Ukraine’s Truth: An Interview by Brandon Barreno

[Courtesy of Brandon Barreno]



The following article is from the viewpoint of a Seabury Hall alumnus who has a first-hand view of the events occurring in Eastern Europe. The views and opinions expressed in the interview do not represent or reflect the opinion of Seabury Hall, an employee, or student(s).


       As of February 24th, 2022, Russian forces, led by Vladimir Putin, invaded the Ukraine border, killing over 3,000 Ukrainian civilians (Forbes). In an interview, from the graduating class of 2018, Brandon Barreno, a Seabury Hall alumnus currently earning his Master’s degree in Poland, exposes the many tragedies caused by this violent Russo-Ukrainian War. Barreno’s interview was answered follows: 

       When I found out the first news of Putin’s invasion, I cannot describe that feeling of shock that sank into me, and the shock of everyone else. Soon after, I saw the first footage of bombings of civilian areas, and a video of the burning outskirts of Kharkiv with gunfire echoing in the night. And I cried. The war between states has returned to Europe for the first time since WWII. I contacted my Ukrainian friends, a couple of which I was not sure if they were still in Ukraine at the moment. And I found out they were, safely in bomb shelters as missiles struck the city around them. My closest friend there had his entire home destroyed. Bombed, all gone into rubble. While I sit here, in this privileged life I have been given, I feel guilt.

       Almost all Russian people hate this war, and they hate Putin. They are in true despair, especially the thousands of Russian mothers that now see the return of their 18-year-old sons mutilated in body bags, sent to die for the pleasure of a decrepit tyrant, not knowing why they were even sent to war. Thousands of Russian soldiers have deserted their tanks and put down their weapons, surrendering willingly or leaving Ukraine in defiance of Putin’s orders, because many of them do not even know why they are there, killing for nothing. Dying for absolutely nothing. They themselves do not want this war. And it is not Ukrainian propaganda, It is true.


First, how did you get to Poland, and what was your journey from leaving Maui to going to Poland?

       Towards the end of high school, I was really uncertain of my future and what I actually wanted. I had applied to many universities in the United States and was accepted, but I felt that something was wrong, as if it was a gut feeling that it was not my path to take. It turned out that this feeling was true, and my parents proposed for me to study in Europe, and instantly, I felt that is what I truly wanted. Having family in Poland, Poland was the natural choice for me. But even if I did not have family here, I still would have studied in Europe for the sole reason of yearning to experience different places and cultures and make friends here. It’s just a new experience entirely than America, and I regret nothing. Poland is a beautiful and sophisticated country like most European countries with relatively incredible social welfare, including free high-quality education and healthcare, but with an admittedly anti-social leaning local culture. I love it here, and coming here was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I encourage anyone with or without European citizenship to study in Europe. It was intimidating in the beginning, but it has created an unforgettable experience for me.


 Presently, how close are you to Ukraine?

       I have studied and lived in Kraków (Cracow) for four years so far, and the city is a little more than 100 miles from the Polish/ Ukrainian border. Kraków is the closest major city to the border, and it is second in popularity to Warszawa (Warsaw): the capital. Therefore, thousands of refugees are moving through Kraków and currently witnessing the situation is an awakening experience of the tragedy of war. There are makeshift shelters established around the city where the people are being well provided for, however, you can see the pandemonium among some Ukrainian families as they are unsure of what to do next: having no place to sleep and no money, and sleeping on the floor throughout the train station.


How has the invasion affected you personally?

       The invasion of Ukraine has significantly affected me in an emotional manner, as Poland is very safe and detached from the violence and suffering of war itself. I have friends who have lost their homes, and everything they have, to bombing, and luckily, by God’s grace, all their friends and family have remained safe. I also have Russian friends who feel great shame for the actions of their government and who are suffering under the economic sanctions. I am in shock, still to this day, in disbelief that such a heinous and irrational decision could be executed by the Russian government, even when we know it is controlled by a tyrant. There are many fears that Putin will sooner or later decide to attack Poland, which of course would bring a new world war, but these fears are understandable and my whole Polish family here shares this grave concern. Overall, I have been feeling a slight hovering sense of sadness and fear, because who knows what could happen next. What could Putin do next if he is so irrational and psychotic? 


How is the Polish government, and NGO’s, responding to Ukraine’s conflict?

       I need to say that it initially surprised me that Poland has become the one and only savior for Ukrainian refugees because Poland has never been so welcoming to any foreigners, and immigration is a lengthy, inefficient, and difficult progress. As of now, Poland has accepted nearly three million [now above 5 million, (Forbes)] Ukrainians, and it is incredible. There are quality shelters and food drives established, as well as the minimal financial assistance for the basic needs of all families. Polish families are even temporarily housing people before they find their own housing. Poland is being hailed as a hero in Europe, and, personally, I am very proud of Poland for the service they are providing to humanity, despite the problems that such a massive influx of immigrants will certainly cause to the population density and the country’s infrastructure. For example, a few weeks ago, all ATM machines were out of cash, and this was an issue for many including myself. Also, finding my own apartment next school year may be almost impossible as I know that currently even most student housing is occupied by Ukrainians. I am sure there are other problems existing, which I have not experienced yet, but it will be difficult for some time for the Polish infrastructure.


Is there anything else we should know? 

       I have a couple more things that are very important to mention. First of all, all the information you find about the invasion and fighting in Ukraine: always take it with a little skepticism. Putin’s war with Ukraine is not only one of physical engagement, but also an information and propaganda war, and there are thousands of perfectly looking legitimate troll accounts on social media. For example, both Ukrainian or Russian affiliated, that promote the agenda of their governments by dealing in very convincing deception, aiding the appeal of their own narratives. It is crucial to be aware of this, so that we may only spread the truth. Work to spread the truth. The more that the world knows about this crisis, the more that will be done and the sooner it can be resolved, or at least aided.