Olena Halushka is a Ukrainian activist, currently based in Poland and campaigning from there for air and missile defence for Ukraine. This is her story.
“I was in Ukraine when Russia further invaded,” explained Olena who is now working from safety in Poland. “It is important to use ‘further’ as the initial invasion started in 2014.
“Before this new phase of war, I was working for Anticorruption Action Center, an NGO fighting against corruption and struggling to strengthen democracy and rule of law in Ukraine. Now we have launched a new initiative called International Center for Ukraine Victory, which focuses on how to make Ukraine win this war as soon as possible.”
When asked about her loved ones, Olena explained: “My family and colleagues are still in Ukraine, many are in the epicentre of the Russian attack – in Kyiv. And this is one of the biggest incentives for me to do much more for Ukraine’s victory.
“After Putin’s address on February 22, no one had doubts that he would attack Ukraine with the aim to destroy our country,” Olena recalled. “In that speech he talked a lot about Ukrainian democracy and reforms we have been doing successfully. It was clear that he considers successful independent Ukraine a threat to his regime.”
She continued: “A lot of Ukrainians were expecting something to happen that night. So on February 24, I woke up around 3am and could not sleep – I was just checking the news. A few hours later, a new speech from Putin came on air where he explicitly declared war against Ukraine. Then immediately came the news about explosions and strikes all over Ukraine. Despite having been preparing for this moment for months, I was shocked and angry.
“Russia’s initial plan for a blitzkrieg to defeat Ukraine in a few days and substitute the country’s legitimately elected government with a Russian puppet regime failed completely because of the enormous resistance of the Ukrainian army and civilians,” Olena explained. “So Russians changed the tactics and now mostly avoid contact fighting with the Ukrainian military. On the contrary, they focus on attacking civilians and civilian objects, which is a war crime.
“Russians massively shell residential areas, destroy houses, bomb peaceful cities, shoot people amidst evacuations, attack medical facilities and brigades etc. Russians created a humanitarian catastrophe in towns like Mariupol and Kharkiv, cutting electricity and gas, disrupting food supplies, while people are forced to sit in shelters for days as the shellings and bombings do not stop. Russians promised to cease-fire to allow evacuations, but immediately violated this, so people are trapped. Today Russians shot civilians who were trying to evacuate from Irpin on the suburbs of Kyiv. In total, Russians have claimed the lives of 38 Ukrainian children.
“Ukrainians are doing miracles in repelling the Russian invasion on the land,” Olena explained. “The resistance is all-Ukrainian and the morale of the army is high. But human capacities are limited, and we need to protect peaceful Ukrainian cities from the bombs and missiles Russia is throwing on the heads of civilians.”
She continued: “Ukraine has air and missile defence systems, but there are not enough of them, we need much more and more advanced. For that purpose, we started the #protectUAsky campaign. We advocated for the no fly zone, but if NATO countries fear to enforce it, then they have to urgently provide necessary systems at the minimum so we can enforce it on our own. These are fighter jets, advanced air and missile defence systems.
Olena recently spoke to the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the need for a no fly zone, sharing harrowing stories from the ground.
“I told him the stories about Russia’s war crimes against Ukrainians,” she explained. “A lot of them are done with bombs and missiles. On Feb 26 Russians deliberately shelled Okhmatdyt, the flagship children’s hospital, which treats kids with the most severe diseases, including cancer. One child was killed, patients who need special treatment and conditions were forced to move into basements. Kids are being born in shelters as maternity houses are also targeted by Russian attacks. On Feb 24, a 6-year-old girl was shot dead by Russians on the blockpost when her family attempted to evacuate, and a one and a half year-old boy was killed in Mariupol yesterday.
“It’s not only civilians, but also civilian objects that are targets of the Russian attacks,” Olena continued. “And some of these pose particular danger like attacks against nuclear power plants. If a NPP is damaged, this might cause the second Chornobyl catastrophe. There are 4 working NPP in Ukraine, and Chornobyl one, which was seized by Russians, closed. Unfortunately, there are much more such stories about Russian atrocities coming, they need to be stopped.”
Olena has also been documenting the invasion and spreading reliable and informative updates through her Twitter platform. This is something she explains is “incredibly important” for the world to see.
“The world needs to know that this is a civilizational war – the war of authoritarianism against democracy,” she explained. “It will define the future of democracy globally. If Putin is not stopped now, he will destroy the international liberal world order. Changing borders by force all over the world will be old-new normal.
“If Putin is not stopped in Ukraine today, tomorrow the war will come on the doorstep of NATO countries. Citizens of the free world need to demand their governments to support Ukraine in defence against Russian aggression much more actively, primarily with granting more air and missile defence systems, jets, anti-tank equipment etc.”
When asked how the UK can help the people of Ukraine, Olena’s message is clear. “Ukrainians have proved that we are capable of winning this war and defending our lives,” she explained. “But we need the West to step up more effectively, in particular with more air and missile defence.
“The citizens of the free world need to demand from their governments such assistance for Ukraine as soon as possible. The UK also needs to be serious with sanctioning Russian oligarchs, including freezing their British assets and banning them and their family members from the country. Full embargo on the Russian gas and oil is needed as soon as possible too.”
Speaking of the Ukrainian people fighting on the frontline, Olena concluded: “I think Ukrainians are supermen and superwomen. I was not a voter of President Zelenskyi, but I have to admit I significantly underestimated him. He acts as a statesmen now.”
Here’s how you can support people in Ukraine right now.
Please donate to Save the Children’s Ukraine appeal to help support the 7.5 million children in Ukraine who are now in danger.