CINCINNATI — Living more than 5,000 miles away in Cincinnati, Ukraine native Lydia Gorbatsky has been keeping her phone close.
Her parents, she said, live on the sixth floor of a building in Kharkiv — Cincinnati's sister city sitting near the Russian border. When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in Ukraine late Wednesday night, journalists and residents in Kharkiv reported hearing loud explosions.
"We started receiving messages yesterday at around 10:30 p.m. that the bombing had started," Gorbatsky said.
Putin claimed the action comes in response to threats from Ukraine, warning other countries that any attempt to interfere would lead to "consequences they have never seen."
Gorbatsky said she has always known an invasion was possible, but never believed it would happen. She has not been able to sleep, noting that watching everything from a distance has been "terrifying."
"I've actually cried a lot," Gorbatsky said.
Ukraine is where Gorbatsky grew up, where her family still lives and where she and her husband visited last spring with their children. She called Kharkiv a beautiful city with beautiful people — all of whom are now in danger thanks to a person whose name she will not say.
"It's not really the Russian people, it's the politics, it's the delusional leader that's doing that," Gorbatsky said. "We are the same people. When you cross the border, you wouldn't see the difference, so to me, it's literally like a civil war."
Gorbatsky said she has cousins living in Russia who said people are going to jail for protesting Putin's actions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared martial law, urging people to remain at home.
"They can't leave the house, they can't go anywhere, they can't even buy food," Gorbatsky said. "The majority of people went to the basement. My parents decided that that's not a good idea because if the bomb is going to come from the air, they're going to be buried alive."
Gorbatsky said Ukraine should remain independent. She believes peace is possible, but Ukraine will need "the support of other countries."
President Joe Biden said the U.S. will be part of humanitarian aid and laid out a series of economic sanctions backed by dozens of other countries in response to the invasion.