As a teacher, Natalia Clarke has become something of an institution in Vallejo when it comes to dance. What she saw on TV and the news last week in her home country of Ukraine was the worst kind of waltz imaginable.
Clarke, who teaches Dance Unlimited on Georgia Street, has lived in the United States since 1994. But her childhood in Kyiv is still fresh enough to leave raw emotions when it comes to Russia’s invasion of her former homeland. .
“We’ve been fighting them for 80 years,” Clarke said, wiping away a few tears. “We don’t want socialism anymore. We want to be like the United States, the rest of Europe. We continue to look for NATO to help and come to protect our country.
For months, Russian President Vladimir Putin had denied he would invade Ukraine. The invasion, however, appeared inevitable when Putin used a February 24 televised address to declare that Russia could not feel ‘safe, develop and exist’ due to what he claimed was a constant threat. of modern Ukraine.
Shortly after, Russia launched its attack on a democracy that numbers about 44 million people. Russian forces are shelling Ukrainian city centers as they close in on Kiev, Europe’s seventh most populous city. This caused many people to leave the country as refugees.
Russia does not use the terms “war” or even “invasion”. Putin says his aim was to protect people who were victims of intimidation and genocide and to aim for the “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine.
“How could I be a Nazi?” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who compared Russia’s attack to Nazi Germany’s invasion in World War II. The Chief Rabbi of Ukraine and the Auschwitz Memorial also rejected Russia’s insults.
On Wednesday evening, Kherson became the first major city in Ukraine to be overtaken by Russian forces.
Clarke still has family living in Kyiv, and although the time zones are different, she has always been in constant contact.
“I don’t sleep,” Clarke said. “I talk to them every day. The problem is that we have the day and they have the night. In the morning I wake up and my husband says I can’t sleep because people keep calling me. It’s continuous. »
Clarke said she previously read that her home country could not fight, but she is happy to see the bravery of ordinary Ukrainians defending their country.
“From the beginning, I read that the Ukrainian army was not ready to fight. But now we are very proud,” Clarke said. “In some places, the Ukrainian army is beating them very badly. Putin can’t even believe it.
Clarke also praised Zelensky, a popular former comedian whose election made him an unlikely wartime president.
“He gives arms to everyone in Ukraine. Anyone who wants them,” Clarke said. “People who say, ‘I want to fight’, they get weapons to defend themselves. It doesn’t matter if you’re only 18 or 70. And the Ukrainians are defending their streets. People are really proud to defend their homes. People say: ‘This is my house, this is our street’. Protect our territory.’”
The dance instructor said she learns from her family that people try to confuse the minds of Russian soldiers by changing street names to say “(Expletive) Russia!” And fortunately, the Internet is still active (in Ukraine), so people communicate with each other to tell everyone where there are tanks, where there are soldiers.
“Ukraine has never been so united thanks to this monster,” Clarke continued. “We say thank you Putin. Ukraine is now like a rock! People will say I’m afraid this beautiful building will be bombed. And the others say to these people, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to rebuild, we’re going to repave this building. Just worry about our children and our parents.
Thousands of people are taking to social media to show their support for Ukraine, displaying the country’s colors and flag. This week in San Francisco, the Salesforce Tower is decked out in blue and gold at the very top of the building. Clarke, who has taught at Contra Costa College, Solano College and currently Cal Maritime, said dancing connects a lot of people, but in almost every group there are a few Russians who still love Putin.
“We have Facebook groups and it was getting so bad we had to split the groups,” Clarke said. “Someone said to me, ‘Oh, so you’re going to put me (a Putin fan) on hold?’ I couldn’t believe it.
Still, Clarke is heartened by recent support from many countries and many people in the United States for their support for Ukraine. She just wonders why he wasn’t here earlier.
“It makes me happy that everyone is here to help Ukraine. You feel something,” Clarke said, taking a moment to compose herself. but why not help us before? Before, we said ‘help, help, help, help!’ They are taking our territory. People said they would help us. The Ukrainians (are expecting) a special tax for the army. We live very poor. We don’t want to go back to the Soviet Union.