Voices from Ukraine

Russia’s war in Ukraine began in 2014 and has continued for the past eight years. On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine, initiating a full-scale war and elevating the crisis to a new level. 

HURI condemns this war and is working to provide what assistance it can to advocate for Ukraine, fight disinformation, and assist those whose lives are in danger. In the midst of this activity, it is important to keep Ukrainian voices first and foremost, and to remember the very personal, human dimension of this tragic war.

We've reached out to contacts in Ukraine to offer them a platform to share their experiences, thoughts, and perspectives. We will add to this page as responses come in. Please join us in keeping these brave individuals in your thoughts, and do what you can to support Ukraine's sovereignty.

Special thanks to Davis Center REECA student Lucy Minicozzi-Wheeland for initiating this effort and to Erik Puzanov, an English teacher from Odesa, Ukraine, for help with the translation of these stories.

See also: TCUP Commentary

Iryna, mother of Azov soldier, June 28

Azov regiment soldier and photographer Dmytro Kozatsky offered the world a glimpse inside the Azovstal steel factory, where civilians and soldiers maintained the final resistance to Russian forces attempting to occupy the city of Mariupol. After helping to get the citizens to safety, Dmytro and his fellow soldiers surrendered on May 20. They were taken into captivity. 

Dymtro's images have appeared in many media outlets; he made the album widely available in full resolution in his Twitter post announcing the unit's surrender. With his mother's permission, we are including the entire collection in our Voices from Ukraine project. His mother, Iryna Yurchenko, also sent a short remark and several photographs to be included with the post. 

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Greetings! 

Dmytro and his motherMy name is Iryna Yurchenko. I am the mother of a soldier of the Azov Regiment Dmytro Kozatsky (call sign "Orest," 26 years old). 

My son joined the National Guard in 2015, and in 2017 joined the Azov Regiment with the National Guard of Ukraine. He liked the training, the discipline, and the sense of humanity that prevailed in Azov among the service members. They were bonded like a family. 

I liked his choice. Dima became organized and athletically fit. He set goals and achieved them. My son was inspired by teamwork and fraternal relations between the service members. 

On February 24, at 5:45 a.m., my son called. He said that the war had begun and that all the cities of Ukraine were being bombed. He asked me to call all our friends and relatives and go down to the shelter...

It was a shock to me. We agreed not to panic, but to act quickly and get in touch later...

From the first days of the war, Dima was in Mariupol. They held the enemy back and helped people with food, medicine, and water. When Putin's people deliberately gathered people ostensibly for evacuation, and then brutally fired shells and bombs at them, Azov went around the city and asked them not to believe the Russians and hide in a shelter. Those who did not believe in the Azovs and waited for the evacuation were shot... My son said that it is awful and inhumane to kill innocent people and children...

Dmytro in uniformOn March 1, Mariupol was surrounded and the Azovs moved to the territory of Azovstal. There was almost no connection, but we sent each other messages. SMS were short: “Alive + How are you, how’s my dear sister, be careful!!! I love you!"

On February 25, I went to work as the conductor of the Kyiv-Uzhhorod evacuation train.

I worked for 10 days, then had a couple of days back home (in Malyn, Zhytomyr region), where I live, which was also hellish), and then went back again to evacuate people. I didn’t have to go to work, but I had to help other people at such a terrible time.

When my son was at Azovstal, it became scarier and more infernal there every day. AND there were many dead and wounded. Food ran out and there was no drinking water. The soldiers gave their food to the women with children, who also hid at the plant. There was never any reception. Every second I waited for some news from Dima. He always held up well and said that they were all "good," but in fact there was horror... It was incredibly difficult for them, but they are soldiers and have no right to surrender ...

Dmytro in civilian clothes with cell phoneThe defenders of Azovstal and Dima were "evacuated" from the plant on May 17-20. It was an order of the president of Ukraine: "save the lives of the military," because there were too many dead and severely wounded... When I learned about it and saw Dima in a Russian public group ALIVE!!!, I was happy beyond words.

Now they are in captivity. What is happening with them? How are they? Are they kept there in humane conditions? Are they being tortured?... We don't know. We very much hope for the Red Cross, for the world community, for Ukrainian leadership to make them RELEASE OF OUR HEROES FROM CAPTIVITY! Because THEY protect THEIR FAMILIES, THEIR LAND, AND THEIR UKRAINIAN PEOPLE!!!

Mariupol's Last Stand: Inside Azovstal (media gallery)

Regina L, Mykolaiv, age 50. March-May

February 22

Today I saw tanks passing by my building. They looked dirty, outdated and out of place. Although I knew they must have been on the way to the military base right outside of the city, it was unsettling to see. Our home is in the south of Ukraine. Life here has not been affected as much by the war in the Donbas (Eastern Ukraine) that has been raging for 8 years. Across the country, the families of the fallen soldiers, the number of whom has exceeded 13,000 by now, have been suffering, mostly silently. Many more soldiers were wounded. Over 2 million Ukrainians became displaced. It was referred to as Europe's invisible war that few outside of the country noticed or talked about, until recently…

I was born in Russia but grew up in Ukraine. My parents were students in St. Petersburg. For many people here with roots in both countries, the Russia-Ukraine conflict feels deeply personal and unfathomable. Yet, it is very real and very dangerous and can no longer be ignored. Ukraine is facing a lot of uncertainty but the people are peace-loving and very resilient and they will persevere. 

February 24

Amidst the unthinkable and unprecedented, Ukrainian people are doing what they do best: uniting, keeping calm, staying civil, comforting each other and caring for one another.  And thanks to you, they know they are not alone. They do. Let peace prevail. 

February 25

Dearest, you have not lived long enough to see the tragedy that is unfolding in your homeland. You were such a positive spirit but I know that your eyes would fill up with tears at hearing this. We feel your presence. You are protecting us from above. The pendant. With your fingerprint. Wherever I go. I remember you, Andrew. 

Proud of you, Ukraine! Character, honor, courage and commitment make up the nation. You have them in abundance. And nobody can take that away!

February 26

Tick-tock-tick-tock. Since Russia launched a full-scale military invasion into Ukraine, time here is no longer measured by hours, days, weeks, months. It's by the second, by the minute. Listening intensely. Counting seconds of calm. Tick-tock-tick-tock. Are they still bombing? 

Do I still hear the sound of fighter jets flying over? Using every second of calm to rest: physically, emotionally. 

To hug loved ones. Tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock.

February 27

Sadly, we are witnessing the disappearance of "good morning,” "good afternoon,” "good evening," and "goodnight" in Ukraine. Ukrainians no longer know what to tell each other! There is only one word we want to say and hear, the most important of all: PEACE

February 28

War makes for great stories, photos and videos. Ukrainians are not interested in making great war stories. Ukrainians don't want to star in war movies. Ukrainians want PEACE!

March 1

Love thy neighbor! With all your heart. Extended family is not there. Neither are business partners. Amidst the shelling, the shooting, and the missile attacks, to the non-stop air raid siren sounds, no one but your neighbors are standing with you shoulder to shoulder, sharing food, shelter and conversations. Stronger together, with neighbors.

March 3

Do you see what we see? Do you hear what we hear? Do you feel what we feel? I hope you never do. That's why Ukraine keeps fighting with all her might. And she won't have it any other way!

March 4

Don't ask Ukrainians what day of the week it is. Wars have neither weekdays nor weekends. We only know that it is Day 9 of war. Don't ask us what time it is. There are only two time periods here: in shelter and out of shelter. Every moment is a gift. Every morning is a gift. Every day is a gift. We heard it before. We know it now. Let peace prevail!

March 8

Global community,

THIS IS GENOCIDE!

Moral and financial support has been unparallelled and much appreciated. Growing sanctions, global protests, illuminating landmarks in blue and yellow, musical performances of the Ukrainian national anthem, fundraisers... Yet nothing slows down the pace of the atrocities. 

Putin's troops are wiping Ukraine, its people and its culture off the face of the Earth, demolishing community after community, city after city, methodically, with unparalleled brutality. The lives of 45 million people are being crushed. Where is God?

ODESA - the Jewel of the Black Sea, is now bracing for bombings. The next one in the long lineup of peaceful Ukrainian cities and small towns subject to the devastating air strikes, artillery fire and non-stop terrorism for the past 13 days. 

THIS IS GENOCIDE!

Appeal to your governments to do everything in their power to stop the Russian invasion into the sovereign Ukraine! Keep up the good work. Save innocent souls whose land is being tortured and burnt! Bring back the peaceful sky over Ukraine and over the world.

 

March 29. War and Work

This morning I had an important task to finish. The Ukrainian company that I write for is launching a fundraising campaign so they can resume production and get back to work, and I had to finish editing their campaign materials and call for action. The towns where the team was based became war hot spots. Many team members became internally displaced. When the Digital Group Head, also displaced, was assigning the task, she added that it was a stressful day for her because she had just learned that her street was bombed and her home likely ceased to exist. She now had to deliver this news to her mother...

I had to give my full attention to the editing but it was hard to focus. My mother kept screaming that something awful had happened in Mykolaiv and I had to hear it. I said: "Not now. I have to keep working. It's a very tight deadline." I was working away for another hour. I knew I could not get distracted and had to stay on the task no matter what.

Upon completing the edits and submitting them, I finally looked up the news. The regional government building, the face of the city, got hit by a Russian cruise missile. Many people were buried under the rubble. They were being rescued. I kept looking at the picture of what was left of the landmark in the heart of my hometown. The heartache was too strong. I put my phone down, turned away so my mother could not see my face and stared blankly at the wall. Tears went streaming down. 

April 12. War and Groceries

It was Day 6 of the war when my neighbor and I ventured out grocery shopping. Actually, it was our second attempt to get to the store since the war began. The first one was the day before. But as soon as we joined the line outside of the store across the road, the air raid sirens went off and we had to hurry back home empty-handed.

This time things looked calmer, although the calm could change any moment. I wanted us to enter the first store on the way so we could stay close to home in case of sirens, but our neighbor had to get some pet food, which was only available at a supermarket another 500 meters up the street. Hesitantly, I joined her. On the way to the supermarket, we kept brainstorming what and how much to buy. This was no regular shopping trip. Do we buy as much as we can carry? As much as we can afford? How long will the stores be able to restock if the war lasts longer? How long will we be able to afford going to stores if there’s no income?

The supermarket was full of people hurrying up and down the aisles, sweeping up the shelves. Their anxiety was palpable. I caught myself thinking: "This feels like we are at war or something." And then the horrific realization: "We ARE at war." My neighbor and I managed to complete our shopping trip uninterrupted. The sirens started when we were already half way home.

P.S. In the following days, a lot of people in Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Mariupol and many other places in Ukraine got killed trying to get groceries, lining up for bread, running out to find water…

April 15. War and Go-Bag

It took me a couple of days to start packing my emergency go-bag. The shock was too strong in the first days of war: regular activities stopped and new habits had not formed yet. The preferred option was to freeze and hope that when you unfreeze, the nightmare will have gone away and life will get back to normal. Frozen, I could not reach for a bag on the first day of war, or the next one, or the one after, but once I did, and started thinking about what to pack in case we had to leave the house at a moment's notice, I realized that out of all the things ever owned, I did not need that much at all. In fact, I only needed one thing: PEACE. But that's the one I could not have. And so I packed one change of clothes, a towel, a roll of toilet paper, personal hygiene products, basic medicines, an orange, some nuts and crackers. A bottle of water. Phone and charger. My favorite childhood photo. Passport, credit card, and my UBC degree. Under any circumstances, these will become life savers, I knew as much. For the following weeks of war, this go-bag would be next to me at all times: at my bedside during the night, within an arm's reach; next to the chair at the kitchen table where we ate, in my arms when sheltering from the air raids.

April 18. War and Water

THIRSTY. Over 250,000 residents stayed behind in my hometown of Mykolaiv. The Russian invaders damaged the central water supply pipeline and left residents without running water. The city cannot start repairs because of increased military activity.

This is Day 7 when the people of the city that's been shelled daily since the start of the war have to collect water from the river, from the rain, from the city trucks stopping by.

Thirsty are those who cannot lift, carry, and stand in lines for hours to get their cans filled.

Bottled water can still be purchased.

Thirsty are those who cannot afford buying drinking water.

How long can the sewage system hold up until it collapses?

Yesterday, nature had mercy and sent rain. Let it rain in the coming days! Cry Ukraine a lake, she cried an ocean over you.

Thirsty are those who are too frail to leave their homes.

Thirsty are those who cannot speak for themselves.

Thirsty for actions to speak louder than words.

Thirsty for PEACE. 

April 20. War and Teachers

Three years ago, I had the privilege to serve on the team of trainers for the GoCamp Program in Ukraine. The program brought together English teachers from across the country for a week of workshops to enable them with skills and resources to run summer language camps. This is when I discovered the beautiful city of Irpin just 30 km from Kyiv and met hundreds of inspiring professionals eager to share and to learn.

The city, now the site of mass murder and utter destruction, was once straight out of a fairy tale. Newly built commercial and residential areas, green spaces, quiet streets, lively playgrounds.

As I was finishing preparations for the training sessions, through my window, I saw groups of teachers, from villages and large cities alike, walking around the property in awe, taking photos in front of the magnolia tree, admiring the cherry blossoms, and inhaling the pine-filled air. It was a place of peace, education, and rejuvenation that we all crave so much. Conference Hall Irpin: Now in ruins.

May 10. War and Lights

Please don't call Ukrainians after dark. Every moment is used to rest, to sleep, because there could have been another attack today and there could be a sleepless night ahead. Or there is an attack happening right now and they are too stressed to speak to you. And the lights are off.

When the night curfew starts, it's best not to turn on the lights in the house. No, it's critical not to turn the lights on. It can save lives. If one person in the building leaves the lights on, it makes the rest of the residents very worried. They don't want to be discovered by the enemy just because of one light.

They stand quietly in the dark: new modern houses, old Soviet style buildings, entire cities and villages. As if electricity has never been invented. They hope to survive this way another night. They wish they were invisible, but they are not. They wish they were safe, but they are not.

May 20. War and Vyshyvanka

Before leaving our home for what would be a long, uncertain and risky journey on a bus full of evacuees from Mykolaiv, Ukraine, I snapped one last photo. It was a photo of my maternal grandfather’s vyshyvanka. My grandfather, a WWII veteran, who was wounded multiple times during the war and passed away before his time because of poor heart, as many vets did, loved wearing this vyshyvanka for public holidays and special occasions. Labor Day and Victory Day would be the top and much awaited occasions to wear. It was the only piece of clothing of his that we had kept in our closet, always washed and neatly ironed – a family relic indeed.

I took a long, hard look at it before leaving and considered taking it with me. Our luggage was very limited and we could only take along the essentials, leaving everything else behind. Things like water and snacks and meds were the essentials. I could not risk more luggage. And so I put it back in the closet to do what my grandfather has always been doing for his family and his homeland. Protecting it and celebrating it. To do what vyshyvanka can do best.

 

Arina, university student from Severodonetsk. May 6

I am from Severodonetsk, Luhansk oblast. My house is in the countryside – about 10 kilometers away from the town. For the last three years I have been living and studying in Kharkiv. The week before the war, I came back home from Slovakia. 

The war started for me on February 23. I remember texting my best friend the night before it all started. I said “I hear shooting, I’m scared.” He calmed me down, so I could fall asleep.

On February 24, I woke up because of a call from my other best friend from Kyiv. She said she heard sirens and the sound of explosions. I didn't hear anything. 

