Two Ukrainians tell us how a year of war has changed their lives
Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, putting millions of people in danger and forcing 8 million Ukrainians to flee their homes and millions more to turn to bomb shelters to avoid the bombardments. We spoke to two of our Observers to see how their lives have changed during this year of war, inside Ukraine and out.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team has been speaking to Ukrainians across the country since the beginning of the conflict that began last year. We checked in on some of them to see how one year of war has changed everything for them, and their loved ones.
'No matter what happens, we chose to stay here until the very end, perhaps until the very bitter end'
First was Taras Revunets, a journalist living in Kyiv with his parents. He had to stay put, even as Russian attacks targeted the capital, to care for his parents.
I'm taking care of my parents, both of whom are disabled. That's why we chose to stay here in Kyiv. When the Russians began bombing us in late February, we used the bomb shelter a few times, but then my dad just kind of gave up because it was too hard for him to move.
No matter what happens, we chose to stay here until the very end, perhaps until the very bitter end, as we thought back then, because the feeling back in late February, early March, was like we were about to become another Mariupol, with people getting bombarded constantly, people living in basements, drinking out of bottles, you know, catching cats, dogs and pigeons. It was such a depressing scene because I realised that we were about to be invaded by tanks, armoured vehicles. And it was something that I will never, ever forget.
Having my arms, my legs and my head intact is a major blessing. Having a roof over my head, having bread on the table, being able to take a walk and grab some fresh air and not fearing a major bombing raid or something, because we haven't had that in weeks. Our last major bombing raid was, I think, on New Year's Eve. And several people died actually here in Kyiv. But since then, we haven't had any major bombings and blackouts. And that's a lot to feel good about, at least here in Kyiv, the situation elsewhere is very different. It's a lot worse out there.
While Taras and many others had to stay in place, millions of Ukrainians decided to flee for their safety. An estimated 8 million refugees have fled the fighting in Ukraine for neighbouring countries, according to UNHCR.
'My hope right now is for this war, this endless nightmare, to end'
One of them is our Observer Veronika Tikhonyuk. In late March 2022, she told us how her and her family realised they need to leave her home of Mariupol as Russian bombardments devastated the city. She is now living in North Macedonia where she is continuing her studies online.
>> Read more on The Observers: ‘I had no choice’: One Ukrainian’s journey out of devastated Mariupol
Just two hours after the invasion, we moved to my grandparents' house. It was an old building which had a basement which was constructed like a shelter. We woke up the next day and we realised that the sounds of bombing, of explosions, were really close, like they were closer and closer and closer by every hour. So we started to think that we need to move to the basement. We grabbed things like blankets and water to bring to the basement because it was really empty. It was just concrete walls, a concrete floor. We ended up living in it.
The invasion was moving closer and they started to attack directly in the centre of the city. We realised that we needed to leave the city.
Veronika and her mother joined some friends with a car and drove all the way across Ukraine to a town in the mountains near Lviv. From there, they moved to North Macedonia to stay with some family friends.
I do my studies online, I was studying in Mariupol State University, and I'm finishing my third year right now. Also, I work remotely. I have a part-time job. I'm a translator and I specialise in game development.
To be honest, I can't say that I have a life. Because all I have right now is that of course I'm alive. Of course my hope right now is for this war, this endless nightmare, to end. All of the people in Ukraine feel like a family to me. They're struggling, so many people are dying. I want it to end as soon as possible.
But even if the war was finished right now, let's imagine it, my home is still ruined. All of my connections, like my university, my work, my sport – I was a hockey player – my team, my ice rink, my school friends, they don't exist anymore.
Of course I will return to Ukraine, I will find new friends, but it doesn't mean I can ever return to this life, this 20 years that I lived before. That simply was washed away and it feels like a movie that I once watched.