30 Young Ukrainians on the Beginning of the Russian Invasion

Photo: Courtesy of subjects; Oz Katerji (Dobrovolskyi and Kovalchuk); Neil Hauer (Zavhorodnia); Mikhail Palinchak (Fursin)

Chapter 1

‘I Bought Four Bottles of Wine in Case We Need to Prepare Molotov Cocktails’

on three sides. The U.S. warns that an invasion is imminent. Ukrainian president declares a state of emergency.

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I was standing with my friend on the Yurkovytsia Mountain, which overlooks the whole city, and we joked, “Just imagine — bombs are going to fall on Kyiv.”

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In the middle of the day, I texted my English teacher. We were supposed to meet, and she said, “I’m sorry. I totally forgot about our lesson.” She had decided to leave Ukraine at the last minute and was on her way to the airport. I said, “Why didn’t you tell me before? I might have planned something else.” So now I had a free evening and nothing to do with it.

I try to stay out of politics. Ever since 2014, when I was worried about my mom, who protested in Maidan Square, I decided not to be involved or to constantly watch the news because it was traumatizing to follow the news and not know what’s happening to my relatives.

Later, I was on the phone with my mother and told her I had a bad feeling. She said, “Don’t worry. It’s crazy to invade Ukraine fully — especially Kyiv.”
I said maybe I should leave for a couple of days. But then I thought, I don’t really have money. So I spent some time watching on Netflix and learning some English by myself.

Photo: Petro Chekal

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On the TV at 5 a.m., Putin announced the beginning of the military operation, just — war. Here is Mitya, my brother, listening. This is a Russian TV channel, and they said it was a rescue mission. My grandparents watch Russian TV all the time, and for the first few days, they couldn’t believe it. And when they finally did believe it, they switched to Ukrainian TV.

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Leonid: I was anticipating a new video game that was supposed to be released the following day. But I had been sensing that something was going to happen. Two or three weeks prior, there were Russian troops building up along the border and people had started to prepare for the worst. I rarely remember my dreams, but one of those nights, I woke up and told Nasta that I dreamt the war had started.

Nasta: It had such a profound effect on me that I did not sleep for the next two hours, although Leonid fell back asleep almost instantly. But on the 23rd, we both thought we’d have at least two or three more days to prepare.

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That day, I was hanging out with a friend at my parents’ café, talking about going to America as part of a work program for students. I really want to visit Los Angeles, maybe work as a hotel receptionist to improve my language skills and learn about the culture. I also got a message from my professor, who suggested I take part in a Chinese-language competition whose winner would go to China. I was so happy to have been chosen.

We saw on the news that Ukraine was declaring a state of emergency and the American warning. Even so, I didn’t think the war was going to happen. None of us believed an invasion was imminent.

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My partner, Yulya, and I watched President Zelenskyy make his speech to the Russians that night. I liked it a lot — clear, focused. I thought Putin was bluffing because an invasion seemed stupid. Extremely stupid.

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Very late at night, I got an alert that probably Russia would invade. I was shocked, and I started charging my laptop and power bank but then I thought, No, that is impossible. It’s dumb. It’s just crazy shit. And I went to sleep.

February 24

Just before dawn, . Tens of thousands of troops cross the border.

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My phone started exploding with notifications. My friends were writing “Watch! Watch!” with YouTube links. The Russian president was on live. I was sleepy; I didn’t realize what was happening. Why was he speaking live? All normal people are asleep at this time.

Around 5 a.m., I started receiving notifications about explosions in the biggest towns and cities. I was still thinking that this is some joke, that this is not real. I didn’t know what to do. I waited a little bit, 30 minutes, and got afraid and went to wake my mother. She was really angry: “What do you want?!” And I told her, “I think war started.” She asked me, “War? Which war?” And I said, “Russia invaded Ukraine.”

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A friend called me at 5:35 a.m. I wasn’t surprised it was so early — he often gets into trouble. I said, “What happened to you? What do you need help with?” He said, “You haven’t heard that the rockets are flying near Kyiv?” I asked him what the fuck he was talking about.

