KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ukrainians are celebrating back-to-back national holidays this week while under the threat of Russian attacks that have been part of everyday life for six months. Flag day is August 23 and Independence Day follows on August 24.

Thirty-one years ago, Ukrainians declared their independence from the falling Soviet Union, marking the very piece of history that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to undo with his actions in eastern Europe.

“It is an emotional roller coaster,” said KU Professor of Slavic and Eurasian Languages & Literatures Dr. Vitaly Chernetsky. “Some days are better than others.”

His father has been in the port city and cultural hub of Odessa since before the attack and decided not to leave in the first few days of the fighting. Now, Chernetsky says some people who fled have returned and Odessa has endured some shelling but has stayed in Ukrainian control even while the Russians occupied and attacked other cities nearby.

He says the anti-tank defenses and barricades might be gone from Odessa’s streets, but its beaches are still off limits.

“You cannot swim in the sea because there is the danger of mines, so you can see the beach, but you cannot cross into it,” said Chernetsky.

While the war rages on, the United States announced Tuesday it would send $3 billion to Ukraine for weapons and training.

A few days earlier, Russian officials blamed Ukraine for killing a 29-year-old political commentator and daughter of one of Putin’s political advisors. Experts think it could be the excuse Russia would use to launch new, more devastating attacks on Ukraine.

Independence Day would be another meaningful date for the Russians to mark with violence because of how it’s become more popular in Ukraine recently. Chernetsky says it recently became more popular as Ukraine hit recent milestone, like 25- and 30-year anniversaries.

“This became a serious point of reflection and also a point of civic pride,” said Chernetsky. “A point of identification.”

Pride and identification are at the center of the fight in Ukraine because of how it’s at the center of why Putin invaded Crimea in 2014 and Ukraine in 2022.

“If you get carried away with metaphors this becomes a horrible zombie horror flick,” said Chernetsky. “Bringing back the not-quite-dead, undead Soviet Union. You think that over 30 years have passed, the world has moved on [but] there is this obsessive clinging to past ideas and distorted selective memory of that past.”

Instead, despite reports of Russians reinstalling Lenin statues in occupied parts of Ukraine, the people who are still there are flying Ukrainian flags proudly.

“There are all these little details of people rediscovering that pride,” said Chernetsky. “Various commemorative stamps that the Ukrainian Postal Service has been issuing, there are long lines at the post office to get them, [to say], ‘Yes, I got the stamp. I do have it.”

Stand With Ukraine KC and the Ukrainian Club of Kansas City are hosting a lecture and social hour at The National World War I Museum and Memorial Wednesday. You can find more information about that here.

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