I AM British but also I am Ukrainian.
I was born in Khahovka in the south of Ukraine but now, like 18,000 others from my country, I call Britain home.
But while we are home here, we are also in hell.
In the 48 hours before I write this I have been awake for 40 of them, glued to social media and fielding messages and calls from friends and family.
The horror unfolding in real time. I send a voice message to my brother and nephew, who are both in Kyiv, and hope to receive a voice message back.
The wait for that text is agony. The reply – when it comes – is more pain.
War has arrived.
I have been trying to be calm and stoic for my family but today I feel broken.
How can this be real life?
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I am trying to stay active, giving interviews, posting messages of support online, protesting outside Downing Street.
Yet every time I open my mouth to tell people here in the UK about my family in Ukraine, I have an out of body experience.
Only last September my British husband, my two children and I flew into Kyiv, a trip I have made so many times since I moved to Britain aged 18.
We get into a rickety sleeper train and travel 12 hours through rolling yellow fields – not unlike Yorkshire in June – to the city of Kherson in the South of Ukraine.
Then, as always, I am greeted by my dad’s excited face and we drive an hour to my home in Kakhovka, past the dam and the hydro electro station and the picturesque water with its green little islands where small boys sell crayfish by the side of the road.
Mum and dad refuse to budge
Yesterday, I woke up to news that Kyiv has been bombed again and that Putin’s army has arrived in my hometown and stuck a Russian flag onto the hydro electro station before the tanks rolled through to the front line in Kherson.
Now pause for a second. Substitute Kyiv with London. Kherson with Birmingham or Manchester and Kakhovka with Billericay or Worksop or wherever you have friends and family. Now imagine this happening there.
My parents are still in Kakhovka. They have UK visas and could have easily been here with me and their beloved grandchildren – they were here for three weeks just last month.
But they said they needed to be home and they are staying home despite the looming and now actual disaster. My dad said he won’t budge. My mum joked she would defend herself with a cast iron frying pan if need be.
Unless their house actually gets bombed, they will not flee. Why should they!? It’s their land, their home.
My mum said the most heart-breaking, selfless ‘mum thing’ last night. “We are happy because we are at home, we are alive and we can still talk to you. But you have two children and they need you, don’t worry about us.”
Can you imagine your mum saying this to you as war and terror descended on their hometown?
'We are in a terrifying global event'
I am sorry for asking you to think like this. But it is important that all of us here in the safety of Britain understand. Perhaps it will help everyone to do something.
Because while it may feel like a distant war that you cannot possibly have any control over it is right on our doorstep.
Look at the map. How big and how close is Ukraine? It is in Europe. It’s just on the other side of Poland. And it’s bigger than France. And it’s now full of tanks and ballistic missiles. Just like that.
We have all just come through one of the most extraordinary periods in modern history with Covid and all the fear and anxiety that brought – things we are still processing. Our lives have changed. And we are tired.
Now we find ourselves in another terrifying global event.
But we must all find the strength to fight in whatever way we can.
There are things you can do. Come with us to protests. Donate to causes that will help. Lobby your MP to make sure the pressure is on for real sanctions that will bite. Make your voice heard.
This is only the beginning. And it will get much worse before it gets better.
But we must all remember what is at stake here. We must not start to think of this war in abstract terms, in terms of territories or weapons or headlines.
A terrorist dictator’s tanks are casually rolling through towns, countryside and cities while his bombers whizz over people’s heads.
People like me. And people like you.
*Olia Hercules is a chef and cookery writer
How you can help the people of Ukraine
THE British Red Cross has launched an emergency fundraising appeal for the Ukraine.
Aid workers are assisting with clean water, healthcare and support.
And the charity told they are already responding to severe water shortages after intensified fighting left water stations and pipelines out of order.
To donate www.redcross.org.uk/ukraine 0300 023 0820
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