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It was a fucking mess. There was shock, utter shock. For an hour, I just sat there reading, not knowing what to do. My hands shook. I didn’t wake anyone. My partner was lying next to me, but I didn’t say anything; in the next room, my mother was getting up to go to work, and I didn’t say anything.

Finally, I told Yulya that the war had started. She didn’t quite understand at first because, really, the war had been going on for eight years in the east — but now there’s a full-scale invasion. And it feels like total annihilation because they’re shooting at civilians.

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When we heard the first siren, we went with our things to a bomb shelter. It was very cold. There was no cell service and no internet, so despite the shots that we heard, we had to go outside to get the news and ask others if everything was all right. We spent seven hours in the bunker, and as soon as it was quiet, we went home to eat and shower. When we heard the sirens again, we went back.

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The first thing my father did was to go to the gas station and fill the car, and my mother went to the pharmacy. The lines for both seemed kilometers long. Cherkasy is not big, not even 300,000 people; I have never seen traffic jams here, but that morning it was almost impossible to leave by car.

Later, we were sitting in our house and planning where to go. We live almost in the center of town, and that’s dangerous now. We had the idea to run to a smaller village nearby, but then my mother, who works as a security guard at a kindergarten, received a phone call and was told she was needed. We decided to stay in our home. It’s dangerous to leave it empty because somebody could enter and steal everything.

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We were really worried because we live near one of Kyiv’s major airports and our flat has massive windows. We packed for five minutes. We took laptops, documents, and some random stuff that was on the table. I took fancy underwear, some books — one called Stop Being a Nice Girl and Stephen King’s On Writing. Also a fancy dressing gown. It’s silky. It can serve you pretty well as a bandage if someone breaks a leg.

My university sent a message suspending all lectures. A few hours later, I heard that one of my students has already volunteered to go to the army. He’s younger than me. Nineteen.

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This morning in Odesa, there was a lot of sun. It felt like spring, and I woke up in a good mood. Then I took out my phone and saw that Russians had invaded my country. I had a lot of work planned, and I called my colleagues to ask, “Do we cancel our meetings today?” This was a little bit absurd because everything was canceled. All your life is canceled.

My primary job is in Kyiv, but I had come to Odesa before the invasion — I’m trying not to call it the “beginning of the war” since the beginning of the war was eight years ago — because of the stress and because this is my native city. I didn’t bring much: clothes, documents, all my money. I was sure I’d be here only for a week and after that I’d come back to Kyiv again, so a lot of things that I need I left behind. And I feel sad because little things like sculptures or books, these poems that I want to read now, stayed there. But my mother told me, “You took yourself, and this is the most important thing you take.”

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I sat at the computer all day watching the news. I was filled with hatred every time I read about the Russians, but I was even more outraged that the Russians were openly lying that they were only hitting military facilities, that they came with peace, that they came to save us. From whom?! From ourselves?

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I smoked three packs of cigarettes. When my mind was clear, I decided that staying in a big city during the war would be a big mistake. I started calling all my close people in Kyiv and begged them to leave immediately, but no one listened to me except for four friends. We met at the station — it was still relatively quiet — and decided to take the first train to the west. We boarded without tickets and without paying. The atmosphere was gloomy. But we got to the town of Kovel, in the northwest of Ukraine, where we had heard there was no fighting.

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Nasta: Like many of our friends, we had an opportunity to leave for Lviv, near the Polish border, but we didn’t give it much thought. We are going to stay in Kyiv and fight for it if we have to.

Leonid: I saw a warplane for the first time in my life on the way to the supermarket. The shelves were quite bare, but I bought four bottles of wine in case we need to prepare Molotov cocktails.

Nasta: It was the cheapest wine — we just poured it away. Sirens went off five times throughout the day. We live on the top floor of an apartment building, which is very unsafe during air strikes, but nearby we have a spacious parking garage as a shelter with power outlets and restrooms and okay internet. We can bring our cat. There’s also an area where people can just sit and talk, eat, drink tea. I’ve never had as many friendly conversations with my neighbors as I do in the shelter.

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I tried to work a little, but it was hard. Our company’s chat was full of messages about people hearing bombs and explosions. I was thinking about whether I had to leave, but I have two cats and it’s difficult to travel with them.

