Eine junge Frau steht neben einem Bagger und schaut in die Kamera Eine junge Frau steht neben einem Bagger und schaut in die Kamera
Ilona Kotovshchyk
Democracy and human rights

"I wish us peaceful skies"

A young woman hopes for a no-fly zone

Ilona Kotovshchyk studies religious studies in Kyiv. Now she makes camouflage nets and Molotov cocktails for the territorial defence in her home village. She says: "If we give up, there will be no Ukraine and no freedom." IJAB spoke to her about how war changes a generation.

10.03.2022 / Christian Herrmann

ijab.de: Ilona, you live in Sukholisy, a small village near the town of Bila Tserkva. The town was bombed a few days ago. How safe is it still in your village?

Ilona Kotovshchyk: I come from Bila Tserkva, which is my home town. It is about 25 km from the village where I live now and about 100 km south of Kyiv. It's war, so nowhere is really safe. But usually the Russian air force bombs the cities because that's where the factories and military bases are. Somehow this is also nothing new for me and many others my age. We have been at war since 2014, the war in the Donbas. I have known about the war since I was a child. The only new thing is that the war is no longer limited to one region and you have to expect bomb attacks everywhere. So it is no longer safe anywhere.

ijab.de: You volunteered for the territorial defence, I was told.

Ilona Kotovshchyk: Yes, that's right, but so far not for the military part of the territorial defence. Together with others I make camouflage nets and Molotov cocktails. There are quite a few people from the northern cities here and they all try to make themselves useful. If we are attacked here, I will be called up for territorial defence.

Children and young people have experienced terrible things

ijab.de: You once took part in a Service Civil International seminar on non-violent conflict management. Is that still of any use to you under these conditions?

Ilona Kotovshchyk: Yes, I remember this online seminar. I was studying in Mariupol at the time. I understood it not so much as a seminar on how to reduce conflicts between states, but more on a personal level. It actually helps me in my communication with children and young people. Many of them have experienced terrible things. Air raids, the so-called People's Republics. Right now we are waiting for a family to come through from Chernihiv, but the roads are mined. Such experiences traumatise children and young people and I can use my seminar knowledge to talk to them better.

ijab.de: What does this war mean for your generation?

Ilona Kotovshchyk: We know why this war is happening and why it was started. We know why Russia attacked. We know our history: the Holodomor [a famine deliberately brought about by Stalin in 1932 in which several million Ukrainians starved to death. Editor's note], the attempts to found the first Ukrainian state at the end of the First World War. We know what happened in the Second World War. We know what to do and we are defending our present and future. If we give up, there will be no more Ukraine and no more freedom. When the war is over, we will rebuild the country - and maybe better than before. Many of us have survivor syndrome - even those who study abroad. We think all the time about what we can do more and better. This has an impact on mental health.

"I don't want to become a refugee"

ijab.de: Have you thought about leaving the country?

Ilona Kotovshchyk: Yes, of course. I have the choice. But I don't want to become a refugee. My mother and father serve in the army. My grandparents are here, they can't even go to the air-raid shelter alone. They need me. My whole family is here.

ijab.de: What help is needed now?

Ilona Kotovshchyk: NATO must close the skies over Ukraine and establish a no-fly zone. It is war and I am a child of war. Refugees are now being taken in at the youth centres that exist in every major city. There are first aid courses. Camouflage nets and Molotov cocktails are being made. Only not in Chernihiv. The youth centre no longer exists. It was bombed away. Now there is nothing there. If the world wants to stop this from continuing, then we need the no-fly zone now.

ijab.de: It sounds somehow silly to wish you good luck now.

Ilona Kotovshchyk: When people here say goodbye, they wish each other peaceful skies. That's what I wish for all of us.

Ein junger Mann spricht in ein Mikrofon
About democracy and human rights

IJAB understands international youth work and youth policy cooperation as contributors towards a strong civil society, a democratic polity, and greater social justice.