Curated by Kateryna Panasyuk
End of August 2022
I really want to thank each of you people who have been reading these stories and let you know that what you do matters. Your reading, talking, thinking, and writing about Ukraine, it all makes a difference. None of us authors have ever planned things that are happening in our lives today; personally I never imagined myself writing to dozens of people that I’ve never spoken to before to ask them for help. Voxeurop has been one of those who responded with readiness and open arms.
Here are two things I ask you to do: remember about Ukraine, as memory is a testimony of crimes committed against my people; and open your doors to those in need, be it a Ukrainian refugee, someone asking you to share a story, or anyone else.
It’s been a pleasure.
See you when we come back to write a diary of Ukraine’s Victory,
Foreign civilians in the middle of the war
By starting the war, Russia has endangered not only Ukrainians but also thousands of foreign citizens who have remained in our country, mainly tourists and students. Most of them came from peaceful countries and were completely unprepared for war. They didn't know the Ukrainian language, making it hard for them to understand the whole situation and follow the updates.
Since the first days of the war, I've been a volunteer at a shelter for refugees in Lviv, a large city near the Polish border. It turned out my shelter was founded especially for foreign citizens in need of accommodation. I’m on night shifts only and in some cases I’ve seen them coming in the middle of the night. These people were from all around the globe: Arabs, Americans, Nigerians, Chinese, Polish, Italians, Turkish, Bangladeshis, Belarussians – predominantly young people, studying, working or just having a good time in our country. When the war started, some were scared while others behaved carelessly, and the rest were confused. They didn't believe the war to be possible. All of them looked exhausted. We tried to calm them down and help them in any way we could. Our guests stayed for one night and then moved towards the Polish border.
In general, most of our residents didn’t understand what was happening and how serious the danger was. I instructed all the newcomers on what they should do If they heard an air alarm. Some didn't even know what it sounded like. Alarms screamed almost every night; It was tough for my colleagues and me to wake up, gather all the residents and go to the nearest bomb shelter in just a few minutes. Some would refuse to go because they wanted to sleep, and we would need to spend extra time convincing them, explaining that the alarm means that a missile attack on our city is possible, and that if a rocket hits our dorm, we most likely would not survive – only then would they agree to cooperate. Obviously, most people didn't understand the danger, and that's okay – they didn’t have any war experience.
By starting this horrible and unjust war, Russia has endangered all civilians who stayed here. It has already killed thousands. That's the way terrorists behave.
#Russia is a terrorist state.
Our daily routine
My name is Oleksandr. I'm 19, and currently I'm a 3rd year student of Political Science at Ukrainian Catholic University. Even before the war I was an active volunteer in different projects and social initiatives. Now I am doing my best to help my country as much as I can, since only together can we get over all of this and win this horrible war.
Since the war started, I have volunteered daily, as many Ukrainians have. However, it seems like everything is calming down right now, and this is not because the war is slowing down or because Ukrainian military forces have tackled the enemy. The truth is that most of the population is getting used to the war. Most Europeans do not care much about what’s happening in Ukraine since they have their own life duties and priorities. To back this up, a personal experience: I used to manage my volunteering centre, which mostly received supplies from abroad. In June however, I noticed that the amount of support started decreasing dramatically because some people just got tired, while some thought they had done enough already. From my observations, even Ukrainians, especially in the West, behave as if there is no war anymore.
I’m currently on break from my volunteering duties because of college studies and some other personal issues. However, I cooperate with an NGO working on projects for Ukraine’s restoration. Currently, many businesses and foundations in Ukraine are going through tough times since, according to experts, the losses of small and mid-size businesses make up for about $85 billion. It all caused shortages in production and downsizing in many companies. These factors pushed many people to flee their cities and homes, looking for better places to live. Some found them in the EU.
However, the war is still going on, and soldiers and civilians die daily. People are starving. Thousands have lost their homes. Many became victims of russian soldiers’ physical – and sometimes sexual – violence. Recently, a Russian airstrike killed 18 people and injured 30 more in a mall in Kremenchuk. A few weeks ago, Russian rockets hit civil buildings in Donetsk, Mykolaiv and Odesa regions. As a result, many people got stuck under the rubble, and some were killed instantly.
This is our daily routine. I wish more people would keep that in mind. Remember that while you enjoy your evening, some people are afraid of not waking up the next morning. Keep that in mind and help Ukraine win. We are stronger together.
The politics of art and culture
The Russian-Ukrainian war has already been going on for 5 months. And I am personally outraged when someone starts defending a terrorist state and tolerates Russians, who, in their majority support – actively and passively – the war.
I want to tell you that you should not tolerate anything Russian: from literature to modern performers. In this short piece, I will not write about how the colonial power of the Russian Empire and then the USSR appropriated Ukrainian artists and scientists or mercilessly destroyed and erased them from the pages of history.
I just want to explain why you should give up everything Russian, if you are a person with conscience and dignity, if you value human life.
Many ignorant people believe that “art is outside of politics”, but it is not true. Art is power, it is culture, and it is history. Art is of great importance to those who want to control the way men think. Therefore, the occupiers always destroy art or push it into the propaganda framework.