We went out and saw the longest queue to the supermarket I’ve ever seen. I didn’t join. We thought this thing would end quickly and that everything would be fine, that it was just politics.

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I also work with a museum here in Odesa, and my colleagues asked for my help taking all the works off the walls and getting them to a safe place. My favorite works are from the avant-garde period. A group of young artists born in Odesa went to Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, and at the start of the Soviet era, they came back and formed this group called Odesa Independent. I told everybody at the museum, “With Odesa Independent, don’t help me; I’ll take it myself. Because these are my guys.” One of these paintings is a landscape made in a Cubist style by an artist named Amshey Nurenberg. It shows human bodies washing in the river, and there are a lot of open colors: blue, green, ocher.

These works have a really interesting story. During the Second World War, they were evacuated from the museum. Now they are in a safe place in another wartime.

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There was heavy shelling here in Avdiivka, which is maybe two hours by car from the Russian border, so we went to the nearby school where my mother teaches and sheltered in the basement before taking off again. We headed for Dnipro, but then we opted for a smaller town nearby, Novomoskovsk. The journey was scary because we didn’t know if we would see Russian soldiers. By this point, though, I felt numb. I had cried a lot in the morning: There had been so much fighting around our town in 2014, and I just didn’t want to experience war again — the death, the destruction, the fear.

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My husband has a 15-year-old son, so we bought him a ticket for a train that would leave in the evening for Lviv, where my parents live. And we managed to buy tickets for ourselves for the next evening.

But with every hour, sounds of attacks were closer and closer, so I insisted that we try to get on the first train with my stepson. We packed what we could take. I was crying the whole time because I am someone who buys only the stuff I really like — I couldn’t choose what I should and shouldn’t take. I packed some jewelry from my mother and grandmother and clothes that will be warm because it’s minus-two degrees Celsius and snowing in Lviv. I took gifts from my father and from some people whom I might never meet again. I packed clothes made by Ukrainian designers. I don’t know when I will be able to wear an evening dress, but I wanted to take it with me.

My best friend met us at the train station, so there were four of us but only two tickets. Then a miracle happened: A carriage was booked for another group, but they didn’t show up, so all the people waiting got inside. There were so many animals in the carriage. Some cats ran away from their owners, and people were looking for them throughout the night. Usually the journey takes eight or nine hours, but for us it was 14 hours. Nobody was sleeping. Everybody was awake, checking the news. We were like zombies.

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We thought we’d leave Kyiv the morning of the 25th — me, my brother, and his fiancée. But late the night before, a friend called and said we should get to a safe place immediately. My brother and his fiancée didn’t want to, but I made them come with me to an underground parking garage with only backpacks, laptops, and some documents. We waited. At 4 a.m., everything seemed fine and we decided to go back to the apartment, but after 20 minutes we felt an explosion, like something was bumped. We expected another bomb, because we thought it might be like in a movie: If there was one bomb, there will be another. We stayed in the parking garage until the morning. We decided we should go to the apartment, grab our stuff, and immediately leave. But for where?

Photo: Igor Chekachkov

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The first days were calm, but then several houses were burned down. My friend found a driver, and I had 15 minutes to pack. In Lviv, my friend Anton received me. Different families had settled in his house. It was interesting to watch the children, my own and others. There was a box of military toys in great demand. The children played war and said phrases they heard from the news or their parents, like “The bombs are flying,” “Attack.”

Chapter 2

‘Shelling and Rockets Are Terrible. But Nothing Compares to Air Strikes.’

February 25

Russian forces reach the outskirts of major cities. Kyiv is expected to fall within days. Ukrainians hunt for saboteurs.

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These first few days have been terrifying and disjointed because you can’t understand what the Russians want. Do they want to bomb the whole country or part of the country? We’ve started to pack bug-out bags. We ran to the supermarket to buy groceries that wouldn’t spoil. At the same time, we’re reading the news — everyone is constantly reading the news — just to understand how quickly everything is moving. There have begun to be a lot of civilian casualties.

People are feeling an immense amount of hatred toward Russians. I’ve been to Russia a lot, I have friends there, and I know that there’s an authoritarian regime and that people aren’t always at fault for having a terrible government. But I understand it. You start feeling something different, an unbelievably passionate hatred. I mean, I’m an extremely peaceful person, but I feel downright happy that the Russians are also getting killed.

