Irena Colon woke up on Thursday morning to her apartment’s windows shaking from bombs going off in Kyiv and a call from her father, who simply said, “The war has started.”
“I basically had a massive panic attack, because you think that it’s all over, you think you’re going to be dead,” Irena told WHD News Digital on Monday.
She and her husband, Joel, quickly packed up their two cats and a few belongings to head to her hometown on the outskirts of Kyiv, where they’ve been able to stay safe in a house with a basement.
“We just said, ‘Okay, it’s time to get out,'” Irena said. “Usually the trip takes us 40 minutes, and it took us three hours because there were massive lines everywhere.”
“There were planes and cruise missiles flying overhead all morning,” Irena’s husband, Joel, told WHD News Digital. “We woke up to explosions at around five something.”
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The couple, who serve as missionaries through One Challenge, got married in 2008 after Joel moved to Ukraine in 2005.
“Ukraine today and Ukraine 10 years ago or 20 years ago, are two different nations,” Joel said. “Ukrainians today, they understand what is at stake here, and they are literally prepared to die on this mountain. It doesn’t matter what it takes.”
Irena agreed, saying that Ukrainians have put up with a lot from their northern neighbor over the years, which has inspired them to mount a staunch resistance to Putin’s latest campaign.
“Ukrainians are very resilient… very patriotic,” Irena said. “Historically, we’ve always been attacked, and someone always wanted a piece of us, especially Russia. And when it comes to Russian conflicts, we are very proud.”
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Joe and Irena are now helping organize aid for refugees through a network of churches, providing shelter, food, and basic supplies to those in need.
“Because no one is working, people don’t even have bread,” Irena said. “One of the hardest things right now is getting it to them, because if someone drives there, it’s very dangerous.”
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered the fifth day on Monday, a miles-long convoy of armored vehicles, tanks, and other combat vehicles was about 17 miles outside of Kyiv.
Fighting also continued in other parts of the country as Russian forces attempted to take Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.
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The Kremlin has already deployed about 75% of its assembled combat power, but Ukrainian fighters have been “very creative” with their tactics and show no signs of relenting, a senior U.S. defense official said Monday.
“They’re using pretty much everything that they have in their arsenal from small arms all the way up to surface-to-air missiles,” the defense official said.