As the Ukrainian people brace for increased military action after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into two "breakaway" regions of eastern Ukraine, some parents are preparing for the worst — sending their children to school wearing stickers listing their blood types.
Vasyl and Marta, whose last names are being withheld for their protection, are the proud parents of two girls, ages 9 and 5, living in a village about nine miles from Kyiv, the capital city and largest city in Ukraine. The couple's older daughter attends school in the center of the capital.
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On Monday, after Putin gave a speech in which he "recognized the independence" of two separatist, pro-Russia regions of eastern Ukraine — an act Kyiv's mayor, Vitali Klitshko, described as a declaration of war — the parents started sending their children to school with special stickers.
"It’s like a piece of paper, with blood type information, the names of their parents, and telephone numbers,” Vasyl tells TODAY Parents from Ukraine, via phone. “There is no one form for such a sticker. It depends on every parent. It’s up to them."
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Ukrainian moms started discussing the stickers on Facebook after Putin's speech, says Olga Tokariuk, a Kyiv-based freelance correspondent for Agencia EFE, a Spanish international news agency.
"This was a debate in one of (many) closed groups on Facebook," Tokariuk, who helped connect TODAY with parents living in Ukraine, tells TODAY. "Some schools actually made these stickers mandatory."
Khrystyna, 41, a mother of three daughters who has been living in Kyiv for 25 years, says she just learned about the stickers on Monday.
"I don't have any stickers yet," she tells TODAY, also from Kyiv via phone. "But I had a very deep talk with my older daughter because, sometimes, she comes home from school by herself."
Khrystyna, whose last name is also being withheld for her protection, says she told her eldest daughter, 13, that in case of an emergency she must listen to her teacher; she discussed where they would meet and the two went over "guides for teenagers in emergency situations," she says.
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Conversations with her youngest daughters, ages 5 and 3, were less detailed because they're so young, she adds. She did teach them to know their address, their first and last names, and their mother's full name.
"Of course, it's a very sensitive topic for them and they could get too scared," she says. "What they know is that, 'You should listen to your mom and do what she says.' And if I said, 'We go with me' —because you know, kids want to do what they want — I said, 'No, you do what I say, and that's it. And if you should hear loud noises, you listen to me very carefully.'"
While Khrystyna is continuing to send her 13-year-old to school, she is keeping her two youngest daughters home.
"The kindergarten is far away from my daughter's school and our home," she explains. "I'm afraid of the logistics — if something happens, it will be too difficult for me to gather all of them together."
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Khrystyna says the escalation has made it more difficult to parent — she is often scrolling through social media and refreshing news sites, searching for the latest information.
"It's like you're under total pressure all the time," she adds. "What people write about those air attacks — for me, it's absolutely, how to say, unbelievable. Unimaginable. And a lot of those are new words for me. Words like 'missiles,' 'air attack,' and 'bomb shelter' — I have never used those words in English before."
Khrystyna says that despite the threat of war, she still tries to give her children a normal life.
"I try to keep everything together," she says. "I want the kids to feel like normal life — to send them to their regular classes, like dance, music school, and scouts, just to feel a regular, normal life. But what I discuss with the other parents? That has totally changed."
Vasyl says his daughters' schools have been preparing the children for a possible attack via drills — much like the mass shooting drills students in the U.S. regularly practice.
"My elder daughter, she has instruction considering different types of events, like a fire or bombing," he explains. "In case of a bombing, for example, they were instructed where to go. For us, it was a metro or subway station. In Kyiv, subways have double meaning — they're a metro, but they're also a bomb shelter. So they were teaching and training (the children) how to go outside the school without panic, so it's properly organized."
Vasyl says he and his wife are preparing the children at home, too.
"We are talking with them quite often," he says. "They have to remember and know the contacts, the telephone numbers, and what to do."
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While Vasyl says in his view, Ukraine and Russia have been at war for eight years — since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 — the massive influx of troops at the border and Putin’s latest speech have intensified the conflict.
“Of course, people in Kyiv — and not just in Kyiv — are feeling very nervous,” he says. “But you cannot see the panic on the streets. People, in general, lead the ordinary life. But they’re preparing for a bad situation — an attack on Kyiv. We hope it won’t happen in real life.”
Vasyl says that while it is more difficult to speak about the ongoing conflict with his younger daughter, who is 5, he and his wife are "psychologically trying to prepare them for such events."
"We are talking about it and we are preparing not to be so afraid," he adds. "Of course, we understand that it's impossible not to be afraid in case of a real threat."
In addition to preparing their children, Vasyl says he and his wife are preparing themselves, as well.
"Me and my wife, we have requested and are planning to attend a lecture for weapon use, in order to receive documents for having a weapon in the house," he says. "But I have to say a lot of people have decided to visit such a lecture, so it's not easy to attend such a lecture."
Khrystyna has also asked herself how she can help the Ukrainian Army.
"Maybe I can help cook for the Army," she says. "I took a paramedic care courses last week, too, and I support a charity fund called Повернись живим — literal translation is, "Come Back Alive."
Vasyl is planning, along with some of his friends, to join defense efforts, which would require him to join a special part of the Ukrainian Army.
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If Vasyl should have to travel to the border to defend his country, he says his wife and daughters will stay behind in their home.
"Ukrainians, we are living in our homeland. It's our motherland. We are not going to just leave because some crazy dictator is trying to revive the corpse of the Soviet Russian empire," he says. "Hearing Putin's speech was a nightmare, and I know the propaganda in Russia is working very intensely."
"But now the curtains came down, and everybody can see that this is a Russian invasion — it is a war between Ukraine and Russia," he adds. "This is not a new war — it is an old war."
"Historically, Ukraine has had one of the most aggressive neighbors in the world," Khrystyna adds. "But Ukraine is our land — we want to live normal lives; speak our language; work; develop an economy; raise kids on the basis of core human values, like love and respect."
"So we pray. We pray a lot," she continues. "We just pray for peace."