That morning, my mom was going to work and taking my younger sister to school. My dad went skiing in the Carpathians a week before and he was coming back on February 26. Mom went to town to buy groceries and to meet her clients. I stayed at home with my 13 year-old sister, two dogs, and a cat. At 11:00, we heard a massive explosion near us. I panicked and told my sister to take the cat and go down to the basement. I knew that my dogs wouldn't go there because of the stairs, so I tried to cram them under the sofa. They couldn't fit in there. I was crying, my hands were shaking. I locked them in a corridor with no windows. It turned out that Russians bombed an airfield 20 kilometers from our village.

Dad came home two days later. He was volunteering for the first two or three days, but then he wasn't allowed to go, because the road was mined and Russian forces came really close to Severodonetsk.

We were occupied. Firstly, they cut off the internet. Then, the mobile connection. And lastly, the light. All houses in our village are cottages, so we were almost the only family who lived there. We didn’t have shops there, so we couldn’t restock. We were melting snow on the wood-burning stove to have water. Dad found a well with drinking water. 

Every day and night we heard the sounds of artillery shelling, but it almost never was really close. The closest ones were maybe 100 meters away. We had a fridge full of vegetables and fruits, a cupboard with many cereals, and a basement with pickled cucumbers and tomatoes, a few cans of meat, and three cases of potatoes. I used to be angry at my mom for having an excessive amount of food, but now I’m very grateful to her. 

We had a power generator and sometimes we turned it on to charge our phones and to watch the news. One day, we turned it on and an artillery shell fell near our neighbor's garage. Luckily, it didn’t explode. Most of the Russian shells didn’t explode – really high quality! 
One day, one of our dogs (Sam) ran away. We had run out of dog food so we had to feed them with fruits from our fridge. He was missing for 48 hours. We were worried about him, but it was too dangerous to look for him. Finally, my dad took our other dog (Rey) and went to look for Sam. 

Dad found him in the Russian camp in the next village. They fed him a lot. He was so fat, he couldn’t even get up. We really thought he was going to die because of it. Luckily, he lived. Right after Dad came home, a Ukrainian shell fell right on that village. I remember mom very calmly saying to us: “Girls, when I tell you to go to the basement, you go there immediately. They will come to kill us.” The Russians didn't come – maybe there was no one to do that.

On March 25, our parents asked us if we wanted to leave. We still had enough food and water, so we didn’t want to. Dad was afraid that when the Russians retreated, the front line might be moved to our village. So, we left home on March 26. 

We were leaving from the occupied territories and we had to make a big hook to go to the Ukrainian side. We left our home to go to Ukraine – nonsense! 

We went through ten Russian checkpoints and three Ukrainian ones before we reached Kramatorsk. When a soldier at a Ukrainian checkpoint said “Slava Ukraini!” we cried.

Anonymous woman from Kherson. May 3

Kherson is the capital of brave people!

Kherson residents are hostages!!! 

Kherson has been under occupation for two months.

I will explain what this is like in more detail:

You go outside without a phone – because they will check it. They focus on anything from photos to texts. You can be on the street until 15:00, and then only near your home. Because the occupiers are everywhere and who knows what they will want. Online lessons are over. And in general the internet and communication are over. Russia now routes the internet through itself – that is, everyone is listening and everything is under control.

There are no Ukrainian products. Russian ones are here, but at very high prices and nobody wants to buy them. Everyone whispers, looking around.

Active people were taken prisoner. Only some are known to be alive and most have gone silent. Many people disappeared – hundreds! In the evening the lights are turned off so as not to attract attention. There is no medicine.

Now imagine – you are going out for bread – by the way, all the grain was stolen and taken to the Crimea. You are met by Z cars, or sometimes armed men. I remember driving a car with music playing and everyone was startled and could not understand what it was. Because no one has played music for a long time.

Silent terror. Changing the rules. New laws and new tariffs are being set for entrepreneurs. We are frightened that they are already preparing to introduce the ruble. 

Many volunteers left to save their lives.

Explosions and skirmishes are sometimes heard – Kadyrovtsy and Buryats are fighting among themselves in the Russian army. The floodplains along the Dnieper River caught fire. Of course, nobody extinguished them. The city watched and cried, because there are dachas, there are animals. A very large part burned down. Fire the height of trees or higher.

Now the city has no connection with the world, so there is no news. But no one believes the Ruscists. Kherson residents do not trust anyone, and they have the right not to, because no one except Kherson residents has defended the city since the first days of the war.

Kherson residents are probably the only ones who rejoice when they hear explosions outside the city. Of course, it's scary, but it's our Armed Forces! Kherson residents work – everyone who gives people water, electricity, gas, doctors, taxis. All services are working except the police. The butter factory also works. Meat, vegetables, and milk are brought from the villages. 

Kherson is the capital of brave people! 

Natalia, children’s teacher from Mariupol. April 30

I live in the Mariupol district Skhidny (Схiдний). When else will I be able to say that?

On February 24, 2022, at about 5 o'clock in the morning, the shelling of our district with grad missiles began. 

We couldn't even imagine how it would end. We thought that the orcs would release several missiles, as in 2015, and it would all just end like that. But it did not end and when missiles fell near my sister's house, we decided to go to another area (the village of Sailors), to my brother's family. As it turned out, it was not very far. 

Then the endless, horrible days and nights began. 

At first, we were without light and communication. They even drew a calendar and crossed out the days. Then, we were without water and gas. But it is possible to survive.  It was more horrible to sit in the basement and hear the whistling of rockets, the roar of planes and explosions, explosions, explosions... It feels like the Ruscists work in three shifts, like in a factory.

Twice we tried to go to Skhidny district (Схiдний) to pick up my mother-in-law – in the first days of the war, she did not want to go with us. Once, we drove to Rainbow Park and an air raid began. I don't even know how we survived – probably thanks to my grandfather. He was a military driver in the distant past, and a guardian angel. 

The second time, a day later, we drove a little farther – several streets – and travel was impossible. There were fragments of buildings, trees and mines, unexploded shells sticking out of the asphalt, power lines, burned cars and again explosions, explosions, explosions… We barely got to our yard, where we left the car. A wheel broke, and the children sitting in the basement made their way under mortar fire – the orcs were already close. That day, a part of the roof in the basement where we were hiding was blown off and there was a direct hit on the house next door.

But this, as it turned out, is not the worst. It's scary when the orcs put your son (only 16 years old!) against the wall and they want to shoot him in front of you because they found binoculars in the house nearby and they ignore your cries that he is a child, because, they say, they have been fighting since they were 14. They are just creatures, animals, non-humans, there are no words to describe them. There were small children with us in the basement, so they aimed their weapons at them when they searched the basement (cowardly beasts!). And there were three such raids by barbarian orcs. First came the Russian special forces, then a group of sweeps (their leader had a callsign “the German”). He went on and on and very emotionally told us that they came to free us from the “nationalists.” Illiterate creatures. I wanted to bite his throat open, but my family held me; they even closed my mouth so that God forbid I wouldn't speak Ukrainian! 

And the third group, drunken, inadequate people, who didn't care where they shot, almost killed the owner of the basement. She always ran out first and shouted, “Here there women and children!” and not to shoot. They demanded alcohol and after drinking, they said that they were taken to Makiivka straight from the bus stop, and said that they were self-sufficient, so they went from house to house and robbed, and there were some whom they raped who shot themselves. 

After that, we realized that we can no longer stay there. We must take risks and get out of this hell. We didn't hear about the humanitarian corridors – there was no connection. We just saw cars moving towards Melekyne through the destroyed fence. We quickly changed the blown-out wheel on the car – we didn't do this before, so that the orcs couldn’t take the car. Eight people, three cats, and a Ukrainian flag got into the car. 

The road was terrible. There were many orc checkpoints. I was constantly shaking from the inability to do anything– I wanted to blow them up so much! We arrived at the checkpoint in Tokmak at 5:30 pm. They checked the cars for a long time and we had to spend the night in the car. In the morning, we went on. In Vasylivka, the bridge was destroyed and we returned to the dirt road, which was mined. Everyone got out of the cars and saw that a shard was sticking out of the wheel of our car and it almost went down. In order to pass the mines, it was necessary not to touch them. It was good that 9 cars gathered on the way and we had a small column. One man and his son – we did not even have time to introduce ourselves – patched up and inflated our wheel. We truly thank them, because if it weren't for them, I don't even know what would have happened to us.

One car was transported through the minefield. Two men stood near the mines and warned people so that the drivers would not run into them – they were also brave people. And as soon as all the cars were on the other side, and we crossed this section on foot, a Ruscist helicopter appeared and started firing missiles in our direction! We lay on the ground where we were and when he flew away, we saw that we were lying right on the mines. Thank God that orcs can’t shoot and they have arms growing from their arses!

We drove a few more kilometers under fire and finally got to our dear Ukrainian checkpoint. It even became easier to breathe. The guys patched us up, refueled the cars, and organized a police escort to Zaporizhzhia. May God protect them! And may these Ruscist creatures who came to our land with weapons all die out miserably! 

Glory to Ukraine!!!

Artur, Kherson. April 30

On the way home

Part 1

During the fourth week of the occupation in Kherson, one of my few dreams came true, which, fortunately, was still possible in this dense atmosphere of horror, fear and simultaneous unity in the once quiet southern city.

The dream would have been prosaic in calmer circumstances, but in the occupation, its content seemed either a continuous mockery or a desirable dream of returning to my normal life. I dreamt that I was late for an important flight to Berlin. There was too much hustle and bustle around. It seemed like the road to Boryspil was one continuous obstacle that could not be overcome. I finally got to my destination. But as soon as I crossed the threshold, I immediately felt that I began to stray from the rhythm of movement. And behind me somewhere in the nothingness floated the whole city, which was moving. I decided to unpack my suitcase, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t moving along with it. In despair, I looked in all directions.

When I woke up, I first felt an unprecedented inspiration. A couple of hours later, I began to feverishly search in the Kherson chat called "how to leave" for the contacts of people who would take me and preferably several more women and children through the orcs’ checkpoints in Kherson oblast without demanding all the money in the world as a payment.

It is worth noting that on February 25, I moved from my apartment – where I had been trapped by panic attacks and claustrophobia since the beginning of the war – to my aunt's apartment downstairs, where I was less worried. And my conscious loneliness, which used to be a significant plus, has become one of the huge disadvantages for my psyche since February 24. When you are left alone with your thoughts in an empty room, and just a few of kilometers away from you, the grad missiles are fucking everyone up, and THEY are walking through the streets of your city as if it were their home, some assholes from Pskov and Tuva, it's hard not to go crazy. Although it is possible.

But it was in my aunt's apartment, even sometimes enjoying the excessive noise of her pets, that I began to have the idea to run away from Kherson, at any cost, because there was nothing to lose. More precisely, I wanted to leave as soon as there was at least a minimal opportunity for a green corridor. However, I understood perfectly well that even if there is an official green corridor – it still does not exist, by the way – there is no guarantee that this convoy of cars with people will not be shot at close range. On February 25, the railway station in Kherson was closed, all police and patrols disappeared from the city, and even an attempt to leave in the first days of the war, even before the dense enemy occupation of the city, seemed a savage and perverted suicide. However, staying in the city, where there were journalists, activists and anti-terrorist operation veterans, where I went to the basement almost every day, was not the best decision.

Part 2 

For myself, I decided that I needed to make three attempts – no less, but no more. There was an inner intuitive feeling that one of these planned attempts would be successful.

My first evacuation attempt was on March 25. It failed for a number of reasons. I only had the phone number of drivers who took people exclusively from the oblast, but not from the city.  I still at that time had little idea of what to pack, and what is not worth it at all. Also I bought a button Nokia, which is really the best opportunity to keep all valuable contacts and communication, because to carry a work tablet through Russian checkpoints, which after the New Year needed urgent repairs, the idea, to put it mildly, was stupid. However, I understood one thing: you need to take a few personal belongings, but keep bank cards and documents out of reach as much as possible, such as a white ticket and your passport.

Attempt number two was on April 7, and my aunt and I already had many more necessary contacts to be able to go to Mykolaiv and Odesa. Beginning April 5, the main Kherson shopping center Fabryka (Factory), burned and was looted. Columns of cars trying to leave started to form and there were queues of people searching for the chance to sit down with someone –  sometimes for free, but often for money, and sometimes considerable money. 

Getting up wildly early – at 4 am – I packed up again, finally had breakfast (who knows, maybe this was my last breakfast?!) and for half an hour, starting at 5:45, I tried to call a taxi to the column assembly point at the Factory. Only at about 6:20 a taxi pulled up to the school gates near my house, and ten minutes later I panicked and begged all the cars that were quickly leaving me to take me in. They didn't want to take me in for 15 minutes for free or for money, until one young couple, Olya and Pasha, finally agreed, and they agreed to take me for free – good people. 

We were moving in the direction of the city, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw charred skeletons of cars (no people inside), and destroyed orc equipment. There was a general, ominous silence as we passed the first checkpoint, the second, the third... Olya and Pasha, turning on a Beatles CD in their red car (which really sticks out), promptly cleaned their gadgets of any signs of dangerous information, quarreling with each other in a cute way in the process.  Near the checkpoint on the bridge it became clear that something was wrong today, and two minutes later – it was 9:30 am – the reason became clear: the occupiers said that the bridge was mined, you cannot go on, and a couple of cars were shot – people said this, but it was not proved in a couple of days – and Olya and Pasha, against the wishes of others in the column, returned back to Kherson, as well as several dozen cars. I was not disappointed with the failure, but for some reason I decided that I should make the third attempt only on April 14 or 15, not even assuming that on April 14, I would be in Lviv in a rented apartment in the heart of the city, which my company was able to organize. My company temporarily relocated to Slovakia from Kyiv.

Part 3

On April 8, my aunt received a call from one of the coordinators who was evacuating from Kherson. His name was Sergei. After clarifying who should be taken – a subtle boy of 31 – Sergei said that there is still a free seat with one of his drivers. The time of arrival of the car was 5:10 am. The meeting place was near the restaurant “Alexander Shants.” The price would be 3000 hryvnias. They would take me to Bashtanka, from where the next driver would pick me up and take me to the Odesa railway station.

I did not sleep before the trip. In a fit of total paranoia, I cleaned all my two bags of any suspicious items, and as a result did not take with me a microSD flash drive or a Madeira card in memory of the November trip to the archipelago, or a couple of bright vintage branded items such as light spring a jacket from Versace, which I bought for myself in my thirties. I cautiously tore off a suspicious metal badge from my spring jacket and hid some money in a small hole in my jacket. I fell asleep for three hours.

Part 4

The morning of April 9 seemed foggy and somewhat dark and cold. At the appointed hour, I went to the meeting place with the driver, and he approached me with amazing accuracy and punctuality at exactly 5:10 am, saying that it was better to sit next to him. We went to get the other passengers. It was a girl with a young daughter, her sister and their mutual friend. They did not give us their names. Not only I had acute paranoia. 

It is worth noting that at night, in the Telegram channels covering the evacuation, there was a panic attack: the Russians are preparing a provocation – they will shell the columns of cars leaving the city, which they would then present in their media as a crime of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. But the desire to leave the city in the occupation was stronger than the fear of being burned alive by grad missiles. It is not scary to die, because in the occupation, you are already dead and deprived of any of your subjectivity.

