Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a large-scale attack on Ukraine on February 24th, 2022. As the Russian military continues to rip through Ukraine, people from around the world are joining in protest against the violence. Sunday, February 27th, a group of around 100 demonstrators gathered at Chiang Mai’s Tha Pae Gate to unite against the blossoming war. They called the event Stop The War In Ukraine. Protestors waved anti-war signs, sung songs and gave personal speeches that denounced the war abroad. Citylife caught up with one of the young Ukrainian event organizers to ask a few questions.
Who are you?
My name is Mikhail Khokhlovych. I am an English teacher and I work online with Ukrainian students and right now I am out of a job. I came to Thailand right before COVID. I actually live in Pai but we just came here because the Russian consulate is here. I am 27 years old and from Ukraine.
What organisation are you here demonstrating with?
I am not with an organisation. There are some kids here from Chiang Mai University. This is not an organisation affiliated meeting. This is just a bunch of Ukrainians and people who care about Ukraine getting together. I made a Facebook post and another organiser posted on Reddit as well as created a wonderful poster and I think we’ve had an amazing turnout. I think it’s in large part due to the fact that this is an issue that resonates in Thailand.
Why are you at Tha Pae Gate demonstrating?
February 24th Russia launched an all-out invasion on Ukraine. Ukraine did nothing to hurt Russian people. There was not a single Ukrainian soldier on Russian soil. This was entirely unprovoked. They started shelling people, shelling cities, firing missiles at cities and attacking Ukraine at every side of the border. It’s horrible.
What is your goal today?
My goal today as a Ukrainian is to do something about this. It’s excruciatingly painful to observe these events from the outside and feel like you can do nothing. The reason I feel like I’m doing something is because this will show Ukrainians back home that there is support. My friends are running to and from bomb shelters several times a day and spending the night underground in the metro. Kyiv is being hit extremely hard right now and seeing that the world cares and there is support makes it a little more bearable for those abroad and gives people hope that this will end.
How did you hear about Russia’s attack on Ukraine?
I woke up at 9am in Pai feeling very rested and started reading the news that Russia had proclaimed that they are launching an invasion. And I think for a good two or three hours I tried to wake up my father living in Ukraine and he was asleep. It was a horrible time. He then woke up and we realised it was happening and Russian tanks rolled across the border. I started calling everyone. They started hitting cities everywhere. Not just in the east where there was fighting before but in the capital Kyiv and my hometown of Dnipro; sheer panic. But it turns out Russians are demoralised. They don’t know what they are doing. They sent a bunch of kids to fight us. Ukrainians are very motivated. How could you not? We’re protecting our land. I want to stress that Russia has committed lots of war crimes already. So far they have hit civilian buildings, taken out massive chunks. They have killed 200 civilians including 3 children. They have attacked hospitals, kindergartens, ambulances.
What do you think of Ukraine’s response to the attack?
I think Ukraine’s response has been better than anyone in the world could have imagined. It’s a typical David vs. Goliath story. On the one hand we have Russia, a self-proclaimed super power that spends an outrageous chunk of its budget on the military instead of helping its own people rise out of poverty. On the other hand we have the poorest state in Europe. We have the Russian president who is a 69 year old sociopath who likes to give hour long lectures on history in front of his cronies and we have the President of Ukraine who is a Russian speaking Ukrainian Jew in his 40s who was a comedian before he became a politician and who’s probably the bravest man in the world right now.
What do you think of the world’s response to the war so far?
Ukraine has received lots of weapons, humanitarian aid and money. Sanctions have hit Russia pretty hard. We are about to disconnect them from the SWIFT payment system. Russian banks have been targeted. The EU froze the Russian central bank assets. But until the war is over, nothing is enough. We must do everything in our power to stop this immediately. A good way would be to declare the sky over Ukraine a no-fly-zone so that Russia can no longer fly their helicopters and planes into our territory. I also think it’s important for private businesses to stand up, not only the government. Helping this (Russian) government do anything at all other than suffocate is a crime. We have to make sure that they choke on their own lust for power.
Is Thailand doing anything for Ukrainians that are living in the Kingdom?
I’m really grateful to the Thai government for allowing Ukrainians to stay longer. We can apply for a letter at the embassy that says we can stay. It is wonderful that the Thai government is doing this and not kicking people out. My visa ends on March 21st but I hope that we will be able to return home to a peaceful Ukraine.
How is your Ukrainian family doing now?
My father is a nice Jewish man and he speaks Russian. I think he is optimistic. He and his friends are making Molotov cocktails and he said they made a bomb shelter that is actually comfortable. He said they are trying to do their best. I really hope it doesn’t come to using the bomb shelters. If Russian tanks roll in they will face fierce resistance from literally everybody in the city.
Are you worried for your family that is living in Ukraine?
I don’t feel like worrying is constructive in this situation. For anyone involved. In the state of war we have to act and not panic and I have to assume my family is going to be fine forever. The real situation is that they are in the city of Dnipro, central Ukraine and it is difficult to leave because of the insane traffic on all the roads. There is martial law in the country and you aren’t allowed to travel past 10PM. Getting out of the city is as perilous as it is to stay in.
How can other people get involved?
School is canceled in Ukraine for at least 2 weeks. Children are, best case, very bored and they don’t have access to education. What I want to do is get teachers from places outside of Ukraine to teach kids English or any other subject. So if you are a teacher who feels like they can handle some kids via Zoom and have the experience and skills necessary please reach out and I’ll be happy to talk to you at any point. We can do an interview. If we give kids something to keep them occupied and give them human contact and show them the world cares then I feel like that is wonderful and that is the best thing that I can do from here.
What would you like to say to the people of Ukraine?
They are experiencing something that I could never experience and in a way I feel guilty for being here and being safe while they’re out there but I tell myself that I will do everything that I can here to help people. When we think of war we mostly think about destruction and pain but in a lot of ways war is about love and caring and protecting people. Right now we are seeing insane levels of grassroots cooperation in Ukraine. People are actually caring about each other doing what they can for each other. I think with compassion, love and power we can win this. Putin has launched an assault on life. We want to counter that with living and bringing joy and bringing hope.
Lastly, what would you like to say to Vladimir Putin?
Putin! (speaking in Russian expletives)… I’d throw a shoe at him.
As Mikhail laughed at Citylife’s last question he began taking questions from other demonstrators in the crowd. Mikhail plans to do more in the coming days as the war continues; Especially in the education of Ukrainian children. He can be contacted at his Facebook address below for more information on helping Ukrainian students in need.