UPDATE: On March 6, 2022, Maryna finally sent a message that she and her 8-year-old daughter had successfully escaped Ukraine and crossed into Poland. She told me that she hopes to eventually get to Spain.
DALLAS - A former colleague called frantically to tell me that she has a friend in Ukraine who is willing to speak to an American journalist.
But I had to call quickly, I was told. WiFi there could be cut off by the Russians at any time.
After fumbling through WhatsApp, I finally connected with the Ukrainian woman I'd been set up with. I spent the next half hour getting a ground-level view of what life is like for her and her neighbors as Russia invades her home country.
You can hear her, in her own words, in a special episode of our Y’all-itics podcast that we dropped Thursday night.
The Ukrainian woman is Maryna. It’s pronounced like Marina. She is 41 and currently teaches language at a private school in Ukraine.
So much of what we see about the Russian invasion details military movements, high-level political talks or new sanctions being imposed. But the human cost of the invasion is an angle that is rarely seen.
“I think it will be a sleepless night for all Ukrainians,” Maryna said.
She lives outside Kyiv, the capital city, along with her daughter Solomia – an 8-year-old who is already posing difficult questions.
Said Maryna: “She always asks me ‘Mom, if Russians come to our city, will they kill all children... because we are Ukrainian and we’re speaking Ukrainian? Why are they so angry at us? She asked if it’s OK if [she] can try to kill some Russians, too.”
Only in self-defense is what Maryna, a faithful Catholic, responded to her third-grader.
Maryna said we could use their names and images since they are not soldiers. But we are not sharing their last name or location in the country.
When Russia invaded, Solomia’s school shifted to virtual school via Zoom.
Together, the mom and daughter have about a week’s worth of food and supplies stocked up.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s land grab, Maryna predicted, will not stop with just her country.
"Putin, he is a crazy man," Maryna said. "He’s a maniac. He’ll never stop after Ukraine. After Ukraine will be Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and other countries."
I asked Maryna is she has a rifle or a firearm.
No, she said. Only a knife.
Still, she said she is not afraid. If she panics, she explained, she’ll be useless.
Maryna was a pharmacist before getting into education. If needed, she said she could concoct homemade bombs using chemicals to help defend her community.
Maryna and her daughter are proud scouts. Maryna took a first aid course in the last few weeks and is prepared to help her countrymen who get injured in any fighting.
She said it might have been a mistake not to try to evacuate ahead of the fighting, but it's too late to go anywhere now. Some roads are closed, she said. Others have traffic jams. The lines for fuel are long.
"I don’t know if my child will be safe tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," she told me before getting off the line. "I wish you to stay safe and sleep well and do not forget about us."
I plan to stay in touch with her as long as WiFi remains connected in Ukraine.