Since February 24, Russians have destroyed more than 417 monuments of cultural heritage and left a wasteland behind. They destroy museums and monuments and raze everything Ukrainian to the ground. Russian armed forces have damaged at least 379 educational institutions in Ukraine, and more than 50 of them were destroyed. They even burn Ukrainian books and textbooks. These actions are deliberate in order to erase Ukrainian history and culture.
All of those are war crimes, for which the aggressor state will undoubtedly answer.
While the war is going on, while the Russians are destroying everything Ukrainian, the civilised world must renounce the culture of the terrorist state. Because otherwise, it would be sustaining executioners and murderers and supporting the aggressor in spreading its propaganda.
Hope for the future
I am a 3rd year student of Cultural Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University. When the war started, I stayed in my native city of Lviv, worked and volunteered on various platforms.
Seven months after the beginning of the war, Ukrainians are already used to it. Our life has acquired a new routine: alarms, trips to the bomb shelter if possible, scrolling through the news feed, constant hope "for the best," concern for relatives and home, fear and uncertainty about the future have become commonplace for us.
Even a year ago, I would have never imagined that I would have to come to terms with such realities. But February 24 was the day that changed everything.
Unfortunately, the problems mentioned above turned out to be the least depressing. The terrible news we all received on July 29 took away my faith in international law and simple human morality.
On the night of July 28-29, powerful explosions rang out in the town of Olenivka, which is in the temporarily occupied territory of the Donetsk region. Explosions were heard coming from the territory where a detention centre was located, which held Ukrainian prisoners of war. Approximately 50 Ukrainian soldiers died, and another 70 were seriously injured.
It is hard to believe that such dreadful actions are taking place in 2022, while the world is trying to be humane and liberal. Actions with no logical explanation. Actions that violate general norms of human rights.
In order to somehow "reach out" to specific world organisations, people in various European and Ukrainian cities have shown up to rallies with posters. “Russia is a terrorist state”, “Russia means crime”, “Get heroes home”, “Save Azovstal defenders” – people have gathered in different cities with such slogans, hoping for at least some answers and tougher decisions from legal organisations regarding Russia’s terrorist actions.
Even in this challenging and cruel period, I sincerely believe that Ukrainians will achieve justice and obtain decent help from organisations, and that those responsible for the death of prisoners of war in Olenivka will have to answer for it.
Thoughts from Rome
It’s so odd to feel safe. So weird and unnatural to walk around a peaceful city full of joy, laughter and energy; to see grown men get excited about Italian pasta and feed their children gelato. I am here only because someone close and important persuaded me to go abroad for a couple of weeks so that I can study for my finals at university and rest for a little while. I appreciate this chance to see Rome, it is indeed a tremendous city! So full of ancient glory, it’s fundamental, strong, spacious. I don’t let this kind of thoughts cross my mind too often but at times I truly loathe those around me. They are having their Roman holiday just to return home safely and happily afterwards. They never worry that their home might not be there when they come back.
I see Ukrainian refugees everywhere, Ukrainian flags everywhere, I hear my native language on the metro. We are scattered across the world now, all staring at our phones with trembling, worrying hearts. It’s May 8th, I am on the train. A message comes up on the screen: explosions in Odesa. My heart skips a beat – I love that city so very deeply for so many reasons. Some time later I see photos of demolished hotels and houses right by the shore. No military infrastructure there, just places dear to my heart and to the hearts of my closest people. This summer I swimmed there on an inflatable boat, we almost sank ourselves but the fun was worth it. Now the shore is in ruins. That’s who I loathe – every Russian.
Life comes back to Kyiv
My name is Mykyta. This winter I studied and lived in the very heart of Kyiv. Like many other citizens, I woke up on the 24th of February because of missile strikes and realised that my life would never be the same. Battles for the capital were ferocious, and there were strikes on civil houses by the Russians in the first days. Because of the permanent air raids and the danger, I decided to move to Western Ukraine. There hasn't been a day that I haven’t missed Kyiv, its beautiful streets, fancy cafes, and bold and eccentric people. I left my heart there.
Photos of the huge and empty city during the first month of war broke my heart. When the situation became better at the end of April, I decided to return to the city just for a few days, and it was worth all the risks. It was a unique experience to observe how more and more people return to their homes every day, and Kyiv is becoming greener and livelier!
Every day the Mayor of the city warns citizens that they shouldn’t come back, but their desire to see their home, sit on the beautiful embankment of Dnipro, drink coffee in their favourite place, and, of course, see the famous chestnuts - the symbol of Kyiv - wins every time.
The city is flourishing for the first time after the beginning of the full-scale war, and not only literally. I’ ve seen the desire to live in every street, on every face and place. Kyiv is under regular missile strikes and needs humanitarian aid even now, but no one can conquer the nation of people who are ready to return to danger from the best countries of the whole world only to see their home and beautiful native city.
“On February 24th, my friend called me at 6 a.m., saying the big war had begun. Although I lived in the western region of Ukraine where there was no bombing yet, I felt tremendous fear for my kids,” recalls Olya, a Ukrainian refugee staying in Germany.
“My husband returned home from his work in Kharkiv the next day, on February 25th. We decided I had to evacuate to Poland with the children. Our train was full of people: I had to stay on my feet all night, and some kids were sleeping on the floor.
Polish people greeted us with warmth and kindness. However, I left for Germany soon because I can speak German, and a family I once worked for invited me to their home. They even gave up one of their rooms so we could gather humanitarian help for Ukrainian refugees here. My older son got into a German school, and both teachers and children supported him greatly. The younger one will go to kindergarten here too. Everyone is friendly and kind to us.
