You've read the news, you've heard all the rumblings about Ukraine and Russia, and we figured it was time to pipe in from our end. What is even going on around here????
In this episode I'm joined by Jed, my husband and co-founder of Wide Awake International. He's way smarter about all things politics, so rather than bumbling through things I decided to have him talk about it. We talk about some of the history leading up to the current threat of Russian aggression, how it feels to live here in Ukraine in this moment, and how we are planning and prepping for all kinds of different scenarios.
I hope this episode gives you a little perspective and eases the minds of our mothers. 😂 Enjoy!
The Kyiv Independent article: "Ukrainian Voices are Missing from the Drama Over Ukraine's Future"
Euromaidan Press (another source of Ukrainian news)
Netflix Documentary: Winter on Fire
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The vision of Wide Awake Int. is to bring hope, love, and dignity to people with disabilities in Ukraine. We are living that out by bringing our friends out of institutions and into family life.
Hi Friends, welcome to the Wide Awake International podcast. This is a place where we share stories of bringing hope, love and dignity to our friends with disabilities here in Ukraine. I'm Kim, and today, I'm joined by a very special guest. This is Jed, my husband, the other half of the founding of Wide Awake International. And I wanted him with me today because he's way smarter than me about all things political. And, yes, we had planned to share in our third episode, more of like the origin story in the beginning of our life here in Ukraine. But then we realized as more and more news came down the pipeline, and more and more people were checking in with frantic emails asking if we were safe, that we could no longer ignore the elephant on the border.Jed:
Bear on the border.Kim:
So today, we wanted to talk to you about what's going on here in Ukraine in regards to Russian aggression. We wanted to talk about what's actually happening and what led up to this point, how it's affecting our city or village, our Wide Awake community here. And what is our response and our plans, as best as we can plan in a time like this. And before we go any further, I just want to say a little disclaimer that we obviously are not Ukrainian. We're Americans, we have US passports. And so we will never try to pretend that we can fully understand the mind of Ukrainian people what it is to be a Ukrainian here in Ukraine right now. All we can talk to you about is the discussions we've had with our Ukrainian friends, and how it feels for us, being people in Ukraine that are committed to living here long term. Our boys are our family, and they're Ukrainian. And so we feel like we are deeply entrenched in this. We are deeply a part of this. But we can't ignore the fact that we're Americans. So we're just speaking from that perspective. So when we say what Ukrainians are thinking, or how they're feeling, this is just what people have told us, but we can better accurately speak to what we're feeling and thinking. So go for it Jed.Jed:
So we'll jump into a little bit of history here. We moved in 2013. And it was November 2013. A few weeks after we move a revolution started. Revolution of Dignity is what it became known as and it started with university students protesting when the President Yanukovych had turned back. His whole platform for running for election was a pro European platform. And he had turned towards Russia and shut down all the plans for unification with the European Union. And so students just started protesting in the center of Kyiv., in Independence Square. And "Maidan" is actually just "square", that's what it means. So students are protesting peacefully, peacefully, yeah, they were just holding signs, "Hey, we're for Europe", you know, and, but they just stayed. And they stayed all night and all day and more people kept coming and more people kept coming. On the 30th, the police, special forces for the President came in and were going to clear maidan, the reason they said was because they wanted to put up Christmas decorations, but they came in violently beating students and people went missing that night that I believe there's still some that haven't ever been found. But people were staying around the clock, there were rallies. After that, instead of shutting it down, protestors keep kept coming. And more people kept coming. And they just fill the square. They filled all of downtown and they took over office buildings. And it was it was really crazy to watch this while we were here at the time, we had just moved here we were watching and you could watch live feeds on a few different online news channels. And so people were putting live feed so I remember we'd put the kids to bed and then turn on the live feeds just to see what's going on. After that they began demanding that Yaukovych resign. People stayed around the clock, like I said, and every weekend there'd be a big gathering and sometimes it'd be up to 800,000 people all crammed in the center. I had gone a couple times over the the entire protest just to see what it was like it's very interesting early on it was had such a feeling of of excitement people like standing up for their rights and their freedom and what they wanted. Everybody was coming and making tea, bringing stuff to help each other and it was It was really, really neat to be there. But then it it really started to get violent people were getting hurt and disappearing. On February 20, there was an unprovoked attack. It was finally they were going to clear Maidan, they started shooting on the peaceful protesters. And I remember, I was watching these live feeds, and you're just watching all these people that you'd watched over the last three months. Like they're just being shot, and it's not a movie, it's actually happening. And so these people chose to put their bodies in the way of the rest of their Ukrainian brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and 101 were killed. They're called the heavenly 100. And it's just, it was so sad to see that.Kim:
