I decided to write this post because I needed to share my feelings for the last 56 days. Of course, I did not experience as much as those who were in the hot areas or took the arms to defend Ukraine, but possibly my personal story might still be interesting to the readers (sorry for the long read with a little bit too much personal touch).
I live in Kyiv. I woke up on 24 February and learned about the invasion from the news. My first reaction was shock and unacceptance; I could not believe that this was real. I watched TV for a whole day and could not do anything. My early reaction was that I had to evacuate from Kyiv to a safer place, but I tried to find some “normal” ways to do this initially – even bought a train ticket online to depart in two days. Then next morning, my brother called me and insisted that I move out immediately. I listened to him and started packing. I did not quite understand what to take with me apart from documents and other obvious things. There was a mixed feeling that I was leaving for a short period and, at the same time – that I might not come back for a very long time. I turned off the electricity and closed the water pipes, took my cat into the pet carrying (of course, she protested), and went to the closest metro station.
Everything looked almost normal on the streets, but too few people and transports were there. At the station, some people obviously stayed for a long time because of possible shelling alerts. I met my former student; we did not say anything to each other, only “See you some time” as a goodbye. Then I arrived at the train station; there were a lot of people. I tried to look at the train schedule but soon heard that there were no tickets for any trains in the nearest future. I went to the local trains (“electrychka’s”), bought a ticket to Kozyatyn, and tried to find the right platform. And then the sirens came. An absolute chaos began; most people ran to the underpass. There, I’ve heard that an evacuation train to Lviv is boarding. I went there, but it was obvious that it was impossible to get aboard because too many people tried to do so.
I saw a lot of people of other races trying to board; that came to my memory because later, I read a comment on Facebook that the evacuation photos are faked by USA because there are too many black people there. I replied that this was true because I saw all by my own eyes. Also, there were accusations of racism during the evacuation which was also bullshit possibly thrown in by Russians; of course, the people who tried to board were not always polite to each other in the first days. It was an absolute chaos, nothing to do with racism.
So, I went back to the electrychka’s. On that way, I heard some shooting and scream and saw guys from territorial defense with AKs tracking someone, possibly saboteurs. I ran away in an indefinite direction but then calmed down and ran to the local trains.
I was lucky to get to an electrychka to Kozyatyn early; also, a train to Rivne was boarding at that time, and most people ran there; therefore I could even take a seat. The ride was nervous; people were quieter than usual. I managed to miss my station and went Vinnytsya. No good destination was available, so I just went back to Kozyatyn. I arrived there when it was already dark; there was an air alarm, and we went to the shelter. When the next electrychka arrived, the air alarm was still due; we ran to the train in the dark and then left the station with the lights off.
Then there were two more intermediate stations, air alarms, and electrychka’s before I arrived to my final destination, a town at the west of Ukraine. The whole journey took 24 hours; the most terrible thing was that my cat suffered badly and cried almost all the time. She was in shock for a few days at the new place and even had a small baldness spot on her head because of the stress; luckily she has recovered now.
Being at safe place, the main feeling for the first time was fear. I shuddered to loud sounds such as doorbells, muted my phone for a while, could not listen to music for more than a month, and was rarely leaving my new flat. Many friends of mine and even people whom I barely knew (especially those who were abroad) wrote to me to know how I am. I replied because I had to but did not want to do anything (a few days later, this support became very helpful and much needed).
Then, guilt came and told me that I had to do something. I admire people that took arms and defend the country or help as volunteers, but I felt not able to do that by myself. I decided to donate a certain amount of money every day until I could do that (I still can) and started doing my job – writing scientific articles. I thought it is important to show that Ukraine remains strong in all areas, including science. I had a few papers that were in the final stages and started with finalizing them. Remote access to my working computer gave some illusion of normality and calmed me. For one of the papers, the remaining NMR data arrived just a few hours before the shelling started (kudos to Dr. Andriy Kozitsky)! The submission process was satisfying; the editors and reviewers were very nice, and the papers processed to publication very soon (indeed, our chemist obtained very good results). We were even suggested to submit cover proposals, and I agreed quickly (could not design anything but in blue and yellow though :); thanks to Mr. Andriy Yakymenko, Mr. Bohdan Vashchenko, and Ms. Vladyslava Phykhodko for their help again). I felt that as an additional small opportunity to promote Ukraine to the world.