The local pastor asked me if I wanted to give free German lessons to the Ukrainian refugees. I agreed, of course. Now, I am teaching a group of 15 people in the church.
I have always wanted to move to Germany with my family, but I would have never thought it would happen under such circumstances. Now, I want to return home. I want my kids to stop asking when they will see their father.”
It’s the day before Easter here in Ukraine, Saturday, 23rd of April. The weather feels like autumn, it’s cold and rainy, no sun today. The cherry blossoms and little leaves on otherwise naked trees remind me that it’s actually spring. It snowed last week, but all snow melted before reaching the ground; we don’t get too emotional about snow in April anymore.
The cold feels unnatural. The rest of Europe seems to have a normal warm spring, we stay in the cold. Sudden and rare outbursts of warmth and sunshine are days of happiness for me. I feel like it’s the crawling bloody hands of Russia that bring this wet disgusting cold; it’s both on the outside and on the inside of every Ukrainian. It’s been 58 days of cold. It still continues.
Tomorrow is not the first time Ukrainians will celebrate Easter in times of war. But for me it’s the first one. I am so very full of anger: Russians have made going to church on this great day dangerous. They have threatened us. They have refused the proposal for an Easter armistice which Ukraine had made. Russia wants to kill. It doesn’t matter if it’s Easter, any group of Ukrainians is their target; even if we just gather to peacefully glorify God on this bright day.
In times of cold and war, amidst the battle against pure evil, we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let Ukraine be as brave as Him. Let the rest of the world see that an evil shadow has come to its doorstep; the world must fight it, not make peace with the devil.
Pray for Ukraine.
Use #ArmUkraineNow in your posts on social media, help us win.
Sometimes it's hard for me to believe in humanity
Sometimes it's hard for me to believe in the existence of humanity
This is almost two months, as my country is burning in a full-scale war. This is a war in which people fight with beasts who do not know any honour, conscience, or mercy.
The crimes of the German fascists returned, but now they are carried out by Russians: forced deportation, filtration camps, and even genocide. Unfortunately, the list of their crimes can be continued for a very long time...
Sometimes it's hard for me to believe in the existence of humanity when for the sake of a sensational story, the media are trying to portray the devil as an angel, namely to show the russians, who support the totalitarian machine of murders, as victims. However, justifying the devil you can lose your soul ...
In the vortex of such horrific events, it is difficult to believe in the existence of humanity, but it exists and Ukrainians prove it. The hearts of millions of Ukrainians are beating as one for a common goal, for victory and freedom. Millions as one are fighting each on their own front. Millions as one have in their hearts something that never dies…
At moments when the heart captures despondency, I mention them: people whose power is tempered by fire. People whose freedom absorbs billions of other hearts and lights them down in unison.
Thank you to everyone whose heart is beating with us. And while our hearts are beating, nothing can break us.
Oleksandra, volunteering before studying
“The first day the full-fledged invasion began, I dedicated my time to volunteering. I was helping with the registration of refugees coming from the areas where intensive bombing had begun. I tried everything: starting from sorting humanitarian help to helping on the information front. Studying is not my priority anymore,” says Oleksandra, a political science student from Lviv.
“For the last months, I have been helping on the Polish-Ukrainian border. We provide psychological support to the refugees because they have been through extreme stress. Some families were forced to drive their car for four days, and some have lost their homes or even children. Those who do not have relatives or friends abroad feel like they have nowhere to go. On the border, we offer them hot tea, lend an ear, share a piece of advice and try to assure them everything will be fine. Another task is communication with foreign volunteers. I was impressed by the number of foreigners who are eager to help Ukraine.
My volunteer experience is something I can be thankful for during this war because I am living through unique emotions. I try to stay positive and block my feelings because I feel engaged in a good cause. I cannot be dedicated to studying as I think there is no use for it. But there are no ways to describe the emotions you feel when seeing a little child smiling or an adult expressing immense gratitude just by looking into your eyes.”
Fighting Russia’s narrative
Ukrainians have been suffering from wide-spread stereotypes for many years. Mostly these are related to their alleged “family-like relations with Russia” : no differences between people from these countries, and the same language in use. All of these statements have historical roots and metaphysical meanings, on which the Russian government has been speculating since the collapse of the USSR in order to keep Ukraine close to it. In 2022 it created the illusion of the legitimacy of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as evidenced by Putin's speech on February 21.
This kind of propaganda is mostly oriented towards people who live in Russia or support its media sources. A beautiful picture of the heroic Russian army and its mission of saving poor Ukrainians has been painted for years and plays a huge role in this war.
This encouraged all concerned Ukrainians to run an informational campaign throughout the world. Many of them write articles (just like us), share verified materials, and do targeted advertisements. It helps a lot with bringing alternative vision to people who are suffering from Russian propaganda. These actions have become an everyday routine for volunteers, such as brushing teeth or running to the shelter during the alarm.
There are a lot of possibilities to join this fight. Even by sharing a post in social media you can take part in a global campaign. The 21st century gave us an understanding of the fact that the Internet has become a huge part of our lives and can be used by different people for different aims.
