Social media activist Oleksandra Al Zakhran, 26, has been cataloging the lives of her family and other Ukrainians as they try to survive under the constant bombardment of Russian military attacks.
Born in Kyiv and currently residing in Canada, Al Zakhran is a Ukrainian-Lebanese activist and business owner, who has been sharing stories and educating her 80,000 followers on Instagram about her homeland.
Below is an edited version of our conversation with her. You can follow her work here.
New York University: How have you been directly impacted by the war between Russia and Ukraine? How has that taken a toll on you?
Oleksandra Al Zakhran: I know how brave and strong my family is. I am the daughter of a courageous Ukrainian woman who taught me the love for our country and the importance of freedom since early childhood.
My childhood was in Ukraine. Most of my memories are in Kyiv. This is my country. These are my heroic people. And now Russian occupiers have invaded my land and are killing my people and bombing my country.
How do I feel? I feel like anyone who is in this situation – a situation that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
NYU: If you could tell everybody around the world one thing that would get them to understand what’s happening in Ukraine better, what would you tell them?
OAZ: Ukraine is not a part of Russia. It never was and it will never be. Ukraine is a sovereign state with its own language, own history, own culture, own nation, own land.
NYU: You have such a large following on Instagram, when did you start to notice your following begin to grow?
OAZ: My following started growing during my activism in the Lebanese Revolution. I was using my platform to campaign for social and political change in Lebanon. Now, I am using this platform to inform the world about what’s happening in Ukraine, to spot and warn people about Russian propaganda, to help people in Ukraine through different ways. I am currently organizing a few initiatives.
NYU: Do you feel like you have this responsibility to spread information on what’s going on in Ukraine?
OAZ: Yes, I owe it to my country, my people, and definitely to myself.
I owe it to all the heroes who have given their lives for my land. I owe it to every child who is living in shelters now in fear and are running for their lives. I owe it to every parent who lost their child and to every child who lost their parent. I owe it to the courageous Ukrainian nation.
The least I can do is share information and provide any assistance I can. I will not stop fighting for our freedom. I will not be silent.
Occupiers, go back home.
This is not your land and it will never be.