And more than two and a half hours later, an old but well-preserved car took us on rural roads, and the fog created a thick, nauseating blanket all around. Later we saw burnt civilian cars without dead people inside, and military equipment of the fucking occupiers, and shells on fields and roads…

The most difficult and disgusting checkpoint started in Novooleksiivka. There were Kadyrovtsy who were dressed in dirty uniforms, spoke bad Russian, and when they touched my passport and phone I became physically sick. I didn't give a damn about it, of course.

The next tough checkpoint was the DNR zombies, whose leader spoke Ukrainian well and asked the whole column why we were going. Soon here – that is, Kherson and the region – will be fine. Apparently, they started saying this in Kherson and Nova Kakhovka, from the moment the occupiers entered the cities. After that it was necessary to pass the mined bridge over the river Inhulets, realizing that either the bridge and the car would fall into water, or there would be an explosion. But we passed.

At 10:30am, we were already near Snihurivka. I had never been there before, so my gaze rested on the wonderfully neat lawns, the clean streets, and the few passersby with bicycles. There was such a contrast with the explosion-proof balconies of high-rise buildings and Russian scum checkpoints in this cozy residential area. The car checks were faster than at previous checkpoints and the orcs were very polite. I didn't even have to undress to show that there were no tattoos on my body with Nazi symbols.

At 11:00am, we saw the first checkpoint of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. 

The sun was already shining above us, warming as like never before. There was no fog. 

And one of the girls in the car symbolically turned on Max Barsky's song "Fogs" on her phone. 

Vira, Kyiv. Son died in Mariupol. April 28

On February 24, 2022, we woke up at dawn. A full-scale invasion had begun. For a week before that, there had been reports that the war was about to begin. We did not believe it was possible. And so it started... 

At 5am in Kyiv, there were unprecedented traffic jams. My husband went to refuel the car. There was a huge queue. Everyone was leaving the city. Our friends called and said that they won’t let me come to Boryspil. Tariffs for taxis were five times higher than usual. There was incredible tension in the air.

Hasty packing, terrible fuss, anxiety. Martial law. Friends call and tell me to leave. Where can I go when my son has been in the war in the east of the country for seven years? 

We decided not to leave, but our suitcases were packed. It started to rumble, very loud, until the ground shook. My dear son is in Mariupol. I was terrified for him. He already wanted to leave the army, to start a new peaceful life. It is unbelievable that this is a war – some terrible joke. 

We didn’t sleep. Planes flew loudly, and something rumbled so hard that the windows shook. During the day, we searched for a bomb shelter or the nearest basement so that we could get there quickly. Many people left. Every step could be heard in the house. 

They decided to gather the residents to find out who stayed, and they organized men to guard the entrance during the night. My dear son periodically texted me from Mariupol that the orcs were advancing, but they were defending the city well – Mariupol was under reliable control of our military. “Mom, don't worry about me, we're holding on, we won't let the enemy into the city, everything will be fine!”

My niece lives in Mariupol with her two children, boys aged 9 and 10. She says there was still food, and their phones and power banks were charged.

Then the connection was lost, there was no word for several days. 

Eternity... “The subscriber cannot be reached,” says the pre-recorded message from the telephone company… Another nephew and his family – two children aged 5 and 1.5 – remain in Marinka. He texted — “Holding together.” 

My niece finally called. She went to the park nearby, where she was able to get a signal. She said: 

“In one day, electricity, the internet, communication – all were lost. Only gas was left. I cooked some food and heated up the apartment. The next day, the gas supply also disappeared. It was severely cold. We finished our food. There is not enough water. The products are running out. We eat a little, we save the rest. The children ask for food. Thank God, it rained. They collected water in all the dishes we had. There was already bombing in the city. Shells were flying, planes were dropping bombs. The street near the house was hit. The explosion was so strong that the windows flew out. Shrapnel cut all the houses nearby – one splinter destroyed the neighbors' building.

They were bombing the city every 10 to 15 minutes. We hide under the bed with the children. I hate the occupiers. I cry tears of helplessness and horror.

In the intervals between the shellings, we have started looking for food and water. We found a well. We ran there with the children, because they were afraid to stay in the house alone. As soon as the siren started, we leapt into a nearby pit. We ran again. 

The shops are closed. Our military gave us a little food, so we can hold out a little longer. When we reached the nearby park, we saw large pits that had been dug. A truck brought human bodies there. Terror…Horror... 

Again, we are sitting under the bed in a cold house, without light, heat, without water and almost without food, and there is shelling without a break. The children cry out of fear. There was an explosion nearby that made the floor jump. Later we learned that a rocket hit our school, which is across the street. Our neighbors have left. We are cut off from the world. At night I hear trucks coming to the park and unloading something…we already know WHAT. 

It is impossible to fall asleep because of the terror and shelling. Oblivion ensues for an hour and a half... Some passersby who ran outside for water said that it is possible to hide in the basement of the Drama Theater and that there are already many people there. They wanted to run away, but the shelling started. One passerby fell and did not move. A day later we learned that the Drama Theater had been bombed, killing many people, two blocks from our house.

It’s a gray ghost town. It was once bright, crowded, green, and beautiful. But now it’s filled with black burnt houses, cars cut in half, with shattered fences. Corpses of civilians lie right on the road, some covered with rags. In yards and playgrounds, there are fresh piles of dirt – big, small, some with plaques or even homemade crosses. The stench of explosions mixed with the smell of rot. It’s like a terrible dream... a horror film, an apocalypse film. Three weeks in this horror is an eternity.

We started looking for a way out. We took our backpacks, went outside, and tried to hitchhike. One car stopped and picked us up and drove us to Melekyne. The whole coast was occupied. Orcs checked documents at checkpoints, threatened people with weapons, and behaved very brazenly. They beat up a boy who didn't look at them “in a polite way.” They held us for more than two hours.

In Melekyne, we were recorded. All of our data and phone numbers were taken. We were placed in a school where there were many people. There are opportunities to call, eat and drink, and charge our phones. In the evening the lights were turned off – the connection and the internet were lost. We needed to find a way to go to Berdyansk and Zaporizhzhya, to catch a private car. 

But the next day no one was released from the village. In the evening at 8:00, armed orcs came and told everyone to go to the buses. There will be an evacuation, the school will be closed, the lights will be turned off. They drove us somewhere all night and brought us to Starobeshev. They said they would take us to Rostov later. My youngest son became very ill, caught a cold, had a fever and a cough. There were many sick children.

They were taken to a hospital in Donetsk. They were not allowed to go outside. After recovering, the doctor called the military, which was the order that they gave him. They were escorted to Rostov and their documents were checked. Orcs looked at correspondence on their phones and social media accounts, looking for enemies.” 

We found out that they were released to relatives in Russia. They are there now, but they really want to return. They say that it is disgusting to be in a country that has taken away everything – a quiet life, home, smiles of sons, just the right to life and freedom. 

The children tremble in their sleep. Hate is fierce. 

In parallel with the fate of my niece, events unfolded in the family of my nephew who lived and worked on the left bank of Mariupol, near Azovstal. He rented an apartment just before the war with his wife and children (5 and 1.5 years old). They had a house in the gray area near Mariupol, but there was no work there, so my nephew worked in Mariupol on Azovstal.

When it all started, the occupiers first captured the left bank, and began bombing and leveling it. At the same time, everything was gone – light, heat, gas, internet and communication.

There were not enough clothes, household items, or food. The march to the well for water was horrible – killed civilians lay everywhere and they had to step over their bodies. When the shelling began, everyone fled, stumbling over the corpses. Food was prepared on the street using firewood. Many people died there. They sat in dirty, unfurnished, cold basements. Heavy artillery shelling and bombardment were regular occurrences. It happened every 10-15 minutes. If they were “lucky,” 30 minutes would pass without a shell flying overhead. 

They ran to other basements. When the house was hit, it burned and collapsed. The Ruscists bombed a nearby food kiosk. People did not want to take anything there, because they considered it theft. But gradually they started going and taking something, because there was nothing to eat. They even took alcohol, because they said that without it, it is difficult to survive in such a hell. You can die at any moment.

They ran to the bomb shelter, covering the childrens’ eyes so that they would not look at the corpses of civilians in the streets. It was not possible to hide them, because the breaks from the shelling were used to run for water, cook food, and collect firewood. But they still managed to bury some of the corpses right in the yards. 

The real horror began when the rockets began to hit neighboring houses, including the one next door. The houses caught fire and there was a black stench. People tried to run to their apartments to pick up at least some valuables.

My nephew ran to the apartment while his wife and children remained in the basement. He only managed to step aside and hold onto a small child, as debris hit a woman nearby. 

The roof of the house was on fire, the entrance was darkened by smoke, and he barely managed to jump out onto the street when the burning house collapsed. Everyone ran somewhere to hide in basements. Everywhere there were screams, moans, fuss, and crying children. People are dirty, wearing torn clothes… there are only civilian, residential houses here. It is a sleeping area of Mariupol. Gradually the shelling subsided and they caught their breath in some basement. They ran on foot to the outskirts of the city, hiding in doorways to somehow escape from hell. 

They were picked up by a car and it took them to Bezimenne, which was occupied in 2014. 

The car was stopped by strong men with weapons in a Jeep… their hearts dropped to their heels, it's over... but Russian journalists ran up with cameras, began to film them, and the military handed them a package, probably products. They smiled at the children on camera... it was scary and then disgusting…

In this village, they spent the night in tents. There was some broadband connection. They were able to tell their relatives where they were. The village in which they were staying was completely occupied. Nearby relatives were able to come and take them home.

It didn't get much better at home, because the orcs were crawling around the yards and taking the men. The so-called draft. Better a poor horse than no horse at all.

You can hear planes and helicopters flying towards Mariupol and powerful explosions can be heard from the left bank. Apparently, they are bombing Azovstal, where there are still a lot of civilians, children, elderly, and the sick. 

A terrible dream. All things burned – bank cards, the car. The children scream and tremble in their sleep. Where do you get the strength to live in this nightmare and not go crazy?

Almost a month of hell...in all the chats and groups on Facebook, I was looking for my nephews, worried about them, helping with information, waiting for a connection with my own son. He has been in Mariupol, in the military, in the Azov Regiment, for seven years.

Anxiety flashes in my brain all the time – son, how are you? He finally got in touch.

“Mom, I'm fine,” he said.  “We're holding on, cutting down our enemies. I'll come home with orders and awards on my whole chest.” 

"Come back, son, whatever it takes. Is there anything to eat?” 

“There is a little.” 

“Did you manage to get some sleep today, son?”

"No, I didn't manage, I'll go now, I'll daydream for at least an hour."

The next day I ask, “Did you manage to sleep?"

“Well, no, Mom, it didn't work out. There is a lot of work to be done. I'll come home and get some sleep. I so deeply want to take a bath and get into a clean bed. We only have wet wipes here. I will show photos of Mariupol; you will not recognize it. This is what is happening here, it's just awful. On the streets, under the rubble of apartment buildings, wounded civilians are begging for help, but we can't help everyone. We don't have time, we don't have opportunities. We have our tasks, which we do under constant fire and bombing. Of course, we try to help. It's a pity for the people, my heart is breaking. The stench, moans, cries, screams, of course, are not transmitted in the photo.”

Then there was no connection.. 

We were patiently waiting. Terrible news does not give peace – the city was surrounded. My beautiful son appeared on the line, finally…

“What's up, Mom? What's the situation? Are they helping us? Will they unblock the city? Who has Volnovakha now?” 

“Son, there are battles in the north of Volnovakha. Our president speaks to all parliaments, on all international platforms, asking to close the sky at least over Mariupol.” 

My son was silent, obviously hoping to hear something more encouraging.

“Mom, we will soon be fighting against the tanks with sticks…of course I have big plans for the future, but I want you to know, I do not regret anything.”

“Son, your birthday is March 25, maybe you will have time to win and come home to celebrate?” 

"Probably not, Mom."

This conversation took place on March 18. His hometown, where my children grew up, went to kindergarten and school, where we had many relatives and acquaintances... the occupiers turned into a ghost town – a gray, scorched, dirty desert.

Again no connection with our son… we waited holding our breath... I text, I don't even read... news comes from relatives and acquaintances who managed to escape... a cousin and his family escaped from the basement, orcs have already settled in their house…

It gets a little easier, but in my mind I always remember – my dearest is still there…

We understand that there is no connection and we patiently wait, but the stress is unbearable! I wake up in the middle of the night, my heart beats, I cry like you are there, son, hold on, praying, praying…

We try to hold on, we wait for him to call. On March 25, it was his birthday. He turned 28 years old. We congratulate our son in the chat. When there is a connection, he will read and rejoice. 

Please, I am writing letters with a request to unblock Mariupol and help the military in all social networks, foreign figures, bloggers, volunteers, all the time in the news – maybe there is help for Mariupol... Hopefully, we are waiting… 

My son sent his belongings to Kyiv by mail on February 23. On the 24th, the parcel still hadn’t arrived. We went to the local branch and asked where the parcel was. They said to wait, it will be delivered to us soon. 

We waited, we walked there again, we called them. The post office is a concrete wall. Nobody knows anything. The hotline is not working. Nobody can give any information, of course, because of the war.

They say that the parcel is in Kyiv, please wait. A month later, it was discovered that it had been mistakenly taken away by volunteers. We can't find it. 

On April 7, we received a call from the regiment: “Your son died.” 

…Pain.... pain, a lot of pain. This is not true... false... no... it can't be... no, it's not true...I will not accept it. No. No! No!

So many dreams, plans, hopes... he wanted to resign in January, but the commander asked him to stay a little longer... He wanted a family, children, and a civilian profession. He loved his country very much – Mariupol, Kyiv. He did not dream of living abroad; he only dreamed of traveling. 

Hope is alive! He will return – it is a mistake. We fight to find the parcel – there are his things, some documents, keys to a small safe. Yesterday I learned that my sister is alive near Mariupol, but there is no connection, no food, no money…Thank God she is alive...

We live in hope… 

Lyudmyla S, English teacher, Bucha, age 43. March 22

I am safe with my family in Khmelnytsky now but I heard some news from my neighbors in Bucha. They said that 2 days ago, the Russians searched every house in the neighborhood. Now they’re robbing houses, taking everything they want. On the day we left Bucha, I saw a lot of destroyed houses. Now people who stayed have to hide in their basements, because there are street fights and it's too dangerous to go out. Our town is very close to Kyiv, only 20 km away. 

I am feeling okay now. But for the first few days of the war, we were really scared. My reaction to every loud sound was to jump up and run somewhere to hide. Here in Khmelnytsky, I see a lot of migrants from Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel, Kharkiv, Sumy – these are the towns and cities that are in really dangerous situations. My husband's parents live in Mariupol and we haven’t heard anything from them since March 2. 

Every day of the invasion has stuck in my mind. We spent two and a half weeks in a besieged town very close to Hostomel military airport. My son was hiding in a wardrobe as he said that he felt safe this way. Maybe the scariest was when Russian cars and a huge tank stopped just outside our windows and I saw the armed soldiers on the tank very, very close up. 

Another one was the day when we fled from Bucha. There were 8 people in one car and two cats. We stopped at one of the Russian checkpoints (there were three of them). We unconsciously raised our hands above the car dashboard, we opened all the windows and one of the armed Russians came to us. At that moment, on the side of the road, I saw other soldiers hiding and pointing their guns at us. The Russian that came to us said that there is no need to raise our hands as they are not fascists, but for me that is what they are. Never before had I felt so much disgust and hatred as in that moment.

I want Western audiences to know that Ukrainians never wanted this war and until the last moment we were not expecting it to happen. My mother is Russian. She is from Siberia and we have many relatives there. So we are half-Russian, too. And I know that my cousins who are in the Russian military came here to Ukraine to kill us. And I wish them death as I see how much murder and destruction the Russians cause.  

