What It’s Like to Live in Ukraine Right Now: We Asked One 27-Year-Old to Take Us Inside His New Reality
On Thursday, February 24, Dmytro Dorychevskyi was sleeping in the apartment he shared with his girlfriend when she woke him at 5 a.m., saying she heard an explosion. He told her to go back to sleep; he thought she must’ve been dreaming.
Yet when Dorychevskyi heard what sounded like an explosion minutes later, he reached for his phone and scrolled through his social media news feeds for information. Sure enough, what Ukrainians had been warned might happen was playing out in real time: Russia had invaded their country. They were at war.
“The next two days, we were scared for our lives,” says Dorychevskyi, who left Kyiv with his girlfriend and a few friends that Saturday. “As we drove away from Kyiv, we watched a Russian helicopter drop a rocket on the highway just 100 meters in front of us. It was the most mind-opening experience of my life. If I left a few seconds earlier or later, I would be dead.”
Dorychevskyi and his girlfriend made it to Poltava, a city in central Ukraine where it’s safer than Kyiv. Still, regular air raid alarms keep them in a constant state of fight-or-flight. And with no clear end to the war yet in sight and their loved ones still in Ukraine, life for 27-year-old Dorychevskyi and his 25-year-old girlfriend is unimaginable.
This week, The Sunday Paper sat down with Dorychevskyi to try to get a better idea of what life is like for those Ukrainians like him who stayed.
Where are you right now, and how are you holding up?
We are in Poltava, which is in the center of the country. It’s safe here right now. Yet every day, we wake up to air raid alarms and they go off at other times throughout the day.
My family is still in Kyiv. We had no space to take them with us, and they wanted my girlfriend and I to go. They said, “It’s OK, we’ll be OK.” My father is on the outskirts of Kyiv, fighting Russian forces to protect the city. My mom was hiding in a bomb shelter but recently fled the city. But you cannot imagine what happens in such situations—you just receive so much inner strength.
I was talking to my mom on the phone when she was in the bomb shelter, and she was telling me about a conversation she was having with her friends who were also in the shelter. They were talking about what would happen if they ran into a Russian spy down there, and my mom told me, “We decided we could kill him. What will we do with him? Oh, that won’t be an issue,” she said. “There’s space down here. We can throw the body in the trash.” These are middle-aged ladies talking about this!
It just shows that we are not scared anymore. You just accept the fact that this is not a war between governments. This is about freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to live life how you want.
In Ukraine, we are used to deciding our fate. Russia wants us to be their slaves. But we see how they suppress their citizens. This is a fight for our freedom.
At one moment you just realize, OK, I can die at any moment, because the Russians bomb everything. Right now, I can be sitting here with you and a missile can come down on me. That can happen. And I’m OK with that. We all are. Because we don’t want to die as slaves.
Right now, we have three options: death, slavery, or victory. And as the world can see, slavery isn’t an option.
What do your days look like? Are you fighting with the Ukrainian military? Or are you still working?
I’m a QA engineer, and I’m working every day. I know my part. For the fight to continue, you need a stable economy. Information Technology (IT) in Ukraine has become one of the biggest sectors of the economy, and we’re still delivering products. My part is to bring money here, back to Ukraine, so we can keep fighting. Working is my way to contribute to the resistance.
We have lines of people who are willing to fight. We’re joking that you have to bribe someone to get in the military right now. There are a lot of people who are willing to take arms. We just had a second wave of [the draft], and it still didn’t touch me because I have no military experience. Right now, they’re just needing folks with experience. But if they call me, it’s OK. I will go.
There’s a lot of survivor’s guilt we’re feeling right now when you’re not on the battlefield. I feel guilty I’m not contributing enough. The only way out of that is to find your place. I know my place. I’m happy I can help in the way I can. What I do is sustaining the economy, sustaining the military with donations.
How do you find the courage to keep working, or to fight with the military despite not having that background if you’re called to do that?
It’s not bravery; it’s just acceptance.
It’s a philosophical question really, because we all need to accept that at some point, sooner or later, we will die. Right now, it can happen at any moment, by the will of Putin. And you just accept it. You have to look for things you can do to improve the situation. It’s not so hard. It’s amazing how people can adapt to anything.
Do you sleep at night? Do you get any reprieve from the constant fear and stress?
I will not lie; I cannot sleep more than 7 hours.
[At this point during our call, air raid sirens started going off and Dorychevskyi took his computer into the spot where he and his girlfriend hide until the sirens stop.]
This is part of the acceptance I’m talking about—there could be an air raid or missile attack right now. But at some point, you start to realize: OK, there are two ways I could die right now. A missile could directly hit this apartment and then nothing will save you. Or, it’ll hit the building and glass will shatter and it will cut you. So, right now, if a missile hits and we’re OK, we’ll pack our things and get out of here.
What’s the best way for young people around the world to support Ukraine right now?
First, I want everyone to know that this is a fight for dignity. When I hear on American news calls for Ukraine to stop fighting, it’s frustrating. But as we’ve seen, Russia has no consideration for human life. It will be hard suppression, torture for anyone who disagrees with their regime, and many more deaths if we surrender. This war will be much, much bloodier if Ukraine surrenders.
Financial support for our military is also so needed. You can go to the National Bank of Ukraine right now to donate to our armed forces.
You don’t know what every day holds. Do you feel more grateful for the little moments, like time with your girlfriend, or talking on the phone with your mom?
I know that’s what you want to hear from me, but no. It doesn’t work like that.
You’re living outside your body. Your brain cannot comprehend the threat of constant death. I’m not sure about everyone else, but for me it’s like I’m outside of the situation. I’m just observing it. My body is separate. I do what I need to do, and when this is over, I will feel all of the emotions.
I’m not living right now. I have tasks. I need to complete my tasks. And when this is over—no, after our victory—I will re-build my life.
Dmytro Dorychevskyi is a QA Engineer for Geniusee in Kyiv, Ukraine. He is a part-time stand-up comedian, ex party host, and juggler (but unfortunately, he is currently without his juggling props, he says). A lover of cinema, Dorychevskyi is upset that he cannot watch the new Batman movie because of the war. He also loves to snowboard and go to music festivals.