It was 7 a.m. on February 24 when Anton, who was traveling abroad on business, woke up to the news that Russia had launched an attack on Ukraine. “I received a message from one of my friends saying that Kyiv was being bombed. I immediately turned on the TV and saw shocking images,” the 37-year-old Belarussian, whose parents live in Russia, tells Aleteia.
Hundreds of miles from him, his wife, Snizhana, was sleeping peacefully without knowing that her hometown was under bombardment. “My father called me at 5:59 in the morning. I was very tired, so I thought I’d answer him later. And when I woke up an hour later, I saw dozens of calls from my family and especially the message from my husband: ‘My God, I can’t believe what’s happening,'” says the young woman. “Since then, we feel like we’re living in hell,” says Anton.
So different and close at the same time
Their love story began in 2012, in Greece. The two had gone there to study Greek during their summer vacations. Quickly, their relationship evolved, although at first it was long-distance. Anton lived in France, where he was studying at the Institute of Orthodox Theology Saint-Serge in Paris, while Snizhana was finishing her law studies in Kyiv.
When a conflict broke out in 2014 between Russia and Ukraine, the couple broached the topic of a potential war between their two countries. “We had a similar view on this conflict. I don’t think we would be together right now if at the time we had very different views on the subject. Besides, I always saw Anton as a Belarussian and not as a Russian,” even though he has a Russian passport, Snizhana told Aleteia.
“When I came to visit Snizhana in Kyiv in 2014, I attended Maidan. I was speaking Russian in Kyiv, without anyone saying anything to me about it. I was also watching my Russian programs on TV. That’s when I started to realize that what I saw in Kyiv and what I saw in the Russian media were totally different. I then began to ask myself questions,” says Anton. But the couple, married since 2016 and currently living in Paris, was far from imagining that a bloody war would break out between the two countries eight years later.
“I immediately felt ashamed about what is happening,” Anton admits. “I grew up in Belarus and I always saw Ukraine and Russia as neighbors, close neighbors but a little different from me. I never thought that one day missiles would be launched from the outskirts of my hometown in Belarus onto Kyiv.”
A strong desire to help
Today, the couple says they are more united than ever and are worried about their loved ones in both Ukraine and Russia. “My dad didn’t want to leave Kyiv, even though he is old enough to do so. He wants to fight for his homeland. My mother is in Lviv with my grandmother. She doesn’t want to leave Ukraine either,” Snizhana told Aleteia.
Anton, who is afraid for his in-laws, is also worried about his parents, who live in Tver and are already suffering from the international sanctions against Russia. “I don’t know what to do or how to help them. They don’t think about leaving the country because it’s their home. I’m really afraid for them.”
Despite this, he says he is “in favor of the sanctions.” “I think, perhaps naively, that this is one of the things that can help make Vladimir Putin back down. It’s important to understand that the whole problem lies with him. He does not represent all of Russia. Today, the Ukrainian people are also fighting for the future freedom of Russia,” says Anton.
Until the Russian invasion began, Anton and Snizhana were planning to move to their new apartment. Today, when they see how people are suffering under the bombs, these daily issues seem very trivial. Even though they actively participate in various collections for Ukraine and pray to the Lord for the end of the war, it seems “insufficient” to them. “We want to do more, to go there and help the people,” they say.
While they continue to speak each their respective language at home—Snizhana addresses Anton in Ukrainian and Anton answers her in Russian—both know that once the war is over it will take a long time for the two peoples to rebuild a new relationship. “What is certain is that this page of history will remain forever engraved in our memories,” concludes Snizhana.