The small Mariupol
"I left without anything”, says Nadiia Ukrainets, school director of Makariv’s highschool. “Well, it's nothing because I'm alive, and today every Ukrainian thinks that the most incredible human value is life."
Currently, Nadiia lives in Stryi, Lviv region. She evacuated from Makariv on March 7, when the school was attacked by multiple rocket launcher "Grad"
Nadiia says it is tough to talk about all this. Today is the 21st century, and there is still a nation like Russia that attacked us for no reason. We call Makariv a small Mariupol. The Russians destroyed all infrastructure – two schools, four kindergartens, and all social facilities.
“My work in highschool was my safe space, a place of emotional release; I spent most of my time there with the children. We had six modern classes with computers; children could learn four languages, and we constantly participated in international exchanges. In our school, we educated independent and free Ukrainians. The Russians robbed us of the opportunity to give children quality education.
There is one unfortunate case that I can't keep quiet about either. The family was leaving through the ‘green corridor’ and a fifth-grade boy from our lyceum was shot.
While I was in Makariv and our school was undamaged, we used to prepare food in the school canteen for the Armed Forces. We would make several dishes to choose from, traditional Ukrainian food so that the soldiers could feel our love and gratitude. It was our duty.
We are already working with teachers to restore the educational process. We want to return to Makariv to rebuild our city as soon as possible. We are currently discussing these plans with each other, and with the government and investors.”
All Is Fair In War
“All is fair in war” - the slogan of beasts and immorals.
It’s a well-known proverb, “All is fair in love and war,” but is it so? What are the means of this "all" and how far can they go? As far as resorting to violence, blackmail, intimidation, and rape to achieve love? These are also means, but they are immoral and punishable by law.
What about a war? For decades, if not centuries, the world community has been creating international law that regulates and establishes the rules of warfare. However, the aggressor state, Russia, is only guided by the proverb mentioned above…
Today is the 48th day of the war. Since the beginning of the invasion, Russia and Russians have committed an appalling number of crimes. Our children and grandchildren will wonder why the world has allowed this violent and deadly horde to create all these villains.
Not "all" the means are fair. Russian troops resort to immorality, meanness, and inhumaneness in an attempt to conquer Ukraine. The blitzkrieg plan failed miserably in the first days and Russian soldiers have no advantage on the ground, so it has been more than a month since they turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of danger. Ukrainian cities and villages are being bombed every day. Civilians and ordinary people suffer the most.
People die from shrapnel and wounds. Innocent people die of starvation or disease caused by fasting, stuck under the rubble or hidden in basements.
The Russians are threatening to use nuclear weapons and are likely to be ready to use chemical weapons if they have not already done so.
Not all means are fair in war, and in this case it's no longer a war but a genocide, a total destruction. The aggressor lost its human form and became a beast, although even animals are not capable of such cruelty.
Russian soldiers have long proved that they are far from human. They torture civilians, kill and rape children without even sparing infants. They even steal food from animals in the zoos.
This is only a small part of the confirmed crimes of the Russian army in Ukraine. It is hard to believe that a person can do this, but the Russian military has tens of thousands of such beasts.
Therefore, All is NOT fair in love and war. There must always be limits.
People escape, pets don’t
The war in Ukraine has many features of terrorism. Russian troops bomb civilian facilities and infrastructure. Hospitals, orphanages and schools are increasingly being targeted. Animals in zoos are also in danger but fortunately, they are being evacuated by volunteers from international organisations.
The situation is different with pets. Nearly 11 million people have left their place of living since the beginning of the war. When they go, they pack only necessities and leave as soon as possible, and often have nowhere to go. The trains are overcrowded and buses usually do not accept animals. In such conditions, civilians rarely have the opportunity to pick their dogs or cats with them. They are forced to leave them at home and hope for the best.
Sofia’s grandma lives in a village. Her neighbours escaped to Poland and are most likely not coming back, even after the end of the war. They had a cat and decided to leave it there. It lived outside for a couple of days and did not even go far away from their house. Sofia says she fed it and since then it has been living with her family.
This cat was lucky he met Sofia and found a new home. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of pets locked in apartments or houses and they have to fight for their lives. Volunteers have started an information campaign and are looking for new owners for such animals, but the problem is still global.
World, hear Ukraine’s anger
When your heart breaks with pain, you want to scream out loud. Now the hearts of millions of Ukrainians are broken and burning in the agony of the suffering of the people, the suffering of civilians who will never see the dawn, the suffering of children who will never grow up.
Sometimes I think it can't be worse and a broken heart can't break again, but it can. And it breaks down again when the world refuses to hear us.
The Ukrainian army recently liberated the town of Bucha. I will not explain why this town is so painful to recall. Terrible events took place there, but the world continues to tolerate the crimes of the Russians, of which each of them is guilty.
On Sunday, 3 April, rallies supporting Russia in this war took place in Germany and Greece. The streets of the German capital were full of flags of a country whose citizens torture Ukrainians, rape little girls, and kill mothers in front of their children. The streets of Berlin were again full of fascist flags… And why does the world tolerate this? Why is it not banned?
Is the value of human life far from the world?
World, hear the cry of an orphan whose mother was killed in front of his eyes!
World, hear the cries of people who have been innocently killed!
World, hear the cry of a mother carrying a child killed by russian fascists!
World, hear the grief of a child who will never see his father again!
World, hear the groans of people who are tortured to death!
