One was a 23-year-old student who was looking out from the center of the Ukrainian capital, preparing to leave for a bomb shelter.
Another is a lawyer from Kharkiv, a city roughly 50 miles from the Russian border, who described family members seeing Russian bombs with their own eyes.
The third was an activist in western Ukraine, who promised that the Russian military was in for a “world of pain.”
In the first hours of Russia’s full invasion, three Ukrainians shared their thoughts during special coverage on NewsNation Prime. They shared feelings of defiance and concern for their families, and delivered a perspective on what life has been like — and what they think life will be like — with Russia threatening their border.
Below are excerpts from the interviews, edited for clarity and length.
What they saw as the invasion began
Alex (who asked only to use his first name), a student from Kyiv
We are really in the center of Kyiv. The guys from my flat are preparing to leave because our government says to us it’s necessary to go to bomb shelters. Also, I heard some sound that were like shootings. As I already read and watched from media and social media, there are bombings.
Melaniya Podolyak, activist, Lviv
I’m currently taking cover within the building I live in. We had air raid sirens on for quite a while now. I mean, most of Ukraine’s airfields and airports have been heavily shelled throughout the night. So we are expecting anything at this point. But it’s good to hear about those Russian planes, though. Makes me feel a bit better.
Dayana Pankova, lawyer, Kharkiv
I am as calm as possible in this situation, when you hear the explosions outside of your house. My parents are outside of the city and they have been seeing and hearing it with their own eyes. It’s not a very pleasant thing to see. … But I am absolutely not … panicking as everyone expects us to be, that’s for sure.
Why is Russia doing this?
The existence of an independent Ukraine is a direct threat to the existence of the Russian Federation as it is, and that’s the reason why (Putin) wants Ukraine so badly. And the reason why he won’t let us go is because we are becoming more successful. The reason we are having these troops all over the place and those shellings is because he has lost every other attempt to occupy Ukraine, to influence Ukraine. That’s his last resort.
What if Russia wins?
I have something to fight for. I’ve built my life. So I don’t want to give up on this very easily. I can sit, sit at home and cry over what I’ve had, what I used to have. Or I can stand up and fight for it. I’m definitely going for the second option. And I’m pretty sure every … Ukrainian is going to say the same thing.
If Russia occupies Ukraine, do (you) think he will stop? He won’t stop because that’s just his nature. He invades his neighbors. 2008, Georgia. Now us. Crimea in 2014. … What he wants is to undermine the security architecture of the whole world. He wants to undermine our unions. He wants to undermine our trust and he wants to divide us. So we shouldn’t let it happen and the free world shouldn’t let that happen
I won’t say what I would do exactly, because I’m on TV now. But I could say that I wouldn’t work with Russian occupation. And also, I think that in the next few days, Ukrainians need to defend our ground. And I hope and believe that world will help us to (do it).
Can the United States do more?
Strong economic sanctions … that’s where it hurts.
Obviously, we need to protect ourselves. We’re very capable still, even though some people might not believe that. But yeah, economically, Russian oligarchs and people in charge … your stakeholders, they should feel the pain. You should make them live like a regular Russian citizen lives. That’s the only way they will understand. Kick their kids out of the universities in the United States … and see what they do then.
I’m pretty sure that it’s up to Ukraine. And it’s always been up to Ukraine. Of course, it’s not going to be easy. And, of course, it’s everyone else’s responsibility, too, because the question is — who’s next? We don’t know how big the geopolitical ambitions of (Putin) are.
I just wish to have peace in my country and that it would be possible without weapons at all. But at the moment, I see that it can’t be resolved without weapons. It’s a big heartbreak for me. Because I don’t want the war in my country. It’s really bad news that I have this morning. And I need to now go and survive today.
Support us because we need it now. Oh, God, please support us because we need it now. Have a nice day. Goodbye. Thank you.