A Ukrainian woman describes the day her country was invaded by Russia.
“It’s almost 5am here. I can’t sleep. It seems like no one is sleeping.
I have to believe that… I believe that we are strong and I have to be strong now. I’m going to be strong.”Halyna
[Sound of an air raid siren]
In the early hours of Thursday morning, Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
[Clip of President Vladimir Putin announcing military action]
In a televised address Russian president Vladimir Putin announced what he called a “special military operation”. He urged Ukrainians to put down their weapons and go home.
Months of military build up, years of propaganda, failed attempts at diplomacy and reassurance finally came to a head.
Ukraine’s airspace was closed to civilian flights. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, declared martial law. And Kyiv, a vibrant capital of three million people, woke to the sound of distant explosions, car alarms, and air raid sirens.
“I don’t want to create a pretty picture of how brave I am and how awesome I am, how resilient I am in the face of danger. Because you know, I’m just one person and, you know, I have feelings and I have loved ones and I do hope they’re okay.”Halyna
Halyna is a young Ukrainian woman. We’re not using her real name at her request.
She lives in Kyiv and most of her family lives near the Ukrainian-Russian border.
We first talked to her a few days ago and she was really chatty. She joked about how there were no subway stations to shelter in near her house. She laughed about her emergency grab bag.
“It’s like one of those blog videos… like ‘what’s in your bag?’… I have a blood stopping kit, I have some change of clothes, change of socks, I have some instant ramen, I have some non perishable candy. I don’t believe I have some water, I have to pack some water there.”Halyna
And remarkable though it sounds, Tuesday’s news that Russia was sending troops into breakaway regions of Ukraine came almost as a comfort. Fear of the unknown had finally given way to some concrete reality.
“I feel great… I feel less stressed than just a couple of days back because you know, a couple of days back some people on the internet were saying that the Ukrainians were afraid of shadows, but now our shadows took some shape.”Halyna
That was then, though, and this is now. The pace at which things have escalated is staggering. And those shadows loom large. Russia is invading Halyna’s homeland.
“There is a heavy sense of foreboding in the air. There is definitely a storm on the horizon.”Halyna
Minutes before Russia launched its invasion on Thursday morning, Halyna was lying in bed in her apartment block in Kyiv.
She could feel something coming, but at that moment she was not thinking much about Kyiv. She was thinking of another place, a large city called Kharkiv near the Russian border.
“They say the first target is going to be Kharkiv… The thing is, I’ve got to admit, I’ve never cared much for Kharkiv myself, you know… But still right now I’m laying here and I find myself having all these sentimental stupid feelings about Kharkiv. Because, if nothing else, Kharkiv is the city where my parents met for the first time. Kharkiv is a city where my eldest sister was born… And also, this is the most important part, Kharkiv is home for many, many good people.”Halyna
Just after recording that message, Halyna checked the news.
“Okay, so, I’ve just opened Twitter and it began. I feel chill[s].
I believe that we’re strong. I have to be strong now. I’m going to be strong.”Halyna
With the sounds of bombs in the distance, jumping at the noise of the railway near her flat, Halyna started making her way to her sister’s house.
And quickly reconsidered whether that was a good idea.
“I don’t think I should go to her now, be out in the open. I won’t go back to my apartment either because my apartment is pretty high up there. I live in a tall building. So I’m just trying to figure out where I can go for now.”Halyna
Toing and froing.
“I’m kind of weighing my chances, whether I have time to get to my sister or not. Because I can’t really call for a taxi… Everything is booked and busy.”Halyna
Eventually Halyna took the Kyiv trolley bus, a transport system that has been in operation since before the Second World War.
“I’m getting close to my sister’s housing building.”Halyna
She got to her sister.
A journey that was both terrifying and strangely banal.
“The whole thing is a bit surreal right now in Kiev, because you have people leaving the city, people trying to get to the nearest shelter, stuff like that, getting to their loved ones. But also trash cans are being emptied. The public transportation system is working.”Halyna
“This is not in the infamous phrase, some far away country of which we know little. We have Ukrainian friends in this country, neighbours, co-workers. Ukraine is a country that for decades has enjoyed freedom and democracy and the right to choose its own destiny. We and the world cannot allow that freedom just to be snuffed out.”Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson said the UK and its allies would hobble the Russian economy with a massive package of financial sanctions. Poland is preparing a medical train to carry wounded Ukrainians to their hospitals.
Meanwhile, Halyna and her sister are getting ready to move again.
“We are relocating to the nearest shelter. We are staying put in Kyiv right now in Kyiv because I don’t think we really have any other options. So yeah. But we’re together and we’re fine.”Halyna
There is still a lot of fight in Ukrainians like Halyna.
She was there in 2014 when Ukraine’s pro-Russia president was ousted at nearly every protest.
And her great grandfather died retaking Kyiv from the Nazis. It’s someone she has in mind at this darkest of hours.
“I’ll try to stay safe, but if I have to defend Kyiv, I’ll do everything I can… I’m gonna stay safe to the best of my ability. Don’t worry for me. I’m going to be fine.”Halyna
Today’s story was written by Xavier Greenwood and produced by Imy Harper.
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