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'There are civilians being killed today': Ukrainian-American journalist explains the conflict in Ukraine

Soldier stands in front of houses.
Manu Brabo
Getty Images
An Ukrainian servicemen stands in a trench at his Unit's position at the contact line near the village of Svitlodarsk, in Donestsk region on Feb. 13, 2022 in Svitlodarsk, Ukraine. Russian forces are conducting large-scale military exercises in Belarus, across Ukraine's northern border, amid a tense diplomatic standoff between Russia and Ukraine's Western allies.

The situation in Ukraine has many fearing it could be the start of World War III. Russian President Vladymir Putin claims his troops haven’t been sent to invade Ukraine, while questioning the country’s sovereignty. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has made an impassioned call for peace, as nations around the world condemn Russia’s actions. Now Ukrainians are preparing to fight or flee, as the sounds of bombing can be heard in towns and cities throughout the country.

Former Lake Effect producer Julian Hayda had recently moved to Ukraine to join the seminary and begin the next step in his life as a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest. Now, he’s continuing his studies virtually, as his colleagues take shelter after a bombing killed six people down the street from their seminary in a suburb near Kyiv.

"I think a lot of people, myself included, are going through the stages of grief right now," says Hayda. "For a long time there was a lot of denial. It was all wrapped up in the fact that Ukrainians are so proud of what they've managed to do with their society."

> Russia invades Ukraine: Live updates from NPR

Since 2014, there has been a war in Ukraine, but in that time, much has changed. Hayda explains in that short amount of time, Ukraine has been able to make major changes to policing, public health, and the rampant corruption that once defined politics in the country.

"To think that the war that has kind of been a gnawing presence in the background, that some people just wanted to forget, is now going to undo all of that — [it's] disheartening," he says.

Already, people are dying in Ukraine as Russian soldiers drop bombs in cities around the country. Russia has attacked strategic sites, including the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but the bombing has also targeted Ukrainian civilians.

Hayda says, "Today I have seen images sent by trusted friends and family members of dead children. There are civilians being killed today."

He continues, "It's just so disheartening to see Ukrainians fighting for what anybody in the world would want: a house, a family, running water, a warm house in the dead of winter, maybe a chance to go on a vacation somewhere — the things that many people take for granted. And instead, they're hiding in bomb shelters like all 70 of my classmates have been doing all day today."

Right now, the conflict is being framed as a kind of proxy war between Russia and the United States. But Hayda believes that framing ignores the real costs of the war to the Ukrainian people and the culture they've created and fought to preserve.

"The U.S. has said that Ukraine is not in the geopolitical interest of the United States and yet the way that people perceive this in the news is that it is a new Cold War and that Russia has its sphere of influence and America has its sphere of influence. And what that disregards is the very real lives of Ukrainian people who are dying in untold numbers and will continue to die. Because it's not really many Russians who are dying and it's certainly not Americans who are dying, so to pretend that this is a conflict between Russia and America is rather off base and it does a grave injustice to the independence that Ukrainians have asserted," Hayda explains.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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