© Mark Kitchell
Mark Kitchell accompanied the NGO LUKraine on a two-week humanitarian trip to Ukraine, sharing observations from his journey with RTL Today.
I returned from Ukraine in late August, but held off writing my last article for RTL to allow the experience to settle in. Coming back to safe and (at times) rainy Luxembourg required an adjustment. Ukraine is a lovely country, with great restaurants, kind people, and gorgeous scenery, but Luxembourg is my home and it is good to be home. However, the everyday (and sometimes mundane) aspects of living and working here seem rather unimportant when you return from a place where most of the population is concentrating on winning a war, a real war.
Here are some of my impressions from the trip.
Ukraine is as modern and developed as the US or Europe. Digitalization, cuisine, culture, fashion, etc. are on par or ahead of Europe. Kyiv is more fun and cleaner than Paris, Brussels, Berlin or London. Yes, parts are run down, but this adds to its charm. Luxembourg could learn a lot about customer service from Ukraine.
Ukrainians work hard and all the time, and rest very little. "Rest is for after the victory!", is what my friend Nick, the President of LUkraine, always says. Ukrainians who are away from the front still enjoy life; they eat out, they shop. At first, I found this somewhat disconcerting, until someone pointed out that the soldiers are fighting for people to have a normal life. Plus, the economy must continue growing.
Ukrainians are grateful for the help from allied nations, and even more so for foreign volunteers. Not one complained about military support being too slow or too little (while it is both: We must provide Ukraine with the tools to WIN!).
"It may seem strange, but crossing the border of a country at war, I start to feel more free and calmer. There is a simple explanation for this - this is my homeland, where my parents, relatives and friends live, this is our land", said Inna Yaremenko, Vice President of LUkraine during one of our conversations during the trip. Talking to Inna, Nick, Alex, Olexsandr, Chenbau, or any of the Ukrainians I travelled with, was often both heartwarming and heartbreaking. While I am certain about their will to win, I know the path won’t be easy.
© Mark Kitchell
Another thing I realised is that Ukrainians are resilient. They adapt to hardship, they adapt to the horrors of war. This was made clear during my last formal activity with the LUkraine Humanitarian Mission, a visit to Kyiv Regional Clinical Hospital #2. My friend and LUkraine colleague Tatou Ania and were granted a tour with Vyacheslav Zaporozhets, who leads our partner organization "Lifesaving Center Ukraine".
Upon entering the hospital grounds, I immediately noticed several patients with missing limbs. Nothing prepares you for this, especially to watch their family alongside them. It was extremely hard to see the family members trying to support their injured relative, to see them hold back tears. In one of the rooms I met Zura, a red-headed Ukrainian special forces soldier, a veteran of Ukraine’s participation of NATO’s IASF mission in Afghanistan. Zura had both his legs blown off, but was kind and cheerful. As were Igor and Anatoliy, who both lost their legs to exploding mines (all photos are posted with their approval).
The most difficult experience was to meet Dima and his parents. Dima had a severe head injury, about a quarter of his head blown away, but he still greeted me with a handshake. Dima’s parents were by his side, his mother looked like any mother would in this situation, heartbroken but determined to help her son. We exchanged a long and meaningful hug in the hallway.
In such times, speaking a common language is not necessary. I reflected on what it would have done to my mother, if she were in that situation. My mom is in her 90's and she grew up with her two older brothers fighting in Europe during World War II. My mom worries about me (I am an avid motorcyclist) but on this trip she never showed her worry, but supported me completely. She, like anyone of the WWII generation, understands. I also hope my late father, a WWII veteran, understands my journey. Perhaps, he held out a protective hand over along the way.
And this is the last but the most important conclusion I can make about Ukrainians - they won’t surrender, nor will they willingly trade land for a fake peace with Russia. I won’t pretend to say every single Ukrainian would die for their country, but the majority are ready to give all they can to protect their soil and people. And the narrative that Ukraine can live side by side with Russia is false. The break between Russia and Ukraine is absolute. Russia will never be forgiven. Ukrainians blame both the Russian government, and the Russian people for this war. I fully agree with them.
Don’t get me wrong, but if there is a silver lining in this war - we, the people of Luxembourg (citizens and immigrants), have the amazing opportunity to live with the Ukrainians that have come here: both before and after February 2022.
Learn about love of your country (or the EU!) and our personal responsibility for its future! Be motivated to help Ukraine and become stronger together! If you are not actively supporting Ukraine, then you are passively supporting Russia. And if you support Russia, while living in a country that has hugely benefited from NATO protection, then maybe you need to rethink what you stand for.
The war is much closer to us than we think. And it is the height of naivety to think that active war cannot come to the EU, even to Luxembourg. But there is a wonderful country, with amazing people, who are shielding us from a new world war. And this is why we all should gratefully support them.
If you are interested to help LUkraine, I am easily reachable via Facebook.