Yurii – Proud to be Ukrainian

My name is Yurii. The world needs to know what is happening here in Ukraine, and perhaps my story can help. I sometimes feel it is not very important. Many people have done much more than I have, but not everyone gets the opportunity to share it. I know life is uncertain, and I don’t know if I will survive this war. But I am optimistic!

Yurii has been driving aid into war-torn eastern Ukraine and evacuating people from these areas to the relative safety in the west.

This war is not a surprise to me at all. Since I was a boy, I felt it was not safe living next to Russia because you know who your neighbour is, and it’s a beast. I didn’t know when, but I knew that this would happen, and I am at least glad that it happened while I am still young, when I’m agile and able to help, not when I’m old, and I need help myself. This war gives us the opportunity to destroy this evil empire and put a large, thick underline under this whole topic, and finally set Ukraine free. Like the words of our National Anthem:

The glory and freedom of Ukraine has not yet perished

Luck will still smile on us brother-Ukrainians.

Our enemies will die, as the dew does in the sunshine,

and we, too, brothers, we’ll live happily in our land.

We’ll not spare either our souls or bodies to get freedom

and we’ll prove that we brothers are of Kozak kin.

Ukrainian National Anthem

I feel this is the time when these things are coming to life, but we will have to pay a massive price for it. Freedom is never just given to us. Otherwise, we will not value it. All the free nations in the world have gained their freedom. And for some countries, it was quick and easy, and for others, it took a long time and a big sacrifice. But all these free nations know and understand what we are going through right now.

Since February 24, I have looked at other countries around us that are also oppressed and pressured by Russia. Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Hungary. Some of them are too afraid to do anything about their own liberation. But many people in these places are ready to stand, and I truly believe this story right now is not a story only for Ukraine. It’s a snowball rolling downhill, becoming a vast avalanche, growing and growing. Many countries have had their freedoms taken away by Russia. Still, we will have victory, and we will rebuild and find peace together after this is done.

Ukrainian people right now value the things they have – big and small. The war is something that shakes your spirit to its core. Often we go through life very stagnant. Very Inertial. We go with the flow, work, and go home. Perhaps we do some yoga or go to the cinema. We get bored with life, and we lose its meaning. War helps us gain back the meaning of life and the beauty in the simple things – but it comes on the one difficult condition….. that we survive.

So many things are unpredictable. Where and when a rocket lands is out of our control. It could land on my house or on the home of the people I love. Every day, I see this billboard that says, “Thank you, Lord, that we can see the light of a new day” When I see this in the morning, I repeat it and honestly really mean it. It’s not a routine or a recital anymore. I realise that many people here in Ukraine can not say it right now. Today there is immense value in a new morning and another day; it doesn’t matter if it’s pouring with rain, bitterly cold, or if the sun is bright and radiating warmth. It is a new morning in my life. Countless people here in my country cannot buy essential things like gas, food, or medicine. I can imagine myself in a destroyed house, my family hungry with an empty fridge. I can go to my neighbour for help, but I find he is dead. I can go to the store, but last night’s rocket strikes left nothing but a pile of rubble. This is why I thank God for a new morning where I can open my fridge and take some butter and bread. I see it, smell it, feel it. I am thankful, and I am alive.

I am Ukrainian, and I am proud. I used to be shy to say that I am Ukrainian, but not anymore. Now I am honoured to be a part of this vast, brave community fighting for freedom, a society that does not want to be enslaved.

Before the war, many people thought that Ukraine was just a part of Russia, and they couldn’t tell us apart. Now the world can separate us. We have shown ourselves as good people to the world, people with a strong spirit and willing to fight for freedom. We are gaining respect in the eyes of the world community.

I sometimes have a hard time acknowledging my role in this world, but I have found a place where I am genuinely empowered. Driving is always something I have enjoyed and been good at. Now I get to use my talent to take aid to people who have nothing and safely evacuate many people from areas near the front lines where the situation is most desperate. My family sees the value and importance, and they encourage me in my work. Of course, there are many dangers and risks, but together we know that God is with us, which helps us stay calm and at peace.

I have to continually remind myself what we, as Ukrainians, are fighting for. On a trip to the east, I awoke early in the morning. I had an awful sleep and was woken by the air raid sirens at 1 am. As I lay in bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about the stories of Russian atrocities from the Kyiv region. I looked at my phone and saw more and more pictures of the death, pain, and destruction that the Russian army had brought to my country. I felt If I could drop a bomb on Russia and kill them all, I would. I wanted them all to be destroyed.

I was getting fired up reading posts of others who wanted to respond with similar brutality. And right at this moment, I received a message about love from my friend Leander, from the Netherlands. He shared from the book of Romans in the Bible about a true love that is patient and kind. It was like he had thrown a glass of water right in my face. I knew I was letting my mind go in a wrong and dangerous direction. We are fighting for freedom and a better future for all of Ukraine. We must not be like these Russian soldiers and risk becoming the evil we fight against.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21

Later that morning, I was ordering some food in a kebab shop in Dnipro. The place was packed and crowded. And I clearly remember this interaction….

A beggar approached a man in the back of the line asking for some money. I couldn’t see this through the crowd, but I overheard the conversation, and someone roughly and rudely told the beggar to get out and go away. I saw the beggar leaving the store, and I shouted, “Hey man, who are you? What do you need?” and called him over.

The whole crowd saw that something was going on and became silent. The man stopped and said, “I just need a few Hryvnia (Ukrainian money).” So I gave him what he needed.

The guy who was rude to this man pushed his way through the crowd towards me. He was a big man, tall and strong and was wearing the camouflage fatigues of one of our soldiers. His eyes were crazy and mad, and I understood he had been through and experienced so much since this war began.

As he approached, I told him, “We live in such difficult times right now as Ukrainians, and we have to be kind to each other. It’s not good to spread hatred. We don’t know this guy’s situation and what he has gone through in his life to get him to this position where he needs to beg for money. Perhaps he shouldn’t be asking a soldier for money, and if I had seen it was you he had asked, I too would have been more sensitive and quiet when I gave him money. But right now, we need to be kind to each other. What is it that we are fighting for? Are we fighting for good or evil? What sort of Ukraine do we want to live in after this war?”

The soldier looked at me. “If you want to do good, join the military and help us,” he growled. “I am not a soldier, but I am helping how I can. I send money to our army, and I go to the military zones to evacuate people in need.” Hearing this, he calmed down a little “This is also an excellent thing, and we need it”.

He started sharing more stories and showed me a picture of his helmet that had recently been struck with shrapnel during a Russian attack. The shrapnel had pierced right through his helmet and into his head but fortunately didn’t crack his skull. He was just now returning from days in hospital recovering from his injuries and was heading back to the frontline battlefield.

“Is there anything you need? How can I help you?” I asked. I gave him my first aid kit with gear that he didn’t have that I had put together for this evacuation trip, and I offered him my bulletproof vest.

Before we left, I asked him, “Can I pray for you?” Surrounded by a captivated crowd of people inside a packed little kebab shop in Dnipro, I prayed for this brave soldier. I placed my hand on his shoulder, giving thanks to God for this courageous man and the sacrifices he is making for me and our country. Together, we will continue to love and not be overcome by the evil around us.

What’s it like to drive evacuation trips right now in Ukraine?

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