Doesn't it matter if it doesn't affect you personally?
I would like to add that we, Ukrainians, are very grateful for everyone's help. We see it and are incredibly grateful. However, people are still dying. Please help, read the truth, and do not support those who do and defend evil.
Direct from the Ukrainian-Polish border
It looks like a safe place, with volunteers, medical support, and almost zero chances to hear an air-raid siren.
I'm with a large group of people heading to Berlin, primarily women and children.
The first stop – Shehyni – stands right at the Ukrainian border crossing. The bus stops, and two volunteers come inside. One Ukrainian and the other one – from Kenya. They ask to sing for us and encourage us to clap. One of them sings a song glorifying Jesus and prays for all Ukrainians. We clap, and they offer some sweets and small Bibles to take. I take some sweets and thank them for their job.
Second stop, Medyka – right past the Polish border. I see signs indicating free food offered by the World Central Kitchen. Five volunteers ask us to come eat some soup and offer us cups of tea. I take one and start talking to them about why they are helping and the main reason they are here. A woman from Norway who came to the Polish border to pour soup says, "I can't believe this war is happening, and also I can't believe all war crimes, inhuman behaviour, and horrors; I just wanted to be here to help, like all people in the world are helping in their way. Also, I wanted every Russian to be aware of what is happening."
Another volunteer came from the USA, and she is more concise: “I have never been a member of World Central Kitchen, I just came here and was ready to help in any way, so I joined them.”
The last stop is Berlin Central Station. I met on the bus Nyls, a volunteer. Together we go to the volunteering centre to have some water and wait for my next train in a warm place. He's been volunteering in Berlin since the war began and says that there was no governmental help or support in the beginning, so people from around the town gathered money and food to help and coordinate all by themselves.
It’s not a war, it’s a genocide
A Twitter thread by Sergej Sumlenny (@sumlenny)
- Russia planned to easy-take Kyiv within 3 days, following by capitulation of Ukraine;
- Russian army units were followed by thousands of riot police officers;
- Russian army purchased 45,000 body bags and brought mobile crematories;
“I am sure they planned mass executions of Ukrainians. In September 2021, Russia adopted a state technical standard for digging and maintaining mass graves amid wartime. It came into force on Feb 1st 2022.”
According to experts, the size of mass graves foreseen by this new Russian technical standard, "are imaginable only for a nuclear war or a pandemic". Looks like these graves were also foreseen for Ukrainians, as Russians published their official article on "victory" on 26th Feb.
The standard foresaw digging of isolated mass graves for up to 1,000 dead bodies each grave within 3 days. A team of 16 soldiers was responsible for every grave.
Summarising: it looks like Russia planned a fast victory over Ukrainian army, followed by a complete occupation of Ukraine and a genocide, including mass executions of Ukrainian civil society leaders, politicians, cultural leaders, clerics, etc. The scale of planned genocide was unseen since WWII.
No news from Mariupol
Nastia tells about her family trapped in sieged Mariupol. She’s fascinating – she smiles, even though it’s a nervous smile, and stays collected, even though it’s hard to do the same for me, an interviewer.
I am from Mariupol. For three years now I have lived in Lviv, where I studied at UCU. Before going to Lviv I lived in Mariupol for 15 years; after 9th grade, I moved to Donetsk. After studying there for 2 years I had to move to Kyiv and then to Lviv because of the war. But now it found me again.
Me and my entire family are from Mariupol, all of us. My parents are divorced therefore there is mom’s family and dad’s family.
When my mother called me on 24 February, when everybody was scared here and didn’t know what to think, I understood that it had already started there. She said “that’s it” – everybody is in panic, all shops are closing and you simply have no time to pack.
She called once every day. Last time she called was on 2 March, the connection was very poor but I couldn’t even imagine that it could disappear. She said: “Nastya, they’re jamming the connection”, I didn’t even take that seriously. If only I knew that it was the last time… I really scold myself for this now.
My family hasn’t contacted me for a long time, I was in despair, I couldn’t reach anyone… I just didn’t know what was happening there, were they alive or not. I wrote to the Red Cross; they responded that it is too dangerous in Mariupol now and they can’t go there – I thought “oh well”.
Recently my dad got in touch, said that they escaped and by that time were in a village, Portivske, which is very close to Mariupol but it’s calmer there. I have a little sister, she is 10 years old. Dad said she’s got bad food poisoning: there was no water, little food – they got together on the porches and cooked it on fires. They drained water from the heating batteries and drank it for two weeks. The child’s stomach failed.
Dad said “We won’t go. I don’t know… she might not make it.” Then I realised for the first time how critical the situation is. So they didn’t leave Portivske. There has been no connection for three days now. I don’t know anything about them either.
A small detail can change everything. Unfortunately, in the case of war in my country, such details hurt.
I am in western Ukraine, I am in the rear, where it is pretty calm. Recently, while volunteering, I saw a car, and after that, I could barely hold back my tears. The fact is that the inscription "children” occupied a quarter of the windshield. The licence plates were not local, from the East. These people are internally displaced persons, and this inscription was a hope that the Russian occupiers would have mercy and would not shoot at the car filled with children. Russian soldiers are ruthless and fire at vehicles and bomb entire buildings containing hundreds of children, as in Mariupol. However, people always have hope.
