For anyone following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s impossible not to notice the recent ramp-up of devastation and civilian atrocities. For Ukrainians living in the United States, it has been especially terrifying to watch their country destroyed, friends and relatives killed.
One local Ukrainian is trying to educate Americans about Russia’s history of aggression while staying in touch with his own family still in Ukraine.
As an employee of Harvard‘s Ukrainian Research Institute, Oleh Kotsyuba had been closely following the build up to the invasion. Now six weeks in, it’s playing out even worse than he feared.
"It has been very difficult to function," Kotsyuba said.
He is finding it difficult to sleep these days, feeling anxious and concerned about his friends and relatives back home in Ukraine.
"We are all checking the news, you know, on an hourly basis now to see, OK, which area has been hit?," he said.
On Sunday, his birthday, Kotsyuba watched in horror as mass atrocities in Bucha played out on television.
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"I keep imagining here, you know, walking on the street and seeing bodies lying on the street and just that kind of reaction that I would have. That’s precisely what people are living through in Ukraine right now," he shared.
Even more frightening for Kotsyuba is the fear that the worst of the civilian atrocities may be yet to come.
"I think now we are all realizing that this is irrational hatred against Ukrainians, against everything that is Ukrainian," he said. "And that it really is going to be a genocide if we don’t stop this now."
Kotsyuba says Ukraine has gotten little attention over the decades, but that knowing the history opens a window into Russian Imperialism -- the political regime Vladimir Putin wants to bring to the rest of the world.
"The most striking to me is that the western response has been very tepid and very reluctant," he revealed, "to put it mildly."
When asked if he understands the predicament the U.S. is in, in terms of trying to figure out how not to start World War III, Kotsyuba replied, "I think that dilemma is real. At the same time I think that we are deluding ourselves if we believe that World War III hasn’t started yet."
"We are already living in World War III," he added.
Despite efforts by the Biden Administration to keep the west out of the conflict, Kotsyuba says the west is already deeply involved.
"Because the west is the primary target for Russia. Russia is trying to destroy the foundations of a democratic society," he said. "Ukraine is just the first and the easiest step right now for Russia."
If he could see Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in person, Kotsyuba said he would congratulate him "on his evolution as a human being and as a president."
And he would also tell him to keep fighting -- not to give up.