A February Nightmare: Recounts of a Vietnamese-Ukrainian Student

Ly Nguyen ’23

 I remember February 2022 to be some of the darkest days of my life. 

 It started with me, opening Twitter on a typical study hall Thursday evening, checking on some anime and figure skating news. Typical things I would do on a daily basis. Entertainment. Carefreeness. Fun. Only this time, it felt different.

 My blurry memories only recounts some keywords: “Russia”, “Ukraine”, “Kharkiv”, “Odessa”, “Bombing”. Tagged along with the words are blurry clips of bombing, maps of the a country so familiar to me, and the hashtag, “War”. For a minute or so, my mind blanked out, what does it mean? Why is it happening? Why Ukraine?

 I called my sister. I messaged my parents. Frantic. What is happening to Kharkiv? Are my relatives safe? What will become of our family business? I, a student in a boarding school in the United States, have no access to such information. Neither do my parents, as they are no longer residents of Ukraine. We have enjoyed the luxury of being so far away from the conflict, yet, the difference in proximity from the land I used to call home makes me anxious. 

 I don’t know anything. I don’t know anything because I am safe? Not knowing: is this a blessing or a knife in disguise? To this day, I do not know the answer to those questions. But I do know some things: 

 Things I know very well: I am Vietnamese-Ukrainian. I was born and raised in Ukraine to Vietnamese immigrants until I turned six. My parents owned many clothing stores in Kharkiv. The stores have always been an important source of our income. Many of my relatives also reside there. 

 Things I know well: That Russia and Ukraine have had conflicts for a long time. That in 2014, there was a smaller-scaled, albeit still tense, conflict between the two countries. That the day in February would be  inevitable.

 Things I know well-enough: My family is now struggling financially. The stores we owned in Ukraine collapsed due to the bombings. Some of my parent’s former colleagues died due to the war. Most of my relatives are trying to flee West: to Lviv, Poland, Germany. My education is now a burden to my parent’s sudden financial stress.

 Yet, I soon realized, too, that my family’s misfortune is nothing compared to the people of Ukraine. My suffering is nothing in comparison to the hundreds and thousands of Ukrainian citizens who were killed by the violent bombs and the inhumane rape of Russian soliders. None of my problems could compare to the challenges that Ukraine is facing as the Russian troops keep penetrating into her land, taking away her buildings, arts, and history. My nightmare of February 2022 is miniscule compared to other Ukrainians.

 In Ukraine right now: The war caused by Putin’s regime has left millions Ukrainians without safe and adequate access to essential supplies like food and water. There have been 13,000 casualties of innocent civilians, including over 5,500 killed, since the first bombing attack in February 2022. The war has caused extreme catastrophic damage to civilian infrastructure like hospitals and schools.

 As a result, many places are without power. Civilians have severely limited access to food, water and health services. Many people are still fleeing to safety, and 7 million are still  displaced within Ukraine.

 It is possible that Ukraine will never regain its lost territory, will never receive the necessary levels of aid it needs to rebuild its pre-war state, and will continue to face threats from Russia that will severely restrict its ability to develop. The end to conflict between Russia and Ukraine will not end Ukraine’s economic and civil situation. As mentioned above, the country has already lost an extensive amount of its infrastructure, economy and functioning government.

 Why you should care: The rising tension between Russia and Western countries will extensively restrict international trade and technological exchange. Russia may not recover its past trading levels of energy sources to Europe and Western countries;  it may have to turn to China and other nations in  Asia and Africa for trading partnerships. Major military build-ups as well as military spending spent by both NATO and Russia will likely increase by several percentage points of GDP. The resulting arms race will greatly expand the two side’s ability to threaten one another’s economy and safety.