A Local’s Update: Letter from Ukraine

Lakebay resident Tom Bates volunteered to rescue animals in Ukraine in March after the Russian invasion. KP News has been publishing his updates since June.


I am in Kharkiv and have experienced three missile attacks that have shaken the house I’m in. This just happened 20 minutes ago. The widows are still intact, but the blackout drapes were blown in. I can’t tell you how terrifying it is. Indescribable. The Ukrainian family I’m staying with are visibly shaken. They have lost one home to an attack and survived. They fear for another. The Russians are committing atrocities against innocent civilians. That is truth. Terrorizing and traumatizing the civilians of Kharkiv. No military targets. Criminal.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve been here in the last four months. Nothing much has changed, except there are fewer people on the streets. The Russians continue to terrorize the civilians every night by indiscriminately firing missiles into neighborhoods, mostly on the east side of Kharkiv but not always. I do know that I have driven over 24,000 kilometers within Ukraine so far. No driving at night though. Curfews and blackouts are in force. The streets in Kharkiv are textured from tank tracks that make the tires sing.

Today we went to the demilitarized village of Tsyrkuny, just east of Kharkiv (14 miles south of Belarus). We have been here before. The Russians occupied it at the beginning of the conflict, but the Ukrainian military has liberated it. The Russians destroyed most of the village and have stolen whatever they could carry or drive off in. What buildings and homes remain don’t have water, gas, or electricity. Yet many villagers chose to stay to take care of their property, their animals and the animals left behind by the neighbors that fled. 

As we distribute humanitarian aid supplies, the Ukrainian artillery is firing from behind our location over our heads toward the Russian frontline. It is relentless. The villagers don’t flinch, and neither do we after a while. We are advised to park our vehicle under trees by the locals. Russian drones have been seen and will direct fire at anything that appears to be assisting Ukraine. Even humanitarian aid workers. Especially humanitarian aid workers. The Russians want to cause fear and confusion so foreigners will leave and abandon Ukraine. Sometimes they are successful; mostly not. 

It’s time to go meet our Ukrainian contacts that will get us through the checkpoints and into Tsyrkuny. There is always the chance we won’t be allowed past the last barrier. Our contacts have been doing this for quite a while now and we know the brigade commander, so our chances of entering the village are good. We rely on the Ukrainian military to help us make the decision to go in or not. We wear tactical vests and military helmets just in case the Russians decide to strike the village again. There isn’t a strategic reason to target Tsyrkuny. Nothing there but people and animals trying to exist. 

We managed to rescue four dogs and feed even more.

P.S. (Received a week after the above.) I guess it’s time for a break from Ukraine. Returning to loved ones will be so nice. No air raid sirens or explosions in the middle of the night. No checkpoints. No Google Translator. Adjusting to silence might take a while. Return flight leaves September 12. Still time for a couple missions to those in need. 

Bittersweet indeed.

For more information go to Tom Bates’ Facebook page. To support his work in Ukraine, go to Donate.