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I woke to the sound of an air-raid siren, and we moved to the bathroom as the safest place in the apartment. A few hours later, my father returned home and we decided to pick up my grandmother and her two cats from the left bank of Kyiv. Now we have eight at home: me, Mom, Dad, Grandma, and four cats.

I tried to join the Territorial Defense, but they said they already have too many people and prefer those who have combat experience.

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I tried to work for a few hours. I was almost the only one because the rest of my team were in bunkers or basements or trying to leave Ukraine.

We have a bunker in the basement of our apartment building if we need one. We gathered with our neighbors to clean it because it didn’t look like a place where people could live; it was absolutely dirty and dusty, and there was no furniture. But I haven’t been in the basement since all this started. I’m a little bit careless about that.

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After we got to Novomoskovsk, to the west, Mom made me pancakes with apricot jam, which cheered me up. Then we went to the market to buy more food and look around our new neighborhood. Normally, I don’t eat candy or pastries, but I’ve started eating loads. The war has stopped university classes, but I did some Chinese and English exercises to distract myself.

We were talking about leaving the country, but my dad has to go back to work in Avdiivka and my brother is in Kyiv. Maybe Mom and I could leave, but we don’t know what would happen in another country. We’d have to rent a house, which would be too expensive. So we don’t have the option.

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My friend Ilya invited me to come stay with him, so I packed a few sweaters and underwear. My favorite band is Queen, and I’d painted a huge picture of Freddie Mercury that sits right above my piano, so as I left, I said, “Freddie, please guard my flat!”

But on the way to Ilya’s, he called and said he’d heard about a friend who had managed to get out of Kyiv on a train. I agreed that we should make a run to the station. When we got there, we looked for anything going west and found one heading to Warsaw. It was so crowded — people were shoving — they were desperate, wild, just trying to save their lives. We begged the attendant, and she let us on, handing us bedsheets to sit on in the aisle.

After a few hours, the train stopped and they turned off the lights. We heard shooting and explosions, far away but clear. It was like 1941, like the stories our grandmothers and grandfathers would tell us about that war. Then we started moving again, and the attendant said we could turn the lights on.

Photo: David Vekua

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I definitely wasn’t practicing Pilates in the beginning, and when somebody from abroad told me about some new technique, I just sarcastically laughed. Like, Come on, there are bombs here. But I started practicing again. I know how trauma freezes in the body, and I didn’t want this for myself.

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We tape the windows to avoid blast fragments.

The safest place is the basement because there are rocket attacks at night. We brought mattresses down here and take turns sleeping under the table.

My brother, who is 14, didn’t watch the news in peacetime. Now he watches 24/7.

In case of quick evacuation, we sleep in boots and coats. It feels like I was born in shoes.

Because of the lack of sleep, it seems like it’s one long day, but the diary helps keep the days separate.

I look at photos of other Ukrainians. We all share a common look — the desire to fight in spite of all the horrors. There’s something disturbing in it.

Photographs by Lisa Bukreyeva

We tape the windows to avoid blast fragments.

The safest place is the basement because there are rocket attacks at night. We brought mattresses down here and take turns sleeping under the table.

My brother, who is 14, didn’t watch the news in peacetime. Now he watches 24/7.

In case of quick evacuation, we sleep in boots and coats. It feels like I was born in shoes.

Because of the lack of sleep, it seems like it’s one long day, but the diary helps keep the days separate.

I look at photos of other Ukrainians. We all share a common look — the desire to fight in spite of all the horrors. There’s something disturbing in it.

Photographs by Lisa Bukreyeva

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My employer had offered an evacuation via Lviv, but it was clear to us that it would become a major choke point for refugees. My fiancée and I thought staying would be okay. Tonight, we discovered a McFlurry in the freezer. We thought it was probably the last piece of McDonald’s left in the country. We were pretty happy to find it. It showed us that we had lived in a civilized country once.