The only thing we Ukrainians ask of the West is to close the sky and give us weapons we don't have. You all see how brave our army is. And I am absolutely sure we can fight the Russians back. So many people are united, as we must save our children for the future. 

Yevheniia, Sumy oblast, age 21. March 18

For me, the war started in the summer of 2014 when my birthplace in Luhansk was  captured by terrorists with Russian support. At that time, my mother and I had to leave in a hurry to Kyiv without enough money and only with summer clothes. But it wasn't as scary as it is now, as there was a place to run and live in safety.

For 8 years, we have lived peacefully and tried to get on with our lives. I managed to finish high school and even gained a Bachelor’s degree in law. Now I'm a student of Comenius University in Bratislava in a master's program. I was home on vacation in Ukraine, in a small town in Sumy oblast, when the war started. 

On February 24, my mom woke me up at 6 am and said Russia had started a full-scale war against Ukraine and our whole country was on fire. For my family, history had repeated itself. We immediately began to tape the windows with duct tape and pack the most important things. The difference between 2014 and 2022 is that now we have a cat named Miki and no place to run.

Fortunately, the situation is relatively calm in my town despite the regular air raid alert. I think it is due to the town's location. “Fun fact:” German Nazis during WWII avoided the city, as the Russians do now.

Nevertheless, there are some problems, like lack of food and medicine supply, power outages, and problems with mobile communication. At first glance, it doesn't seem like a big deal, but it is. Older people do not have enough money or have no opportunity to go to the shop and can't even contact their relatives via cell phone. 

People with chronic diseases can't buy life-saving medication and receive necessary treatment as doctors often come from other cities. Also there are many homeless animals in my town that suffer from hunger. Before, people fed cats and dogs near cafes or grocery stores or simply in yards. Now people themselves are on the verge of running out of food. I try to support them and feed everyone I can, but for me, it is heartbreaking. 

Briefly, the town was blockaded, but it’s a paradise here compared to Mariupol or Kharkiv.

That's my story. In conclusion, I want to ask Western audiences not to underestimate Putin – he is insane and cannot be considered a politician. He is a murderer, and if he and people who support his actions will feel impunity, they'll continue. Also, I ask you not to underestimate Kremlin propaganda, which denies the fact that Russia is waging a war against Ukraine. It encourages Russian people to support it and believe in this crazy idea. Every day the Kremlin creates new fakes about the war in Ukraine, trying to justify their actions, and the worst part is that most citizens of Russia believe it. 

Daria, English tutor/ translator, Zaporizhzhya oblast. March 18

The explosive wave that shuddered my front door and windows on February 24th changed my reality forever. I never thought that I would ever need to sleep in a cold basement, wear socks, warm trousers and a sweater 24/7 and feel terrified of any, even the slightest noise. I feel paranoid about any sort of plane in the sky. I suddenly feel cold in my warm clothes and start uncontrollably shaking. I always pray while entering our bomb shelter. 

I live in the countryside near the city of Cossacks – Zaporizhzhya. I’m pretty close to the international Zaporizhzhya airport that makes us a very attractive target to Russian fascists. We have been blessed so far to have our house, heating, electricity, water, and internet. We understand that can change at any moment, so we try to be very flexible and prepare basic things for survival. 

I am not leaving my home. I’m a wheelchair user. I live with my parents and four cats. My boyfriend is currently staying with us. He is a great comfort to me and he is literally my feet and arms whenever I need. 

It’s been three weeks since Putin decided to start his “special operation,” which is nothing but a genocide against the Ukrainian people. My neighborhood is more or less quiet so far. Sometimes one can think that there is no war, but the far away explosions, the air raid siren in the middle of the night, and random missile strikes are like a cold shower to us. 

In the evening we keep our house in the dark. We close the curtains tight and switch on my laptop. My boyfriend and I are fighting online – writing petitions to the EU and the USA, blocking Russian propaganda, and contacting all retail chains that are still doing business in Russia.

I dream of switching on the lights in the whole house. I dream of throwing a loud party. I will always hate fireworks, though. 

Right now I am trying to survive. Every single night when I go to bed or rush to our bomb shelter, I ask God to keep me and my family alive. I really want to travel all over the world. I don’t want to be a refugee. 

I am tremendously proud of our Ukrainian armed forces. I’m grateful to them for every peaceful moment I have. I understand how happy I actually was before the war…

I am amazed to see how much the world supports us! Ukraine is fighting for the freedom and safety of the whole world. I am grateful to the EU and NATO for giving us lots of weapons, and great humanitarian and financial aid. However, I wish they would close the sky over Ukraine and send us more military help. I am aware that it sounds unrealistic but I will never lose hope. I am sure Ukraine will have a bright, free future and every person will know my country as a symbol of unbelievable bravery.

Elena, PhD student, Kharkiv. March 18

I am writing answers to these questions after 22 days of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. Kharkiv is confident in its defense.

The city is constantly being attacked by rockets and fighters – there is artillery shelling. The main attacks are against ordinary houses and schools, markets, shops and churches. All my places were destroyed. My favorite streets are gone, the places I had coffee, met my friends, and read are almost gone.

Kharkiv has become an outpost, the first line of defense from the east, which allows us to  keep the situation under control. Mobilization of local authorities, territorial defense and volunteers took place with incredible speed. Kharkiv was constantly under scrutiny because of the large Russian-speaking population and sympathy for pro-Russian parties in the past (until 2014). 

Even under constant shelling, all infrastructure, local authorities, public services, and volunteer organizations continue to operate, and now no one has any doubts about the patriotism of everyone.

For the first couple of hours of the war it was just scary, I was really hoping that there was someone close to me online, someone I could write to. And then my brain started to work – what to do, what to put in my bag, where to hide (my 13th floor on the outskirts of the city was very unsafe). 

After I started to relax, when I was already out of town, there came apathy and fear that something could happen at any second. Since the 24th, I sleep in ordinary clothes, in which I used to go outside. And in general I sleep a lot. It became difficult to communicate with people. I want to support friends somehow, but there are no forces and emotions for this – I have to save them up beforehand.

I am feeling helpless because I have lost my home for the second time. The first time was in 2014 and the second was in 2022. And also I feel pride – pride in what kind of people surround me, what we are capable of.

I will always remember this moment when at 5:05am I sat down on the bed and saw the glow of explosions and smoke from fires far away. I will remember the feeling of fear that war has begun.

During the bombardment, one day I tried to get out of the city, but then the air attack started, and a woman started banging on the windows and calling me into the basement to take cover. I’ll remember her face and that kindness.

I will remember the moment of farewell to a friend at the train station and the way we hugged each other – I didn’t know if I’d get a chance to see him again.

I want people in the West to avoid making people in Russia who just now stood up against the terrorist regime heroes. Never forget that all the time since 2014 they have all been silent. Everyone had their reasons and I have no right to condemn them. But the heroes are the people of Mariupol, the rescuers of Kharkiv, the doctors on the front line. The heroes are every child sitting in basements right now. I’m afraid the media will forget about them.

First of all, I want to say thank you to Western governments and media. Because my country, my friends, are in danger, I will always feel that any reaction is not enough, because we are under attack. But I am very grateful to all the volunteers, journalists and politicians.

We need a closed sky and a stronger reaction. I would like the media as well as politicians to understand that this regime is not going to stop in Ukraine, but will want to take more territory, just not immediately, but when everything calms down (as it was before with Moldova and Georgia). There is always the risk of nuclear blackmail, and it is not just Ukraine’s problem. I think it is time to review the existing security assurances, agreements, and arrangements of international organizations. The political system no longer works as it should.

I would like the media not to be shy in rhetoric. Every day about 5 children die in Ukraine, and some of them have not yet learned to speak in order to defend their rights.

Yevhen P, civic activist and PhD, Odesa. March 12

The news about war started to spread widely in Ukraine three or four months before it actually started. I was trying to prepare somehow, but when you are in an ordinary state of mind, your brain doesn't believe that somebody without reason will start to attack a peaceful country.

Near 4:30 AM on February 24, I woke up with some strange feeling. I opened the news to check if maybe something has happened already. And yes, Vladimir Putin was giving a new fake history lesson. It was a terrible feeling that everything would happen now, but still, my brain tried to believe that everything would be fine and it was just a bluff. 

Near 5 AM, my previous life, habits, and plans were ruined. At that time, the whole city heard a few huge explosions… and then the next two days were like being in a fog. For the last 15 days, the air raid alert became almost the usual signal for moving to the bomb shelter. The Russian Army is shooting everywhere, including hospitals, ordinary households, kindergartens, and other civilian infrastructure. In Odesa, they are using their ships and trying to land their amphibious assault.

At the same time, I see a tremendous social mobilization and growth of activism. I see that everybody is trying to be helpful and produce as much help as they can. Our army is fighting very bravely, and everybody is trying to help the country’s defense. 

It was great to see how people and governments worldwide support Ukraine and our people. I appreciate countries that started to support Ukraine with ammunition and defensive weapons, all the people and foundations that support people in need and provide humanitarian aid to refugees. At the same time, Russia has a vast army and behaves in an inhuman way and destroys cities and infrastructure. So I hope that other countries, especially from the EU and NATO, will provide even more support to defend our people, our country, and human values. 

Alexander D, Kyiv. March 11

The last few days in Kyiv were “quiet.” Two days ago, a Russian fighter plane was shot down and crashed 6 kilometers away from my house. From that time I have heard nothing about attacks on Kyiv, but I still hear the sirens and read about air raid alerts in a special app that was made to warn people about danger. The sirens remind us that not far from Kyiv, there are battles and the threat is still real. Most Kyiv citizens realize that this “silence” doesn't mean we're safe.

Today I visited a few supermarkets to buy food. A week ago the queues were long, and it was difficult to buy meat, bread, milk products, eggs, but now the situation has changed. Today I found all kinds of products. In the official app of the Kyiv City Administration, there is a map with supermarkets and pharmacies that work today in the city. Also public transport is partially working.

A lot of people left the capital of Ukraine. On the streets of Kyiv, I mostly see men and older people. 

Today I drove through the city and saw a lot of security checkpoints where representatives of the Territorial Defense are on duty. They check the cars and try to find the sabotage groups. Czech hedgehogs (anti-tank obstacles) have been installed on strategic roads. Also there are a lot of dugouts in the city.

I think Kyiv is ready to meet the enemy. A lot of people are working together to defend their city.

Oleksandr V, from Kharkiv, age 40. March 11

As a volunteer, I went to defend Ukraine in 2014, where I was wounded and returned home.  I started my own Blade Brothers Knives knife business, and I founded and ran the Knife Fighting Federation of Ukraine.  Now my business is ruined, and 90% of my Federation's instructors have gone to the war.

Russia attacked Ukraine at night like a thief, firing missiles at many cities at once. They say they use high-precision weapons and only hit military installations, but in fact they are bombing homes, hospitals, and maternity hospitals.  So they want to break our will so that we will beg them to stop.

However, we are evacuating our wives and children and going to war.  In one week, more than 100,000 men returned to Ukraine to kill Russians. I am deliberately saying not to "defend my country" but to kill the Russians, because we are overwhelmed with hatred for what they have done. They want to destroy us as a nation, and we will never forgive them. We will not forgive them and we will take revenge.

Western governments believe that this war can be localized by calling it a "conflict,” limited to sanctions and arms supplies.

Yes, we are grateful for the weapons and sanctions, for all the wonderful support that the Western world is giving us. However, you must understand that war cannot be won by sanctions – you can only win the battle by fighting.

You do not want to inflame the conflict?  Ok, Putin will do it for you.  Today he will involve Belarus in the war, then his other allies – Kazakhstan and Armenia.  He will use chemical weapons as in Syria, carry out terrorist attacks on Chernobyl, Zaporizhia and our other nuclear power plants, and then all of Europe will suffer. Ukraine will be followed by Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

An ancient philosopher once said that war cannot be avoided – it can only be postponed in favor of the enemy. I hope that Western governments will not make such a mistake. Because the war has already begun.

Lyubov V,  investigative journalist, Vinnytsia. March 11

On February 24, my husband and my five-year-old twin sons woke up at 4:30 am to the sound of a rocket strike. Our house is 700 meters from a military base, the building of which was almost completely destroyed. When I went to Facebook, I read the terrible words that a war had broken out in my country. Russia attacked Ukraine.

It's been two weeks, and I still can't believe it. It’s like I'm in a dream. It is impossible. These horrors, those killed children, and the destruction of schools and hospitals ... Is all of this happening in my Ukraine?

I dressed the children in 5 minutes. Then I laid mattresses and blankets in the cellar, where we store vegetables and preserves. The children asked, "Mom, why are we going to the cellar?" I replied: "Because there is a war. Russia does not want you and me to exist." And then my five-year-old son answered in a very calm and confident voice: "Mom, don't worry, everything will be fine. Ukraine will win."

At that moment, I thought only of the children – they need to be saved at all costs. In a few hours we gathered our things. All the most valuable things we had fit in the trunk of our car. As soon as we got into the car, we heard another explosion – another missile hit the military base. 

We went to my mother, away from the border with Belarus and Russia. There, 250 kilometers away is a little safer. But what is safety? As we approached the city, we witnessed another missile strike on ammunition depots.

I will never forget that dawn. We refueled at a tiny gas station. And here - an explosion and a bright red flame on a black and blue sky background.

Vinnytsia is a regional center with about 400,000 inhabitants. I spent my childhood here and I know every nook and cranny. And how strange it is to see my school become a headquarters where volunteers come to enroll in the Territorial Defense. They get weapons and body armor, and guard checkpoints and patrol my city. There are so many people willing to enroll that people are selected on a competitive basis. Only those who have combat experience or have their own registered weapons are taken. Not to mention the state of health.

Even I wanted to enlist in the Territorial Defense. Despite the fact that all my life I held only a rifle in the dash. But in the shooting range I shot accurately! Anger and rage overwhelmed me so much that I dreamed of shooting at least one Russian soldier. I dream of killing a man. For the first time in my life. I think of the murder when I look at the corpses of killed Russian soldiers and burnt equipment with the fascist "Z" emblem.

Every Ukrainian now has this desire. We are very angry and motivated. Even the children help to detain saboteurs! A few days ago, children were walking in the yard and noticed a suspicious man trying to climb onto the roof of a high-rise building. The children told their parents, and they called the police. It turned out that he was a Russian spy.

Ukrainians now act as a single organism. I do not know anyone who would not help the Ukrainian Army now. On my phone are more than ten local groups set up a few days ago to address logistics or humanitarian issues. After all, it is not only soldiers who are needed in war, but also a reliable rear. People weave camouflage nets, collect warm clothes, food, and medicine for the displaced, buy weapons and ammunition for our soldiers in all possible ways...

Yes, there is less food on store shelves. Yes, we hear sirens warning of missile strikes day and night. The other day the Russians destroyed the airport 10 kilometers from the center of Vinnytsia. But we do not feel fear. We become even angrier and more motivated.

We are confident of victory and visualize our revenge. For every soldier killed. For every child who died from Russian missiles and rifles. For every ruined home. And for every tear.

We know better than anyone what Russia is capable of. What atrocities Russia is ready to use to destroy us Ukrainians. After all, Russia tried to do it for hundreds of years – Russia has tried to erase our language, our culture, and killed the best representatives of our nation. We were taught all of this at school in history lessons. We feel the pain of our ancestors. And now this pain is multiplying the anger at what is happening now. As a result, a force is born that the atomic bomb never dreamed of. And now imagine how ridiculous the fact that Russia and Putin dare to impose some demands and ultimatums on us Ukrainians – it seems ridiculous to us!

