Nataliya Williams silently paused when asked about her home country thousands of miles away from Quesnel where the sound of shelling and explosions can be heard daily.
“My thoughts are with my family and with my nation,” the Ukrainian-Canadian finally said.
“It’s not a crisis anymore — it’s a war. Unfortunately, Russian people were poisoned by propaganda for so many years.”
Williams has slept poorly and eaten little over the past week as she searches for the latest news on the Russia-Ukraine war and awaits an opportune time to connect with family.
Her daughter, granddaughter and older sister arrived in Poland on Monday, Feb. 28, after a 72-hour journey on a packed train with Russian planes flying overhead. Williams said they witnessed many ‘terrible’ things.
This was not the first time they had to make a hasty escape.
Several years ago, Williams’ family had fled their hometown near Donetsk, a southeastern city where Russia-backed separatists declared independence from Kyiv.
It’s in one of two rebel-controlled territories known as ‘Donetsk People’s Republic” and the “Luhansk People’s Republic” located in the Donbas region where Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces have clashed since 2014.
After their first escape, Williams said they lived with other relatives in Western Ukraine for a short time.
“They came back again to the Donetsk region, and they started to work and build their new life on the Ukrainian side reactively close to the occupied territory because they had hopes one day everything would be something better,” she said.
“Unfortunately, on Feb. 24, when all Ukraine slept, Russia attacked.”
Williams likens Russian Vladimir Putin, whom she calls “Putler,” to German dictator Adolf Hitler.
Over recent phone calls or messages shared over the internet, she said she has to tell her daughter to rethink leaving her granddaughter with her sister in Poland to return to the Ukraine, where her husband has signed up to join the Ukrainian forces.
“For my beautiful little granddaughter, it’s horrible,” Williams said.
“It’s the second time her life was again crushed completely.”
While Ukrainians fight for freedom, Williams believes Russians are not ready to do the same as just a few thousand out of a population of more than 140 million have been arrested on Russian streets for anti-war protests.
“My heart is crying,” she said.
“I do not have any more tears to cry. It’s understandable for everyone how it is hard to see our beautiful country destroyed, it’s understandable how painful for every person to know that victims of this war, not only Ukrainian soldiers who knew that they would give up their lives but little kids.”
Williams has lived in Quesnel since September 2009. She hopes others might help her sell her handmade jewelry, which she said she would donate the proceeds of to charity.
As her home country continues to fend off Russian assaults, Williams said Ukrainians are fighting for not only their own freedom but the freedom for all of Europe in a war that can only be described as genocide.
“If you think ‘Putler’ will walk all over Ukraine and speak, no and never,” she said.
“I hope it will show Canadians what freedom does in real life and how we have to fight for it because sometimes in Canada people have this freedom, and they don’t appreciate it enough.”