Nikolaus Sires lives in Dnipro, Ukraine. Originally from New Orleans, he bought an apartment in Dnipro four months ago, where he lives with his Ukrainian fiancée, because he found the people nice and the neighborhood peaceful. Then, in the middle of the night of March 3, he woke up to learn that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was under attack.
“Russian troops apparently just started bombing and mortaring a nuclear power plant, basically. Shooting at it; there is a video“, he said. “We thought the nuclear plant might explode that night.”
Sires spoke to Raisonof Nancy Rommelmann by telephone while on the ground in Warsaw, Poland on March 5. She is on the way to Lviv by train to Przemysl at the time of publication. Sires spoke of being in Ukraine at the start of the war and what it was like to wonder if a nuclear power plant less than an hour away might melt down.
The following is a transcription of his lyrics, edited for length, clarity and style.
“We wake up and see people saying, ‘Hey, they’re attacking nuclear power plants.’ That’s what’s on the news at 2:00, 3:00 a.m. It’s only 80 kilometers away, time to finish packing.We stayed put because we’re under curfew from 8:00 p.m. I can’t on the street I mean they might consider you a saboteur or something and shoot you We didn’t have a chance to leave so we had to sit there and wait and see what was happening.
“At this point, we don’t know if a bomb will fly in that direction. And it becomes normal. I’m starting to see how Ukrainians are getting used to eight years of war and pretending nothing has happened. Sirens air raid all day, phone alerts. “Hey alarm, go to the shelter! And it’s like, is it real this time? I mean, it’s a nightmare. My fiancée is in another room trying to relax His mother [and daughter] live five kilometers away. His mother does not want to leave. It’s my house. “Ukraine is my home. Why should I leave? I mean, until they drop bombs in her neighborhood…maybe she’ll change her mind when it’s too late. is how I see it. I keep saying to my wife, ‘Hey, you need to talk to your mom and say, ‘Do you want us all to die? ‘Cause you wanna stay here?” No one wants to leave mom behind. I get that. I couldn’t leave my mom behind, but it gets to the point where you want to gag them and throw them in a car, to say, “You go, let’s go. The longer we wait, the more problems there are.”
“There was an eight-year war but [for many Ukrainians] it’s almost like someone in Montana saying, “I don’t see a problem at the Mexican border,” because they’re not that close. There may be a problem in the Donbass region, but if you’re not there, you don’t hear the shelling. You don’t know something is going on because you can’t see it, so it’s easy to tune out. And I think a lot of Ukrainians who live far from the conflict can easily forget about it because it doesn’t affect them directly. There is this mentality here, that everything will be fine.
“At present [in Dnipro] we’re not under attack, but that could change anytime as far as I’m concerned. I try to be optimistic, but I can see what is happening. It’s not good. When the [first] the attack took place on the morning of the 24th? 25? We woke up at 7am to find the airport had been bombed and other buildings in Dnipro. It’s just like that. You sleep and you wake up, you are at war.
“I’m from New Orleans, Louisiana. I almost stayed for Katrina. I had a friend who convinced me to leave. He was like, ‘You have to go. It’s gonna be bad.” Because I’ve been through hurricanes before, I know it can get worse. Her mom, I think she’s about 65, she’s probably never… I mean, you you had Soviet times, but she never directly saw a conflict and did “I don’t understand that your house could blow up tomorrow. We see these kinds of things happen. Apartment buildings in Kyiv and other cities. A rocket hits the building, you’re in there, you’re dead. It’s finish.
“[Ukrainians] are very strong and resilient people and that’s what I admire about them. They are very good at accepting cards that have been dealt to them. If you go down downtown here, you see thousands of people making Molotov cocktails, donating food and medicine, stuff to eat for the troops. They make camouflage netting to hide equipment in the field. Everyone does what they can do. They just pay attention to their surroundings and want to help.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. Not at all. I mean, just playing a game of odds. We hear stories of murdered people trying to flee. I think this morning they blew up a lane railway near Kyiv and Irpin’ , so now the train can’t go through there. They’re blowing up bridges in some places. We’re afraid to get on the road and get stuck somewhere, to be honest, or get hurt kill. We know we are safe here.”
“I still want to go. Yeah, definitely. We’ll probably go to Poland. But we’re watching videos of train stations here and it’s like, how? My fiancée’s car was in the store and they were having trouble getting parts since the start of this war. She’s got an old Lada, a small Ukrainian-Russian car that really isn’t all that. And we’re worried if the thing is going to break down on the side of the road. It’s like , you try to formulate a plan, but there are so many holes in it.
“We just don’t want to end up in a worse situation. We know we’re fine where we are. We have supplies. Growing up in New Orleans is almost like preparing for a hurricane. We We have We have means to cook without electricity We have means of lighting We have medical supplies His mother, it is a necessity to buy him different medicines for his health, but it is one of the things that we If we stay, and if we can’t buy her any more medicine? Then she’s probably going to die anyway. Because that’s where the lines are right now. waiting in all the pharmacies and we’re struggling to find ibuprofen, basically. What happens when it’s something we absolutely must have and can’t find? It’s my problem. In Ukraine we don’t have Walmart. You can’t go to a store and buy whatever you want. It’s almost like a daily quest. I need to go here for potatoes. I need to go here for medicine. I need to go here for candles. I need to go here for bats. teries… and right now a lot of stores are closed. We cannot purchase another cell phone at this time. I mean, if your phone breaks, you can’t go to the store and buy another one.
“I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just that…slowly I’m watching the necessities of life disappear because of this war, because obviously the supply lines are cut. And we don’t know what’s true. There’s so much propaganda and stories that are on social media. We don’t know if it’s safe to leave. I feel like we might get shot on the road, because I have seen videos of people in their car who have just been shot and you could say they are not soldiers, an old couple, a car full of bullet holes… It’s like I don’t want not that it’s us.
“And we see that it looks like Ukraine is having a hell of a fight and because all the help that’s coming in, in terms of weapons and equipment. Russia is stuck on the side of the road with no gas to tanks and troops without Putin is he going to bomb us just to get rid of the Ukrainians? We watched his speech. He wants to get rid of the Ukrainians. He doesn’t like them. It’s like the new Jews. is scary.
“They told us to start making Molotovs. I have enough to make Molotov cocktails. I bought fireworks and hairspray to make bombs. I’m making bombs in my new apartment. C is the reality.
“I came [to Dnipro] because I like it here. I could walk, go to the park. The food is cheap. People are nice. These people are not aggressive. And to see that happen is just horrible. They deny that they have a war that has been going on for eight years. I’m trying to convince three Ukrainian women that it’s time to leave and none of them want to. Like in the morning, my fiancée wants to leave. As night falls, ‘I think we should stay.’ This has been my life for two weeks now, ‘Let’s go. Let’s not go.'”