And it was also crazy to think, Okay, we live in a country where the President's Special Forces are just shooting unarmed protesters. We're not in Kansas anymore.Jed:
Yeah, it was during that time that we developed an exit strategy. Like if, if the unrest continues and things continue to destabilize, like, what's our red line? And what will we do how do we get out? And at the time, you know, we didn't have a car or anything. It was just our family. We hadn't adopted Vlad yet.Kim:
It was like, why would we leave? We just got here? Yeah, we literally just got here.Jed:
Yeah. But we still had a plan. So on February 21, after that shooting, opposition leaders and Yanukovych came to an agreement that would de-escalate the crisis. The agreement was signed by foreign ministers of Poland, France and Germany. It called for new presidential elections. 10 months later, and a return to the 2004 constitution, limiting presidential power and a new amnesty law. The deal was presented to Maidan, the people that were protesting later that evening, and it was not well received, there were just boooohs. One young protester climbs over the fence that's kind of guarding the stage where all these politicians are. And he stands up, he grabs the microphone, and he threatens Yanukovych. He says, "Our brothers and sisters just died. If you're not out of office tomorrow, we're coming for you. You can tour his old house. And there was like, there's like a By 10am tomorrow morning you need to have resigned." And he just drops the mic and walks off stage. It was it was so powerful. The next morning, Yanukovych was gone. He had fled. And it was reported that he had with him taken some something like $32 billion in gold, and fled to Russia. It's like, it's like a James Bond movie or something. It was so crazy. zoo and... He had a zoo there. They just had to keep the animals alive.Kim:
So now people go there like to check it out. But I remember people like storming into his residence after he left and being like, "What?" like, just in shock that he was living like that. Crazy town.Jed:
Yeah, it was very crazy. In the aftermath of that Russian forces moved in, in eastern Ukraine, as well as in Crimea, which is if you don't understand the geography of Ukraine, it's this large peninsula at the bottom southern part of Ukraine, it's beautiful. There's mountains, it's it's all coastline in the Black Sea. And it's just a beautiful part of Ukraine. Russian forces without any flags or any sort of information, little green men, they call them green men, because they had no signage. They just moved in with lots of lots of military equipment. And, and just took over all of Crimea. And at the time, you know, Ukrainians military was in no position, their navy was in no position to defend themselves. At the time, every president, every new regime just depleted the military and tried to meet their own needs and just a very corrupt time. These are first 20 years of Ukrainian life. Since then. It's been a proxy war since 2014. And so our whole time here, all we've known is war. In that time since 2014 14,000, Ukrainians have been killed and 1.5 million have been internally displaced due to the war and land annexation. It's always been in the background for us. It's worsened the economy. It's put the country in a general state of unrest, but it's not necessarily part of our everyday life. For most people it's just there. That's what's always been happening. So while it's very interesting, and it's all in the news right now, in the West, this is just always been happening and it's kind of Like when the when the first frost sets in Russian troops come to the border. And that's been our normal for since we've been here.Kim:
Yeah, it's not like for Ukrainian people all of a sudden, oh, like Russia is at our borders. Because Ukraine has been at war with Russia for eight years. It's just that the rest of the world stop talking about inJed:
a lot of other things going on the world talk about,Kim:
I know, but for us, this is an important thing. And no one's talking about it until now. But yeah, that just gives you a bit of a context. Yes, this is really serious what's happening now, but, it didn't come out of nowhere.Jed:
As you know, in the news, you're all reading it. It's the only thing whenever you turn on the computer, there's estimated 100,000 troops that have been deployed in the borders of Ukraine. Russia has been moving military troops surface-to-air missiles into Belarus, for joint military exercises. And there's, you know, taking back Ukraine as part of restoring the Soviet Union. The difference between now and even back in November and some of the other to build ups is that it would be true build ups. But there wasn't the infrastructure coming and you weren't seeing a lot of the weapons that were coming to the border. And so the West, didn't really respond to that bluff. But the bluffs just got to get stronger now. And so now there's, there's weapons and even little details that that make it seem much more serious- contracts with medical mobile units, with Belarus for six months with another three month extension, infrastructure pieces like that, that sound a lot more like there's a plan in place. It's not crazy for Putin to think that, that he can do this, because he's already done it. He, him and his regime took Crimea, and they've been fighting a proxy battle in the East since 2014. And the West didn't do much. When that happened, there was there was none of the response that the West had promised with a nuclear disarmament and all that kind of stuff. When Ukraine gave up its nuclear warheads, you know, the West said that we would protect your borders and and that didn't happen. That promise didn't follow through. And so if the West didn't keep up with their promise before, why would they do it now? So it's not really crazy to think that he wouldn't do more.Kim:
