It was anticipated, yet at the same time unexpected. Planned, it seemed, though not executed according to the dictator's plan. Ultimately it became, for the first time in the modern history of Russian hybrid or direct aggression against its neighbors, a disastrous war for the Kremlin.
For Ukraine however, amidst all the chaos and anguish of war, the story has been one of heroism, togetherness and a meeting of minds.
On Feb. 28, I invested $100 in a pair of new tactical boots in a military shop in Tbilisi, Georgia, where I was living at the time. I was in a hurry and didn’t have much time – I took what I could find.
I, along with many volunteers, had taken the decision to travel to Ukraine to fight in the early and unpredictable battle that changed the course of the war – the battle for Kyiv.
On the way to the airport, the taxi driver overheard my conversation with the leader of our group – former deputy commander of Georgian special forces Giga Robakidze.
He never charged me a penny for that trip – a courtesy the taxi drivers are seldom known for.
In times of war, a mutual passion between Georgians and Ukrainians creates both a bittersweet taste of hospitality, and all the tenderness of an aging love affair. It takes us back to times when Ukrainian Crimea and Georgian Sukhumi (now a Russian-controlled smugglers enclave) were the Riviera or a Côte d'Azur of the Soviet empire.
Both our countries have suffered the tragedy of Russian-enacted genocide, but now it is Ukraine fighting the deadliest and most brutal war the modern world has ever seen.
I only had two hours to gather my things and get to the airfield, and everyone around was supportive.
Yet the next two hours became a mess. The government in Tbilisi would not allow our plane to take off.
Were they afraid of “big brother” in Moscow? Perhaps it was some form of corruption, an attempt simply to avoid getting wrapped up in the new war, or perhaps a calculated act of sabotage against those among its people willing to help?
Whatever the reason, it is clear that the hybrid war raging on our shared European continent has turned many states into Russian proxies.
The Georgian government, the elite of the tiny and beautiful mountainous country I resided in before the big war, has become a de-facto ally of Russia. Two charter planes bringing the volunteer battalion to the frontline were not allowed to take off from that airfield in Tbilisi.
Yet we found a way to sneak through the border, fly from Istanbul to Europe and finally get to Ukraine.
Once there, we fought for Kyiv.
The Chinese boots I bought in that store in Tbilisi only served me for a week or so – typical fake replicas that proved to be a disaster.
The best boots in our little platoon were brought by our American allies via Poland.
Those boots lasted well in the toughest month of March in Irpin, Hostomel, and Stoyanka.
Now, after 300 days of the on-going war, it’s clear, as never before, that we only stand at the beginning of a long road that leads to victory.
Indeed, General Valerii Zaluzhny warns of a new potential attack on Kyiv, with Belarus being a foothold for the new offensive.
With air defense being a top priority, there are other important issues to address, both politically and militarily.
Convergence of those with a common goal
The training of territorial defense units – made up of ordinary people from all walks of life and of various age – is essential to creating small and mobile units ready for combat in case of urban guerrilla warfare. This is what we saw and took part in during the first days of the invasion.
Training of these units and control over the varied mix of volunteer fighters, both women and men, should be an important task for the defense agencies – as should the training and support of ethnic battalions formed of people from around the globe.
For the first time in Ukrainian history, our country, not unlike Spain in 1937, became home to international brigades fighting a new form of fascism.
We are here to host them and to train them.
We are here to stand side by side with them.
We are here to bring them home, hopefully, in one piece.
This is a decisive moment for many, just like it was for the Georgians and Chechens – nations that suffered decades of terror and oppression.
The only chance for them to stop the further expansion of the Russian empire is to stand strong alongside Ukrainians and fight the totalitarian megalomaniac state they’ve fought for so long. This is despite being outnumbered and abandoned by the most valuable allies.
Before the big war, we Ukrainians were lucky to be noticed. Yet now, after years of hybrid aggression so often ignored by the media and politicians, the picture is different.
But the reality is, this war has lasted for decades.
Moscow has sought to divide and control for a long time without attracting too much outside attention, and without stepping, it seems, over red lines.
Pope John Paul II, who visited Kyiv 20 years ago and whom I once met here in the heart of my hometown, said that "don't be afraid" should become the 11th Commandment.
Looking back over this year, I think of one word that is a game changer – a new 12th Commandment and a symbol of this war and our strength.
That word is – above all – unity.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.