Oleg Rubel and his family live in Odessa, Ukraine’s third-largest city, which is preparing for a possible assault by Russian forces. The Voice corresponded with Rubel by email from his home. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Anna Conkling: I can’t imagine what you are going through. Thank you so much for being willing to speak with me and sharing your story. You are a professor—at what school, and what do you teach?
Oleg Rubel: Here I was born and raised. I am a professor of public administration. Now I work in one of the Institutes of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. I am a scientist and I am engaged in the economics of nature management and sustainable development. And now, implementing the Green Course.
Where were you when Russia first invaded Ukraine, on February 24? Do you remember your feelings, or what you were doing at the time?
Yes, I woke up quite early at 5 o’clock with the thought: It happened. The attack on Ukraine did not come as a surprise to me. Because I have been studying this question for many years as a scientist. In 2005 I published the work “Does Ukraine Need NATO?” I wrote positively about the need to work on joining the Alliance.
What were the first signs of war that you saw? And what did you see in the first days of the war?
On the first day, explosions were heard in Odessa and there was an “air alarm.” The first thing I did was go to the blood donation point and donate blood. Every day the city changed, anti-tank constructions appeared. The city began to resemble 1941 in the Nazi invasion. We hear air raids every day.
Did you move somewhere to get out of the war zone?
Now I am not far from Odessa with my family. [The family home] in the city is very close to the airport and it is quite vulnerable. In Odessa every day they are waiting for a naval landing, but everyone is ready, and ready to fight to the last.
What do you experience every day? What things do you see, and what do you hear people say?
From the first days of the war, I was struck by the mood and willingness to defend my homeland [among] literally everyone. But sometimes, among the military, I feel like Pierre Bezukhov on the Borodino field [a scene from Tolstoy’s War and Peace]. The impressive strength of spirit of all those around me. People close to me went to serve in the territorial defense.
Are you between the ages where you have to stay and fight? If so, how do you feel about that?
I’m ready to join the ranks of the military forces of Ukraine.
Do you have children who will also stay and fight?
My children are quite young, 8 and 12, but they are also ready to defend themselves.
Do you hope to flee the country and look for refuge in Poland?
I do not consider such a possibility.
What would you like readers in New York to know about the war, and what Ukraine needs now?
Today, Ukraine is shielding the whole world from dictatorship and totalitarianism and despotism. In order to protect the Western democratic world from the invasion of the East, it is necessary to make every effort to support Ukraine. Raising aircraft and air defenses is quite an expensive step, but it is necessary to save civilization and Western democracy.
How did you feel watching President Zelenskyy become such an important part of this war? Did you vote for him?
Yes, I felt that President Zelenskyy had become the leader of the entire Ukrainian nation. We feel the plight of our people.
I did not support Zelenskyy in the election. I am a member of the European Solidarity Party and before the war, we were in opposition to his political party. This is democracy! But it is precisely for democracy that we are fighting. And Ukrainians give their lives on the front and in the rear, all as one show courage. And Zelenskyy heads the Nation!
Have you talked to any of your students who need to stay in the country? Are there support groups for them?
It’s hard for me to say about all the students, but my foreign graduate students from the Middle East are under attack, as we all are.
Do you personally want NATO to intervene? Do you want the West to send soldiers?
We need the maximum possible military assistance: aircraft, air defense, electronic warfare. We have enough specialists in all military specialties.
On the other hand, the real threat to nuclear facilities requires a closure of the skies over Ukraine as soon as possible. So we expect such a step from NATO!
How did the support of the whole world feel in Ukraine? Do people you know talk about how it feels to be supported?
This is great happiness. All my compatriots feel incredible support: technical, financial, information, military. We feel proud and uplifted that the world is with us! Ukrainians are a very freedom-loving and peaceful nation. But when the time came for trials, everyone became a warrior! We are very grateful to the world community for believing in and supporting Ukraine. And Ukraine does not give up! ❖
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