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April 11, 2022, Chernihiv, Ukraine

Picture by: Oleksandr Ratushniak | UNDP Ukraine | Flickr

War in Ukraine from the inside

Before the 24th of February, I couldn't believe that in the twenty-first century, people would be capable of starting an actual war

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Has it ever happened to you: your mother running into your room early in the morning, shouting that the war has begun? For me it was a cloudy Thursday morning. The calendar showed the 24th of February. My name is Diana and in my sixteenth year of life I have experienced the fears and horrors of war.

My life, just like the life of other Ukrainians, has been divided into “before” and “after”. Previously, my usual day was not much different from yours: I woke up at six in the morning, thinking about being fed up with such early departures to school, reasoning about what I would do if not for studying. Now I’m being woken up by explosions, sounds of sirens or gunshots, wishing I had the same morning meditations as only a few months ago.

I used to spend my breakfast talking to my parents, discussing plans for the day, sometimes the news. Now during breakfast, we usually talk about the Ukrainian military, people in occupied cities, and the safety of our relatives. I didn’t have to worry about groceries and supplies needed on an everyday basis. Now we are concerned whenever we are running out of soup, which is one of many products sometimes missing from the shop shelves. Not to mention such things as lack of gasoline which significantly hinders any kind of transport.

My journey to school was devoted to studying and observing the changes in nature. Now, to start school, I just close my bedroom door and open my computer. A huge number of lessons, which used to drag on for an unbearably long time, are now being replaced by lessons held remotely. And we have to stop them every time an air raid alert is being announced.

When sirens start to howl, we turn off and run to the closest basement.

After school, I used to be engaged in dancing. For six years I attended modern dance classes. Every year I have learned a new dance style and then performed it on a big stage. I even won first place in several dance competitions. For some time studying has pushed this hobby out of my life, but now I don’t even think about old habits and passions. Like thousands of Ukrainians, my current thoughts revolve around whether I will ever be able to return to my old life.

My typical day used to end with a huge amount of homework, which like most of the students I hated.

Now I have to do my learning as quickly as possible, because when it gets dark outside (once street lighting is turned off), we also have to turn off the lights in our houses. It’s a way of preventing Russian drones from obtaining information on population density. If they knew how many people are hiding in a given building, the effectiveness of their attacks would improve.

That’s the last thing on my mind when I go to sleep. So when it’s finally time for a long-awaited dream, usually associated with relaxation and imperceptibly time lapse, I now mainly focus on being able to sleep and see the next day. Unfortunately, it has become a new habit of ours to be forced to get up in the middle of the night and hide.

About the author:

Diana Kuksova

Born in 2005 in Sumy, Ukraine, Diana studies now remotely because of the war. She is interested in journalism and culture. For Harbingers’ Magazine she writes about the realities of the war in Ukraine through the eyes of the residents and through the perspective of culture (series, films, literature, art).

Before, despite the long grey, not particularly interesting working days, there was always a promising time of weekends. I used to spend them relaxing, meeting with family or friends, going for a walk in the park, drawing or listening to the new album of my favourite artist, and just enjoying nature in my beautiful small town.

Now I’m unable to rest even on the weekends. Neither physically or mentally. War doesn’t know what free time is. We all experience eternal anxiety, fear, exhaustion. Nature has been partly ruined by explosions. We also cannot sleep as long as we used to, because our nervous systems can no longer provide us with such an opportunity. The friend I used to meet with, I now see rarely. We met a week ago for the first time since the war began.

The most important “before”, however, is that before the 24th of February, I couldn’t believe that in the twenty-first century, people would be capable of starting an actual war. I didn’t believe that someone could come to a foreign land and start killing innocent people.

War was an abstract concept to me, known mainly from books, movies, history lessons, and family stories. Now unfortunately it’s more alive than I ever could imagine.

After only a few days of the invasion, news of Russians abusing people and children began to spread around my hometown. I was torn by the stories of people, who saw with their own eyes, how Russian soldiers raped children in front of their mothers. The stories passed on the narrative that they didn’t care whether it was a boy or a girl. Some claim they looked as if their brains were zombified. Many teens who are about my age became mentally ill. Many children have lost large amounts of blood, or died. Our friends, who lived in one of the occupied towns, told us how the Russian military shot people who admitted their participation in the war in 2014. They mocked them, cut off parts of their bodies, and then shot them in the middle of the street.