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My brother, his fiancée, and I decided to go to my uncle’s house, 40 kilometers outside Kyiv. We were driving and everything seemed fine, but then we saw soldiers on the road. We didn’t know if they were Ukrainian or Russian. It was so stressful. We were on the phone with my uncle counting down the minutes to his house on Google Maps — “Eight minutes away, six minutes, five minutes …”

When we arrived early in the morning, I hugged my aunt and cried. We hadn’t slept in 24 hours. She gave us some food because the whole night we hadn’t eaten. My niece woke up; she hadn’t seen us for a while and asked, “Who are these people?” We introduced ourselves and said we were going to stay for a while. My aunt asked if I wanted to sleep in a separate bedroom or with my brother and his fiancée. I said I would stay with them. It feels safer in a way, at least for my brain.

February 26

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“Spy mania” escalated overnight: All the citizens began to see refugees from other regions as Russian saboteurs. Our first day in Kovel, everything was quiet and then this morning, when I went outside, it was a totally different picture: men in uniforms, military vehicles, barricades, sandbags, roadblocks.

I was standing on a bridge, looking at the water, scrolling through the news on my phone, when I heard a rifle bolt click behind my back. I turned around, and the muzzle of an AK-47 was pointed in my face. Two policemen told me from the start, “You are a saboteur. I will shoot you now.” I immediately burst into tears, but not because I wanted to solicit mercy or compassion. It was an emotional reaction to having a gun in my face. They took me to the station and put me through a very thorough interrogation. It was emotional torture — maybe that is too strong a word. Humiliation. They constantly threatened to take my phone and smash it against the wall.

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Today my father expressed his wish to join the army. He has a heart condition and has had several operations on his knee and back, and my mother and I were asking him not to go. He told us he had already visited the place where you sign up. And he left us.

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These first three days, I haven’t been able to eat at all. I’m dizzy all the time. My menstruation has started, and I have diarrhea. But you don’t feel hungry or thirsty — you feel energized. It’s like you’re using drugs.

All night, we are being bombed. We stay outside during the day, but when we hear sirens, we go into our basement. You sleep for 30 minutes and then you come out. We have a phone app about missile attacks, so you know when there are air raids and when the danger is over. Yesterday I wasn’t able to sleep because I was afraid I wouldn’t hear my alarm and wouldn’t run to the shelter and I would die.

February 27

Fierce and surprisingly effective Ukrainian resistance slows Russia’s advances on Kyiv.

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At the train station in Lviv, huge crowds of people are trying to cross the border. There are confrontations — some guy with a knife grabbed a teenager, saying, “Why aren’t you defending your homeland? Why aren’t you letting women and children leave instead of trying to flee?” There are instances of racism, when they won’t let on people with darker skin, and there are other occasions when people with darker skin will let only their own people on. Basically, though, there’s an overall feeling of solidarity because everyone around is trying to help everyone else.

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It’s forbidden for my father to call from his military unit and tell us his location. But he did call us and tell us to get to a shelter because there was a high risk of bombing.

The sirens go off every day, constantly. People really get angry. You get the notification to hide — it might last for hours — and then you get the notification that everything is okay and you can come out and then, ten minutes later, you hear again this terrible sound. Our mayor wrote us a message: Please, people, don’t be angry because of that. Every time you hear a siren and hide but there is no sound of an explosion — this is the work of our army that protected us.

Our shelter is beneath the house, a place where we usually kept vegetables. It was built a long time ago by my grandmother and her grandfather; they hid there during the Second World War. It’s very cold. The first time I went, I wore two sweaters and a winter jacket and still was trembling. After we got out of there, I covered myself, I drank a hot tea, but even so it took me around a day to recover from the cold. Now I use more layers.

The worst thing that can happen to Ukraine is to be under Russian government. I’m sure they would destroy Ukraine’s culture, our language — what makes us Ukrainians. As a good example, Crimea: I have an aunt there. We had a good relationship. But when Crimea got occupied, they started having only Russian news, and at one point she called us and said, “I hate Ukraine. I hate Ukrainians. You are not normal there, you eat Russian-speaking babies. I don’t want to know you. Please don’t call me anymore.” That was from my aunt, who knows us.

