I have been procrastinating on this article for far too long. Each time I had the opportunity to sit down and work on it, I found any excuse to avoid it. I dismissed it as “writer’s block,” “laziness,” “computer fatigue.” In reality, though, I believe the true reason this article has been such a pain for me to finish is because it is such a pain for me to write.
There are so many details to share, yet, so many more that I must leave out. The pressure to write something that will actually spark something within other people and motivate them to do something is greater now than ever.
Not too long ago, a friend of mine reached out suggesting I interview her friend from Ukraine.
“You met her once!” she texted. “She was born and raised in Ukraine and still has family living there. I think it would make a good story!”
Well, she was right. Though, I am not sure a “good story” is how I would describe it. This story is heavy. It is real. It is raw. And, it demands action.
Alina Lytvynenko is 21-years-old and lives in Tampa, Florida, with her mother, father and younger sister. She and her family moved to the states seven years ago, right around the time of the first war on Ukraine by Russia in 2014.
I asked her to summarize, for me, the issues between Russia and Ukraine during 2014 in her own words and based on her own memory.
The current situation in Ukraine started February 24, 2022, when Russian forces invaded the country attempting, once again, to take control of Ukraine. The current president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy enacted “martial law.” This means all eligible combat-aged men (ages 18-60) are mandated to stay in the country and fight against Russian forces.
What’s amazing, however, is that just as many women are lacing up their boots and picking up weapons to defend their homeland.
For Lytvynenko, the emotions surrounding her home in Ukraine are complicated. She feels anger, hurt, stress, but most of all, she said, she feels guilty.
“Of course, I have the opportunity to stay in communication with loved ones overseas,” she said. “But sending a text that says ‘hey how are you doing?’ seems kind of ridiculous.”
She and her family regularly end up on the topic of their home country, now more than ever, she said. Together, they share the worry, anger and fear for the loved ones back home.
“One morning my old coach’s daughter posted a picture of her, the family and their dog sitting in a bunker,” Lytvynenko said. “It hit me so hard,” she said, holding back tears. “These are the people that I grew up with and shaped me in so many ways.”
Another friend of hers went to Instagram with a journal-like post, detailing events and calling upon people to educate themselves on the situation in between Russia and Ukraine.
“Ukrainians have been suffering from Russia’s attacks since 2014. For eight years, we don’t know peace,” she wrote. “Many people think that what’s happening in Ukraine is not their problem. But what they don’t know is that in 1994, Ukraine has the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world which was given up in return for a guarantee from the U.K., U.S.A. and Russia to protect our borders—we no longer have nuclear weapons; we are left to fight with Russia all alone.”
Lytvynenko has asked that her friend’s identity remain private, to guarantee security and protection.
The agreement she is referencing, however, is known as the Budapest Memorandum. The full treaty can be read here—but, in short, the 1994 memorandum was an agreement between the United States, Russia and Britain that stated the three countries were committed to “respecting the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against the country.
Obviously, the opposite has unfolded.
“I think the world has really woken up this time around,” Lytvynenko said. “For seven years now I’ve been correcting people, telling them that Ukraine is not part of Russia. I don’t think that is a mistake anyone is going to make again. Everyone knows, damn well, we are Ukraine. We are not Russia.”
Each morning when she wakes up in her Florida bedroom, she wishes she was, instead, overseas fighting for her home country, she said.
“Ukraine was becoming such a beautiful country. We were finally becoming free, coming out of corrupt leadership; we were getting gorgeous again and they came in and destroyed everything,” she said. “This will never be forgotten.”
While she and her family cannot be there fighting and defending the country, they are still doing their part to help fellow Ukrainians, she said.
Her father’s best friend, the man she considers an uncle, has put together a collective effort to feed Ukrainian soldiers and refugees from his family-owned café he has turned into a full kitchen and shelter. She and her family are actively collecting and sending money to him to help with food purchases, as well as raising awareness about what he is doing, she said.
“There hasn’t been a day that has gone by that someone hasn’t asked me about the war,” she said. “I haven’t had a chance to fully process my own emotions, but I knew I had to prepare myself to get it together so I can educate others, tell them the truth and explain how what is happening is affecting ordinary, everyday people like me and you.”
Below are posts that Alina has asked me to share with you, as well as her own personal Instagram account. She is willing to answer further questions and provide more insights to those interested.
Find her on Instagram: @alina.lytvy
She left me with goosebumps. What about you?