Courtesy of Yekaterina Pryimak
Yekaterina Pryimak, a former medic with the Ukrainian army, remembers learning in grade school in the mid-1990s about how her country decided to give up its nuclear weapons as part of the Budapest Memorandum.
Pryimak said she felt proud that Ukraine would never have to fight in a war.
“Knowing that we are a peaceful country — it inspired me,” she said.
Courtesy of Yekaterina Pryimak
Under the agreement, the United States, Russia and Britain gave assurances “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against the country.
But the agreement did not prevent Russia from attacking Ukraine in 2014 and illegally annexing the Crimean peninsula. And in Eastern Europe today, military tensions remain at a high point.
Russia has continued to build up its forces near Ukraine’s borders in the tens of thousands. The US and other Western powers are saying that an expanded war is imminent, while Russia says that it has no plans for war.
The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it is sending about 2,000 US-based troops to Poland and Germany this week and moving part of an infantry Stryker squadron of roughly 1,000 troops based in Germany to Romania as demonstrations of American commitments to its allies on NATO’s eastern flank.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the US forces will not enter Ukraine and will move to their new positions in the coming days under US command.
The moves underscore growing fears across Europe that Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to further invade Ukraine. And, smaller NATO countries on the eastern flank are concerned about the possibility of the conflict spilling over beyond Ukraine.
Ukrainian authorities are saying that there’s no need to panic. But some people in Ukraine, especially military veterans like Pryimak, say that they’re prepared for anything with Russia.
“They’ve already been our enemy for eight years, and they have waged a hybrid war against us for eight years. And all those troops at the border, that doesn’t bring up the threat level, it’s just another tool they’re using in an ongoing war against us.”
“They’ve already been our enemy for eight years, and they have waged a hybrid war against us for eight years,” Pryimak said. “And all those troops at the border, that doesn’t bring up the threat level, it’s just another tool they’re using in an ongoing war against us.”
She said that her family is planning for the worst-case scenario: a full-blown Russian invasion: “I have a plan for my grandmother. I will evacuate her. I want my close family to be safe. We can’t live in fear, but we must have a plan.”
Viktor Pylypenko, another veteran, said that he has similar plans — he’s advised his parents and extended family to prepare to leave the capital.
“I have one nephew and two nieces, and I am advising my sister, if the war will happen, I’m advising her to leave to the west [of the country],” he said. “She’s the mother of three children, and she cannot risk their lives, and she cannot risk her own life.”
Pylypenko is still in the army reserve so, in the event of a larger conflict, he said that he will probably go to the front lines.
Viktor Pylypenko's Facebook page
“I know that war is destruction and evil, but still I’m ready,” he said. “I’m ready to fight because I have experience, I’m ready to help.”
Pylypenko has combat experience and served in eastern Ukraine from 2014 to 2016.
It was a rough time to be in the military, something that veteran Leonid Ostaltsev can attest to.
Back then, the Ukrainian military simply didn’t have the gear it needed.
Ostaltsev said that he had to Google how to set up a military checkpoint, because he and his fellow servicemembers had no military experience.
“We didn’t know anything; I was a pizzaiola [making pizza]; friends of mine [were] different workers [in factories]. We weren’t military, we didn’t know anything about this.”
“We didn’t know anything; I was a pizzaiola [making pizza]; friends of mine [were] different workers [in factories],” he said. “We weren’t military, we didn’t know anything about this.”
Ostaltsev remembers getting some much-needed aid from the US at the time, which came in the form of military food rations, called MREs — or Meals Ready-to-Eat.
Ostaltsev said that he has no idea what Putin is planning, but he will be ready to join the fight if necessary.
Daniel Ofman/The World
Pryimak, the former medic, said that she appreciates the support Ukraine is getting from its partners, but she wishes that the country didn’t need outside assistance.
“Freedom is in our DNA. You can’t find a people who value liberty and freedom as much as we do.”
Pryimak said that she’s hoping for a brighter future when Ukrainians don’t have to worry about the constant threat of conflict with their Russian neighbors.
Anhelina Sardarian and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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