Sacrifice in Ukraine: ‘If we didn’t have to fight this war, our children would have to fight it.’

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A missile strike Thursday in Dnipro, Ukraine came in the aftermath of the biggest barrage of the nearly nine-month war by Russian forces.

ABC News reported Russia targeted Ukraine with ninety missiles earlier this week, knocking out electrical power to ten million customers.

None of this has stopped Ievgen Zakora.

“I am certain I am here for a reason,” he declared. “If we didn’t have to fight this war, our children would have to fight it.”

Zakora, a 35-year old Ukrainian soldier, spoke to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS with the help of a translator during a video call from southern Ukraine.

He says his job is to load and unload artillery batteries and explained his unit was part of the victorious offensive against Russian forces that regained territory around the city of Kherson.

“It was extremely hard because we are fighting with a very strong enemy, that has enormous capabilities,” Zakora said. “The offensive took a lot of time, more than two months.”

The unit’s field headquarters – and transportation – is a van donated by Rebuild Ukraine, a St. Paul nonprofit.

The group says it’s donated more than $15,000 to pay for the van, protective gear, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, and other gear for the soldiers.  

Paul Gavrilyuk, Rebuild Ukraine’s founder, says they’ve provided a total of $530,000 in aid for the Ukrainian army, children’s programs, and support for hospitals and refugees.

For now, Zakora says his unit is stationed about 500 miles from his home in the Carpathian Mountains.

All those miles and the time spent at war have been difficult.  

“I was in mountain biking and I was also building houses,” he said. “I so would love to return to my normal life, and it’s just a question of time.”

Zakora, an all-Ukraine mountain biking champion, says “normal life” revolves around his wife Anastasia.

Anastasia says being apart for months with her husband in a war zone is not easy.

They try to call or video chat almost every day.

Anastasia spoke to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS during a video call from a friend’s house in north central Ukraine.

“I miss him very much,” she said. “Yes, he is doing a lot and I’m proud of him. I would love for all of this to be finished very soon, but I know unfortunately, it will not be finished soon.”

With Ievgen being away, the couple decided to use their home as a shelter for up to 20 refugees of all ages at a time.

Then, with the help of $10,000 in funds from Rebuild Ukraine, Anastasia began processing and cooking dried meat for Ukrainian fighters.

The meat is considered crucial as a food source for soldiers in the field.

“I’ve been able to process two tons of raw meat,” Anastasia says. “That has subsequently become 830 kilos, about 1700 pounds of meat.”

All this, of course, in the midst of a war which has an uncertain outcome.

Mary Curtin, the diplomat-in-residence at the University of Minnesota, says she feels for the Zakoras and thousands of other Ukrainian families.

“It’s still an incredibly brutal war that will likely continue for some time,” Curtin said. “Imagine all the talent in that country that is fighting a war instead of building a modern economy, or running the Odessa opera, or designing new websites, or teaching, or being nurses or doctors.”

President Biden is asking Congress to provide $37 billion in additional emergency aid to Ukraine. But as Republicans take control over the House, some have vowed the U.S. will not provide a blank check.

Curtin says there may be funding challenges ahead for the president.

“I think that in the end, there will continue to be pretty solid support for Ukraine,” Curtin said. “I don’t think it will be easy for the president to get those large amounts that he’s been able to get up until now.”

The government has already approved $40 billion in aid for Ukraine in the past year. This latest assistance includes money for military and intelligence support, humanitarian aid, health care, and support services for Ukrainians living in the U.S.

The Zakoras, who have been married for six years now, say they put off their plans to have a baby after Russian forces invaded.

The couple says they’re trying to keep their spirits high.

“All we want is our land and our country,” Anastasia said.

“I’m certain that we will be able to be victorious,” Zakora said. “I’m certain this is a question of time and the fundamental issue is at what price. How many sacrifices we would have to make, in order to make this possible.”

Find more information about Rebuild Ukraine here.