There was a spoon of tar in a barrel of honey (as we say here, an equivalent of “a fly in the ointment”) though. I felt that it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge the brave defenders of Ukraine who stood against the Russian invasion and made those publications possible at all. Unfortunately, most journals did not allow such statements and requested to replace them with politically neutral or even remove them completely! They were referring to the COPE rules and political neutrality. Still, I do not understand how they are applied to the acknowledgment section, especially taking into account that nothing offensive is said, and most publishers themselves made statements that are totally in line with what I was suggesting. It seems that many people in EU/US are still too afraid of Russia, even after all that happened. One of my friends said that his European colleague wrote that he hopes Putin does not read their e-mails since he is very vengeful and remembers everything, and it seemed from the context that it was not a joke! People, please open up your eyes! But of course, I am very thankful to all EU/US people, particularly editors and publishers, who support and help us in so many ways.
As more and more news arrived, my anger grew. I had a few interviews with Ukrainian and European media where I tried to point out why it is important to apply scientific sanctions too. For Russia, science is one of the propaganda pillars that, together with “great Russian culture”™, gives an illusion of normal society to the rest of the world. Many organizations and scientists supported the “special operation”. I believe that the polls showing over 70% support of this bloody war by Russians are mostly accurate, and although the percentage among the scientists might be lower, it is not significantly lower. And many others give their “silent consent”. Finally, some of the scientific results are used for military and propaganda purposes. Therefore, putting sanctions on the Russian scientific institutions is as just as any other sanctions already applied – of course, some “good” people might be affected, but they should understand this step.
A flashback to the normal life before the war occurred when our university (Taras Shevchenko University of Kyiv) resumed online lessons. I started doing this two weeks before the official start, and it was very hard at the beginning: it felt surreal to ask something from the students and I was talking a lot myself instead. It was such a special feeling when the organic chemistry department gathered in Zoom; to see all those people again after more than a month of this craziness! Now the university life comes back to normal, with all of its pros and cons :) From the start, I decided to record not only lection-like lessons but all of them and upload them to my YouTube channel openly; it revealed that this approach was later recommended, and we learned a new term – “asynchronous studies” :)
There was a very bright moment when a good friend of mine visited my town on his way to Lviv. We had a coffee, talked for about an hour, and walked in the streets for some time. Such a heart-warming (and heart-breaking at the same time) feeling! I miss Kyiv and all my friends so much…
Of course, the anger and horror exploded when crimes in Bucha, Kramatorsk, and other places were uncovered. With that, a feeling of desperation started to evolve slowly. I was desperate when I learned that Oleksandr Korsun, a young professor, researcher, and gifted education enthusiast, was tragically killed in Kharkiv on April 7, 2022. I knew him from Ukrainian Chemistry Olympiads as a very good person, and it makes me feel so helpless and sad that such talented young people continue to die because of those terrorists! The news only stated that “nine people were killed in Kharkiv”, but it is always much harder when it affects someone you knew.
A depression and fatigue have been the feelings that slowly stretch out their claws to me recently. Some of my friends and students decided to emigrate from the country, and this does not help to stay strong. It is not easy to make any long-term plans while we all need confidence in the future. But some news is positive. Enamine has resumed its work, and some things are slowly getting back to normal there. I believe that soon, all the “perspective” work including scientific research will be also resumed. For now, I am working on a extensive review article; also, my department is finalizing those papers that were close to publishing. While I was writing this text, our new article on sulfonamides appeared online in The Journal of Organic Chemistry (https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.joc.2c00480). And I resumed listening to music recently. Everything will be all right soon :)