A young Ukrainian family in Bucks has given a devastating account of the Russia invasion and the pain wrought on its victims – but also of the “superheroes” fighting in the conflict and those here in the UK helping to bring hope.
Natalya Lebedenko from Mariupol’ lives in nearby Amersham with her husband Dmytro and two children, Bohdan and Mariana – and together they have watched their country be devastated by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and his troops.
The mother-of-two, who works in IT, said although there is great pain in the conflict, there is also great pride in the resistance.
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She talks of cities she loves razed to the ground by bombings and years of growth destroyed – but in the fighting there are heroes, she says, not least her mother and father who are still in Kyiv, and colleagues and friends supporting the Ukrainian army.
Mrs Lebedenko speaks fondly of her Amersham community and the local school where her children are educated. She encouraged donations to help those in the conflict.
But she fears the fighting will never cease and seems prepared for that eventuality.
Russia has attacked European democracy Ukraine by land, air, and sea, prompting an exodus of refugees as the number of dead from the conflict climbs. Putin now stands accused of shattering peace in Europe.
Ukraine to Amersham
“I grew up in Mariupol’, a city in the east of Ukraine that’s been on the border of Russian invasion for eight years already,” Mrs Lebedenko said.
“So, for many friends I have from childhood who are there, it’s not new to be bombed, to be under attack. And right now, Mariupol’ is in very bad condition, half of the city is destroyed, and it’s a city with a 500,000 population with huge metallurgical factories.
"The people who are still left are constantly in bunkers hiding with children. I then lived in Kyiv for some time.
“I’m in Amersham because we are a family with two kids and we work in the IT sector, so we are employed by an IT company here in England.
"We are here on contracts. Amersham is just a beautiful place, that’s why I came here. People are so supportive.
"Our kids are at [primary school] and the attention that the teachers are now giving to the children, knowing what they are going through, is incredible. Unbelievable community.
“The older one is ten years old and of course, he understands everything. He talks and worries about it a lot. He knows his friends are also there in the bombing.
"He’s very anxious about it but at the same time a very brave child, trying to get attention and donations, bringing leaflets to school, and talking to everyone so he’s being very brave – both of our children.
"While most kids spend half-term in front of the TV or having fun, our kids spend half-term in Trafalgar Square and Downing Street protesting.”
Pain and pride
“There are kind of two main things that are happening inside of me,” Mrs Lebedenko said. “The first one is of course great pain for what is happening to the people in Ukraine, the people in my country.
"It’s painful to see kids dying, all the infrastructure being destroyed, everything we’ve been building for many, many years is just getting destroyed and people are dying, so it’s a great pain.
“But at the same time, it’s a great pride in my people because they show the whole world that freedom is not just some word, it is something that the whole nation is ready to die for – everyone I have there, from young people to old people.
“My parents for example, they are right now in the suburb of Kyiv, they live there, and they refuse to go. We could help them right away to get to Poland and then here, but they refuse to go because they have their own struggle. They’re not army people but they are older people who – everybody has a job [to do].
“My mum is feeding the army. My dad is working in construction and science so the tank patrols cannot find the neighbourhood.
"They’re busy. It’s not like army against army, it’s a nationwide stance. I have friends in the army who are musicians, IT people, people who are not supposed to be doing this, but they are in the army. My history teacher, my IT colleagues are fighting in the regular army right now.
The biggest fear
“We are in regular contact [with my parents], it’s like there is no fear, there is a lot of anger and pride in them and all they say is, ‘we are busy’.
They learn to do things that they would never think they’d need to learn, but they are busy protecting their country.
“It’s not new, it’s been happening for a long time – but this wider invasion, there is nothing rather than the victory that Ukrainian people will accept.
"Our people are ready to stand to the very end, even if everything is destroyed and the last soldier is killed. My fear is that, being a crazy nation under propaganda or I don’t know what, for them it’s the same, they just bomb either to destroy or enslave us.
"So, what I’m afraid of is there is no kind of trigger that stops – only the military resistance, and that’s it. That’s the biggest fear I have, that there is no way they’re stopping.
“We’re very happy that we have the support and recognition of the world, but it is definitely not enough. If you look at the map of Russia and the size of Ukraine…the fact we’ve been already standing for [this long] is a miracle that is done by superheroes. But they cannot stand alone.
“Depending on where people want to donate, there is humanitarian aid for people who are fleeing, for struggling families, for homelessness; also, to the National Bank of Ukraine; medicine. Whatever is needed.”
A message for Putin
“Russian warship, go f*** yourself. No words would help, we’ve been talking to them for many, many years – it’s impossible.”
Donations to the National Bank of Ukraine can be made online here.