I am very happy that these people managed to get to a safe place. But this small inscription "children," which I am sure thousands of Ukrainians have on their cars, is a sign of the cruelty of the occupiers, who mercilessly shoot at everyone. This inscription is both hope and the greatest fear. I hope that they will not attack and fear losing the most precious thing.
This little detail on the windshield of the car means a lot. It hurts because it shows what these people went through, what fear they felt.
A welcome pneumonia
“It’s terrible to say that I’m glad my grandson has pneumonia now. But I dare to because he has it on a peaceful territory, where we can quickly call an ambulance and get help. I don’t know what would have happened if we were at home,” says Mariya, who has managed to escape from Kharkiv to a village in the west of Ukraine.
“I did not want to leave, but I had no choice after two missiles hit a 16 story-house where my apartment was. I had one hour to get dressed and pack the most important things, and I, together with my son, left everything behind. We have a house in the countryside, and my husband decided to stay there. In a week, our son had joined him because a true son won’t leave the father, and the true father will protect the son and the home.
My daughter and grandson are finally with me in a relatively safe area. Since my grandson has a weak immune system and has had pneumonia a few times, I was scared he would get sick in Kharkiv. There, we would not be able to buy needed medicine, to transport him to the hospital because of the lack of fuel, and because the ambulances are taking care of many wounded in battle. I thank God we are not there anymore. But I have no doubts we will win soon and return home, and Russians will pay for everything.”
What will happen after the war? Ukrainians don’t ask this question. We ask: what will happen after we win? It makes such a little difference verbally yet such an important message stands behind these words. Ukrainians don’t give up or give in, cowardice is not an option here. Oh I do get a rush when I say this, you know. It’s true.
Personally I would say there aren’t more than one or two things I love more than my homeland; this land, even this soil itself, is truly the dearest to me. A colleague of mine, Alex from Kharkiv, recently said “What will I say when my children, nephews, grandchildren ask about the war and my participation in it? Will I say that it was interesting, but somehow it passed by me because I spent most of it listening to lectures via Zoom and working on deadlines? Seriously?!”, it was a thought of his in the context of our conversation about studying during war.
It surprised me, I never thought everyone has these thoughts, but it turns out they do. I prefer to keep learning, but the thought of children… Every time I feel like giving up, I remember my generation must be the last one to suffer from Russian imperialism. Our children will not, their children won’t either. They will live on this land freely and they will love it so very deeply.
Daria’s grandpa and the news
Daria is 19 years old. In 2014 she and her parents were forced to leave their home city, Luhansk, because of the Russian invasion. Now they live in Kyiv, whereas her grandparents moved to Russia. This particular day has separated them not only territorially but also mentally and politically.
On 24 February the war came into Daria’s life for the second time. Her grandpa called them in the morning, wondering how they were.
“Later, we heard a loud explosion next to us. There were already some videos of it on the Internet and at that time Kharkiv was already beeing heavily bombed. We sent the video and photo to my grandfather, to which he replied that it was all fake. He spoke with all those phrases that are imposed on Russian television: our President Zelenskyy is a drug addict, we are bombing ourselves. All the rest is nonsense for him.”
Daria’s grandpa always supported Russia. He even tried to pursue her to study in Rostov, because life with “Ukrainian neo-Nazis” is unacceptable to him.
“He does not miss a single news release, and there are morning, afternoon and evening ones. We have not been able to convey the truth and reality to him since 2014, and now everything has only gotten worse. I don’t want to put up with this, but he became a real victim of propaganda. I still respect and love my grandparents, because they are my family. But while he is watching Russian propaganda, he supports everything that is happening now in my country, where children, women and other civilians are being killed.”
A Story from Mariupol
“There was no access to drinking water in the city for more than a week, so we started going to the river to collect water. One day when we went to the river and the shelling began. We were lucky, but a shell killed three people who were higher up the hill. On the way back home, we saw many people covered with sheets. They were killed by shells”.
That is the story of a 30 year-old Julia, published by Hromadske. Julia has lived in Mariupol all her life. On 24 February, when Russia launched a full-scale war, the first shells were dropped on her city. Since 2 March, the local people's task was to survive without connection and access to water, gas, and electricity. Only on the 20th day of the war, an opportunity to leave Mariupol appeared.
“I went with my boyfriend and his sister. We cooperated with several other young couples with children. We heard that the road is dangerous, part of it is mined, but it could be seen. There was no thought about whether it was scary to go or not: every day we went to bed and did not know if we would wake up. When you know that there are people who have left, you have hope.”
Now Julia is in Zaporizhzhya, but more than 300,000 people in Mariupol still need food, water, and medicine, while the Russian army is blocking access to humanitarian aid.
Bohdan, volunteering on the Ukraine-Polish border
“When Russia started a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, I dedicated my time to helping Ukrainian refugees at the Krakovets checkpoint. There, more than 2,000 people cross the border daily. The hardest work is when it is cold outside. You have to inform all the people with small children in line that they can go to the tent where it is warm, they can drink tea and eat well”, Bohdan, a young Ukrainian volunteer, told me.
“As volunteers, we always carry small children in our arms to help the parents. Those scared kids are shaking because they are freezing. At night, we put them to sleep with their parents at our volunteer base, where they may warm up. We also give refugees clothes and help to find a doctor. There are many Polish doctors whom we help with translation”, Bohdan added.
