Dmytro Bulakh awoke early Thursday morning to the sound of explosions.
The pastor of Grace Church, located in Kyiv, Ukraine, went outside his home to find Ukrainian military forces disabling a Russian rocket that had fallen outside an apartment building near his home. Bulakh communicated to 1819 News through online messages.
“Right now, we hear war sounds,’’ Bulakh said. “Gunfire on the northern part of Ukraine, close to my home, war airplanes, cannons all around. But God is good. We still have food, electricity.”
Ukrainian officials reported that Russia had attacked the country on multiple fronts along the country’s frontiers, as armored tank columns pushed forward and airstrikes hit dozens of cities. Airborne troops landed at a military airfield on the outskirts of Kyiv, the capital.
Like the rest of the world, people in Alabama are watching closely – none more so than those who have friends in Ukraine who are currently communicating with them about what they are seeing.
Ronnie Dixon, of Pinson, helped start Grace Church with Christian Light Ministries. He has become close with Bulakh.
"We have to give it to God," said Dixon. "It's got to be in His hands. All we can do is pray for it. We have to pray for the people of Ukraine because I don't believe our national leaders care enough about the people."
Others, including retired veterans of the U.S. military, have heavy hearts, knowing what could be in the cards for the people of Ukraine.
According to Bulakh, the church is now being used as a shelter for those terrified of possible airstrikes.
“We have enough water and food, also still have heat,” said Bulakh. “Hope it will be enough to survive this night.”
The United States announced new sanctions on Russia amid the full-scale war. President Joe Biden said these sanctions will impact Russia’s economy. After speaking with G7 leaders Thursday morning, Biden said leaders agreed to limit Russia’s ability to do business with their currencies and that the U.S. has cut off Russia’s largest bank from its financial system.
“Every asset they have in America will be frozen,” said Biden. “This includes VTV, the second-largest bank in Russia, which has $250 billion in assets.”
While world leaders attempt to cripple Russia’s economy to stop cash flow into its military forces, people on the ground in Ukraine are dying and being taken prisoner.
Dixon said the focus should be on these people and what they are dealing with. The people of Ukraine are vowing to stand strong for their freedom as Russia continues its invasion of the country. Dixon said he wishes he was there to help because he knows the people of Ukraine will fight back and that it could become deadly for them.
“They’ve had 30 years of freedom almost,” said Dixon. “And they’re not going back. They’ll go back only under force. There’s been probably 10 or 12 years where through the black market the regular people have been able to arm themselves, so it’s going to be a bloodbath...To me, the big picture isn't the politics of it all, it's the people. At some point, they'll be slaughtered if Russia doesn't back off because I truly believe they will fight."
He said he tried to talk his friend into coming to the U.S. about a month ago, but Bulakh said he couldn’t leave his church.
“The people on the ground who have learned to live their life in freedom are just forgotten by both governments,” Dixon said. “Ukraine Army is not fighting for those individuals, they are fighting to protect ... the president, or whatever. They’re not fighting to protect the everyday person.”
Those “everyday people” are who Dixon hopes people are thinking about and praying for. He said when he spoke to Bulakh early Thursday, Bulakh was unable to be with his four daughters. Bulakh told 1819 News he was only with his youngest daughter. Of his other three, one was out of Ukraine, another was with her husband, and the fourth, a pediatrician, was having to work in downtown Kyiv.
During a press conference Thursday, Biden said he is confident that sanctions on Russia will be as devastating as the missiles and tanks with which Russia is invading Ukraine.
“We’ll so weaken his [Russian President Vladimir Putin] country that he’ll have to make a very, very difficult choice on whether to continue toward being a second-rate power or in fact, respond,” Biden said.
NATO will conduct a summit Friday to discuss the situation in Ukraine and to plan the next steps to be taken, but Biden said sending troops into Ukraine is off the table for the U.S.
“Our forces are not and will not be engaged in the conflict with Russia in Ukraine,” said Biden. “Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine but to defend our NATO allies and reassure those allies in the east.”
The Pentagon said it has been repositioning troops in Europe for weeks, in a defensive manner. Altogether, there are about 40,000 NATO troops ready to respond when needed.
“The United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power,” Biden said. “And the good news is, NATO is more united and more determined than ever.”
Biden said his administration will use tools to closely monitor energy supplies and keep prices at the gas pump down as much as possible.
“I know this is hard and Americans are already hurting,” said Biden. “I will do everything in my power to limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump.”
But the pain for veterans who have participated in missions in Ukraine and other regions is as deep or deeper than Americans trying to buy gas. Tony Berenotto, the Commander of American Legion SSG Michael W Hosey Post 205, in Clay/Trussville, said he once flew generals into Ukraine.
“The thoughts amongst myself and other military officers at the time was that it was great that we were creating these relationships with Ukraine and it was kind of cool to fly to Kyiv,” Berenotto said.
His memory of a more simple time in Ukraine, when you could fly back and forth with no real concern for safety, is now fading with the thoughts of what is happening there and why.
“In leadership, there is a weakness and a lack of understanding of the way that things work in the world,” Berenotto said. “So, why did we even do that? Why aren’t we sticking up for these people? We didn’t send them anything sophisticated, we didn’t send them anything that would have discouraged this invasion. We just didn’t do enough.”
Berenotto is concerned about the perception other countries have about the U.S.
“I don’t think we should be absolutely in everybody’s business, without a doubt. But I do feel like so many others, dejected,” Berenotto said. “The weaker administration has more or less broadcast that they’re willing to let these dictators do what they want and we won’t do anything about it.”
While Putin has declared a “special military operation” is underway in Ukraine, impacts include the takeover of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, an airport near Kyiv, a Ukrainian military plane downed, and attacks in at least 10 regions. U.S. defense officials are calling the operation a “large-scale invasion.”