So how is this affecting our city, our village? We live pretty close to a city, our kids go to school in the city. And I over the last couple of weeks have been getting these notifications from the Department of Education and from our city council that there have been these bomb threats. We're hearing that they evacuated the mall because of a bomb threat, they evacuated this store because of a bomb threat. Then there were bomb threats towards schools, preschools, like a lot of them. And I thought that was just our city. I was like, that's weird. And they all turned out to be fake. And then I learned that's actually been happening all over Ukraine. More than 3000 facilities have been threatened with a bomb over the last month, few last few weeks. And the Ukraine state service for emergency situation says, "Today, we can confidently state that the series of sham bomb threats is nothing but an element of hybrid aggression, and a pre planned information operation. The purpose of this information terrorism is to keep Ukrainians tense and instill insecurity, carrying it out not as a terrorist act, but as a possibility for it to happen. Therefore, the main point is to stay calm." Also a couple weeks ago, like 70, government websites were hacked, and people think that that was a Russian thing. So those things are happening in the city. But otherwise, like life here just goes on. You know, I don't think I have to tell you that life is different in Ukraine. But I have to tell you that life is different in Ukraine. It just takes a lot more to make everyday life happen. There are a lot of conveniences that have been introduced even in the last eight years that we've lived here, but it's still it's just, you know, government infrastructure stuff, nothing is set up to make life easier for you. That just isn't a part of life here. It just takes a lot to get through the days to make life happen. And so Ukrainian people can't just pause and sit in their homes and wonder what is Russia going to do? Everybody just has to keep on living their everyday life. So I think part of the, it seems that part of the Slavic mindset, as far as we've seen is like you can say whatever you want to say, but we'll believe you when you do something. And so for now, we can read the news and, and we can hear what might happen. But as long as nothing is actually happening, we just have to keep living our lives. And President Zelensky here, the Ukrainian president, he is really like been putting up the message to people don't panic, don't panic, Russia wants you to panic. And so I don't know, I think our moms might be panicking, but we're trying not to panic. It just at this point, Everybody I talked to, at least in our community, is not panicking. We're just living our lives and trying to be wise and trying to be prepared. And just kind of waiting to see what will happen. But we can't put life on hold, we have to keep living. It just feels like it's like normal Ukrainian life with a bit of an edge. Just, you know, we're preparing for, you know, trying to get more house parents into side A of the duplex, planning to take our team to the Black Sea, all together in the summertime, planning for our kids to finish the school year out strong, you know, making just our normal plans. But then in the back of our mind, we also have to have the plan of or Russia could invade and all of that that might go to pot like who knows. It's just always in the back of your mind. It's just always it's just always there an edge on life. We already know people from our church that are heading to Western Ukraine, just to wait it out already. On Friday, I sent out our newsletter and said, "Everything is fine. Like we're not worried." And then Saturday night, the pastor of church here called the Zoom meeting and was asking every single family like, what is your plan? What is your plan? Do you have a plan? I felt a lot better yesterday when I thought everybody was just ignoring this. But it is the time when you need to have a plan. You need to have a plan.Jed:
So what are we doing? When there was the first true build up, and it seemed serious back in November, we met with our team and we just started to formulate a plan. And, and at that point, it was phase one of our plan, which was everybody needs to get all their documents together. So we started with getting all our documents, copies of them photos of them, making sure that you know, they an international passport ready, if we need to move that was the first thing and keep them in one place. So they're all ready because sometimes doing documents can take a long time here. So that was the first thing. The next phase will be to actually have bags packed kind of at the ready if we need to leave, if it becomes unsafe here. While those things are in place, that kind of next step planning, we're making the homestead as self sustaining as possible. I had a five year plan for a lot of these things. We need to be self sustaining, should we lose electricity, or, you know, in the future, if we have people that are on oxygen or require more intensive ongoing medical care, we wanted to have some of those things in place if you lose heating or electricity- which we do, a lot. So yeah, we're we're needing to buy a few generators, just a few solar things, some solar panels and solar water heating, just to reduce the amount of energy needed to consume to, you know, keep the baths going. And when you have people that are in Pampers, that aren't able to control some of their bodily functions, it helps to keep them clean and safe. And that's also just, that's just normal life.Kim:
Anton loves his evening soak in the tub. Yeah. And if he can't have it, he gets pretty grumpy. So you know, we want to keep our boys' lives as steady as possible. I don't want to live without water or without electricity!Jed:
So emergencies happen. You got to plan for them. And so our emergency planning and prepping has taken a step up a bit. So yeah, we just want to have you know, enough electricity to be able to run the pumps for our wood boiler system, to charge the phone, keep a few lights on. Generators we can turn on when it's time to cook or time to run the bath for the big pumps to the wells. We're stocking up on gas and diesel. We bought medications for the next I think three months because sometimes you have to order from out of the country, whatever to get the kind of medications you need. And we're working to have a month's worth of non perishable food on hand. So I feel like we're living the life of a preppers.Kim:
You guys don't know that we have an underground bunker? Well, now you do know, we've got an underground bunker with flashlights...No, we don't actually haveone, but we should, that should be phase four!Jed:
Well, we have our cellar,Kim:
We do have a cellar, but it's scary, and it gets water inside of it. Yeah, when the water table goes up high, you get a little bit of water, and there's only room for like five people in there, and it's super dark.Jed:
Our plan is to stay. Because we can have everything we need. And sometimes going is actually more dangerous. And something to know about Ukrainians is when there's crisis, when there's challenges, Ukrainian cultures is to pull together and to help each other and, and knowing that about the culture gives me confidence. That should it become more difficult here, Ukraine, people are going to pull together and, and help each other. And, that's beautiful, something really beautiful about this culture. And so if that's the case, and we can be here safely, we can access food, and keep warm, and keep communication open. Those are really important. We have water because we've got wells and everything. And as long as we can keep those in place, we're gonna stay and keep a sense of normalcy for our guys. This is a therapeutic place for them to be. That's our current plan.Kim:
Yeah, it's no small thing to move our boys. Thinking about having to flee or something with our boys, I think that would be very, very, I mean, it's disruptive for anybody, but if you're dealing with people who who can't understand what's going on, it's a lot more disruptive. And when we think about, you know, leaving, or going west, we're not just thinking about our Johnson family and our home, our family is big. And we have all our boys. Plus, we have our team and, and several people in our team don't have like immediate family. This is their family. And then we have our moms with their sons with disabilities in the city. And then we have our boys at Romaniv. We can't just think of Jed, Kim, and our children, we have to think I mean, of course, we have to be wise and the boys keeping the boys and our children safe is our top priority. But we really don't have the luxury to just think small. We have a big, big, extended Wide Awake family. And we we have to be there for each other. It's a big decision to leave, we need to stay as long as we can.Jed:
And if we need to move, we have partners in Germany, Humedica, which is an emergency relief aid. NGO, they're amazing. We've worked with them for years, and my parents worked for them for 15 years in Kosovo. They're dear friends and partners and they're ready to help in whatever capacity they can. And then also a partner church in Germany, they said they're ready to receive us if we have to actually leave the country. But Ukraine is so big. You know, it's something to think about. It's like, there's so much border, there's so much land. It's not like the movies, war takes a long time.Kim:
I shared before in the other episodes of the podcast that our story is a story of saying yes to God. And one thing that I hadn't really gotten to yet but I plan to in future episodes, is one of the things that we've learned over the years is when you say yes to one thing you say no to the other thing. You can't say yes to everything. You have to make choices. And so when we said yes to bring our boys out of the institution, to becoming their legal guardians, we committed to them for life. And we said no to being able to pick up quickly and go because they're our family and they're Ukrainian, they're not going to be American. We say yes to our team- to loving our team and committing to them because they're also our family. Our boys are Ukrainian our team is Ukrainian and we're committed to being here with them. So I hope this gives you a little peace of mind, a little bit more understanding of what it's like to be here right now how we're preparing and planning. Mom, I hope you feel better after listening to this. So just we would appreciate it if you would pray for us. We We'll keep you updated in our emails. If you're not on our email list, you can go to Wideawakeinternational.org and sign up. I send out updates every Friday. And and we'll be sure to let you know if our situation here changes so that you'll know how to pray and how to help if we need it. If you would like to know more about the Euro Maidan Revolution of Dignity, there's an amazing documentary on Netflix called "Winter On Fire". It's really well done. I think it shows the heart of Ukrainian people. If you if you don't already love Ukraine, you'll fall in love with Ukraine after watching this documentary. And it'll make you want to cheer Ukraine on even harder. So thank you for all your love, all your support. Thank you for checking in. Thank you for letting us know that you're praying for us. It really is an encouragement to us when we hear from people that were in your thoughts and in your prayers. In times like this, it feels like we're very very far away from our former life. But there's nowhere else we'd rather be. So thank you for joining us on this journey.Jed:
Thanks for having me on the podcast.Kim:
Well, my first special guest special, you're very special. All right. Talk to you next time. Bye