“I remember very well one man leaving the country with his two little daughters. It was cold outside, but he did not want to enter our warm tent. However, he agreed later on. He talked quietly and kept a stone face. The man was running away from Kharkiv because the Russian army had destroyed the apartment where he lived. His wife died of cancer a few years ago, and he had to prove this fact with a document to be able to cross the border. I think he was ashamed to leave, but he had to; he is the only parent to his daughters. I think he will come back when we win.”
Children of war
From time to time, the local volunteer centre, where I go to help, organises activities for children. Usually, participants are children from our city, but there were many displaced children this time. Children who were forced to leave everything because of the Russian aggression. They are the same children, they are just as enthusiastic about drawing and running, but you can see that the eyes of these kids have already seen the war and felt its consequences.
The war affected them personally. They are very cheerful and talkative, but there is a sense of adulthood in their words. These children calmly and thoughtfully speak about relatives: fathers, grannies, siblings – who remained in the hot spots, who refused to leave.
They describe how they heard the explosions and how they left their cities. I could barely hold back the tears as I listened to them, but they continued the story calmly. They are still so small, but a lot has happened to them, and they endured it bravely.
I have to admit, I cry and stress because of less horrible things: the air alarm in the middle of the night, horrible news I read; but these children are calm and balanced, although they have suffered much more.
That's why these children impressed me. I'm sorry that the war forced them to grow up too soon, but I'm stunned by their resilience. And I really want everyone who took their childhood away from them to be punished.
Studying in times of war
It’s incredibly difficult to study now, but I’m happy to do it. It happens that my family and I are blessed with relatively quiet skies and the warmth of our own home – for now. Every night my city, Lviv, wakes up to the sound of sirens. Every night I get yanked out of the warmth of my bed by a horrible rush of adrenalin, change clothes, put on the warmest socks, grab my backpack and run down 8 floors to spend up to 4 hours in a cold bomb shelter. Regardless of all this, my mind is still thirsty for knowledge. It’s always been, but now it’s fueled with anger. There is no way I will let Russia stop me from reading and learning. There is no way I will let anyone make me useless or less intelligent. I’m not too strong physically, I can’t shoot well and I’m no doctor. But when the time comes, I want every Russian to pay the price for what they did and every Ukrainian to live in a country they deserve. Who else will do it if we stop learning now?
I understand very well why my university is resuming studies, it is really necessary
But personally, my story – I can not do it. I can't study, not at all. I feel like I'm wasting my time just because the information doesn’t reach my brain, because my head is full of other things.
The format which is now practiced in my university works well for me. All lectures are being recorded, so I can always watch a recording when it’s convenient. For example, a student can work during the day and study in the evening. There is also a big relief regarding the deadlines: some assignments were postponed or taken down completely. There is not too much pressure on students now. I live abroad now, no running down to the bomb shelter for me now. But we will see how it goes next week when I come back to Ukraine. For now I think we simply cannot afford to stop studying in these circumstances.
I feel this bottomless fatigue. My mind finds comfort in involuntary deafness. I hear sounds, but I don't catch their essence. It's as if I'm falling asleep to the voice of the lecturer. And the noise of the Zoom call drives me crazy. I don't have the strength to think about homework or the curriculum. It is difficult for me to develop now. Sometimes I ignore people because of oversaturation with stimuli. And sometimes I experience a phantom air alarm. It feels like it's about to begin. I hear high-frequency sounds and it becomes so scary.
Nikol, seeking for help in Mykolaiv
Today, I'd like to share this excerpt I translated from a story I've read on Hromadske, an independent news outlet. It was written by Ksiusha Savoskina, and I believe it tells a lot about the situation in Mykolaiv:
“Hi, my name is Nikol, and I need some warm clothing,” said a girl coming to our volunteer center in a small town in the west of Ukraine. We started opening boxes for her, showing all kinds of sweaters and coats, but she ignored that. Nikol picked a blanket for herself and one for her 2-year-old sibling. “Can you imagine that a small part of a ballistic missile fell right by my high-rise in Kyiv?”, she said with fear and excitement at the same time.
After we hardly gave Nikol two packages of warm clothes, her mom came to the room. When we brought her hair care box, the woman’s hands started shaking terribly, and she cried. “I did not wash my hair for almost two weeks. I cannot even remember what shampoo I used to buy. I am afraid to take a bath and leave my children alone. I hear bombing constantly in my ears. Did you hear it tonight?”
It was the second day the family was spending in Mykolaiv, a small town in the Lviv region. That night, the Russian missiles bombed the Lviv region for the first time. So far, I have concluded that seeing refugees is the most complicated and emotionally painful thing you face during your life. Especially when those refugees are running away from the war that is going on in your country, and you cannot even assure them that the country’s region they came to is a safe place.”
Today, I want to share the testimonies of two girls I met earlier in Lviv:
Nadila, 21: "I’ve started volunteering at the Lviv railway station since the early days of the war. At the beginning of that experience, I was highly offended by any reproach, raised voices, pushing, or cursing. First days on the railway station were chaotic: both in people’s heads and on the platforms. That mess exacerbated all the feelings. I burst into tears many times for various reasons: for someone is leaving and someone has to stay; for there are those hastily rushing forward, and others humbly waiting for hours when their turn comes; some are sincerely grateful, and some think what is given to them is not enough.