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After being arrested on the bridge, I was afraid to stay in Kovel. My friend and his girlfriend and I decided to go to Lutsk, where my friend had been given an apartment by his relatives. But here’s the thing: They told him, “It’s only for you and your girlfriend” — not me. I said, “I hope this is a joke,” and his answer was, “Understand, it’s war now; every man for himself.” I was shocked. I considered him my younger brother. I raised him, practically. I think a person’s true character reveals itself in difficult situations. It’s good that now I know who I can rely on.

We agreed that I could stay with them for one night in Lutsk. After we arrived, I went to the train station to check the departure schedule, and five men with Kalashnikovs surrounded me. They were agitated, but compared to the men in Kovel, they were pussycats. They checked my documents, stripped me to my underwear, and asked me to explain my tattoos. They took away my phone and searched through every single record. The freaks looked at my sex videos. It was fucked up, but what can you say to people with guns during martial law?

They took me back to the apartment where I was staying with my “friend.” It was sort of funny — me casually going to the train station and coming back in the company of three armed men. My friend and his girlfriend did not talk to me afterward.

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I co-founded a community workshop where people can fabricate projects with machines. I used to think our windowless basement was a disadvantage. Now I realize how lucky we were. We called it a “luxury shelter” with a kitchen, bathroom, shower, and places to sleep. We’d have 30 to 60 people throughout the day.

Early on, a young woman named Anna showed up. I had never met her before. She said she was just visiting Kharkiv when the war started; her backpack was only big enough for a weekend trip. Things were getting worse, and my colleagues and I decided to drive west to safety. She had to trust us strangers. We squeezed her among 12 people and four animals — a dog, two cats, and a turtle — in two vehicles and drove for the last three days to Chernivtsi, checking which cities were not under fire and which bridges still existed.

We passed car crashes, wondering whether the people in them were alive or dead or injured. Perhaps we could help them? But by the time these thoughts landed in my head, we had already left them behind. Those thoughts still haunt me. We crossed the bridge over the Dnipro River, hoping it would not explode with us on it.

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I moved in with friends and made a post on Instagram to collect donations to buy supplies for the Territorial Defense. Food, energy drinks, cigarettes — the last made them particularly happy. One time, I was in the checkout line when the siren went off, and I did not care because I had to buy food that people needed.

I’m a workaholic by nature, and knowing that what I do is needed by others brings me comfort. I don’t earn any money from this. We don’t speak in terms of weekdays and weekends. When we started our work, we understood there couldn’t be any days off. I named our group
An Object Under Angels’ Protection, and I want to think we are, in a way, angels.

We have two headquarters, one on the right bank of the river, the other on the left. In the evening, we do inventory, compare it to the list of requests for help we’ve received from a group we created on Telegram, and determine what we have to purchase. We help hospitals, especially children’s ICUs, that are the most vulnerable; young mothers who aren’t able to leave their children to wait in line at stores; and the elderly. Medicine remains a problem, and we have to order it from the west. When grannies in our building find out we are volunteers, they knock asking for food and medicine.

My friends and I made an agreement that we won’t talk about the war, only fantasize about what we would do when it is over: One friend plans to visit Portugal, another Japan.

Markiian Matsiiovskyi (right).
Photo: Taisiia Khoroshylova

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At first, we were delivering by taxi, but soon we got more volunteers and some had cars. We have 50 volunteers in Kyiv now. In the beginning, the majority were young people, but now older people also realize that they shouldn’t sit and wait it out, that they should do something to be helpful.

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We spoke to my relatives who live in Russia, and they literally don’t believe us that there’s a war, despite the fact that we had to leave our homes. They told us Putin will help us and will save us and then they said “Burn in a fire” and hung up.

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For days, I was crying, crying, crying, crying. I have these wounds under my eyes because in the shelter I touched them with dirty hands and it got red. I’m trying to keep my sense of humor and a positive mind to resist depression. But I don’t listen to music because I don’t feel safe — I worry about not hearing sirens. I look at pictures of cats on Reddit with everything silenced so I’m not distracted from the sounds outside.

Before, I was ambitious. I had a lot of dreams. I finished nursing school, and right after that I entered university. I wanted to be a teacher of English, German, and foreign literature. I was thinking about which job to choose, about what to buy. Now, I’ve realized the only thing that matters is peace. To wake up and feel safe.

