Two Ukrainian girls in a basement bomb shelter
Ukraine crisis

My father met his 70th birthday in a cold basement without outlets or plumbing.

Most Ukrainians have been hunkered down in basements and subways stations since February 24, 2022.

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On February 24, 2022, Russian missiles struck military bases throughout Ukraine, driving more than half the population of 44 million underground to basements and subway stations. My father, Nikolai, is one of seventy three people living in a basement under his apartment building in Khmelnitskiy, Ukraine.

The unfinished basement was never meant for inhabitation. There are no electrical outlets much less wifi. Few people have power banks so their devices run out of batteries and the people get bored and lonely. In addition to bored, people are at various times scared and tired from air raid sirens, cold from minimal heat, and dirty from no running water.

My Dad is also tired because he climbs eight floors to his apartment every time he needs to shower, change clothes, charge his phone or cook. He says charging his phone is the number one reason he goes upstairs. He needs a power bank. It was my father's situation and need for simple things like power banks that motivated me to found iLoveUkraine.

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I called my father every day in the past month since the invasion but only talked five times because of the logistical issues. There is no mobile service in the basement and it's hard for him to keep his phone charged. He needs to climb eight floors to his apartment to plug in his phone. He needs to go during the day because the government turns off the electricity after 6pm so there will be no lit buildings for the Russians to target. During the day, electric service is intermittent.

On two of the five times I got through to speak with my father, air raid sirens went off and he had to hang up and run back down to the basement. Although missiles are not generally hitting Khmelnitsky in Western Ukraine, they fly overhead every two or three hours on their way from Belarus and the Black Sea to bigger cities like Kyiv and Lviv. With all the up and downstairs, my father jokes that he is in the best shape of his life. The only problem is that he spends so much time exercising that he does not get any sleep.

I love my father's sense of humor even in these dire times but his reality is no joke. His knees are killing him from all the up and downstairs and he is running out of his type 2 diabetes medicine. He turned seventy in the basement and nobody noticed down there. He said all birthdays have been cancelled this year so he is sixty nine again.

Each time I speak with my father I worry that this could be the last time and each time we don't speak I really worry. When on the phone with me, I hear an echo because he sits in the windowless bathroom of his apartment in case of an explosion.

My father's birthday was a turning point for him. He said he has had it with the basement. It's been a month already and he isn't going to live underground until his next birthday. His knees hurt and he is going to take his chances sleeping in his own bed.

I'm so worried about my father but I'm also so thankful that he is still alive and functioning a month into the war. He and I are both grateful for the aid coming from iLoveUkraine supporters.

Learn how you can help people like Nikolai