What struck me most was the short dialogue with a girl my age who was leaving on the fifth day of the war.
She met me, shook my hand, and said with a friendly smile, 'Thank you for what you’re doing.'
Diana, 19: "After my university became a shelter for students’ families from cities where hostilities occur, it was my first time I got acquainted with many refugees. Besides, many friends volunteer at various spots, including refugee centers.
Many of them join the volunteer community at the university – and that’s great!
After all, it allows going the limit, even after resuming studies and work. People are mainly relatively calm, sensible, and happy to talk. Children are primarily cheerful and active.
In my opinion, Lviv welcomes people from other regions with great dignity. Residents open many hosting places on their initiative, even in gyms, studios, etc. And many people I know personally provide shelter in their homes. Those who have a car regularly help people get from the station to the border."
Sorry for not sending new material yesterday. I will send more today. Our region had an air strike for the first time. We are okay, but it is somewhat difficult to keep my schedule going with 4+ hours in a bomb shelter. Sorry for the delay once again. – Kateryna
Maternity Hospitals and Infirmaries as Military Targets
Alina Voronina,Vira Saliieva
While Russians are claiming they only damage military targets, more and more Ukrainian civilians, including women and children, suffer from the bombings every day. The maternity hospital and the children’s hospital in Mariupol were bombed by the Russian military forces on 9 March.
At least 3 people died, with 1 child being among them. There are 17 injured people, and the obstruction removal still continues.
“How did [those hospitals] threaten the Russian Federation? Were there Bandera children there? Pregnant women were going to shoot at Rostov? Did someone in the maternity hospital humiliate Russian-speakers? What was that? Denazification of the hospital? This is already beyond atrocity.” said president Volodymyr Zelensky in his speech. He also claimed that the air bomb thrown on the maternity hospital is the major act of the genocide of the Ukrainians.
Innocent people all over the country just like us, simple students, are beyond terrified with the ruthlessness of the attack. "They crossed all the borders a long time ago, and I thought that none of their actions could impress me anymore. I was wrong”, says Oleksandra Besarab. She is a second-year politics student at Ukraine Catholic University (UCU), and Mariupol takes up a special spot in her heart; she took part in the ULA course there. “A maternity hospital. I can't even get my head around it. When I was scrolling through photos and videos, I felt nothing but emptiness and pain that couldn't be expressed through words. We won't forgive. For every child who wasn't given a chance to be born and explore life. For every mother who lost the most precious gift she had. Nothing on the Earth could justify this."
7 March 2022
We Are Ukraine, and We Love Freedom: A Strong No to Evacuation to Russia
Hanna Shypilova, Khrystyna Dmytryshyn
The third round of negotiations between Ukrainian and Russian representatives took place on March 7. The main topic to discuss was organizing humanitarian corridors to evacuateUkrainian citizens to safer areas of Ukraine. Previously, the Russian army was blocking the Ukrainian government’s attempts to save their civilian people by opening fire on buses, mining roads, and blasting f railway tracks. Today, for the first time in decades, a child had died of dehydration under the ruined house where she once happily lived. It happened in the city of Mariupol, which has had no water, power, or heating supplies for days.
The urgency of this issue was added by a proposal received via an e-mail at 00.30 from the Russian government. Iryna Vereschuk has stated in her briefing that the Russian army is ready to stop gathering fire, only in case of evacuation of civilians to the territory of Russia and Belarus. The Minister has stressed the inadmissibility of this proposal and the possible danger to residents evacuated by invaders. What is more, the Ukrainians themselves are ready to face open fire while showing their loyalty to Ukraine. In Kherson, for example, the people have been gathering on protests with Ukrainian flags and refusing to accept humanitarian help from the Russians while facing the open fire.
Therefore, nor the Ukrainian government nor citizens will everaccept the proposal of civilians’ evacuation to the territory of Russia. Instead, we will insist on ensuring security for all citizens in hot spots.
The invasion begins
February 24th, Kyiv. My parents woke up to the sounds of explosions, shooting, and airplanes. We couldn’t believe it.
“Daughter, wake up, please,” when I heard my Mom saying this, my heart dropped.
Next 14 hours we were lost, anxious and terrified. We had to say goodbye to each other, because my dad had chosen to fight.
We spent the next night in a shelter –– the Metro station Heroiv Dnipra, protecting us from shelling and bombing. We placed our blanket and a yoga mat on the floor, chatted to our neighbors, and ate some crackers. The trains' movement was stopped, the elderly and people with small kids were invited to warm wagons. We tried to sleep on the cold platform in our winter clothes, resting our heads on backpacks. Children were crying.
Sleep wasn’t lasting, not because of the conditions, a 2.5-hour queue, or chatting neighbors, but because of the common feeling of danger and being unsure whether it's reality or a nightmare. Fear and panic aroused, then it changed to trembling hands, deficient appetite, nausea, followed by the uncertainty, fear of losing your loved ones, desire to survive, feeling of losing control. I wish no one but putin had such a dreadful experience.
I love my country. Here people planned their lives, created families, raised children... Now everything is in danger since Putin’s ambitions were big enough to start a war. Children in kindergartens aren't nazis. Homes aren't military objects. But Putin’s troops don't care. I wish I didn’t have to feel safer in a shelter than in my own bed, where I hear noises of the war. I can't forgive Russia for doing this to us.
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