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Texas Ukranians seek information, ways to help family but refuse to succumb to Putin’s ‘politics of fear’

Supporters of Ukraine stand behind signs that say "we defend freedom," stand with Ukraine" and "thank you friends."
Patricia Lim
Protesters gather at the Texas Capitol after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

From Texas Standard:

Dozens of protestors gathered at the Texas Capitol grounds on Thursday, carrying Ukranian flags and holding signs condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They joined in chants such as “stand for freedom, support Ukraine.”

Many of those gathered were Ukranians with family and friends still living there -- including Oksana Lutsyshana. Lutsyshana is an Assistant Professor of Practice at the University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian studies.

She told Texas Standard Ukranians are familiar with war and the threat of it.

“It's kind of like we have this memory of WWII still in our bodies because we had the war on our territory,” Lutsyshana said. “So it's like from early childhood, you know, you just kind of like live in this like, ‘Oh my god, what if war happens?’”

Listen to the interview in the player above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.

Texas Standard: This must be a difficult period for you. How are you doing?

Oksana Lutsyshana: Well, I'm trying to stay busy and to actually do something that might be potentially useful for Ukraine in the long run and in the short run.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you're trying to do that? I presume you've been trying to get in touch with friends and family back in Ukraine?

Yes, actually. And since information that circulates always needs verification and there's so many things going on at the same time, it actually takes a while to distill what is it that we should be doing right now.

So, for example, my friends in Ukraine just suggested that it is a possibility that there will be power outages, which means that telephones may not be working. So it's good to have some ways to communicate with families we would agree upon in advance using somebody's landline and stuff like that. Then the other thing is informing people about what's going on, and also rallying and supporting each other.

Tell us a little bit about what you heard when it comes to what's going on. Because, obviously, the Russians and the Russian news media are controlling many of the images that we're seeing, right?

Well, the thing is that this war has started eight years ago and technically 300 years ago, so it's just another installment of it. And it's not like it's a complete surprise. We’ve had Russian troops at our door for a long time now. So of course we are still shocked. A lot of people who do analysis of such situations were still hoping that it would not come to this. And I have to say that I do have faith in the Ukrainian army because in the last eight years, there's a lot of growth that's it underwent.

Are people hiding out in basements? Are they trying to live life as normal? What do you do in a situation like this?

Well, it's been announced a while back that people should have like a bag with all the necessities and documents and stuff like that – medicine. So people have been collecting it for a while. And now the government announced that people should not turn on the lights because if there are some bombardments, the lights, of course, would kind of give you away. And I guess it depends on where you are in Ukraine.

I just saw pictures from the Kharkiv metro. And yes, people are hiding from possible bombardments. And yet, in western Ukraine, this is not happening yet. God forbid, maybe it will not be the case. We don't know. Because they did bomb the airport in a western Ukrainian town.

So it's kind of like we have this memory of World War II still in our bodies because we had the war on our territory. So it's like from early childhood, you just kind of live like, “Oh my god, what if war happens?” So our grandmas would always have some strategic bunch of general salt and some canned food. And actually, I think Americans can relate because some grandparents of people, great grandparents, during the Great Depression were stocking up on things.

And during the Cold War, of course, with fallout shelters.

Oh, yes, of course. Yes. And the bomb shelters. And you know that it's going to be a problem to get gas soon. So people are trying to stock up on that.

Where are your friends and family -- are they in the western portion or are they in Kyiv?

Well, I have friends all over Ukraine, but my immediate family is in western Ukraine, close to the western border and some more family in Lviv, which is also a western city. But I think the world is too small for so much power competitions.

Besides talking with people directly, is it hard for you to find what you consider to be trustworthy information about what's going on, where your friends and family are?

Yes. It's very easy to kind of give in to panic. This panicky feeling makes people post things on social media, or like start calling people and saying, “Everything is lost. Things are bad. Things are awful.”

I’ll give you an example. When the explosions started, it was an immediate wave of panic, of course, and people were like, “What's going on? Everything is destroyed.” And then it turned out in the morning that what actually was destroyed was some of the Russian planes because the Ukrainian army was fighting back. So you see, that's why it's important to know at least a few reliable sources and not to spread any disinformation.

And Russia's been known for its disinformation.

Yes, And part of it is actually to keep everybody in the state of fear so that people couldn't think straight.

Forgive me for making an observation here, professor, but you do not sound fearful for your country. You sound, if anything, rather defiant.

Well, I think I sound just like everybody else in Ukraine now. For the most part, the politics of fear that Putin has been trying to spread. It's very much something that is a desired outcome of such actions, that people will just be frightened. And I think that's just unproductive under the circumstances.

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.