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My fiancée and I started setting our alarm clocks to go off every two hours during the night so we could check the news. But within a few nights, the shelling had gotten so bad that alarms were pointless. We could hear the bombing with our own ears.

We used to live in Donetsk, so we have experienced shelling and rockets — and those are absolutely terrible — but nothing compares to air strikes. With air strikes, there is no safe place. By the time you hear the plane, it’s already too late.

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Actually, our lives haven’t changed much. We went to the supermarket in the morning because it had been two days and we needed water. There was a big queue, and after that we went back home and stayed in all day working, sometimes watching news, sometimes watching just TV shows.

The atmosphere here is, for me, a little bit aggressive with the word victory. I hear that we are fighting, that we are killing all the Russians and we are going to get this victory, that either we win or the Russians lose. So it’s very patriotic and nationalistic. The politics of our country have been like this for the past ten years, but now it is more extreme. We are spreading as much propaganda as the Russians.

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My family spent the first days in a bomb shelter. My little brother is only 5. He asked my parents and me, “Why can I not sleep in my bed?” He heard the explosions, so we couldn’t hide the truth from him. Once the attacks subsided, we got out of the shelter and drove all the way to my grandparents’ house in the western part of the country. When we arrived, we organized another shelter with food, water, blankets. We noticed that my brother couldn’t enter any room alone — he thought there would be Russian soldiers or explosions or fire. After more time in the bomb shelter, my brother and all of us started to get sick. It was unbearable. This was the time we realized it was time to flee Ukraine. We drove with my father to the border of Romania, then I just got out of the car with my mom and brother and crossed the border on foot.

February 28

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Our parents do not know how to use smartphones, and they are unable to fight so they are feeling helpless; a lot of people here are feeling guilty. It’s another challenge to deal with the psychological moods of all the people around here because everyone is perceiving the war in a different way. My friends, some brilliant academics, are just speechless, unable to do anything despite having resources, but I’m like a crazy maniac, able to talk 24/7.

I don’t wash my hair. I don’t brush my teeth. You feel like you don’t need that — there is important stuff to do. I have COVID right now. I am fully vaccinated, but still it got me. It’s a distraction. Despite everything, our spirit is pretty high because we are winning.

My husband is doing worse than me because he is a man and he feels that he has to take a weapon. But he doesn’t have military experience, he doesn’t know how to use weapons. We are a feminist family, and I try to remind him that despite the fact that society may pressure him, I have the same need to take a weapon as he does.

We have two small kids here, 4-year-old girls, along with their parents and cat. The girls know that bad guys came and now we have to hide. It’s like a game for them.

March 1

Russia steps up attacks on cities, striking the heart of Kharkiv with missiles.

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I found a driver to take me to Lviv through BlaBlaCar, an intercity ride-share service. There were checkpoints every 20 kilometers, but we passed without problems because everyone knew this driver and he introduced me as a member of the National Guard. Ha!

In Lviv, I was sheltered by someone I had never met — a fellow member of an all-Ukrainian bicycling chat room. He turned out to be a saint. He offered me everything I needed; I was safe and in complete comfort. It’s amazing how total strangers are willing to help one another.

Monday was just a tranquil, worry-free day, maybe for the first time since I left Kyiv. Lviv is now just a Disneyland for refugees, free from both Russian aggression and Ukrainian paranoia. It’s almost too comfortable.

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I went to the store in Lviv, and there was no porridge or canned food or sausage. I’ve been eating simple food, but if I can find the products, I’d like to cook chili con carne for my family. Yesterday, I was speaking with my friend and we decided to have a routine in the evening where we share our successes. Her success was that after hunting for three days, she finally got three kilograms of chicken meat.

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We have a group chat with old people who are living in our apartment building in Kyiv. It’s 25 floors, and we were sharing information: where is the shelter, where is the electricity, where is the water. Today, we realized a Russian guy was in the chat. He started texting that we will die, that we are terrible people, that he knows the location of this bomb shelter.

We are closer and closer to that point that we don’t care, that we just won’t run to the basement. I hardly remember my life before the war. There is so much going on that you are unable to process it. Each day of war is like a year of your life, and your body reacts to everything differently.

