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Q&A: Iurii Mykhaylov, a Ukrainian citizen that compares Putin’s move to Hitler

Retired Army lieutenant/journalist: “I never expected to find myself in the whirl of the ferocious war.”

After four days of bombings and shellings, leaders of Ukraine and Russia have agreed to peace talks near Belarus Monday.

Despite Sunday night’s wheat market liking the peace talks news, jumping 75¢, Ukrainian citizens continue to dig in and fight for the independence of their nation.

As Russian soldiers continue to press toward Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, federal and state government and city officials, along with private citizens, take up arms and slow the opposition.

After disappointment in his army’s progress to topple the Ukrainian government, Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened the use of nuclear weapons. 

Also, the U.S., the European Commission (EC), France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and Canada, announced over the weekend they would expel some Russian banks from SWIFT, according to news reports.

SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is a secure messaging system used to process rapid cross-border payments. This has become the main mechanism for financial international trade.

Iurii Mykhaylov, a Ukrainian economist and agricultural journalist, has been reporting on the war between Russia and his country for Successful Farming. 

It’s said that journalists don’t just tell stories, they record history. Mykhaylov, a resident of Kyiv, Ukraine, shares how he has been watching, coping, and living through one of the worst wars in Europe since World War II.

SF: How have you coped with this war from day 1?

Mykhaylov: Forty-five years ago, after the graduation from the Kyiv National Technical University, I for two years served in the Soviet Army in the rank of lieutenant since in the university there was a special mandatory program for the military training. But regardless of this, I always feel and considered myself as a civilian and I never expected to find myself in the whirl of the ferocious war.

My wife and I are 67 years old. We both are retired, so I have plenty of free time. On Wednesday, February 23, 2022, I was contacted by a colleague from Northern Ireland. We discussed the prospects for a Russian invasion for Ukraine. I said the odds were 50-50, that is, maybe yes, maybe no. The next morning, the answer turned out to be “yes.”

SF: On Thursday, February, 24, 2022, what was your reaction to the beginning of the war?

Mykhaylov: This became the most impressive day in my life. I woke up at 5:00 a.m. from loud artillery salvos and immediately turned on the TV to find out what was going on. About an hour later, it was reported that Russia, without any warning and continued assurances that Russia has no intention to invade, attacked Ukraine all over its border. It is a gloomy and pervert repeat of the history – 79 years ago Adolph Hitler, also without any warning, attacked the USSR in the early morning hours.

I counted seven loud shots, which I took to be the sound of a bombardment.

The first reaction was shock, I could not believe it, but loud volleys said otherwise. I woke up my wife and told her the news.

SF: How scared were you and what was your next thought?

Mykhaylov: Remembering the advice of experienced people who went through the war in Georgia and Chechnya, I began to collect the so-called “alarm suitcase” or a backpack in which you need to put most important items. First of all, an ID, a supply of food for three days, a bottle of water, several spare changes of underwear and socks, personal hygiene items, soap, medicines, including dressings and antibiotics, some cash, bank cards, a knife, a flashlight and spare batteries for it, matches or a lighter, a charger for a mobile phone.

Then, just in case, I filled the bathtub full with water.

From the very beginning, I did not intend to leave Kyiv and therefore decided to buy a supply of food for a week, maybe two.

There were no outages of electricity, water, gas, sewerage, mobile communications, the Internet.

Through the window, I saw people returning from the nearest grocery store with large bags filled with food. At about 11 a.m., I went to the grocery store myself and saw a big line. It turned out that this was not a queue for entering the store, but for an ATM – people were withdrawing cash from their bank cards. There was also a long queue near the pharmacy.

There was no panic or excitement to be seen. Public transport worked as usual.

There were not many people in the store, the shelves were full. So I bought several loaves of bread, crackers, buckwheat, rice, salt, vegetable oil, smoked meat, cheese, and several boxes of matches. Since there was a long line at the pharmacy, I bought several packs of the band-aids in the store.

SF: What was your plan for taking shelter from an attack?

Mykhaylov: On the internet, I found a map of the nearest bomb shelters. It turned out that most of them are basements, in which water pipes and sewerage are located.

Guides on the internet warned that in the event of a direct missile hit on the house, it could collapse like a house of cards, so basements should be avoided otherwise it would be very difficult or even impossible to get out from under the rubble.

In case of artillery shelling, the cellars will be quite safe.

