Kateryna Bondar, the echo of a war from afar

Facing the lens, Kateryna Bondar, 34, stands erect, her head slender, her gaze assertive. If her body is present, her spirit and heart are in Ukraine, her home country now surrounded by Russian soldiers. For this quadrilingual lawyer, who studied in Switzerland and the United States, the events of the last few weeks seem surreal. Just two months ago, she was in Ukraine with her parents, strolling through the quiet streets of her childhood. “I grew up in a free country, I can’t imagine that changing,” she says in French.

If Kateryna Bondar accepted this article, it is not so much to talk about her, but about Ukraine. A modesty that shows in her desire to draw attention above all to the war and its consequences. Her own life, well sheltered in Switzerland, today resembles a cage of helplessness. The 24th of February will be engraved in her memory. “I was woken up at 6 am by a phone call from my parents, imagining them in danger, feeling I might lose them, it was a nightmare,” she recalls in a half-word, with tears in her eyes.

A generation turned to the West

Since then, her days have been filled with anxious anticipation, hanging from a message, a picture, a word. On her phone, the alerts are flashing. Another strike, more deaths. As the days go by, the news of relatives or friends trying to get there safely becomes more worrying. “Some hide in remote villages in the west, others in the subway or in their basements, some have left the country,” she lists, torn with anguish.

In order not to sink, Kateryna wears her various hats to support her country of Switzerland. Demonstrations, open letters, petitions or fundraising and humanitarian material: all means are good. As the representative of the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations at the UN, Kateryna spoke at the Human Rights Council in Geneva to condemn Russian military actions and call for a strong response.

With the Association of Ukrainian Women in Switzerland, the young woman also wrote appeals for sanctions and asked the Geneva authorities to hoist the Ukrainian and peace flag on the Mont-Blanc bridge or even light the Jet d’eau. blue.

How is the Ukraine of your heart? Born three years before the country’s independence in 1991, Kateryna is part of this Western-oriented generation, firmly attached to democratic and European values. “I am aware of the price of this independence, Ukraine has started a long road towards democracy, to fight corruption, to get rid of the Soviet heritage”, she believes, stressing that Russia has not taken the same direction. If the two countries are neighbors, she asks that everyone can choose their destiny. “That’s what the Russian government doesn’t accept, even thirty years after independence,” she laments.

The Ukrainian identity, with its own language, its values, including freedom, Kateryna wants to reaffirm today. “Our culture, rich in more than a thousand years of history, is close to other Slavic countries, but we have our particularities”, underlines the young woman, evoking the various religious and non-religious traditions, songs and dances to celebrate the coming of spring. , the Christmas shows (vertex), Easter egg painting, traditional dress (vyshyvanka) or culinary specialties such as borscht, holubtsi (stuffed cabbage) and varenyky (Ravioli). “All this must be preserved, it is our right.”

Already very strong, national sentiment, in his eyes, has strengthened since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 – that peaceful place where he spent most of his vacations and even had distant family – and even more so since the onset of the war. “Ukrainians are terrified, but they remain determined, united and proud,” she says. We’ll make it.”

Why not “a clear sign”?

How does she perceive Europe’s attitude? For Kateryna, the sanctions are positive, but they come a little late. “We should have acted eight years ago, when Vladimir Putin began his military maneuvers in Crimea and Donbass, she believes. Back then, the world should have sent him a clear signal.” In her eyes, the current war goes beyond Ukraine’s framework, it is a war against democratic values, the fundamental principles of freedom and sovereignty promulgated by the UN. “Ukraine will need help to rebuild itself. Support must be sustained over time.

On Kateryna’s dark figure, a single splash of color: a yellow and blue bracelet around her wrist. Over the past few days, her silent everyday life has lost some of its meaning. Specializing in international law and arbitration, the lawyer who heads a company’s legal department stands firm despite the restless nights. His hope: that Ukraine will remain a free country and that the war will not turn into genocide like the Holodomor did under Stalin.

Read too: The Holodomor and the frontiers of hunger (25.04.2014)

Profile

1988 Born in Kiev.

2010 Departure to the United States.

2013 Arrival in Geneva.

2020 Becomes the representative of the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations at the UN.

2022 Last trip to Ukraine.

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