupied. Forced deportation to Russia is a crime. Mobilizing men to defend "republics" is a crime. I want us to remember that. Rhetoric "so they should" is unacceptable.

For my part, I try not to allow the aggressor country to ruin my dreams and plans, and therefore not allow myself to worry and be paralyzed by this state. That's what happened to me this Saturday.

In the photo, I am in 2014 in Lviv, rejoicing [over] flags.