Iana Gritcan.

Senior Chemistry Technician, Te Wānanga Aronui O Tamaki Makau Rau

Dear Hiwa-i-te-rangi, let me describe Ukraine that lives in my heart. It’s fresh morning air mixed with the smell of my grandmother cooking syrniki (sweet cottage cheese pancakes) and I run to wash my face with well water before the breakfast. It's feeling the sun on my cheeks as I walk through wheat fields to visit my aunt's cherry and apricot trees, and my brother and I cannot wait until we get there. Ukraine tastes like fresh honey from my uncle's bees, best enjoyed with fresh white bread and fresh milk. It's spending long days with my extended family, harvesting potatoes and baking them in a coal pit for dinner, our hands and faces are coloured black. It’s feeling of seawater crystals on my skin after the whole day at the beach, leaving me too tired and I am falling asleep.

But today, dear Hiwa-i-te-rangi, Ukraine looks different. The fresh morning air is filled with the urgency of anti-air raid sirens and the rush to safety in bomb shelters. Ukraine smells of burning wheat and sunflower fields—crops now lost, never to be harvested. It tastes like the bitterness of blood in mouths clenched tight to suppress screams of pain and anger, witnessing the brutality inflicted by Russian "soldiers" on our land, our people, our prisoners, and our kidnapped children. Ukrainian hands are stained with black gunpowder; these hands should have been tending fields and hugging children. It feels like salt crystals on our cheeks when we visit the graveyards of soldiers and civilians or bidding farewell to neighbours understandably leaving Ukraine to raise children in safety. I am certain they will return when the war ends, though I do not know when that will be.

So, dear Hiwa-i-te-rangi, let me wish upon you to see Ukraine restored to the place it holds in the hearts of 45 million Ukrainians.