We feel stronger and more united than ever! Last night, I spoke with a biologist from Kharkiv, a city that is now being terrorized by the Russian Federation with extreme brutality. This man, Serhiy, voiced what every Ukrainian feels now: "Russia will be able to destroy Ukraine only on one condition: if it kills all Ukrainians to the last." And then he added: "You know, it would be cool to die in battle." 

Ukraine will definitely win. The only question is the price of this victory. We, Ukrainians, appeal to the whole world only to reduce the number of killed children and destroyed maternity hospitals. We are not asking for our problems to be solved, no. Give us weapons to save more Ukrainian lives and destroy the evil empire faster. We are ready to fight ourselves – soldiers, civilians, women, old, sick, and all.

Vladimir, programming teacher, Kherson, age 24. March 11

My story is not that interesting because I stay home most of the time. But I can write a few words about life in Kherson these days.

On the first of March, five bad things happened: 

  1. The Russians invaded Kherson (obviously bad). 
  2. In the process, they killed innocent people, but there's not as many casualties as there are in Mariupol or Kharkov. 
  3. Some of our Territorial Defense troops – ordinary people who wanted to defend our city – were killed by the Russians. They had a plan – they would ambush the enemy and throw Molotov cocktails. But something went wrong... Some of them cannot even be identified anymore; heavy weapons were used on them. Different sources tell different data – they killed from 8 to 16 people.
  4. Fabrika, the main place where many citizens eat, rest, buy things, etc., seems like it was hit by one or two tank shots, and a fire started. As the news says, firefighters arrived, but the Russians shot at their water tank. So the firefighters took shelter, and Fabrika continued to burn... The building remains, but most of the inside is ashes and dust.
  5. Maraudeurs. They just see an opportunity in this war and show their true nature by going to marketplaces and shops to steal things. Of course, many people see them and do what needs to be done. These bad people were punished with beatings. 

After this, not that much has happened in Kherson. The main things were that our televisions now broadcast Russian channels (except one – “Kherson UA").

On the fourth of March, the Russians did not allow our buses with supplies to go to town, because they have their own supply. They wanted to film people who wanted food and have them say on Russian TV that the Russians are "helping" us. But there were only 3-4 people who actually got those provisions into their hands, and hundreds stayed aside and loudly shamed the Russian soldiers.

After that, people wanted to show them how we "like'' them.

On the fifth of March – and every day since – protests start at 10am. One police officer even got on their armored vehicle and waved the Ukrainian flag! 

Every day we hear explosions, but most of them are not that loud. The reason for them is our army – they shoot the Russians with artillery and with Bairaktar.

And about mental health and the value of life... Maybe it's a horrible thing to say, but many of our people (myself included) are now taking news like "don't panic, the Ukrainian army is working!" with happy faces and relief. 

For the first few days of war I, unlike most members of my family, had an opinion that Russian soldiers are people, like us. Yes, they are soldiers, but they have stories, families, and homes. It's sad to see more and more people dying in that war. But they are staying on our land, killing innocent people, using bombs to terrorise our citizens and other horrible things. Right now I do not feel anything for these animals except rage. 

There's a new law that our government passed. Now any citizen can kill Russian soldiers without consequences. And our people will use that law, as much as they can, to resist the Russian soldiers.

We will defend our country, as Russia transforms into a second North Korea day by day. 

Marharyta, from Kyiv, age 25. March 10

My name is Marharyta, and a few days before the war I turned 25 years old. I celebrated my birthday in Budapest. There, in their most famous ruin-bar, I wrote "Glory to Ukraine.” The day before the war I returned home and it was my last good night.

 I worked as a PR manager and a journalist, participated in the struggle for the preservation of Kyiv and was an urban activist.

 I had many things in my life: sports, Spanish lessons, meeting friends, and a lot of travel. It all ended one day.

 There were really no alternatives. My family stayed in Kharkiv, I was alone in Kyiv. I didn't want to run away. I wanted to do something. So I decided to become a part of the Territorial Defense Forces. My family was shocked by my decision, but they supported me.

The new reality is to sleep and wake up to the sound of sirens. It does teach you new things. I took a first aid course, so I was able to become a doctor - something like a nurse.

 I am engaged in the purchase of medicines and the treatment of patients. So far, only colds, fevers, and so on.

 It is not difficult to live in a team of men. I am respected and do not allow myself too much. To do this, I had to try and show that I am not a woman. Here, I am a soldier, a doctor, a colleague. I will get to be a woman again after the war.

I would very much like to tell the readers to never forget about Ukraine. The war has been going on for 8 years, and just in the last 13 days it has spread to the whole territory of our country. We are not giving up, we are not capitulating. Ukraine is the last outpost of Europe before the inadequate Putin.

 Remember us, go out to protest, tell European leaders to close the sky over Ukraine. 

 We are grateful to the American people for their many years of support. Pray for us.

Varvara (Write the World Review submission; 18 years old)

This piece is republished with permission from the Write the World Review, which features a special series on Ukraine. Write the World Review publishes outstanding teen voices. Visit their website for more content and to listen to the author read her essay.

Refugee

5:33 a.m.

i woke up to a rapid push: we were underway. our commuter train had been standing still since 10 p.m. the previous day: we were letting an on-coming train pass us since there was only one railway line leading to the country’s border. seven hours of complete stillness and darkness in a tiny coach with certainly ten times more people than there were supposed to be.

there hasn’t been a moment of silence since we set off. behind me—a three-month-old baby. it has been crying for an indefinite amount of time. in front of me—three little children aged somewhere between three and ten sitting in the arms of their mothers. they too have been crying for an indefinite amount of time. they are hungry, tired, scared. and i feel for them. and it hurts.

normally, the road from lviv to przemysl should have taken us only one to two hours. however, the situation is clearly beyond normal. everything seems to be so beyond normal.

my phone died a couple of hours ago. i don’t care much about that—there is no service around this god-forsaken field we have been standing in. the only thing i care about is my mom not hearing back from me for quite a while now. her paranoid mind probably thinks that i got stuck somewhere, got kicked out of the train. i am indeed all alone here so she has her reasons to be anxious. we said our goodbyes at the train station in my hometown. in the tiny window, i saw her standing on the platform, lost and consumed by her thoughts, trying to see me through the glass from the other side, holding back the tears. she never cries.

i hope to see her soon. or, should i say, i just hope to see her again.

i still wonder what terrible luck got me onto this train. i remember how it was, i remember it from the very beginning. from my best friend waking me up with a phone call to us packing the go-bags; to us going to the store and seeing nothing on the shelves; to people panicking on the streets; to students leaving their dorm rooms without looking back; to my mom begging me to come home from kyiv; to me catching the last train home; to me seeing thousands of people at a subway station—with kids, pets, suitcases; to me coming home and us sitting in the air-raid shelter every day; to my mom convincing me to leave, to cross the border all alone, right before they would surround our city and there would be no way out; to me almost suffocating in the crowd when boarding the train to lviv; to us having ten people in the seat instead of the regular four, to a couple of ecuadorian students sitting in the train hall with a tiny dog in their hands; to the kids crying; to the women fighting; to finally exiting this tired train.

i remember boarding at 7:55 p.m. the previous day, remember the complete chaos at the railway station. mothers with children, screaming and crying out to the train conductors: “please, i have a baby here, please, help us!”; people shouting at each other because of pushing and pulling; men trying to make way for their wives and kids, shoving them onto the train; bags and suitcases being handed above the crowd of heads; children being handed over as well; bags falling down, falling on the heads, falling on the rails; the conductors trying to keep a cold head but still losing their temper. and i remember myself in the center of it: i was going with the flow, in complete peace, having no strength for anything else, holding my tote bag tightly, with that weird confidence that i would one way or another get onto that train. my sensory systems were completely overloaded, and i was out of touch. still, hope remained. physically unable to scream or push or cry or even say something after a number of sleepless nights, i just believed in this. simply going with the flow. and somehow i got on. and somehow i was lucky.

“yes, lucky,” you’d agree.

and i’d say: “yes, a refugee.”

Varvara is an eighteen-year-old university student. On February 24th, 2022, she was woken up at 5 a.m. by a call from her best friend telling her that the airport located near their dorm was being bombed. Running from the war, she spent around 72 hours on the road when she finally reached her final destination—the Polish border crossing point.

Yelyzaveta (Write the World Review submission; 18 years old)

This piece is republished with permission from the Write the World Review, which features a special series on Ukraine. Write the World Review publishes outstanding teen voices. Visit their website for more content and to listen to a recorded reading of this essay.

Trying to Escape

The last five minutes I was running to the railway station under sounds of sirens. Do I have to hide? Do I have enough time? Where to run? I won't survive, I think.

Sirens stop and I appear at the railway station. There are thousands of people and my mind calls to memory how to stay safe in the crowd. I have a train ticket but tickets don’t matter anymore. I have to get anywhere! I have to run away from the gunshots on the streets!

My friends are staying in bomb shelters for now. My relatives are in other cities. I’m 18 years old and leaving Kyiv alone. Others will leave later, when they lose their hope that it’s just a nightmare.

The evacuation train is announced: it goes to Lviv. The crowd on the platform is hardly stopped by police. People say that earlier police shot in the air. How can police shoot near people running away from the war?

I'm lucky, as a girl I was put on the train. On this platform families are divided and children are lost. I ask people on the train not to read the news. I'm afraid so much that the train will be shot by rockets. When I am safe, I will read the news of Mykolaiv, where my parents are. I will read the news of Kyiv, where my friends are. But here, with no influence over the violence, news of what could transpire—of battles along the journey—is something that only terrifies.

All the time I hold a gas spray in my hands, I fear that somebody can take my only backpack away.

I learn the names of people next to me. There is Katya, she’s an elementary school teacher and is leaving Donetsk with two children. They’re on their way for over twenty-four hours and don't have water. There is Lera, a cynologist. She is with two big dogs, one of them lies on the floor and whines—she is scared and thirsty.

Everybody is with somebody. They have a plan and relatives abroad, while I think that I can make it alone. I suggested that my mother and sister come. But mom does not want to leave father, cat, and grandmother. The father will not be able to leave, the grandmother does not want to, and the cat simply does not understand anything and hides under the bed.

In the train I hear sirens three times. The first time, I am very scared; I don’t understand where to hide. Later I became apathetic; I can’t influence anything. I can't even fall on the floor: there is a dog. I'm waiting for Lviv and hope everything is finished.

But it isn’t finished. Lviv meets me with more air raid alerts, more panic attacks. All hopes that I could be safe in the quiet west of Ukraine have vanished. War is here too.

Two hours of sleep. Three air raids. Children who seem to be already accustomed to running to the basement of the nearest school. I'm shaking, but still here. I have to find transport to the border. I learn that a started engine sometimes sounds like sirens.

I feel only cold. I wore autumn shoes and thin socks. I lost my hat and gloves, so my head is in my hood and hands in pockets. I stand in queues for hours, the ground under my feet like ice.

It takes seven hours on foot to reach the border. I climb over the fence of the checkpoint, push through the crowd of foreigners and a burnt-out fire next to the Polish line. I feel cold everywhere. But I have made it. I go to the nearest refugee camp and there I finally cry. Life will never be the same.

Yelyzaveta is eighteen years old. She abandoned her studies and work on the third day of the war and left. At first, she was in Poland, now she is trying to find herself in the Czech Republic.

Roman (Write the World Review submission; 18 years old)

This piece is republished with permission from the Write the World Review, which features a special series on Ukraine. Write the World Review publishes outstanding teen voices. Visit their website for more content and to listen to the author read his essay.

The War Is Not a Movie

I have known two wars: the first I saw, heard and felt, knowing all its bullying, while the second one I am facing again right now. I live in Poland, where the sky is clear, the earth is alive, and the people and the city live to the fullest, but my parents . . . they again face war and are in great danger, because Mariupol has been turned into a new Leningrad. Food and water in limited quantities, electricity, gas, and mobile communications completely absent. For more than a week I have not been able to hear the voices of my relatives, I don’t know how they are or what is happening to them . . .

Looking out the window, where the sun shines brightly, luring you to go outside to the park or café, you see gray landscapes, close the curtains and plunge into a dark room. Opening the refrigerator to warm up delicious food and make tea with cookies, you run away from the kitchen into your own room. When you are going to watch an interesting movie or a funny video, you close all these tabs and write “Ukrainian news” in the search box and read them for hours. You might think, why do you bother yourself like that? But how could it be otherwise?

I am now in another country, a thousand kilometers from the war, in warmth and comfort, while my family is in the basement of my school. I have lost my appetite and eat just porridge and meat. I have nightmares where I drown in the open ocean during a storm and suffocate. I am alone in Poland and in order to calm down, I talk to my sister on the phone, listen to music and continue to write my novel about the horrors that I have seen, however I will not understand those ones that happen in my country right now. I am afraid that all the events that I describe there will come true: the loss of relatives, loneliness, great difficulties, and flight from war.

My mind travels back. To the street where I played and learned to cycle; to our big garden, where we picked fresh vegetables and fruits, and also the intoxicating air full of flower pollen. To my grandfather's vineyard, who always made my favorite compote. To the lake where I went fishing with my father, walked through the wild field and enjoyed the wonderful smell of rain. To the farm that gave me quite a few memories: fluffy white sheep, flocks of poultry, and also, strangely enough, friendship with a blue-eyed goose! And my mind travels back to Mariupol, to the city that changed before my eyes—its gray houses repainted in warm and bright hues.

The sounds are most memorable for me. In childhood, this is the songs of birds, especially titmouses. I still find their chirping soothing; I associate them with a carefree life and the arrival of spring, which I love so much. In Mariupol, this is the music that was playing in the square, and the cries of seagulls that hovered over the sea water.

Remembering now all these moments, I also think about how my parents feel now. They are probably scared, sad and nervous, but I know them and I am sure that they will overcome these difficulties, like all the others. Today is my mom’s birthday and I imagine how my dad was able to get her a small but a nice gift, hugging her in the shelter of my school and remembering his children and loved ones, knowing that they are safe, feeling fear and anxiety, hearing the sounds of shooting and explosions of bombs, sitting in the cold and with a lack of provisions, but smiling from happiness and success of their native blood, that we do not see all this horror.

Thinking about the future is very difficult. My thoughts are filled with questions about how to get a job, where to find money, how to graduate from university and save my parents.

I pray that the war will end soon, my country will win the war and peace will come again, and that I will fall into the embrace of my family again. I believe that everything will be fine and I try to remain optimistic even at a time like this.

Roman grew up in a small town on the outskirts of the borders of Ukraine. However, the war in 2014 forced him and his family to move to Mariupol. He continues to move forward with new ambitions. He is eighteen years old.

Diana (Write the World Review submission; 17 years old)

This piece is republished with permission from the Write the World Review, which features a special series on Ukraine. Write the World Review publishes outstanding teen voices. Visit their website for more content and to listen to the author read her essay.

Reconstruction

My fingers are sore from the cold; my coat is soaked with rain. I am clinging to the blue stripe of the flag, trying to stay grounded, keeping my thoughts under control. But they scatter. I am staring blankly at people who prepare for the approaching march, while the white noise from their excitement fills my ears.

Main street is busy during lunchtime. Some, hurried by the rain, throw a quick look at us, before disappearing in the warmth of a cafe. Some stop and scrutinize our procession. Do we look silly? Threatening? Or, perhaps, miserable? Curious, I survey the gathering. Ordinary people with extraordinary hearts—they answered to the plea in the local magazine to join the march.

