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(Editor’s Note: Marina Suponina a former resident of the Ukraine and 1995 Opelousas Catholic High School graduate now living in England, has been communicating with relatives and friends from her home country since the war began six months ago. She has agreed to publish her letters in St. Landry Now. In this letter she has changed names to protect identities and possible reprisals  from Russians occupying Ukraine.).

Letter to Bruce and Bernie Gaudin

Dear Bruce and Bernie,

I was delighted to hear that Ukraine was on the agenda at the Rotary Convention in Houston. It must be. It is a disaster in (slow) motion and the world has to stand strong and support our fight for everyone’s freedoms. Goodness, we Ukrainians have to stand strong. It is an existential battle.

We now heard from most of mum’s friends in Mariupol.

Her friend Sveta, who escaped Mariupol to the occupied Berdyansk made it to the Ukrainian side – to Odessa, where her older son lives. She went through absolute hell: from surviving the siege and bombardment to going through filtration camps – where Russians check whether you are pro Russian enough. They do it with pleasure and vigour- checking people’s social media – if they said anything pro Ukrainian, their chats on their phones, they strip men naked to see if they have pro Ukrainian tattoos, they make people say that Ukraine is a Nazi state and they love Russia. Of course people say whatever they want to hear – hard to do it any other way – under the Russian guns. It serves many purposes – it humiliates people, it gives Russia “evidence” of “Ukrainian crimes” it also erases evidence. People delete all the photos of our ruined city, all the messages, everything.

Sveta escaped with her younger son and their cat! They took various “taxis” – people who drive other people out of the Russian occupied zone, for money of course, though some do it for free – like one my school friend Aleks*, who’s been taking people to safety since the middle of March. His efforts are funded by another friend of ours Viktor*. He, like me, lived in the US as an exchange student at the same time as I lived with you. He then went to a US university and stayed. He’s been fantastic helping people escape from Mariupol. Including his own brother, who now made it to the US.

Sveta, her son and their cat travelled for days. Had to sleep in the fields without being able to leave their car, while waiting for the “filtration” – they finally made it. She lost 20kg in weight and her spark for life. Her older son commented how she and his brother looked lifeless, emotionless.

One other friend Vera, who lost her son in 2018 and was all alone in the middle of this war is reported to be alive. We haven’t spoken to her and hear the news second hand. Hope her neighbours are

One of my school friends was killed in Mariupol, leaving a son who is only a couple of years older than my Lyova. Another one is too scared to leave. Her social media is full of pro Ukrainian content. She fears she won’t pass the filtration. She can’t delete her accounts, because she’s forgotten her passwords and won’t be able to recover them in a city with no electricity and iffy internet connection. A number of volunteers contact Facebook asking to freeze accounts of people in Mariupol, so they can pass the filtration. It is hard to do of course, privacy and all.

There is a threat of cholera in Mariupol, with water being contaminated by all the dead decomposing bodies in shallow graves and the lack of any water filtration facilities. Those were all bombed. But the Mariupol city sign, the one you see as you drive to Mariupol from Donetsk has been changed from Ukrainian to Russian and painted into Russian colours.

The fighting in the East is fierce and not going too well for the Ukrainians. There are talks of some of the American military equipment arriving. Everyone talks of the “three weeks from now”. I have been hearing this “three weeks from now” for weeks! We needed it all back in March! Putin is relentless and has no interest in stopping.

He’s now dropped his NATO, denazification, saving the Russian speaking population rhetoric , compared himself to Russian tzar and emperor Peter the Great and announced that this war is about “the return of Russian historic lands”.

As they invade, they wipe all the signs of Ukraine off: from street signs to school books. They want Ukraine with no Ukrainians. It hurts to watch.

My heart is breaking.

Here is the UK, there was a celebratory flight pass to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee last Friday. Tim and I excitedly ran to the windows to see the planes fly above our house. There were two fairly big ones, they were pretty noisy. I ran to look. And suddenly I broke down and cried.

They reminded me of Ukraine’s 30th Independence Day Celebrations on the 24st of August last year. Mum, Lyova and I were watching it live. Mum in Kyiv and Lyova and I live online from London. Mriya, the world’s biggest plane flew above Khreschatyk – Kyiv’s main street. It was so exciting! Lyova was so excited – he loves planes.

Mriya, which means the Dream was one of the first things Russians blew up when they attacked in February. It’s gone.

I cried and I cried. I don’t cry about the war too often. But I guess those British planes just got right to me.

You can see, that the war affects us all. I have to constantly manage my emotional wellbeing. Mum’s too. She feels it. told her how I cried when I saw the planes and she cried as well. She knew how I felt. She felt it herself.

*Names have been changed.

Lots of love, Marina x