After some time I stopped listening to these stories but instead began to listen to every sound in my surroundings. It’s scary when you try to recognize if the sound you’re hearing is an enemy plane or just the wind. Both adults and children are now extremely afraid of lightning and thunderstorms. There was such weather recently. The rain did not fall for a long time, but thunder rumbled and we all froze from fear. None of my family could sleep that night. People wrote and called each other to ask if it were an artillery shooting again or just a thunder strike.

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April 11, 2022, Chernihiv, Ukraine

Picture by: Oleksandr Ratushniak | UNDP Ukraine | Flickr

After only a few days of the invasion, news of Russians abusing people and children began to spread around my hometown. I was torn by the stories of people, who saw with their own eyes, how Russian soldiers raped children in front of their mothers.

The stories passed on the narrative that they didn’t care whether it was a boy or a girl. Some claim they looked as if their brains were zombified. Many teens who are about my age became mentally ill. Many children had lost large amounts of blood, or died. Our friends, who lived in one of the occupied towns, told us how the Russian military shot people who admitted their participation in the war in 2014. They mocked them, cut off parts of their bodies, and then shot them in the middle of the street.

After some time I stopped listening to these stories but instead began to listen to every sound in my surroundings. It’s scary when you try to recognize if the sound you’re hearing is an enemy plane or just the wind. Both adults and children are now extremely afraid of lightning and thunderstorms. There was such weather recently. The rain did not fall for a long time, but thunder rumbled and we all froze from fear. None of my family could sleep that night. People wrote and called each other to ask if it were an artillery shooting again or just a thunder strike.

I used to treat our Russian neighbours calmly. When I was small, I was absolutely indifferent to them. My attitude began to change in 2014, when Russia attacked Crimea and Donbas. I was 8 years old when I first realised how terrible the war was. It was a starting point for my increasing interest in politics and history. But the first time I faced war with all its horrors happened this year in February.

In memories from my childhood, I clearly remember how Russians told us, Ukrainians, that we are brothers. That we are similar in many ways and should stay together, and that’s also what we thought. We have always accepted each other, I even had the impression that we had been treating each other equally. There were lots of Russians who came to Crimea and experienced the behaviour no different than the one directed to Ukrainians. Maybe this is why it’s so hard to understand.

The ones who started destroying our cities and houses, killing our children and people, are the same ones who used to call themselves our “brothers”.

I have a close friend in Kharkov. If you open a map of Ukraine, you will see that the Sumy region (where I live) and the Kharkov region are located nearby. For many years I was visiting her during summer. We used to walk a lot around this beautiful city. I cannot put into words how much I love the Gorky Park in Kharkov. I could spend time there every day.

A few weeks ago, my friend sent me photos of how Kharkov looks now. The destroyed streets we used to cross. The burning Gorky Park. I get tears in my eyes every time I see how the places I knew so well, that are part of my life and memories, have changed. “Change” understood as a complete destruction on the part of those who called the inhabitants of this city their “brothers”.

We can describe war in many different ways. Explain it with complex, long-term historical processes. Try to look at its political circumstances. But at the end the war is a grenade being thrown into your apartment by your neighbour. It’s a stab in the back from someone who lived almost next door, to whom you used to say hello to, share problems with, keep a warm relationship. It’s an experience of having everything that you’ve built and worked for turned into a ruin.

Right now I feel that I will never be able to forgive my neighbours, because with such neighbours there is need for enemies. At the moment it is summer in Ukraine. The strangest summer of all – nature is trying to wake up in the midst of death. The grass is rising, the leaves on the trees have blossomed, but all these plants smell of blood, burning, debris. It’s summer in many different countries, everyone enjoys this beautiful time of the year, and I? I still live in February.

Written by:

author_bio

Diana Kuksova

Writer

Sumy, Ukraine

Born in 2005 in Sumy, Ukraine. Diana studies now remotely because of the war. She is interested in journalism and culture. For Harbingers’ Magazine she writes about the realities of the war in Ukraine through the eyes of the residents and through the perspective of culture (series, films, literature, art).

war in ukraine