An alternative option for me and my wife is a nearby pedestrian underpass where one can wait out the attack. At the same time, I decided that in the event of a bombing threat, if it was impossible to hide in the underpass due to a possible influx of people, my wife and I would go to a nearby park in which, after all, the trees could serve as protection against a missile hit to the nearby tall buildings. The trees would definitely protect against fragments of a bomb or missile that exploded nearby.

Google maps showed congestion throughout Kiev and especially at the exits from the city.

SF: Did you ever think about evacuating?

Mykhaylov: At 3:00 p.m. on day 1 of the war, people from the neighboring apartment reported that they were evacuating to Western Ukraine in their car. I was a little disappointed, because in Ukraine, immediately after the start of the war, martial law was introduced, according to which all men from 18 to 60 years old are not allowed to travel abroad. And although they were not going to leave Ukraine, the age of a neighbor is about 55 years old, and his son is 35 (and he is an athlete), this run away unpleasantly surprised me.

SF: How do you sleep knowing there is a war in your city?

Mykhaylov: On Friday, February 25, 2022, that night I woke up at 2:00 a.m., again, from the sounds of loud artillery shots and did not sleep anymore. I began to browse the internet for the latest news. My e-mail box began to receive letters of sympathy and concern about my safety from numerous foreign colleagues: Sweden, Canada, the Netherlands, USA, South Africa, Albania, Turkey, and Slovakia. Small shops, cafes, restaurants and other small businesses were closed. The farmers markets were also closed. Public transport, except for the subway, worked as usual. All underground subway stations were converted into bomb shelters. There is a metro line a 10-minute walk from my house, but it’s part on the left bank of the Dnieper runs on the surface and therefore cannot serve as a bomb shelter.

The cannonade was heard throughout the day. The authorities announced the formation of seven trains for the evacuation of children, women with children, the disabled, and the elderly persons to Western Ukraine. Even if my wife and I suddenly had a desire to take advantage of this opportunity, we would not be able to get to the central station, since public transport did not work.

SF: News reports indicated that Russia planned to turn the heat up for the weekend. How did you feel about that threat?

Mykhaylov: On Saturday, February 26, I woke up from artillery salvos at 4 a.m. The Kyiv authorities have announced a curfew from 5:00 pm Saturday to 8:00 am Monday. It is forbidden to leave the house and move around the city by car without a special pass. The only exception is the permission to go to the bomb shelter in case of bombardment or shelling.

Also, finally, an explanation was said that if the sounds of shots are not accompanied by the sound of a siren, this means that our artillery is firing. This calmed me down a bit. On Sunday, February 27, the sound of cannonade woke me up at 5:00 a.m. As in the previous days, I saw no explosions or fires from my window. I spend the whole day at home at the computer, following the news. Again, several foreign colleagues reached out for comment.

SF: As of Sunday, your countrymen and military had slowed Russian’s onslaught. How proud are you of your country? 

Mykhaylov: It may look like a paradox, but Putin with this unprovoked war against Ukraine made everything possible to unite the Ukrainian nation. Before this aggression, there were a lot of speculations about how divided Ukraine is between so-called Russian and Ukrainian-speaking people. Now 100% of the citizens consider themselves as Ukrainians regardless of the language they speak. It is this self-identification of people that borne this desperate love for the land they live on and the desire to defend it till the end. And I am also one of them.

SF: China relies on corn from Ukraine. Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan rely on Ukraine’s wheat. What are your thoughts on how Ukraine’s ports reopen? And, historically, in wartime, have the ports reopened before the fighting was over or long after?

Mykhaylov: Historically, there were no shipments of commodities to/from ports during the war. Ports resumed their operation depending on how severe they were damaged during the wartime. Some Ukrainian trading companies that have terminals in ports warned they would have destroyed their port facilities in case of occupation.

In case Russia has not occupied Odessa Oblast, the option for importers/exporters is to make shipments through Romania. It may be limited and slow but this is possible. Also some commodities and goods were always imported/exported from/to Europe via the western border.

SF: Will the war be impacted by any upcoming weather in Ukraine? What’s the forecast for your area, more snow, colder temperatures, etc.?

Mykhaylov: The weather forecast for the nearest 10 days shows freezing drizzles on Tuesday and Wednesday (March 1 and 2) and showers on Thursday (March 3). This may impact the level of hostile activities considering that soil in central and South part of Ukraine is heavy black soil. Forecast for the temperature all over Ukraine will be in the range 3°C. to 8°C. (37°F. to 40°F.).

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