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The world has watched in reverence as Ukraine, despite all odds, has mounted a fierce resistance against Russian invaders.
Experts predicted that Ukraine would fall within days of Russian troops rolling in on President Vladimir Putin’s orders. But two weeks into the conflict, Russian troops have faced significant setbacks in their operation.
Still, thousands nationwide are thought to have been killed in fighting largely confined to the east. The U.N. estimates that more than 2 million people have fled the country, the biggest exodus since the end of World War II.
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Euromaidan Press editor-in-chief Alya Shandra, who is 38 weeks pregnant, is among the refugees who have been displaced. She and her husband, Tobias Weihmann, fled their home in Kyiv after Russian forces began shelling the city on day two of the invasion. They sent their two daughters, ages 2 and 13, to stay with Weihmann’s parents in Germany while they temporarily moved to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv with nothing but their suitcases.
The invasion has now entered its second week and life goes on in Lviv. But despite being far from the fighting, signs of war are still visible in Lviv. Every other person speaks Russian, and every fourth car has a Kyiv license plate, Shandra said. Meanwhile, armed soldiers stand guard on street corners and a 10 o’clock curfew remains in place.
“It’s a city that’s so far peaceful, but you still see signs that it’s preparing,” Shandra said. “It’s just very surreal for me to be in this peaceful city while on the other side of the country, people are being killed.”
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Though 38 weeks pregnant, Shandra keeps busy running Euromaidan Press, an independent English language Ukrainian news website she launched in 2014 as the Euromaidan revolution was sweeping Ukraine. The website, which has no central office, informs western readers about Ukraine and combats Russian propaganda.
“Ukrainians want to get away from the experience of the Soviet Union. They want to build a democratic country. They see that in the west, people live differently and they want to live like them,” Shandra told Fox News. “I think that after Euromaidan, this became especially prominent. People understood the value of being able to just go in the street and protest against their leaders, to just go and say what they want.”
Since being in Lviv, Shandra said she has seen “thousands” of little initiatives, people of all backgrounds volunteering to help defend Ukraine, be it joining a territorial defense, opening their homes to refugees, or helping out at a humanitarian center. What unites them is, what Shandra described as, an “indomitable spirit,” that Ukraine will ultimately triumph.
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“The volunteers in the center don’t have time to read the news,” Shandra said. “They don’t have this feeling of doom and gloom. Because the ones that stay home on the couch and just scroll through their feeds, they start panicking and saying, ‘oh, it’s all over. We’re doomed.’ But the ones that actually join the volunteer effort, they don’t have time to do that. They just work towards victory.”
“Everybody thinks we will win,” she added.
The contrast in outlooks parallels how many western nations predicted that the Ukrainians didn’t have a fighting chance against Russia’s more powerful military. Instead, Ukrainians, emboldened by their leader, President Volodomyr Zelenskyy, have fought back.
“The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,” Zelenskyy notoriously said in a video posted to Twitter after refusing an American offer to evacuate the Ukrainian capital.
“Everybody wrote us off,” Shandra said. “I think that was one of the major things that really irritated everybody here. Like, why are they writing us off?”
“I think that expectations didn’t take into account something that’s immeasurable. That’s the spirit,” she added. “This is something the wise calculating men don’t take into account. They thought that Kyiv would be taken in two days. But here we are.”
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Asked what is motivating her to stay, Shandra flipped the question around, asking “what should be motivating me to leave?
“It’s my country, I want to live here. I think that’s a really major misconception that people have. They think that refugees, they’d like to go somewhere,” she said. “No, we want to live here. We want to live in our own peaceful, independent land. We just need a little bit of help to get the Russian invaders out.”
The United States and its allies, including the European Union, have enacted crippling sanctions targeting Russia’s banking and oil sectors, while avoiding direct military contact with Russian soldiers.
President Biden took matters a step further on Tuesday by banning the import of Russian oil and gas to the U.S., a move that put pressure on the U.K. and Europe, which relies more heavily on Russian energy.
Shandra said these moves have been welcomed in Ukraine and acknowledged the price Americans are paying at the pump but said more is needed to be done to stop Putin.
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“The gas prices are hitting you now, I understand that. And we’re grateful for your sacrifice. But you must understand that Ukraine is not only fighting for itself, it’s fighting for the world,” Shandra said. “You need to understand that you cannot turn the other way because it is something that will affect you.”
She added: “It’s just a matter of how many civilian deaths it will take for us to win. How many deaths and how much suffering and destruction? You can help end these deaths and destruction by helping us win by giving us the tools to win. There is no doubt that will win.”
Zelenskyy has pleaded repeatedly for the U.S. to provide his military with more aircraft – presented as an alternative to establishing a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine to suppress Russian air power. The “no-fly” idea was rejected earlier by Washington and NATO as an unnecessary risk of escalation.
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Shandra called on the west to “do something now before it gets worse.”
“There’s still time, but the time is running out,” Shandra said. “Because if Russia continues its bombing campaign and if Putin is turning out cities into rubble, there won’t be much to save.”