I don’t want to become what they’ve done to me

Today our meeting with Andrej begins with smiles and a piece of cake. He is a volunteer from the local Caritas who decided to help his people from the beginning of the war, even though he expected to do something else in his life.
We went to meet him because we wanted to tell him that we are not only here for them, but WITH them. In a city under attack, we are volunteers who are working nonstop to help civilians in all the ways they can since many months: from distributing food aid to delivering warm clothes in view of the gelid winter that is coming.
Suddenly, during the conversation, he is pleasantly surprised when we speak some words in Ukrainian and Russian languages. So, with his permission, we ask him some personal questions like why most people in these areas of the country continue to speak Russian.
"Russian is my mother language. I was born in Odessa but my grandparents have Russian origins, like "many" people in Ukraine. Since the war’s outbreak in 2014, we have started to use more the Ukrainian language, which has been chosen as the only official language in schools".
He goes on telling us that it is impossible to have such an immediate change between the two languages because they are not at all the same, although they are similar. From the beginning of the war until today, many people - especially in the western regions - began to distance themselves from Russia and to speak Ukrainian.

In the eastern part of the country, in fact, the Russian influence is much stronger and widespread than in the western cities, but, despite this, the population has been more motivated to abandon what binds it to the "regime", starting to make an effort to change one of the most important things of its identity: the language.
Andrej is a kind and calm person, he has salt-and-pepper hair and ice-blue eyes.
He seems very friendly and interested in getting to know us, despite we can perceive the tiredness he suffered during these last months. We ask him what he thinks about what is happening in his country and his answer makes us pleasantly surprised:
"I’ve lived for 10 years in Moscow where I studied and met my wife. In these years I’ve met many Russian people who are still my dear friends. They are against this war but they cannot publicly oppose it, neither by demonstrations nor on social media, since they would end up in jail. My friends didn’t have the opportunity to leave the country because they are potential candidates for enlistment".
Andrej explains to us that, unlike Russia, here in Ukraine, men had the possibility to leave the country until a few months ago. In fact, many countrymen friends of him have moved elsewhere with their families.
At the end of his answer, he says with a disconsolate but decisive attitude:
"Clearly I’m heartbroken since my country is at war, but, at the same time, I’m disappointed for my Russian friends who didn’t have the chance to choose what to do with their lives from the outbreak of the hostilities. In the misfortune of living all this, I feel lucky to be on this side of the war".
His answer struck me, for a few seconds we remain in silence.
Even though this war has taken him away from his family, forced him to quit his job and made him exhausted because of his perseverance in helping his people, he still has the strength and lucidity to realize that, during a war, there are not only good ones against bad ones, but there are victims on both sides.
Solidarity and closeness towards people are the things that drive him to go on day by day and prevent him from harboring hatred and grudge against the Russian population.
I am surprised by the fact that such a deep and genuine thought comes from a person who is personally involved in all this situation, while in other parts of the world there are people who don’t have the same perspicacity in recognizing the people affected. For most people, it is easier to generalize in these conflict situations, by taking sides for one faction or the other, without even trying to understand the context.
But I don’t want to be part of the majority, I don’t want to adapt myself to a rough idea and I don’t want to make a simple choice just because it is the easiest one. I want to stand by Andrej, I want to stand by the VICTIMS and let them know that they are not alone.