“Let’s go!” someone cries out, impatient to start moving.

Blue, yellow, together and separate, orange buckets, grey coats, “squak-squak” of boots in puddles. They proceed through the street, pushing me forward. I move, unable to say a word to the people whom I give a rain-beaten leaflet about Ukrainian refugees, bombed houses, humanitarian crisis and a link for donations. They seem to understand what we do the moment they see blue and yellow on the leaflet. A smile is given to me, but I catch it too late and smile back at the emptiness.

When the sun finally comes out, I realize: everyone in the procession has sore fingers and soaked clothes. Same as me. Someone holds another side of the flag. Others carry the buckets for donations. The rest distribute the leaflets. Are their thoughts scattered as well? Do they know what they are doing? They keep smiling, but their gaze is tense. Do they smile merely to reassure themselves that the march is the right thing to do? What if... My thoughts jumped from one doubt to another.

Since Ukraine has been invaded, I feel that my inner world has been invaded as well. I do not feel it belongs to me. The boundaries of my pain were crossed, and I was left with a bullet in my rationality. I have experienced the war twice. Can a person die two times? I surely did. Both in 2014, when my roots were cut, as I left the Donetsk region where I was born, and in 2022, when it affected the whole country—people I love.

This is why I concentrate on the people around me. Try to peep into their sane worlds, try to find a solution to the problem or a place to hide. Until the war ends, I do not have my world. The Me before is now a stranger, the Me now is nobody, the Me in the future...Whom will I be? I look at a leaflet for the answer and read my own words: ‘Open your eyes. Take responsibility’. Printed on the paper, they feel so distant. But they are mine. One day, these words and the actions they lead to, will define who I am.

We continue walking. I turn on the corner of the street and march, trying to reconstruct my world. Little by little. Step by step under the rain.

Diana is seventeen years old and was born in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. In 2014, she was forced to move to Cherkasy, as Russia began the war. She was abroad, studying in the UK, when Russia invaded Ukraine on 24th February. Together with her friends, she has organised marches to fundraise for Ukraine.

Olga B, university professor from Odesa. March 8

Today, of course, one already thinks that all this was clear before. You can start with Crimea in 2013, or you can start with the eight-day war with Georgia. When the war starts, everyone is tearing their hair out: Why weren't we ready? Why did our government sleep through everything? But let's be honest: NOBODY foresaw such a turn as February 24. Simply because it is absolutely meaningless. There was no interest in this, no more opportunities for the Russian Federation than if they continued the hybrid war, which we reflected on for the ninth year with varying success. Even more, looking at the reaction, for example, of the Hungarian state television on February 24 (the commentator declared Russia’s right to defend “its own” and compared Zelensky with Hitler), I understand that we were losing the information war. And here's a twist that no political scientist has ever spoken of as a minimally realistic scenario.

On February 19, my best friend celebrated his 60th birthday. We managed to traditionally fry kebabs, drink wine, which he himself makes every year, eat a delicious cake, and even dance at the request of the hero of the day. And then we were covered by a wave of conflicting news: Russia is preparing to attack, the day and hour are known when the Russian Federation will attack. The English SUN called him; and then a day passed, and an hour, and two. Nothing - and even memes appeared with Atkinson, how we are waiting for them, but they do not come. Sometimes I have premonitions; I don't like them very much and I try to put pressure on myself. It’s impossible not to feel the “goosebumps” on the back of the neck, remembering that under Stalin everything was done by certain dates: they took Stalingrad like that, etc. etc. The reddest dates are November 7, February 23.

And on the night of February 23-24, it begins. War. Real war, about which we only read in books. Enemies climbed from all sides, including Belarus .

24 hours. Emotions.

The first 24 hours is a time of shock and I would even say cognitive dissonance. You go into another room and by the time you get there, you forget what you came there for; you start a phrase - you forget the word, and another, and everything falls apart without meaning. Words have left me. For me it's quite strange; I'm a professional chatter. This is ‘my everything.’ 

So the main emotion is confusion. Suddenly everything lost its meaning. Why recharge? Read a lecture? Write an article? And what are the clothes for? Books? You can't take it with you if you run. I started to collect everything as a “disturbing bag” -- medicines, some wires, a computer, in general, communication is the main thing, the main thing. It's scary to even think about how it would be without it. And at this time, everyone calls, writes; many of my friends are from behind the cordon. The word "cordon" cuts the ear. This is the line that cut us off from them. We are with our trouble, they are there. This seemed to be the main thing. I don’t have the strength to read, "We are with you, if anything, we will help, write only how to help." Well, Lord, how can you help me from there?

And confusion is replaced by anger. I'm trapped and no one will help. My whole country is trapped. And the world is silent. It is disgusting to look at the bleating of world leaders -- they all talk about nothing as always. And I see clearly: no one will help us. They are no longer talking about how to stop the fights, but about what will happen next. It’s like we don’t exist anymore, we were written off. Biden revealed this logic: the sanctions were supposed to stop Putin, but they didn't. I read this as "We don't have a plan B.” No one sends weapons, no one turns off the SWIFT, no one covers the sky above us, from which death is pouring with might and main. And the thought beats: we were abandoned, we were deceived.

Against this background, the question of friends, the same from all: well, how are you there? Irritated. I wanted to scream: What do you think? We are afraid, we are very afraid. But, of course, you politely answer: thank you, while everything is quiet, we are in the city, we are considering how to leave, if anything, to the village. A dialogue with Nazira was very important; she survived the eight-day war and fled from Abkhazia to Tbilisi. Now she is there. And she gave advice: No, this is a bad option, it’s better to sit in the city, be patient, stock up on candles, alcohol, and water. And I immediately believed her that if you twitch, it will be even worse.

Then I spoke with another refugee from Donetsk, and she also said: Sit quietly, the best place is in the corridor closer to the load-bearing wall and away from the windows. The fighting will not last long; it is important what happens next. The fact that everything will end quickly is reassuring, simply because there is no strength to think about the same thing all the time. And in a circle. And again.

Therefore, anger gives way to physical fatigue. No matter what you do, your strength quickly ends, as if you are rolling a huge stone uphill. I can't think, I can't speak, I can't do anything.

Third-party observation: Do not think beyond tomorrow morning; everything can change, literally everything.

48 hours. I'm thinking.

And then I see that our army is fighting, and people are helping, very young people are lining up to donate blood for our wounded. The thought that we have already won because we have not given up changes everything. The first victims have gone. I'm crying, I haven't seen them, but I can imagine them so clearly, they are dear to me, like my children, which I don't have. Long before the war, I already knew that Ukrainians should fight for Ukraine. And so it happened. Who do you get angry at? Biden, the "world leader"? On the collective impotent, the EU? God is with them.

Humility has come, acceptance of one's fate. And at that moment I remembered the old song "All That Jazz" by Bob Fosse. There, the comedian on the show learned that he was terminally ill and will die. He goes through all the stages from unbelief to humility. I went through them in a day, well, a little more. On the second day, I realized that we will adapt or die. So I concluded that there is no difference between thoughts about my death and a global catastrophe: the same stages, emotions, the strength of these emotions.

I am a pessimist, always dissatisfied with something. But after a disaster, how everything changes! How keenly you perceive life, its color and light, its beauty; you understand that you lived beautifully, so much was given, and so much was in your power! The days were sunny, and the bread was unusually fragrant and tasty. I understand only now how I have become attached to this city, how I fear not only for myself and my loved ones, but for the theater, the streets, the house where my beloved lived, where I was happy and unhappy, our main building, on the steps of which he was waiting. I see these places and days now as if I were full of love, the world smiled back at me along with every passerby. It is impossible to think that these streets are threatened with destruction, because without them I will not be me.

It is not clear how "those on the other side" do not see that we cannot reconcile ourselves, cannot give up, that we will not give up what is so dear to us. Our strength is in our love for the city and all those who lived and died here, and not only in hatred for the enemy. This is mine: the sea, parks, a cemetery, flowers and cafes, yard cats.

Third party observation: No one says more nonsense than professional experts; you can let everyone "on the soapbox."

72 hours. Surrounding.

Our dependence on the media is amazing, although I myself have written extensively about it. What would we know if the connection was broken? I think there would be more panic. Now we can clearly see on the screen that everything works, everything is in place. It is only fools and provocateurs who sow panic. Are there more fools or provocateurs? The issue requires further research. In the queue that instantly appeared at pharmacies and shops, an aunt broadcasts: “Well, this is all for a long time. THEY have finished their mask project and now they are starting THIS.” We must pay tribute to our residents of Odesa -- everywhere there is order and emphasized politeness, so no one answered the old fool, they just turned away. Many people are sick and flawed, but this is not news.

For a couple of Zooms, only one girl came and was obviously not in better condition than I. The rest disappeared and did not respond to emails. Colleagues say the same thing: the students are not ready to study, many have left, and the situation there is even worse or there is no Internet. And some are already digging trenches and volunteering. 

The management arranged a "meeting of the labor collective,” and a discussion broke out about whether to study or not to study. I did not think that it would be so hot; many took the idea of studying as an insult. But in principle, I am for studying, while, of course, adapting to realities, but we must get in touch with the students, even if one person just wants to talk or be distracted from thinking about what is happening.

That doesn't stop me from helping everyone I can get my hands on. That's when I bitterly regretted not having a car! Volunteers are beautiful, but I can only organize and give money! On the third day of the war, in my department, five people actively joined; from the rest there was neither a rumor nor a spirit. And that's nothing. The dean said that the students wrote, asking the administration to protect them from the anti-Ukrainian comments that one professor made right in the classroom (apparently on the first day of the war). And the most disgusting of all is that some of the other faculty, who are smarter, do not say anything themselves, but hint: we are professors, we must strictly go about our business and not express any political views. One would like to ask them: What can you teach students? Do you have something within your soul that allows you to be teachers and mentors? Everything that has been smoldering latently since 2013 has now come out for everyone to see. Let them be a small minority, but there they are: lovers of the "Russian world" in Odesa.

Third-party observation: The war manifests everything in the sharpest form. A fool becomes an idiot, Russophiles become traitors, and in myself I found extreme agitation, as if I were a cauldron that was about to explode if the steam was not let out. And so I'll keep volunteering and writing, writing...

University student, Odesa, age 21. March 1

I live in Odesa, the seaside city in the south. It is one of the safest places in Ukraine right now. Nevertheless, people are preparing to defend the city: locals are enrolling in Territorial Defense units and providing the armed forces with food supplies, clothes, medicines. 

I feel a big tragedy (not love) in the air. I hate Putin and all Russians responsible for this. On the other hand, I feel a surge of pride for my nation.

I was born in Avdiivka, Donetsk oblast. I suffered from all the horrors of the war since 2014. I feel pity that an 8-year Ukrainian-Russian war and more than 14,000 casualties failed to prevent this bloodshed in 2022. Literally three days before the invasion I felt that something would happen soon. Given the US intelligence data, the Ukrainian government and people were aware of Putin's despicable plans. 

I would like everybody to realize the scale of the tragedy. My people are dying. While I am writing this email, a great number of people not only defend my country, but die for it. I don’t feel good when I have tea with biscuits while knowing that my friends are holding guns.  

Russian soldiers are not people, they are monsters. They say they have to obey orders, but there is no excuse for any orders that aim at killing innocent people (not of strategic importance), children (16 deaths), shelling ambulances with injured civilians, after killing soldiers who are on their own land, who cannot lay down their arms, because they were born on this very land. Russians fire rockets and vacuum bombs. They are not shelling military infrastructure as they claim – liars! They are shelling hospitals, private houses, kindergartens, and residential buildings. When they try to occupy Ukrainian villages, towns, and cities, local people are full of determination to stop military vehicles with their bare hands while singing the national anthem and waving Ukrainian flags. 

Ukrainians do not want to be saved by Russia. We were free, we are free, and we will be free. We were allowed to speak both the Ukrainian language and the Russian language. 

I want you to publish the truth (but quite often the truth does not coincide with economic interests). I think it is easy and fair, isn't it?

Ukraine asks the USA to close the sky. So do I. We appreciate help from the US. Unfortunately, we would not be capable of defending our land without your numerous arms supply. 

In my opinion, the western media should be posting photos of our destroyed cities, photos of our soldiers and civilians. Of course, I would like to see my president on the front page, and indeed he was on them. 

Actually, I am grateful to each country for the ammunition supply and large amounts of dollars and euros. Yeah, I would like Western media to publish that Ukraininians appreciate all the financial help. We want to be able to cover our needs by ourselves, but it was hard to do that before the war and I hope it will be much more probable after the war. 

I used to think that there was something wrong with Ukraininas as Western countries did not want us in the EU and NATO. I am proud to be a Ukrainian now. I am proud of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. I cannot imagine how brave and fearless a person must be to resist the Russian monsters. 

Glory to Ukraine! 

Aliona D, from Mykolaiv, age 40. March 1

My name is Aliona. I'm 40 years old, and in the last 6 days, I've become homeless and jobless. 

It all started at 4:32 am on February 24 when my family was woken up by a series of loud and powerful explosions. We felt as if the world was ending. Later we found out that the Russians bombed the Kulbakino Military Airport nearby, as well as many other military objects that morning. 

The next day, we didn't really understand what we were supposed to do. I even thought of going to work or holding classes online. To feel normal, people wanted to keep doing normal things. My 8-year-old son's primary school teacher even held a couple of online classes. But there was no more normal for any of us in Ukraine. 

The next 24 hours were quiet and we almost relaxed. But suddenly I got a call from my husband that I had to leave the house immediately, as there was a car waiting to take us out of Mykolayiv. That day, real war came there, with bombs and shooting. My son and I are now in Kropyvnytskyi, where it has been relatively safe for the past few days. But today air raids started here too. We go down to the shelter when that happens and sit in cold and fear. 

You should ask your governments to declare Putin an international terrorist because bombing civilians is against all laws of war. He should be caught and prosecuted as a criminal. Ukrainian airspace should be closed. The sanctions against Russians must be deadly.

What sticks out in my mind are the moments when the Ukrainian Army managed to defeat the bloody fuckfaces in Mykolayiv, Kherson, Kropyvnytskyi, and other places. Also, how we manage to find strength in laughter. There are dozens of really funny stories and memes happening every day, like people stealing a Russian tank. 

Another thing you could ask your governments is to send military supplies here because everything is running out – tanks, planes, radios, bullet-proof vests, etc. There will be crises around food and medicine soon. The cities under siege have no food supplies. The hospitals are full of the wounded and they are unable to treat civilians.

Anastasia, from Odesa, age 29. February 28

I'm going to be 30 on Saturday, if I make it.

My country has been under attack by Russia since February 24th.

Odesa has been bombed from the sky approximately 5 or 6 times over the past few days. There is information about a possible invasion from the sea. However, I believe in our military’s defense.

It is difficult to describe what I feel right now. Anger, fear, hysteria. My mood changes 10 times a day. I even have the strangest thoughts about my dead relatives. I thank God my grandmothers passed away before all of this happened. They both survived WW2 and the Romanian occupation. This war would have hurt them badly.

I was deeply shocked by bombing early in the morning. It resembles the German invasion. I read about it in books. I never thought I would experience that.

The Western media needs to reflect real information about our war, which is possible through war correspondents and journalists.

We have already felt the support from around the world. I hope Western countries will continue giving us military supplies, and that they will restrict Russia until the end.