We had a chance to leave Ukraine. My husband’s company — he works for an international IT company — suggested everything for us: transfer, money, a new home. And people are reaching out to me, offering to pay for a new home in Canada, Norway, and so on. My husband really wanted me to leave Ukraine, along with our mothers, but I said, “I won’t do that.” It’s psychologically easier to stay here because if you lose your life, you will rest in peace. But if you leave and you lose your family — how could you live with that?

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I think things are going to be more or less okay in Lviv, unless — well, nobody really knows, but for the time being, we aren’t being bombed. We have sirens now, sometimes once, sometimes four times a day, but there’s a sense that you’re hearing it all the time. You keep thinking you hear it. You go to the window, but there’s no siren. It’s constantly ringing in your ears in the background, and you start thinking it’ll start at any moment. If at first that was really scary, then you start getting used to it.

At first, it was difficult to sleep, and now it’s a lot easier. You go to sleep, you wake up, have breakfast, find out where people need help. You can go to the train station and help unload supplies; you can go to the humanitarian center and sort clothes. They stopped accepting donations of children’s things, because they had enough. They said, “We need menstrual pads. Antiseptic. That’s what we need you to buy.”

The churches are cool. On one side, next to these tiny memorials to people who have died over the past eight years, people are praying, and on the other side, there are huge piles of boxes with donations.

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I got a Google Calendar notification about a work meeting with my colleagues from Kyiv. I took a screenshot and sent it to our group chat and said, “So, let’s call?” It was a joke, of course, but I told them not to delete this meeting because I want to know every week how they are doing. I told them it was a reminder of a normal life.

Every day is like one long day, and I don’t remember when it’s Friday or Saturday or Sunday. My mother has been helping other volunteers, and she comes home quite tired. She works from six or seven in the morning till the curfew. We plan our day before the curfew because you can’t just go out and walk the streets because you may be taken for a saboteur. So we just stay home, not moving, because we understand that this is the most helpful thing we can do for our soldiers, to do everything by the rules.

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My fiancée, Kate, and I decided to go out early to the stores in Kharkiv before the queues, and we split up to increase our chances of getting something. On the way, I met an elderly couple who were pretty depressed, and I tried to cheer them up by saying things were going to get better. At that moment, I felt this supersonic roar. Every ounce of my blood chilled. I dropped to the ground and covered my head. I called Kate and told her to go home immediately.

Then I heard the sirens and looked for cover, but there was nothing, just an open road. I spotted a construction site with a ditch alongside it. I jumped in without thinking and got as low as possible. I was concerned that people would think I was a Russian saboteur planting a bomb. It was ridiculous — my mind was a complete disaster zone.

So I got out of the ditch, covered in mud, and I ran to an apartment block and hid under a staircase. I bumped into an old woman and offered to escort her home, even though every thought in my head was telling me to escape.

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After the invasion, it was impossible to stay in a house with the windows taped shut and to hear explosions getting closer and closer — any more of this and you’ll die from stress. So we decided to leave. My family is pretty close-knit and congenial, but in the evening, we’d get sad. That’s the most dangerous time to read the news. We’ve gone through stress, we’ve gone through fear and panic attacks. And now we’ve gone through the entire country.

We woke up at 5 a.m. and could hear sirens and screaming outside. My mother and brother were in shock. The dog was just happy to hang out.

One of us was in the middle of speaking when something exploded nearby. We held our breath and listened as hard as we could.

By sealing the windows, we cut ourselves off from the outside world. When the only thing you can do is listen, your imagination runs wild.

We told my grandmother we wanted to leave, and she said, “How are you going to leave your home?” My grandparents refused, no matter how much we begged them.

We got to the railway station and men weren’t allowed on the train. I could hear these soul-rending screams of women who had to leave their men in a city that was being bombed.

We left by car the next day. There were huge traffic jams, five or six hours long. When we stopped in Vinnytsia, we found out Russians had just bombed the airport eight times.

In Vinnytsia, a student dorm has been set up for refugees. My mother was tired after driving all day.

It was much calmer west of the Dnipro River since there are almost no hostilities on that side.

In Lviv, our friends lent us a three-room apartment. We’re drawing the curtains out of habi

Author: Gamer/ Source