Almost a month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the cost in lives and suffering continues to grow.
Filippo Grandi, head of humanitarian operations at the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, said at least 10 million Ukrainians, about a quarter of the total population, had already fled their homes. The figure includes the more than 3.5 million refugees who have already crossed the border into neighboring countries.
As of March 21, the UN recorded 925 civilian deaths and 1,496 injuries, although it warns that the real number must be “significantly higher”.
Lyudmila Denisova, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman, said on Tuesday that at least 117 children had been killed and 155 wounded since the start of the war.
More than 15,000 km away, scientists at a Ukrainian base in Antarctica are forced to remotely follow the tragedy in their country and the anguish of their relatives.
Two of those researchers, meteorologist Alexander Aftenuk and marine biologist Oksana Savenkoanswered the questions from BBC Mundo from Antarctica.
How did you feel when you heard about the invasion of Ukraine?
Alexander: War is evil, and evil is Russia, which attacked my country. An aggressor country that does not know how to live like the entire civilized world. Instead of developing and making progress in the scientific sphere, this country invades and destroys the lives of peaceful citizens of Ukraine.
At our Akademik Vernadsky station in Antarctica, the internet is good enough to monitor news from various sources.
The night of the invasion none of the members of the base slept. They all wrote to their relatives. It was a great stress because in the 21st century it was difficult to imagine something like this in the middle of Europe.
Oksana: I was in my office when a colleague told me that bombs had been dropped on Ukraine. We went to social networks and they were full of messages from friends from different cities about explosions and fires.
It was a shock to me, but not a surprise. After Russia annexed Crimea and destabilized other territories for years, it was only a matter of time before it decided to attack Ukraine.
How does it feel to be in a place so far away while your country is at war?
Alexander: It was morally difficult, because when you’re here, and your family, friends and acquaintances are under attack, and you’re far from them, you just don’t know how to help them from a distance.
Oksana: We spent almost a year here. We feel powerless being so far away from our country at such a difficult time. But thanks to the internet, we were able to help our loved ones, friends, colleagues and other Ukrainians financially, informationally and logistically.
What information have you received from your relatives?
Alexander: Every day I write to my parents and relatives, and ask about my daughter. She is 4 years old and she says that she does not understand what war is. When talking to my parents she hears the roar of rockets flying.
When the sirens are turned on, they must immediately go down to the basement with documents and all important things, and hide there as long as necessary.
Oksana: Most of my relatives are in Ukraine. My parents stay in kyiv, which is regularly bombed.
My uncle and aunt have been in Kharkiv all this time. Since the beginning of the war this city has been under constant attack and bombardment. Many of my friends and colleagues have voluntarily joined the army, the territorial defense forces and various voluntary organizations.
What are your plans for the future?
Alexander: In about a month our season ends at the Akademik Vernadsky station.
In Ukraine I work at the Kyiv Hydrometeorological Institute. Of course, I will return to Ukraine from Antarctica to defend our country, like many other Ukrainian citizens.
Russia must leave our land. We will win because the truth is on our side and the civilized world supports us.
Oksana: I still have no clear plans. Maybe I’ll go home right away or continue my studies in another country for a while. For now the building in which I lived is still intact, but there will be no opportunity to continue my investigations in the near future in Ukraine.
We were advised to seek temporary employment abroad where we would be allowed to carry out our research in collaboration with other scientists.
I am very sad to be away from home during this turning point for my country. It is necessary to decide how I can bring more benefits to my country in its struggle for independence and further development.
Perhaps the Ukrainians are now fighting not only for their own freedom. If we fail to stop the aggressor, he will be able to attack other countries. But I am absolutely convinced that Ukraine will win this fight.