Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, Telegram. These are the tools Olga Nikitenko uses to keep up with friends back home in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Nikitenko took her three children to South Florida after the Russians started shelling her city in March. Now, she says, she feels guilty that her family is safe and sound while her friends are fighting.
“Every day I want home,” Nikitenko said in broken English, explaining that while she wants to go back now, she has a responsibility to keep her kids safe.
Nikitenko’s friends Julia, Denis, and Alla are on the front lines every day, working in an anti-aircraft unit and in logistics. Their civilian lives, Denis said, feel like a distant memory.
“He said they’ll have a day or two of depression but they have no choice but to return to what they’re doing because otherwise, if they let themselves get to that point, there will be no one left to fight,” said former Sunny Isles Beach mayor Larisa Svechin, who translated the Zoom conversation for us.
How is the morale among the Ukrainian forces right now? All three chimed in on that question.
“Morale is excellent. They have a very good understanding of why they’re doing this, they’re on their land, they feel very comfortable and confident,” Svechin said in translation.
Confident, they said, because of the support from the United States and NATO, even as they say the fighting around Kharkiv is more intense now than it’s ever been. Russia has them outgunned and outmanned.
“She’s very worried because she gets the sense that the world has gotten used to these three months and really, like I said earlier, is fatigued and they just want it to end,” Nikitenko said, as translated by Svechin.
We spoke to this same group of soldiers on March 29. Since then, Denis says 60 of their friends and colleagues have died in action.
“The world has changed, before February 24th, you would have never been able to say you would sit here like this and have this kind of conversation so calmly about the people that died,” Denis said, through Svechin’s translation. “They always knew that the war was coming, so intellectually, they knew this was going to happen but emotionally they were never prepared for it.”
Their world turned upside down by Russia’s unprovoked, barbaric invasion, they will fight, they say, until Ukraine wins.
The military group told us their biggest need is communications equipment, so Nikitenko has set up a GoFundMe account to buy them what they need. If you’d like to donate, you can find the account under the name of Nikitenko’s friend, Sergiu Gherman.