Ukrainians are together. I`ve never felt such togetherness as I do today. I pray for our military forces. I believe Ukrainians are going to win and be free again!

Lyubov K, IT engineer from Ternopil, age 33. February 27

I’m staying in Ternopil city. It’s safe here. No fights or bombarding. But there could be some saboteurs to provoke actions. We hear a siren several times a day, which sends us running to the shelter.

I’m shocked and scared. I still can’t believe the war is happening right now. I really don’t know what to do next – that’s why I’m frustrated. I may lose everything I’ve been working for. I’m looking for answers. But right now I’m thinking about how to protect myself and my family and friends.

How could this be possible in the 21st century?! Is it a nightmare? Will it disappear when I wake up?

Russia didn’t have any right to cross the Ukrainian border and do “demilitarization,” no matter what conflicts they are solving with NATO. Ukrainians I know, family, friends and myself – we didn’t ask them to rescue us. We are proud of our country, of the direction we chose, and we understand all the problems that we have in Ukraine. But we don’t need any Russian protection. At the same time, I’m disappointed in Europe, NATO, the USA and the UK. They didn’t protect us according to the Budapest Memorandum. We gave up our nuclear weapons so that we could be protected by the USA and the UK.

Your government should stop Putin today. How? Make a diplomatic agreement with real sanctions, not words. Stop working with Russia. This country should be cut out from the world from all directions and should not have the ability to continue the war. They should understand the consequences of their actions. If our government asks for help, send us your troops and weapons to protect ourselves and deactivate the enemy on our territory.

There are too many lies in US news. Photos and videos are taken from previous wars and events. Use only facts and actual content. Ask why NATO, the US, and Europe why they are doing nothing.

It’s not a Ukrainian war. It’s a Russia - NATO war. Putin’s decision to launch an invasion of Ukraine should be allowed to happen without real consequences. No country should have any business with Russia after what he did.

Hanna R, from Mykolaiv, age 46. February 27

I am in Mykolaiv. It is quiet right now, but some hours ago we had an air raid alert. According to the information from our authorities, there may be some groups of Russian soldiers in our town. Yesterday a group of tanks got into the central part of Mykolaiv. They shot at one of our shopping malls - why the shopping mall? We don't know!

The day before yesterday we heard sound of a plane, then - the sound of bombing. We were lying on the floor in the flat. Actually, we are lying or sitting on the floor as far as possible from the windows right now. My cat is lying next to me.

How am I feeling? Day one, Thursday - I was shocked, scared, and cried from time to time. I had just one thing which I repeated in my head again and again: Russians, what did we do to you? Why do you want to kill us?

Day two was worse. I got information that the Russians are bombing Kyiv, Kharkiv, other towns and cities... I cried a lot that day.

Yesterday I felt a bit better. The thing is that I was in Luhansk, a town in the Donbas, in 2014. I realized that my experience can help people. I tried to support some of my friends here in Mykolaiv. They were lost, scared, distracted, they were in a panic. I spent a lot of time talking to them on the phone, or sending messages, giving advice, telling them what to do, saying something funny.

As for today, I am feeling that I hate them - those who came on my land to kill us and our kids. And I'm reading about the support that people around the world give us - and I am really grateful to them. I hope so much that we are not alone.

I want Western audiences to know that we are on our land and we are fighting for our land. We didn't start this war. Russians came onto our land. We didn't come to theirs. We just want to be free, to be part of the European community - and they are bombing us for this! It’s nonsense that this is happening now, in the 21st century, in a European country - Ukraine. Isn't this horrible?

We need your help, really!

Yesterday, I signed a petition to NATO to close our sky. I want your governments to realize that if we don't stop Putin together, he will go further... he won't stop. Putin is the Hitler of today. And it isn't a metaphor, it's true!

Maybe publish more photos of what is really going on here... the scared eyes of children... the results of bombing our places... just information that we didn't attack anyone – we just want to live on our land. And, of course, we don't want to ask Putin how we should live and what we should do. They are killing our children. They are killing our young men! They are killing our people. Help us to stop them, please!

Moments that stick out in my mind... the eyes of my six-year-old students who were looking at me. I had online classes with them on the first day of the war, and it was really hard to smile at them. They showed me their favorite toys and told me about them, and then, all together shouted: Glory to Ukraine!

I have had phone calls from my friends all around Ukraine - each time we talk, we say "I love you.” Any of our talks could be the last one, you see... my pupils' parents send me messages saying "I love you"...

And sometimes I receive messages from my Russian relatives! Something like “don't worry, just two or three days - and Putin will help you!” I can't answer them. It hurts! Their position kills, but they don't understand!

Anatoliy S, sales manager, Bucha city, Kyiv oblast. February 26

In the city of Bucha, Kyiv region, fighting continues for the Antonov International Airfield, located in the neighboring village of Hostomel. Now we are in the basement of a ten-story building, which is equipped as a temporary shelter. It's pretty cold and damp here. Outside, shells explode, although the airport itself is about 8 kilometers from our house.

Today, at about lunchtime, they said on social media that the village of Balanovka near Hostomel was completely destroyed. And that is only 4 kilometers away from our house. This explains why the explosions became louder.

All day, there was a battle in this area, with small arms, rocket and cannon artillery, and aviation. There was a lot of black smoke. In the morning, the sounds of helicopter attacks were heard again. A video was posted on social media showing that these were KA-52 attack helicopters.

We have already lost count of how many times these helicopters flew there. As soon as they say on social media that Hostomel has come under the control of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and the sounds of battle subside, then after a while helicopters arrive again, fire, land troops, fly away, and everything starts all over again.

This morning, a friend of our neighbor came to our shelter. He lived in the center of Bucha. He said that yesterday a shell hit one of the houses in the center. He did not want to take any more risks, so he came to us, since it’s calmer here.

If we were to briefly describe the events of these three days, we constantly hear the sounds of shelling, shooting, and bombing. On social media they write that the Russian military fired at Vorzel on February 25, 2022, hit an orphanage, and that many were wounded. On social media, the city hospital asked local residents to bring them food, as there was nothing to feed the sick.

In Bucha, a Russian sabotage group broke into the Park Town residential complex at the exit from Bucha, changed into civilian clothes and left towards Kyiv.

On February 25, 2022, in the evening, in the Viber chat for the residents of our house, they reported that Russian RSGs (reconnaissance and sabotage groups) were working in Bucha. That we need to lock ourselves in the basement, as an enemy landing is expected in the middle of the night or closer to the morning. It is necessary to turn off the lights in the courtyard of the house, as well as in all windows, as bright lighting can serve as an excuse for the bombing of the house. And you need to check the roofs of houses for marks with fluorescent paint, since such marks serve as markers for the Russian military. And these marks are placed by saboteurs dressed in civilian clothes. They also said that there are many enemy soldiers disguised as civilians in the city, who run away after the battle with the forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Bridges have been destroyed along the main roads. We cannot get to Kyiv or Zhytomyr. They say you can go to Bila Tserkiv, by back roads. But there is a traffic jam. Russian soldiers are everywhere. They even shoot civilian cars. Fuel for cars is almost nowhere to be found. Bread in the city also ended yesterday. On February 26, local authorities ordered grocery stores to reopen as people began to run out of food. It is now 23:10, February 26. On social media, residents of Kyiv were warned that now the city will be shelled with everything that the Russian military has. The sounds of explosions near us have become more frequent. I can only assume that these are outgoing shots of enemy artillery, and it is somewhere nearby, which means their troops are moving closer.

This is another problem – the lack of information. On February 25 at about 4pm, our neighbor suggested that we should leave in her friend's car. He was allegedly somewhere in Western Ukraine on vacation when the hostilities began. But his car was on the outskirts of Bucha, closer to Hostomel, and was filled with about 20 liters of fuel. At first we were delighted. I thought that I could get there and pick up the car. We started planning our departure and packing. We decided to leave in the morning, as there was little time left before dark, and if I had managed to pick up the car, then we could leave at 8 pm. But we would not have advanced far –at 22:00 we would have to stop, as there is a curfew, and according to rumors, there are big traffic jams on the way and all the traffic stops at night.

But when we left to pack, we saw a video on social media showing destroyed civilian vehicles and injured people at the exit between Bucha and Hostomel, near the Fora store. Our joy immediately ended, since our future car was in that area and the chances of picking it up became very low. Later, we learned that there were battles in this area. It seems that the Russian army is restoring a bridge towards Kyiv there and they are trying by any means to keep the Varshavska highway. After waiting out the night from the 25th to the 26th, we decided to stay, as it was already very dangerous to leave.

How do I feel...Very tired from insomnia. At first I could not believe what was happening, although we had been expecting this for a very long time, but I still hoped until the very end that this would not happen.

On February 24 around 5:40, my girlfriend woke me up and said rocket attacks had begun at all airfields in the country. At first there was panic, the next day it turned into anxiety, now mostly fear and fatigue. We are constantly waiting for Russian troops to bomb the city.

The most vivid moments I remember were the huge queues at supermarkets and ATMs.

February 24 at 9:00 am, the saleswoman of the meat department of the local supermarket was at a loss as to why everyone was nervous and why there was such a long line, until she was told that the war had begun.

Around 10:00 or 11:00am, we went to the water pump next to our house for water. Then, for the first time, we heard the roar of a huge number of helicopters of the Russian army, and they began an air raid. We were at a loss, because Antonov Airport is considered civilian and not military. Why would they attack it? About an hour later, SU-25 attack aircrafts began to fly. We could not determine whether they were ours or Russian, and what they were bombing. We were afraid that they would bomb everything.

I want Western audiences to know that the Russian army is now carrying out terror and war crimes against civilians. They bomb houses, kindergartens, schools. There is a humanitarian catastrophe in the city and throughout Ukraine. The Armed Forces of Ukraine, heroically sacrificing their lives, rebuff the joint groupings of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus - which are ten times superior numerically and technically. Someone should record all the crimes against humankind and humanity.

I would like you to ask the representatives of your government to help Ukraine first with weapons as soon as possible. If our defenders had a sufficient number of portable and stationary air defense systems, they could easily repel the attack helicopters of the Russian Federation. They would not have to constantly beat back the airfield, losing their lives in repeated air raids. Ask the representatives of your government to help create humanitarian corridors so that all peaceful civilians, women and children, can be evacuated from the hottest spots. And ask your authorities to make the sky over Ukraine closed to Russian aviation. Please hurry up, it’s a matter of hours for us.

I can also add: #clearUAsky #Russianmilitaryshipidinahuy

Glory to Ukraine!

Carolina, from Odesa oblast, age 21. February 26

First of all, I moved from Italy to Ukraine two months ago as soon as I heard the news of a probable Russian invasion. I abandoned everything I had in Italy to be with my homeland and my people.

On 23 February, I left my city of Odesa to go to the enlistment office. I wanted to join the territorial defense and therefore had to meet several requirements to get the military ticket. 

In the morning, I woke up to the news that the war had begun. It was horrible. It seemed like a bad nightmare from which I still can't wake up.  I did not join the territorial defense in the end because I don't even know how to hold a rifle in hand. If I had military preparation and minimum skills with the rifle, I would be in the city protecting my land, but in my condition I could only cause problems for the Ukrainian army.  

I would very much like to say that the village in which I am now is safe and that there is nothing that threatens our serenity, but this is not the case. We are on the border with Transnistria (about 7 kilometers away) which, as you most likely know, hosts a Russian military base. Last night, some individuals tried to violate the Ukrainian border but were stopped. We expect that they will send Russian tanks in this direction, but we have a plan to block the road in case they arrive. This will be enough to slow them down and warn our military.  

I am 21 years old and I am living a nightmare that I never expected to live. I am young and now on a Saturday night I should be at the disco with my peers having fun. It is absurd – a war in the heart of Europe in 2022. We have proof that we did not learn anything from history. 

What am I doing now? I am trying to inform my Italian followers on instagram, share the real news with them, and explain the ways they can help us. My university colleagues are collecting basic necessities to send to Ukraine, and others are sending money to Ukrainian funds.

I want the whole Western world to realize that the Ukrainian army is fighting against an army that is one of the strongest in the world. We are showing that we are strong and united and I think we deserve a place in NATO and the European Union. 

Russia is hitting civilians. Today they hit an ambulance carrying an injured person... These are the crimes against the Ukrainian people that no one here will forget! No child in the world should ever have to be afraid of falling asleep at night. There is no peace. I am worried about my friends and family sleeping in shelters. You cannot imagine what it means to receive the message "if something happens, I want you to know that I love you." 

Every night seems like the last. We don’t know what to expect from that killer Putin. But in the morning, we wake up, see the clear sky and we feel like crying and we are infinitely grateful to our army.  It is scary when your loved one sends you audio with sirens and cries. 

My life has changed forever. I am trying to do everything that is in my power to do: I help the army financially, I try to inform the Italians and share the true facts with them and I ask them to mobilize and participate in the protests. Shelter our sky and cut Russia out of SWIFT! Implement more sanctions, specifically against Putin.  

If you study Ukrainian history, in all these centuries, we have never attacked anyone, we are a peaceful nation but if needed we will give our lives to defend our borders.  We remember well the genocide of Ukrainians in the years 1932-1933. Russia killed millions of Ukrainians. We remember well how Russia eliminated our intellectual elite who defended the Ukrainian language during the Soviet regime. We remember the 1960s when Russia eliminated our authors and painters who wanted independence from the Soviet regime. We remember how Russian snipers eliminated our brothers in Maidan in Kyiv during the protests in 2014. We remember the annexed territories and thousands of our men killed. And we will never forget February 24 and the days that have followed. 

I want to thank all the people who are close to us at this moment. We hear you and see you. Make yourself heard – you are our voice! You can help us by donating money for the army or other organizations. Contact the Ukrainian embassies or the local Ukrainian community and ask how you can ship basic necessities here. Unity is strength, together we will put an end to Putin's regime of terror. Slava Ukraini! 

Violetta D, uni teacher and tour guide, Odesa, age 39. February 26

February 24, 5:00-5:30 am. 5-6 explosions – people from all the districts of the city woke up.

The first day of the Russian invasion. People were trying to fuel their cars, there were big lines. 

The first night was rather calm. Many people volunteered to go to the local defense center.

February 25 was rather calm in the city, but we got sad news from our friends and relatives from other cities. My sister and niece in Kyiv were sitting in a cellar.

In the evening, the city center and port were attacked, but the air defense system was functioning. 

The night was rather calm. But I slept only two hours. 

In my private house we were sleeping with my son on the floor in the lobby.

February 26 was rather calm. At 2:30-2:40pm there was one explosion. Tonight we will sleep in our beds, because we're physically exhausted. 

All the people who stayed in the city are very courageous. Nobody wants Russians in our Ukraine. Even my Russian friends and neighbors who have lived all of their lives in Ukraine say they don't want Russia here.

I feel a lot of anger. Although I am 1.59 meters tall and weigh 50 kilos, I feel that I could kill any bastard here, even without weapons, to protect my family.

Every second of these days remains in my mind. I'm very proud of our soldiers. Many people from all over the world have offered their help. I'm a tour guide, so I have some contacts abroad. 

I want your audience to know that Ukraine today is the last line of defense between the civilized world and the Russian barbarians with the insane leader. And this is not only our war. This is everyone's war. Russian propaganda lies to its people and to the world. Many of my Russian friends who live in Russia are very frightened and are like hostages of their government.

Please, ask all the governments to give us weapons (our army is strong like never before), ban Russia from SWIFT, lock all the funds of Russian leaders and businessmen.

This is our land and we will not give up! 

