Self

What It's Like To Watch Russia Invade Ukraine — As A Refugee Who Fled The Soviets With A Baby In My Arms

Photo: Courtesy Of The Author—
B&W photo of family of refugees fleeing Soviet invasion

As a Soviet refugee in America, it's truly devastating to watch the war erupt in Ukraine.

Fathers kiss their babies goodbye as they brush away tears and embrace their wives with one last hug before seeing them off to safety while staying behind to fight for their homeland's freedom. 

Echoes of Sunday, June 22, 1941, when my relatives in Minsk, Belarus, were awakened at 4am by loudspeakers booming through the empty streets, parks, and squares, announcing that German tanks had invaded Russian territory.

The pleasant, summer day promising to bathe the capital city in warm sunlight was plunged into darkness — chilling, petrifying darkness.

RELATED: 5 Vital Ways You Can Help The People Of Ukraine

This is what my family lived through as Soviet refugees.

And those like me who escaped the oppression of the Soviet, anti-Semitic regime to seek a life of dignity and freedom in America, witnessing the horrors of this assault is deeply personal and opens old wounds.

It pulls me back in time to pushing a stroller with my newborn son on a street in Minsk, Belarus, with a mob of angry, drunk neighbors chasing me, calling me "dirty Jew" and throwing rocks at me and the stroller.

We lived in constant terror of anti-Semitic pogroms and government persecution, counting the days until our immigration paperwork was approved and we were allowed to escape. 

It reminds me of my heroic grandparents, whom I grew up honoring and admiring my entire life.

My grandmother, a holocaust survivor, witnessed her two young boys suffocate in the gas chambers of the Minsk Ghetto, then managed to escape and join the Forest Resistance, a citizen army that fought the Nazi invaders.

And my courageous grandfather, who fought against Hitler’s army side by side with Belarusian and Ukrainian soldiers, lost his arm in battle and was awarded the highest medal of honor for his incredible bravery. 

RELATED: How Ukrainian Civilians Are Altering Road Signs & Making Homemade Weapons To Resist Russia’s Invasion

Newspaper clipping about the author's family

It reminds me of my parents-in-law, who were born and raised in Ukraine and were only 12 when Nazi tanks entered their cities.

And just like Ukrainian refugees today, their families were forced out of their homes, boarding trains hastily with just a handful of belongings, escaping the Nazi occupation.

Their train was bombed by the invaders, covering the pristine green and flowery fields alongside the tracks with gore and bloody human remains.

The author's parents in-law, Ukranian refugees from the Soviet invasion

Advertisement Need someone to talk to? Get support from a licensed therapist at BetterHelp. Sign up today and get 15% off!

I have a family relic — a pocket watch passed on to me by my father-in-law.

That silver watch was given to him for safekeeping by his father, who stayed behind with his older sons to fight the invaders.

It was in my father-in-law’s pocket, right by his heart, when their train was bombed and it saved his life by protecting him from the sharp debris of the explosion.

And now, watching Putin justify his invasion by using hateful Nazi slurs against the Jewish Ukrainian president, whose family fought the Nazis during World War II, is like sticking a knife into one of the most painful episodes in the history of the Russian people.

He's tarnishing the sacred memory of those who sacrificed their lives to thwart Hitler's evil.

But the strategic tactics of this delusional tyrant to manipulate, erode, suppress, subjugate and degrade his opponent in an effort to seize dominance and control have failed. The world is watching and seeing the truth. 

My heart bleeds for the Ukrainian people today, and for my cousin, who texts that she's hiding in a pre-war house with a bomb bunker in the city of Kharkiv.

We pray for their safety and for a miraculous resolution of this horrific war. 

The author's family, today

And yet, there's a powerful message for all of us.

While we admire and applaud the Ukrainian people's incredible bravery, may we never be victims of injustice, bullying, and oppression and stand up to these evils in our personal lives and in our communities.

And may we raise our voices for freedom, justice, and truth on behalf of ourselves and others, like the heroic people of Ukraine. 

RELATED: Why Neither America Nor Russia Are Innocent In The Ukraine Conflict — From A Socialist’s Perspective

Katherine Agranovich, Ph.D., is a medical hypnotherapist, holistic consultant, and author of Tales of My Large, Loud, Spiritual Family. As the founder of the Achieve Health Center, she helps people attain mental-emotional alignment and close the gap between where they are and where they want to be. 

Sign up for YourTango's free newsletter!