A letter From Ukraine

By Llywelyn Graeme

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of this year, I was heartbroken and worried. I served for four years in Kyiv from 2009 to 2013 and it was my favorite overseas tour by far. Working at the Embassy was a blast.

From the time the French Ambassador showed up without warning because his secretary told him he had a meeting (he did not) to the time I got to tell the driver of the armored BMW I was borrowing that “property damage is ok, but don’t hit people, just GET TO THE AIRPORT!” I had a great time, made lots of friends both in the Embassy and in Ukraine itself.

But then Russian troops invaded and tried to take the capitol, marching through Chernobyl (which I had visited and had to wear a Geiger counter to check my radiation levels) and killing many many people. But I have my own job at the Embassy in Tokyo and then we closed the Embassy in Kyiv as the Russians got closer, so other than donating to worthy causes, there was little I could do.

Just last month however I was asked to go to Kyiv for a short period to help out, mostly I suspect due to my history at the Embassy. Getting here was a true adventure. A midnight flight out of Tokyo, transferring in London to Krakow, then a long train to a small city in Eastern Poland and three hours in a hotel room to shower and eat. Then a security briefing and an hour in a bus to the border.

And THEN a special train to Kyiv which took many hours. They had Lipton tea for me, so hard to complain. I had ridden the train before all the way from London, but it felt as if I had never left as we went through the winter countryside. Kyiv looks surprisingly much the same. I have seen little damage and only a few buildings are new to me. Many of my Embassy friends are still there and there were many tears and hugs as I went around the building seeing old friends.

This winter has started early, normally the snow does not stick until after Christmas. Much of Ukraine is without regular power, even the western parts that no Russian troops have touched. Water is a most of the time thing and internet can be problematic. I am confident that Ukraine will win this war, but the cost will be high. Most of my friends here in the capital only sometimes have electricity. And other friends were caught outside Ukraine or fled Odessa as the invaders threatened to conquer the city.

The picture is the University Metro (subway) station, you can see they have put sandbags in front of the windows. Kyiv subways double as blast shelters to survive nuclear attacks. A few weeks ago an errant missile exploded just a few yards from the station, which is across the road from where I am living. I return to Tokyo in a couple of weeks. Staff rotate in and out frequently due to the conditions on the ground. I hope I have been able to make a difference.

If you think you can sponsor a Ukrainian, or a family, I urge you to visit https://welcome.us where you can be put in touch with Ukrainians desperately in need of a warm bed and a place to recover and wait for the war to end.

Editor’s note – When Llywelyn Graeme is not at home in Forks he is working at a US embassy somewhere in the world. His daughter Elizabeth sometimes shares her stories in the Forks Forum.

The Subway Station/Shelter.

The Subway Station/Shelter.