When I went to bed on February 23, I was happy to have managed to submit a scientific paper for peer review before midnight. As I drifted off, I worried I could have formulated a few of the sentences differently. Little did I know that six hours later, I would wake to learn that Russia had launched a full-scale war on Ukraine.
I could not believe what I was reading and seeing on the news. Everything seemed so surreal. My immediate thoughts were with my family back in Ukraine. I felt disoriented and terrified. And it was not only me, every Ukrainian that I have spoken to said they woke that morning with the same feelings.
Within two hours, the Nordic Ukraine Forum, an NGO created to develop Ukraine-Sweden relations, arranged a protest next to the Russian Embassy in Sweden. It was painful to witness: people were not hiding their emotions, many cried. They were unsure whether their families were safe and felt desperate at not being able to help their loved ones.
But also, everyone was terrified by the fact that Ukraine’s very existence was being fundamentally threatened. You could also tell that the journalists who came to report from the protest were emotional, with some barely holding back tears. It was a very gloomy morning.
In the seven days since Russia launched its attack, the Ukrainian community has been gathering for protests in Stockholm on a daily basis, they organized the collection of humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
For us, Ukrainians, being able to help Ukraine has a therapeutic and bonding function. By gathering together, organizing aid collection and helping Ukrainian refugees, many escape the feeling of depression.
But it is not only Ukrainians in Sweden who organized themselves to help Ukraine. On a regular basis, I meet Swedish citizens and foreigners living in Sweden who have come to the protests arranged by the Nordic Ukraine Forum.
Some of them also cry. You can see that the war affects everyone and how much compassion and solidarity there is with Ukraine among “regular” local people. Despite the dark times, this solidarity brings light and hope.
Many locals in Stockholm come and donate aid to Ukraine which is being collected in central Stockholm on a regular basis.
Others come to express their sympathies. There are also those who come to express their feelings and let their emotions out. I remember a local woman in her early-60s, a total stranger, coming up to me to say how sorry she feels for the innocent civilians who are being targeted by Russian planes, how much it affects her emotionally and how desperate she feels because she does not know how to stop it.
To comfort her, I gave her a hug and she burst in tears — a total stranger who I had never met before and will probably never see again felt the pain inflicted by the war in Ukraine. The war affects everyone.
What these horrible days that we are living through have demonstrated is that despite all the suffering and pain that the war has brought, people are united in solidarity with Ukraine.
Nordic Ukraine Forum regularly receives messages from local people in Stockholm, as well as from other Swedish cities saying that they are ready to host refugees from Ukraine in their homes if necessary. Many are also offering help in transporting refugees from the Polish border to Sweden.
This solidarity shows that Europe is united, European people think alike, regardless of their nationality or political preferences. We all share in this unbearable pain, and we all fundamentally reject Russia’s aggression towards peaceful, pro-democratic and independent Ukraine.
This compassion and solidarity mean a lot to Ukrainians, both here in Stockholm and at home in Ukraine. Knowing that Ukraine is being supported also helps the Ukrainian army keep on fighting. The solidarity with Ukraine also demonstrates that we all share the fundamental refusal to accept Russia’s war, Russia’s preposterous claims denying Ukraine the right to exist. But what Russia’s leadership does not understand is that it is doomed to fail as a result of the solidarity that the world has shown with Ukraine.
Everyone can help Ukraine. You can support the Ukrainian army and people in Ukraine by donating money, by bringing items from the list posted on our webpage, by hosting refugees, by participating in protests, but also by just giving words of support to everyone who feels emotionally affected by this war.
Together, we will get through this horrible war, see the aggressor fall, and re-merge as a stronger and a more united Europe.
Because the truth always prevails.
As well as spokesperson of the Nordic Ukraine Forum, Karina Shyrokykh is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Stockholm University.