Ukrainians living in Malaga province – about 11,500 of them, according to the latest official figures – woke up this Thursday morning, 24 February, to find that Russian troops had invaded their country.
From the early hours, they began receiving messages on their mobile phones from family members telling them the war had started, and they had been glued to the news online and on the TV to see what was happening and what their parents, siblings, cousins and other relatives in their home country were going through. Here in Malaga, thousands of kilometres from their loved ones and their roots, they said they felt “helpless and so angry”.
This is what we were told by a group of Ukrainians, mainly women, with tears in their eyes and anguish in their souls, who had gone to church at midday to pray for peace in their own country, the unity of the Ukrainian people and to ask that “the invader” leave Ukraine alone.
The service was held by an Orthodox priest in the church of the Convento de las Madres Mercedarias in the Molinillo district of the city.
“My feelings are so mixed that I can’t really explain. On one hand we feel helpless because there’s nothing we can do, and on the other we want to support and help in any way we can and we are so angry because this situation could have been prevented if action had been taken earlier, eight years ago,” said Natalia, whose husband is from Malaga and who has been living in Spain since 2005.
She attended the service with her young son in a pushchair, onto which she had pinned a sign saying just two words: ‘Putin, murderer’.
Natalia was in constant contact with her parents, who live in the west of the country, and with her sister, in the centre of Ukraine, who she was calling every hour.
“People are worried, but even so they have gone to work although the children haven’t gone to school. My mother is trying to buy diesel for the car so she can get around and buy food and medication,” she says.
Her relatives are not planning to leave because “they have nowhere to go. Why should we have to leave our own country? We have to defend it,” she insists.
Standing beside Natalia, when asked, Irina says they are very worried about what is going to happen.
“I feel terrible because I can’t do anything from here. It feels like my hands are tied,” she says. She is particularly concerned because her brother is a soldier. “He can’t say anything. I have talked to my sister, she was the one who told me about the attack. What you see on TV in western countries is only one-third of what is happening in my country. Putin is an agressor and a fascist,” she says.
Wearing the Ukrainian flag around her neck, Mariana, a member of the Costa del Sol Maydan Malaga Ukrainian Association, alternates between what appears in the media and the calls and messages she receives on her mobile phone.
“It has been a dreadful night, we cried so much, we are so worried. We have been in constant contact with our families there to find out what is going on, and it’s terrible. Those of us here who have relatives in Ukraine are having a really bad time,” she says.
María can’t hide her tears as she tells us how worried she is about the start of the hostilities. “We have had eight years of conflict, but we never expected Russia to do this,” she says.
Nazari is 21 and is the son of the priest who has just held the church service to pray for peace. His grandfather and uncle are in Ukraine. He says he feels “incomprehension” at Russia’s warlike attitude and he is very worried “about our families, our country and our culture, which has always suffered persecution”.
When asked if he is afraid, his answer is categorical: “Anxious, yes, but not afraid. At times like this we have to be strong because we don’t want fear to take hold of us. It is a very uncomfortable and undesirable situation, it’s the worst thing you can think of, and we hope it won’t go any further” he says.
Irina sums up the general feeling among the Ukrainian community in Malaga: “We are not afraid. What we want is for the Russians to get out of my country, and for there to be peace and tranquility there”.