Ukraine war zone volunteer shares experience

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Most students might spend their holidays visiting family or exploring tourist sights. One local student, however, has chosen a rather unconventional destination for his school breaks: Kyiv, Ukraine.

This student has asked to remain anonymous to protect the work he is doing in Ukraine, as well as work he hopes to do one day in Russia, so we will call him John Smith.

“I went to different places while I was there. Some places are scarier than others,” he said.

Smith says he has worked on a variety of humanitarian projects in Ukraine, spanning from donating food and appliances to supporting daycare facilities for displaced children.

Additionally, he has been involved in roofing and construction projects for those who have lost their homes — or more — in the ongoing conflict with Russia.

“The war just makes it so that they need more help … there’s older people who, are, like, fighting or something or even, like, died. And so they don’t have like the same support that they did,” Smith said.

Smith recounts the harrowing story of one elderly couple he helped whose home caught fire during a Russian attack. He says a bullet hit the husband in the leg. The couple narrowly escaped with their lives.

“He’s been shot in the leg, so they couldn’t put the fire out because they’re, like, shooting at him. And like their house basically just like … burned down,” Smith said.

Smith says the need for help in Ukraine is great … but the danger remains real. He tells me he met a volunteer who later died in a Russian attack.

“He was, like, delivering stuff to the frontline and a Russian tank, like, fired at the car. Four of them died, out of the five,” Smith said.

Smith rationalizes the danger of the war zone … likening it to the risks of driving a car.

“If you counted car accident deaths in Utah every day like there’s probably someone who dies or something, but it’s not like you wouldn’t drive your car because of it,” he said.

He says the people in Ukraine don’t always react to air raid sirens. Sometimes they will continue walking their dogs or watching their children play on the captured Russian tanks displayed in a town square. However, when they do seek shelter, Smith knows it could be serious.

“I was worried because usually you don’t see people running during an air raid, but this one was bad enough,” he said.

Smith said he believes everyone who can or wanted to leave … has left Ukraine. Those remaining either can’t leave legally, don’t have anywhere to go, or want to stay in their homeland, despite the ongoing war.

“They not only love their own country, but they actually just hate Russia. So their leaving would be like surrendering,” Smith said.

He describes the reliance he witnessed when an apartment building in Kyiv was hit. Volunteers arrived the next morning. He saw a woman visibly hurt from the explosion, bravely directing volunteers and organizing help, despite her injuries.

“She, I guess, had been sleeping when the windows, like, blew in, and she had cuts on her face from the glass and like, a black eye, even,” Smith said.

Smith has spent a total of nine weeks in Ukraine. He hopes to return to continue helping as soon as possible, while also finishing school.

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