Minnesota native in Kyiv views Russian invasion firsthand

Russia Starts Large-Scale Attack On Ukraine
Smoke rises from outside an intelligence building on February 24, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Overnight, Russia began a large-scale attack on Ukraine, with explosions reported in multiple cities and far outside the restive eastern regions held by Russian-backed rebels.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

A native of Princeton, Minn., living in Kyiv describes a tense and stressful situation as Russian forces advance on the Ukrainian capital. 

Joe Whitcomb is a trauma-informed relationship psychotherapist who moved from San Diego, California, to Kyiv last year. His research company, BondFire Project, works with a Ukrainian business to develop virtual or mixed reality to treat trauma victims, including military veterans and first responders.

In recent days, Whitcomb, 54, has been hunkered down in his apartment complex, hearing the sounds of gunfire and air raid sirens warning residents to head to a bomb shelter.

"Yesterday was really super intense,” he said during a Facebook call on Sunday. “While we're in there, [there was] a lot of shouting, gunfire. And we were hunkered into our car, and it felt very, very dangerous. And we felt very powerless and helpless to be in that kind of situation."

Joe Whitcomb
Minn. native Joe Whitcomb uses Facebook Live to describe scene in Kyiv on Sunday as the Russian assault on Ukraine continues.
Joe Whitcomb

Whitcomb said things were quieter on Sunday after earlier explosions. He’s been posting live videos on social media describing the sights and sounds from his apartment window.

"Honestly, I didn't think it was going to get as intense as it has been,” he said. “But I just start doing them when the sirens will come on and, and just kind of keep people informed and in the know, and kind of see what's really happening on the ground.”

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Whitcomb said he didn't leave Ukraine when tensions began heating up weeks ago, in part because most Ukrainians thought Russian President Vladimir Putin was saber-rattling and never imagined he’d send troops to Kyiv. 

Now, Whitcomb said he’s worried about his safety if he tries to leave, and he also has loved ones in Kyiv that he doesn't want to leave behind.

Whitcomb said he thinks it's important to keep sharing the story of the Ukrainian people's struggle for freedom and against oppression. 

He said his decades of work with trauma victims has been beneficial in getting through the crisis, and understanding what Ukrainians are experiencing.

“Having that kind of as a shared context language tool resource for me is definitely helpful,” he said. “It's helped me also see the impact of this type of war on humanity and the impact that can have on the people around me.”