One Year In: A Ukrainian Activist on Betrayal and Resistance

Despite decades of tension, Russia’s invasion shocked Kateryna Sukhomlynova to her core.

Born in Ukraine, Kateryna has known the constant meddling from Russia in Ukrainian affairs for years. From placing pro-Russian representatives in the Ukrainian government to forcing eastern Ukrainians to speak Russian instead of their native language, to Kateryna, it seemed as if Russia wanted to control every aspect of her society and culture.

Due to their shared history, however, many Ukrainians felt a sense of kinship with Russia. Many have Russian family members, celebrate Russian holidays, and follow Russian media and social trends. So, to Kateryna, the idea that Russia would ever attack major Ukrainian cities, killing thousands of civilians, was impossible to imagine.

However, in February 2022, Kateryna found herself on the frontlines of Russia’s invasion.

“What happened in Mariupol was a public execution. The number of dead was already 20,000 civilians by mid-March.”

Russia’s “special military operation” was a series of war crimes that Kateryna witnessed firsthand. 

Kateryna had volunteered as a rescue worker in Mariupol, Ukraine, immediately after Russia attacked. She remained there for 20 days. As Kateryna struggled to keep herself and others safe, she saw many gruesome acts, including desperate civilians getting shot by Russian forces as they tried to get water. She saw families huddled together in bunkers to escape missile strikes, and mutilated men, women, and children crushed under rubble. There were hundreds of bodies that no one could bury.

“Surely a sane person cannot imagine that such a thing is possible,” Kateryna says. “The decision by another country to invade the territory of an independent state and commit genocide against the citizens of Ukraine. The smell of war is the smell of blood, decomposing human bodies, sweat, burnt plastic, and rubber — a terrible stench.”

Today, Kateryna lives in Warsaw and works as a counselor and social activist. She wants the world to see the horrors Russia is inflicting upon Ukraine. She encourages individuals to do everything in their power to help safely end Russia’s occupation of Ukraine so the country can be free, peaceful, and independent again.

“Today, Ukrainians pay with their blood for democratic principles for the whole world. It is one thing to talk about it and another to fight for it.”

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About the Campaign

Unify Ukraine is a public service campaign on behalf of the Polish government to raise American awareness of Russia’s ongoing invasion that has torn apart the country and families of Ukraine. Together, we can help free Ukraine from this occupation and unify this beautiful land and people once again.

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