Ukrainian immigrant and artist Taras Kazikov thought his generation would be the first to be free from war and independent from the Soviet Union.
Kazikov was born in the Soviet Union, and although Ukraine has been independent since 1991, he and his family always feared discussing politics between the two countries. He says the Russia-Ukraine war has escalated rapidly since its inception in February of 2014.
“Now, each generation has its own nightmares,” Kazikov tells SFMN.
His family resides in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk in Western Ukraine, an area that was at first considered safe since it is far from the Russian border. But Taras’ hometown was unexpectedly attacked on the first day of the conflict, February 24, when a Russian missile hit the Ivano-Frankivsk International Airport because it was believed to house military aircraft, according to BBC News.
Every day since then, an air raid alarm has alerted people to find shelter, sometimes multiple times a day.
“At the beginning, everyone was forced to stay home,” says Kazikov, a current resident of Miami. “It’s similar to what happens in Florida during a hurricane, but in this case, it happened for weeks. This was when people started realizing that the war was far from over. In spite of all the alarms and bombings, they are supposed to live their regular lives.”
As the war spreads throughout his country, Kazikov finds it unbearable to watch the destruction from the outside. The 31-year old left Ukraine in 2016 after participating in the pro-democracy uprising known as the “Revolution of Dignity” in 2014.
Kazikov migrated to the United States to pursue a career as a graphic artist following his graduation from Lviv Polytechnic National University. But not a single day passes that he does not worry about his loved ones, especially those who have experienced decades of unrest in Ukraine.
Kazikov explains that he never expected to leave Ukraine, and his family does not plan to retreat, regardless of the state of the war. Many would rather stay in their home country than flee as refugees.
“To [Ukrainians], their land is everything,” he says. “If you saw how beautiful it is and how warm and open the people are, you would understand why they don’t want to leave.”
But he is determined to help the war effort as much as possible from the United States. The graphic artist has tried to help through volunteering, fundraising and fighting misinformation online.
“Misinformation is one of the trickiest parts of all of this,” he says. “Russia has spread a lot of propaganda around the world, and it has become hard to act against it because it’s well prepared,” he says. “I try – maybe not with the best English – but I try to explain to people that this is not just Putin and this is not just a regime right now. This is a mindset the government has had for decades.”
The Ukrainian immigrant believes his country is proof that democracy can work, posing a threat to the Russian government’s ideology. Because Russia is divided into a number of different republics, there is a possibility that each one could demand independence just as Ukraine did in the past.
He describes the subtle erasure of Ukrainian language since its independence in the 1990s.
Kazikov, however, hopes that efforts to help the Ukrainian people will not diminish. The U.S. has provided over $2.5 billion dollars thus far in military assistance, according to Reuters.
“Any kind of military, financial or humanitarian help from the United States will push Russia to more aggressive action,” Kasikov suggests.“We always feel like we could be doing more, but I think the American government has tried to provide a lot of help. We understand that unfortunately, we are not a member of NATO, and so there is no one with direct responsibility to help us. This is the reality.”