Risk and resilience on the frontline
By Chris Reason, Chief Reporter, Seven News
Most countries at war, that I’ve had the experience of reporting from, tend to fall to pieces. Governments collapse, law and order disappears, chaos reigns and innocent people are caught in the middle of it all.
Certainly that’s been the case in recent major conflicts such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia.
But Ukraine has been a completely different story. Something quite remarkable is happening there. Instead of falling apart, they have come together. And stepped up. They have become the new international benchmark in resolve; the gold standard in resilience.
Can we learn lessons from them? I think we can. At the very least, we can take inspiration from them.
I expected to go into Ukraine and be overwhelmed by the horrors of war (and there were many). But from the moment we arrived there – on the first day of the invasion, February 24 – I was actually more moved by the extraordinary examples of resilience I was witnessing.
Let me give you one small example: at a roadblock outside our hotel, two dozen volunteers were busy filling sandbags and stacking bricks. There was a 23 year old PhD biology student there, proudly holding her new semi-automatic machine gun. “Ever fired a gun before?” I asked. “Never,” she replied. Would she if she had to? “Without question,” she replied. There was another young student – a computer programmer; 22 years old. He had his helmet on backwards. “I’m a little scared,” he said. But all his friends had volunteered, so he thought he should too. A young boy was nearby, digging trenches. He was 14. I said why are you here with your spade? He said “because they wouldn’t give me a gun”. There was a crate of “Molotov cocktails” at the roadblock – homemade hand grenades made of petrol-filled wine bottles with cloth rags stuck in the top. They’d been assembled by the elderly women in the local community. The government had run a campaign: “Greet the Russians with a cocktail – make it a Molotov cocktail!”. Remarkable – some black humour to lighten the mood of the national war effort.
The roadblock was a metaphor for Ukraine’s resolve. An entire country – from its 14 year olds to the elderly – has bonded together in one breathtaking example of national resilience – risking everything to push back against the Russian aggression.
These days, whenever I’m looking at difficult situations here at home in Australia, or thinking about the economic uncertainty ahead, I think of the Ukrainians I met, one especially: 65 year old Nina Yarmolenko. Nina’s entire apartment block was in ruins after a Russian cruise missile strike. I asked if she would have to move out now? She said, “No way, I’m not letting Vladimir Putin push me around!”. We went back to Ukraine 4 months later and returned to that apartment block. It was still a mess of rubble and destruction. No gas or electricity; plastic sheeting for windows. But Nina hadn’t budged. I asked her why she was still there. She said: “My home’s still standing – and so am I!”. She was still as feisty, determined and resilient as she was back in February.
And we can all learn lessons from that.