As was the case for millions of people around the world, Andrew Lenec’s work week began with a Zoom meeting. But while some webcam truths are universal - connection issues and erroneously muted mics come to mind - the tenor of Lenec’s Monday morning call was decidedly more dire.
“I’ve never felt so proud to be Ukrainian,” Lenec said from his Colorado home, addressing a small digital audience of Ukrainians and Americans alike. “I think what Ukraine is doing right now is providing a model for the rest of the world on how to work together and how to defend a country, a civilization, a culture against the evils of Putin and despots and dictators everywhere.”
Lenec summoned this group - a mix of Ukrainians he met abroad in the Peace Corps and American journalists he wants listening - to get a real-time update from the ground of a war-torn country and to spread the messages citizens want the world to hear.
“I have never been so scared for a long time,” said Iryna Chechko, a mother of two from northern Ukraine. “My younger son, he’s like, ‘Mom, will you die? Will I die?’ I just could not imagine that this could happen in the middle of Europe in the 21st century.”
“We have a lot of refugees in my town,” said Pavlo Kozenko, a doctor living near Lviv in western Ukraine. “My town has about 20,000 native inhabitants, and we have already accepted more than 25,000 refugees.”
This Zoom meeting served as one small example of a broader human trend on full display- the way technology and instantaneous communication have changed modern warfare. The people of Ukraine have used social media to coordinate responses with each other, counter Russian disinformation and share shocking images and videos that capture and keep the attention of the world.
“We just really hope that the rest of the world will not forget us,” Chechko pleaded. “So we just keep posting videos, pictures, and personal stories on Facebook just to remind the whole world that it is terrorism here. People are dying.”
The Ukrainians on this Zoom call had specific wishes for world leaders, too. At the top of the list is a no-fly zone declared over Ukraine in response to the barrage of bombs they say have been falling from the sky day and night. NATO leaders have feared this would be tantamount to engaging Russia directly in war and escalating the conflict further.
Above all this, a message of unity and true bravery came through.
“More than one million refugees have fled Ukraine already to different countries like Poland, Romania, Hungary, Germany, and others,” Chechko said. “But, there are like 38 million people left here. And many of those who I know personally, they just do not want to leave. They know they are in huge danger. They know they are facing death. But, they do not want to leave because they do not want to have the status of refugees. They want to stay here and to see the victory of Ukraine, and to stay here and rebuild our country.”
As for Lenec, he has tapped back into his roots and is working with the Ukrainians of Colorado nonprofit to raise money for medical supplies and aid. The group has a set a goal of $100,000, and is soliciting donations online.
He says he plans to keep hosting Zoom calls with his Ukrainian friends every week. God willing, he says, there will be better news the next time they connect.