In a report for Socialist Worker, Alberto Torres spoke to people unable to leave Ukraine but determined to resist.
it was Thursday at 7.30am when Irina Vitalievna’s alarm clock rang. Her intention, get ready for work. In the evening, Irina would have taken a quick shower before heading off to a dance class. But her phone overwhelmed her with messages and phone calls from the moment she woke up. Work was cancelled. War had begun.
Her neighbour, in tears, frantically packed up and left within a few hours. In Odessa, a city of major strategic importance for the Russian invasion, explosions and shooting also started within a few hours.
Odessa, once the site of important worker uprisings and battles during the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, was until recently a bustling port city, full of national and international students, retirees out in the morning picking arguments with others in the morning, and people rushing on their daily work commutes.
In the evenings, Deribasovskaya Street, the main street of the city is full of people walking alongside street singers, dancers and comedians.
The city is now empty, everything is closed and life stands still. Those who remain are on their majority men barred from fleeing Ukraine, retirees who don’t have the means or support to leave, and the few people and families who decided to stay.
The territorial defence units patrol the city and have mobilized residents to defend the city in the event of an attack. Residents help as much as they can with money, food, and warm clothing. Some restaurants cook food for the military for free. Ordinary men carry sandbags from the beach to make fences and more. Everyone is on standby.
Whilst Irina’s windows shook from explosions in the distance, she washed the dishes and sat down for breakfast thinking what to do. Everyone told her to pack and leave. But she refused to leave her city. Instead, she spent the next 4 days in her apartment whilst the fighting ensued.
The daytime was bearable, but nights were relentless. Many spoke of Russians trying to make a landing in Odessa’s port, and some took advantage of the situation to loot and rob from people’s empty houses.
After hearing people trying to enter her flat in the first days, Irina slept with a knife next to her pillow, taped the windows in case they broke with an explosion, and packed a bag with essentials in case she needed to immediately run for shelter.
Whilst Irina’s situation is not as dire as with other Ukrainians in the parallel city of Mariupol, largely flattened by bombings and facing a humanitarian crisis, it is moving to hear of people choosing to stay in Ukraine. “If everyone leaves, we will not have a country to return to” is a phrase that is heard often. From the Palestinian catastrophe in 1948, we know that this logic is quite reasonable.
It has now been three weeks since the invasion started, and Odessa still seems reasonably far from a direct Russian landing.
Irina tells me she is now able to sleep with the sound of explosions, and of her dreams to one day open a dance school, learn English, travel the world and raise a family. “But not today… We have great faith in victory.” She tells me. “People with bare hands go to the tanks and are ready to fight for their land, for their country.
“The spirit of Ukrainians is strong.. Many of my acquaintances went to the territorial defence of Odessa and they understand that it could cost them their lives. My family and I are determined to fight if necessary, we have Molotov cocktails ready.”
Ukraine is being made to suffer for the imperialist games of both Russia and Nato. And the basis of a peace process should be the withdrawal of both powers’ expansionist intentions. If there is one actor capable of achieving such an outcome, it is the people of Ukraine.
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