At midnight, Masha Rezhylo called her mother—It was 5 a.m. in Ukraine when the first bombs began to fall.
Waking up, Rezhylo’s mother didn’t believe her. “Everyone was in disbelief,” Rezhylo said.
Sergei Kosalapov got out of bed when Russian President Vladamir Putin ordered troops march into the heart of Ukraine—a move that, according to NATO estimates, has cost up to 15,000 Russian lives since.
Kosalapov went to the gym to distract himself.
The bombings occurred only minutes later.
This consumed his mind, he says. Instead of music, he listened to the news as he exercised. And after every repetition, he watched his president repeat a bloody history.
“This [is] the worst scenario that could be,” Kosalapov said. “It’s very difficult to stay positive.”
Rezhylo remembers the sounds of shootings and explosions from 8 eight years ago, when Russia’s military campaign in Crimea forced her family from the eastern city of Donetsk to the west.
“This is something that leaves its mark on you for the rest of your life,” Rezhylo said. “I’m still to this day scared of the sound of fireworks.”
For months, tensions broiled at the border and anxieties mounted in Rezhylo.
Since the invasion, Rezhylo’s parents have remained in Kyiv, where they sleep in a bomb shelter with 50 others.
Ukraine’s capital is encircled by Russian forces and is a place where there is little distinguishing civilians from soldiers.
Some of her friends have migrated out of the country, fleeing to Poland, Germany or elsewhere. One of her friends hasn’t been able to contact her mother in weeks, she says.
Others have volunteered in food chain supply efforts or have enlisted themselves into war efforts at a time where civilian casualties have surpassed 900.
“We will give weapons to anyone who wants to defend the country. Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted.
“Right now, there’s a lot of hatred,” Rezhylo said. “Innocent people are dying, a lot of kids are dying.”
Kosalapov’s family resides in Lobnya, on the outskirts of Moscow, far from the burned carcusses of tanks blocking Ukrainian parkways and the missiles jettisoned by Russian fighter planes seen by the American public on video.
Like most Russians, they disapprove of the invasion they’re witnessing, which has come at a massive cost of both human life and the welfare of their country’s citizens.
Many Russians are feeling the economic strife as the ruble remains in the throes of a depression—an effect of Russians becoming the most sanctioned people in the world.
Kosalapov’s father knew the ruble would fall in the event of a crisis, and, taking precautions to make sure his family would be able to survive, hoarded the U.S. dollar—a decision that today keeps them from suffering as badly as other Russians.
Rezhylo has received donations personally and has sent money to her friends volunteering in Ukraine, where they use the money to purchase food and medicine.
“I got together with my friends in Ukraine who have established volunteer organizations,” Rezhylo said. “They have two facilities and they stock supplies and goods and food. I send them money directly.”
Over the past 25 days, she says she’s received over $5000.
“I think I was pretty successful. I wouldn’t say that I’m a social media influencer,” Rezhylo said. “But I feel like that’s pretty significant.”
Rezhylo says history is repeating itself and that it will take time for Ukrainians to forgive Russians for the invasion.
“I know people who are ashamed, who are sorry,” Rezhylo said.
But to Rezhylo, as the second invasion of her country in her lifetime is underway, it seems connected to a kind of “joke.”
“You’re not sorry,” Rezhylo said. “That’s happening because you’ve been supporting it for 8 years beforehand. There are a lot of Russians I know who don’t support Putin, but at the same time, I think it comes down to your own choice—are you going to be sitting at the house scared because you’re going to get arrested? I don’t think realistically the whole country is against it—there’s not enough police officers.”
As people approach her asking her the “obvious questions,” like how her family is doing, she believes they could be doing a lot more.
“How do you think they’re doing,” Rezhylo said. “If they’re in the bomb shelter?”
Not many Russians agree with Putin anymore, Kosalapov says.
“Especially my father—he’s one of the people who is concerned with the future of his children and family,” Kosalapov said. “That’s part of the reason I’m studying here.”
Most of Kosalapov’s family disagrees with the invasion. But a very widespread situation, he notes, are those exposed to state media.
“If you’re watching these channels, you’re exposed to propaganda to a very high degree,” Kosalapov said.
Kosalapov regularly argues with his family members who support the invasion.
“We just don’t talk to them,” Rezhylo said.
Rezhylo has cut ties with half of her family from the Donetsk region that supported the invasion.
“I was reading, and that’s really what made me very shameful of what is going on,” Kosalapov said. “I knew that after all this started, it’s going to be very bad for all of the Russians who have no relations to that—no one expected this to happen.”
As the war goes on, the semester nears its end and Rezhylo isn’t sure when she may return home to Ukraine.
“I don’t know and that honestly makes me sad,” Rezhylo said. “Realistically, I don’t think it’s going to be any time up until august this year. . . If I’m being optimistic about all of that—I really don’t know. Hopefully at the end of summer.”
Current polls say that 70% of Russians support the invasion. Recent, vast public demonstrations clash with these official statistics.
Recently Rezhylo hosted a drive with FSC SGA, where they collected medical tourniquets, antiseptic, first aid kits and painkillers to donate to Ukraine.