Artyom, tour guide from Odesa, age 35. February 26

Three days ago l woke up in my city. It was 5 am. And I heard the noise of a siren. My city was under attack. It was a shock. WAR!!!

There was no panic. I understand this is the end for Russia... their mad dictator is now like Hitler in 1939. 

But can we stand strong? Now I know the answer. With the help of Allies we can!

Today there was a siren three times. We still stand!

All I want now is a new Nuremberg Trial for Putin and his puppets. 

Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!

Tell your government to close the sky above Ukraine...

Dmytro, age 35. February 26

My hometown is Luhansk. It has been occupied by the Russian Federation for 8 years. I had to flee to Kyiv back in 2014. And if we talk about the current situation in Kyiv, it's very hard. 

We woke up at 4AM on February 24th to read the news (it became a habit to read the news at night) and at 5AM we heard explosions. I knew Russia had to be doing that, and yet I couldn't believe it was happening. We had to grab some stuff — we had one bag with documents and money ready, but no clothes, laptops, etc.) and cat food (our cat is the main reason we hadn’t moved earlier. She hadn't gotten vaccines recently enough to have documents). I don't have a car and that was a huge obstacle, but my friend has 3 seats, so I went with him. I'm not sure if he saved my life but I really feel that way. 

There was a huge amount of traffic as we moved to the West. After the first wave of panic, we understood it wasn't a rocket strike, but our anti-air defense working. Afterwards we started to find out that real rocket strikes had reached their target. I was scared because the border with Belarus is huge. They could attack and it could be breached from some directions. I don’t really know how many aircrafts could breach and bomb our bases. I had real confidence in our army but understood that Russia has 190k troops. Our guys stand as real heroes. 

Afterwards we read about artillery strikes. Friends from all over Ukraine (Odesa, Kharkiv, Kyiv) started to share news. I was shocked by the scale and insolence. Currently, there have been massive artillery strikes, rocket strikes that hit civilian buildings, tanks that breached the city (our forces cleaned them up) and there are troops in disguises, so there has been a massive shootout within the city. 

How do I feel? It’s an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes I have no feelings at all, fully exhausted, with a sense of deja-vu from 2014. Sometimes I feel pure hate. I want those who brought war and guns to be killed. Sometimes I'm scared. Not because of the invasion, but with the fact it is possible to openly attack a European country in 2022. That the US and EU could only share their concerns about the situation for 8 years, while part of our territory was already occupied. That there would be more documents like the Budapest Memorandum with less than 0 usefulness.  The fact that I had to wake up my daughter and couldn't promise that her snails would be OK once we get back from the trip. They might, or they might not. That I need to laugh at her jokes to brighten her mood and simultaneously read that some of our soldiers died. That there would be no consequences for the death of Ukrainians. 

I feel the joy of seeing news about dead occupants and that our soldiers stand. That they fear for their lives closer to night. I constantly worry about my friends who stayed. 

What do I want from the West? To know that we have already had war for 8 years. I want them to know we suffer for the aspiration to become a fully-democratic liberal country, to have the ability to develop, to have control over our politicians, so they will finally understand that they are not an aristocracy but managers. That we have the full right to have our language, our culture. 

At the same time, I want you to know that the time of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, ballet, and gymnastics in Russia has passed and actually, never really was. That's a country filled with propaganda and therefore fakes, hate, and the wish for others to live worse. The wish to say that we could kill you anytime. The country which hates itself but hates others even worse. Blaming everyone else for their own fears. I want you to know that this started not 3 days ago, not 8 years ago, but much earlier. We had our language canceled, our poets killed. Don't try to calm Russia down — our people need protection from it! 

You must know that Ukraine is fighting for peace and its future, so that our kids can be scientists, or poets, or architects. The situation is hard. We are standing but we need not words, but deeds. Kick Russia out of SWIFT, send us weapons and medical aid. Help our economy once we win. That's not a matter of city or country, but of Europe and the world. There shouldn't be war in 2022. No people should die because of a bastard with a Tsar complex, because of stupid-ass laughable propaganda. There should be a powerful lesson for Russia and countries that will imitate it in future. Please, stand for us as we stand for you. 

Putin is not only killing our citizens. There are 190,000 troops [on] our borders, there are massive propaganda machines with a lot of people saying "there are nationalists in Ukraine, we must kill all of them and take our lands back.” Ha-ha, please, grab a history book and learn when Kyiv was founded and when Moscow was, and by who. 

Lastly, I, a half-Russian, Russian-speaker from Luhansk, Putin's perfect primary audience, could honestly say: Vladimir Vladimirovich, go fuck yourself. Fuck you and thank you for your help to unite our nation, so it could wake up and find out that there is no Soviet Union anymore. From now on, we will live our own way. 

Tetiana U, teacher from Kyiv. February 26

My first language is Russian and my second is Ukrainian. Putin says he is protecting Russian speaking people in Ukraine from the Ukrainian junta (he means our legislative government). 

How he is protecting us by bombing the city?

On February 23rd, Russia celebrated the day of the Soviet Army. On the 24th, early in the morning, after 4am, we were woken by the sounds of weapons. The Russian army started hitting our cities and towns from many sides. Their troops broke our borders from Belarus, Crimea, Transnistria, and the territories of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. 

I live in Kyiv. Every day our army and civil citizens are trying to protect the city from Russian weapons and groups of saboteurs (in fact terrorists who were parachuted from military helicopters). 

We run to bomb shelters or metro stations to hide. Sometimes, we spend nights there with children and pets. 

This morning two rockets hit a multistory building and a smaller building, causing destruction and fires there. Some people died.

There were fights in some neighborhoods of Kyiv. They want to take strategically important spots and make the government surrender. 

Most product shops and chemists are closed. You cannot call an ambulance if you are sick and so on. 

Before, I was in shock, my heart raced, and I panicked. Now I'm already thinking clearly, ready to run to the shelter. We have been warned not to go out till Monday because it's dangerous and it can cause problems for our army fighting in the streets. 

The Russian leader is sick-minded and dangerous like a maniac. It's impossible to negotiate with him or trust him. I cry when I read about the sacrifices of our people protecting our Motherland. The guy who exploded himself along with the bridge to prevent the invader from crossing. My cousin in Lviv, who said “I can't run away to hide in the village, I am responsible for electricity supplies in the city. People are sending money for the army, giving blood for the wounded, and fighting with Molotov cocktails against Russian soldiers.” 

I want Western audiences to know that this is a real war, and Ukraine didn’t start it or provoke it. Putin is dangerous for Europe and absolutely not trustworthy. You must not believe anything he says. Anything! I am a Russian-speaker. I have never had any problems using this language or having a Russian father. I feel Ukrainian and I love my country and its traditions and culture. I don't need fucking protection with Russian guns! 

Your mass media should show the beauty of Ukrainian towns and the destruction and victims killed by the Russian army. Write how ordinary people fight to protect their homes. And write "Putin, go to hell" -- the truth would be even ruder. 

Putin tells the world and the Russians that he is saving us from our illegal, fascist government — that our people across Ukraine wouldn’t fight for it. They want national patriots to be defeated and people to welcome his tanks with flowers. No way!

If the Russian army takes control of Ukraine, they will kill and put our patriots in prison, prohibit our culture while saying they are protecting it, suck our resources like vampires, and control our country in the same way they control the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. And they will become your neighbors! 

 

Yan K, university student from Odesa, age 21. February 25

I live in Odesa. I was awakened by the phrase of my dad: “Kyiv is bombed.” I was very afraid. We were thinking about running to Moldova, but bit by bit we started to acknowledge that our army is doing unbelievably well and we decided to stay. Now we are proud of our city, our country, our army, people and president. 

The first day was noisy with many missiles, but our air defense shot them down. Now it is quite calm. Many saboteurs, but they are killed very fast.

Our people are dying – Russian troops are striking civilian objects with missiles. Today one missile got into kindergarten, and one child got killed. Putin is Hitler of our time. Russian troops don’t have good armor – they are here just to get filled with bullets. 

Western governments should cut off Russia from SWIFT, please. We need more sanctions, more weapons, more money.

Stay with Ukraine. We won’t fall. Russia’s aggression will be stopped. 

Kharkiv is the Stalingrad of the 21st century. Saboteurs in Kyiv are killed by Obolon street bullies. Russian forces tried to invade Mariupol two times today and 50+ tanks of Russia have been destroyed. Overall, more than 4,000 Russian troops have been killed during these two days. Our people are courageous and the 24th of February was the day when the Ukrainian nation was born completely. Stay connected.

English teacher from Odesa, age 21. February 25

Odesa. Rockets hit at 05:00 am on Feb 24. Silent until late afternoon when we had several more explosions.

Then it was silent in the city up until evening Feb 25.

The beaches were reinforced with landmines.

People are panicking, buying groceries for the week expecting to be isolated in their homes. Every ten minutes or so people can be seen leaving their apartment houses with packed cases driving away in their cars.

My feelings are mixed but calm as a whole. There is some bumping between confidence in the army and fear of the bandits, but the Ukrainian spirit is strong together and seeing hundreds of volunteers and thousands of people signing into local defense forces shows us that the war is not as simple as “big guns take cities.”

I probably won't forget waking up in the night to the flashes seen across Odesa anytime soon. Mistaking them for ordinary lights and then hearing the sound of rocket explosions as I was falling asleep... it is impossible to describe it. I have never heard anything similar in my life. Hearing them in person changes your perspective drastically, and seeing the light from them makes your heart rush like never before.

The Ukrainian people have been prepared to withstand far worse than this for eight years. The worst thing Russia has done so far are scary videos of Putin trying to look tough. Their bombs mean nothing to the strong men and women of Ukraine.

Banish Russia off the charts. Banish them from Europe. Banish them from Asia. There is a perfect region name for them and it's called Mordor.

Until the whole nation of Russia suffers; until every simple person in the Russian Federation sees the consequences of their state's rule; until every homeless man of Russia becomes homeless twice — Russians will keep tolerating their barbaric chieftains and will keep seeing them as holy pastors.

Putin huylo.

PR Manager from Kyiv, age 25. February 25

According to officials, there were a couple of small groups who entered Kyiv in Obolonskiy district. A Russian military vehicle ran over a civilian car with a driver inside who is alive thanks to a miracle. Some metro stations in the district were closed for entry and exit. The air raid siren roared dozens of times. 

I'm feeling proud of our Armed Forces and all of those people who support them. There are no words that could describe how grateful the Ukrainian people are to our heroes. Speaking for myself, I'm a little sick on the second day, but I'm trying to cope with it.

All I can think is this post-irony when a person who calls Ukrainians ”Nazis” is leading his country in the exact way Hitler led the Third Reich. Before the full-scale invasion, I had just finished the first part of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William Shirer and it is just 90% the same. Even the fake news to accuse Polish/Ukrainian people is almost identical. And what I think is that the world is making the same mistake it made with Hitler in Munich. He has to be stopped, otherwise, there will be more victims.

Ukrainian forces are fighting back. Russian forces are basically war criminals who shoot missiles into hospitals, kindergartens, orphanages; who dress themselves as Ukrainian soldiers to do diversions (thankfully unsuccessful as of now). And those war criminals have to be brought to justice along with their Supreme Commander in Chief and all of the military commanders. 

Also, please know that the Ukrainian people aren’t panicking. Yes, the Russian forces are using terror against civilians, but all of us trying to stay as calm as possible. Almost all of the local authorities are providing all of the usual services - transportation, cleaning, etc. I just saw a lady walking down the road near the metro station - like she probably does any other day. 

I want to answer all those people all over the world who write comments like "Why didn't Ukraine just negotiate with Putin?" There is a great quote which I can't remember precisely now, but it says something like: if you want to live and the other party wants to see you dead, there is no place for compromise. The Ukrainian people decided that we don't want to be part of the Russian sphere of influence, we don't want to turn our country into Belarus (I'm referring only to the Lukashenko regime) - we want to be a free democratic state. And Putin can't put up with it. So, I don't think there was any room for compromises or negotiating.

I want to ask all of the states to do whatever it takes to stop Putin and force him to fall back. This includes banning Russia from SWIFT, imposing diabolic sanctions, and military support for Ukraine. Because it's not only about Ukraine - if Putin isn’t stopped, it would be a clear signal that a nuclear state is free to attack a peaceful state without nuclear weapons, with basically no accountability for those who gave the orders. Sanctions don’t hold Putin accountable in these terms, because he doesn't care about Russian people and the economy, but sanctions are a great tool for limiting Russian resources for war. The Western media should be sharing photos and videos of Russian missiles hitting civilian objects, and sharing transcripts of videos where captured Russian soldiers are describing how they got to Ukraine and what they did there. It should debunk Russian fakes and all the bullshit they create.

Again, I urge the West to understand that now the choice is not between "help Ukraine and have a Third World War" and "ignore Ukraine and live a happy life.” It's like 1938-1939: the dictator won't stop until he is forced to fall back.

Julia B, anthropologist. February 25

(Originally posted on Facebook; reposted with permission.)

I would have never ever imagined myself saying this, but: I am grateful that my dearest father passed in 2020, and he isn’t here to witness how his birth country, Russia, is outrageously attacking the place he called his motherland, Ukraine.
 
I would have never ever imagined myself saying this, but: I am grateful that my beloved granny passed in December 2021. This loss is still so fresh and still hurting. But she is in the other, better world now. She survived the Nazi occupation in Kyiv during the WWII, and this war again, may have killed her.
 
My mother, me, and our cat are in Kyiv. Yesterday, which already seems like a week ago, I took my documents, money, a few things and photos, and a pen drive with all my work for the last 12 years and came to my mom's place. I've sent the manuscript of my book to my dear friend just in case. To preserve. 
 
My mother, me and the cat we've inherited from my granny spent last night in an underground car park nearby. We have been frozen there. But safe. Many people were there, with children and pets. At 3 a.m. when another wave of Russian bombing got started, we heard it so close. Poor cat was shaking. The dogs were screaming, and kids crying. But! The men were so brave, keeping themselves and calming women and kids. They were staying near the entrance to the car park, together as a chain, ready to face anything, even without any armaments. 
 
We went home at 7 a.m. Tried to sleep, but didn't succeed. I went for a walk nearby, and it was such a contrasting experience to see that blue pre-spring sky, sun there high and almost warm, listening to the birds singing and air alert sirens simultaneously. First green grass. Explosions somewhere to the north. Men staying near the district administration, calm and strict, saying that they will protect their home. From Russians. That was the first moment during those mad days when I felt tears in my eyes.
 
We will survive. I pray and hope for that.
 
I am overwhelmingly grateful for all those friends and colleagues writing me from all over the world, including those brave friends in Russia, who go out and protest against this war. My heart is melting because of the greatest support ever from Poland and Lithuania. Every person proposes to give us a shelter and host us, with the cat. That warms my heart. So good to know that there are you, who care. Perhaps, there will be a time again when we would be able again to talk about books read, and fieldwork conducted. 
 
Now we stay in Kyiv. My mother doesn't want to leave the city categorically, and I am with her.

Thank you for being for us. For helping us. For your prayers and empathy.
 
I have always been convinced that Love will save every person, and the world. My life started because of love, I live for love and from love. 
 
Sending my love for you.

About these posts

We've reached out to contacts in Ukraine to offer them a platform to share their experiences and viewpoints. For their safety, we are withholding their names. We would like to thank Lucy Minicozzi-Wheeland for initiating this project and collecting the majority of the accounts, as well as Erik Puzanov, an English teacher from Odesa, Ukraine, for help with the translation of these stories.