'We couldn't believe that in the 21st century world, a European country can be bombed, can be invaded.'
She wakes up every morning with the hope that Russia's invasion of her country is a nightmare, but the grim reality of her parents, friends and extended family being trapped in a war imperiling their lives sinks in moments later, says Ukrainian film-maker Dar Gai.
Oscillating between despair, disbelief and sometimes helpless tears, the India-based director said her loved ones back are home are trying to save themselves by hiding in subway stations converted into bomb shelters.
Thankfully, her parents have managed to leave Kyiv.
"Till the last moment, we couldn't believe that in the 21st century world, a European country can be bombed, can be invaded. Every morning I wake up and think that it was just a nightmare," Gai, who made the move to India 10 years ago, told PTI.
As global attention remains focused on Ukraine after Russian troops stormed towns and villages in the east European nation, leading to hundreds of casualties and many thousands forced to flee their homes, Gai is frantic with worry and also angry.
"I saw a video of a Russian tank passing by the school where I used to study. It's scary. It's absurd," she said, stressing that the attack is a 'war' and not a 'conflict or an operation' on Ukraine.
Gai, an intimacy director on Shakun Batra's Gehraiyaan, is best known for directing festival favourites Teen Aur Aadha and Namdev Bhau: In Search of Silence.
"I can't believe it's happening with me, with my family, with my country. It's been difficult, I can't reply to any messages that ask me whether I'm okay, because I immediately break down," Gai said.
She is in constant touch with her relatives and has been getting messages that fill her with dread.
Her parents, she said, had a tough time leaving Kyiv because all highways were blocked. Somehow, they managed to reach their village to be with the extended family.
Leaving everything they own, everything that is close to their heart and relocating just with an aim to save their lives is leaving a 'tremendous psychological impact' on the people of Ukraine, the director asserted.
"I have friends there who want to stay back and fight, but to what end? I have been getting messages from family members who are just confused, shocked and are not able to take any rational decisions. The psychological impact of this has been tremendous," she added.
The entire situation, she said, reminds her of the German invasion in 1941.
Describing Kyiv as a 'beautiful' European city, the film-maker said, "The last time we were at war this way was with Germany in 1941. Now, using the same propaganda methods, the Russians have entered our cities and homes, bombing civilian houses, roads, bridges, schools and kindergartens."
In her view, Russian troops have been at war with Ukranian soldiers for many years.
"Young innocent people have been dying silently on the frontlines... without any media coverage, without any international recognition or support," she said.
"We know what we are fighting for -- our dignity, the peaceful future of the world and most importantly, for common sense to prevail," she added.
The solution, Gai believes, lies in uniting together, protesting and sending letters to NATO, established in the aftermath of World War II.
"We need to remember that one single person can change the entire future of a country. Spread the word, talk to your friends about it, come out on the streets and protest, send letters to NATO, demand that the EU politicians must interfere in this, to help with humanitarian aid, to help finance and create a shield for air attacks.
"If we wait for too long to interfere, we might lose millions of lives around the globe," she said.
According to Gai, people often refrain from showing support till it concerns them. She also appealed to world leaders to 'react' and support the country.
"We always think this doesn't concern us until our streets are bombed. Isolationism and appeasement have been the primary reasons for the earlier great wars, and it's true that the last few years have not been easy on any nation or economy," she said.
"Countries are too busy looking after themselves and trying to make it back from the damage of the pandemic but moments like this are the real test of a global cohesion. Leaders of the free world need to react now, they need to interfere, because if they don't, maybe there will be no free world left to react at all," Gai added.
Amid the horrors of war breaking out in her country, she said she has found support from her friends and colleagues in India.
"Everyone is really concerned. All my Indian friends give me such support that I feel overwhelmed. I keep getting messages, calls, tags. But I haven't learned how to deal with my emotions and I can't reply to these messages as it triggers me immediately."
Gai is working on a project with Afghan film-maker Sarhaa Karimi, who had appealed to film-makers worldwide to put pressure on their respective government to help the people of Afghanistan when the country was taken over by the Taliban last September.
"In fact, Sarhaa was rescued by the Ukrainian mission from Afghanistan," Gai said. "We are all united in this because we know we are on the side of light."