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Invaded: A year at war

Invaded: A year at war


Tortoise has been speaking to a Ukrainian woman ever since Russia began its full scale invasion of Ukraine. A year later and the war is still raging. This is Halyna’s story

A year ago today, on the 24th of February 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbour Ukraine.

“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.”


This is Halyna, a young woman from Ukraine. For a year we have been speaking to her about the war in her country.

Today, in an extended episode, Halyna’s story, the story of a life interrupted by war.

We first talked to Halyna a few days before Russia invaded Ukraine. 

“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.”


She was chatty and, given the circumstances, relaxed.

“I feel less stressed than just a couple of days back because 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.”


But everything changed one Thursday morning.

“There is a heavy sense of foreboding in the air. There is definitely a storm on the horizon.”


In the early hours of 24 February, Vladimir Putin did what many thought unimaginable. 

He assaulted Ukraine by land, air and sea, launching the biggest attack in Europe since the Second World War.

Halyna heard the news while she was lying in bed in her apartment block in Kyiv, a city that Vladimir Putin aimed to capture in two days.

“Okay, so, I’ve just opened Twitter and it began. I feel chills. I believe that we’re strong. I have to be strong now. I’m going to be strong.”


Halyna rushed to her sister’s house, missiles flying overhead.

“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.”


She made it there safely. 

But after days going in and out of bomb shelters, as civilian casualties mounted, Halyna made an agonising choice.

To leave the city she loved.

“The weather is cloudy and we are heading out of Kyiv for now.”


With her sister and a bag of essentials, she ran the gauntlet to the train station and joined the throng of people leaving the city.

She took the slow train to Lviv in western Ukraine, near the border with Poland.

“This was definitely the hardest, one of the longest and most tiring and gruelling train rides I’ve ever had. I’ve been travelling west since 1pm last night. It’s 6am here, so I’ve been travelling all night and most of the day in a very crowded train.”


When she arrived the sounds of missiles and air raid sirens were replaced with silence.

“I wish I had this stroll under more positive circumstances. I don’t know if you can hear the birds singing. It’s very peaceful and quiet.”


But the war was never too far from her mind.

Her parents lived just 40km away from the border with Russia.

“My parents called me and it was very nice to hear their voices. And it definitely reassured me because the community of the place where they’re staying right now – it’s just amazing people who are helping each other any way they can. It’s beautiful. And I’m very happy my parents are among good people. They are not alone there.”


And soon they found themselves on the frontline.

“There just has been an air strike on the town they’re in… And I’m very worried for them.”


Halyna watched on as thousands of people were evacuated from a nearby city. A power outage meant she couldn’t tell her parents.

Things only got worse after the airstrike.

The Russian army arrived in the town her parents lived in. A 51-year-old woman called Svetlana was reportedly shot dead there.

And in early March, Halyna’s parents made an enormous decision, one that has cost many Ukrainians their lives.

“Ukrainian troops were moving back into Irpin and this is why its people left. Journalists tried to help the casualties. A family – mother, father and two children – were killed by another shell.”

BBC News

They decided to flee.

“They were trying to leave the city and they were stopped by the soldiers, the Russian soldiers.”


Halyna’s dad was driving.

“His hands just couldn’t stop shaking. He was just gripping the wheel so tight. They heard, obviously, the planes over their heads.”


But they escaped, and eventually made it to Lviv.

Halyna: “This is my mum.”

*Mum replies in Ukrainian*

Halyna: “This is my dad.”

Dad: “Helloooo.”

While Halyna and her parents were in relative safety in Lviv, her cousin, Maks, was fighting in Mariupol.

He found himself at the heart of Mariupol’s last stand, holed up deep in the Azovstal steel plant with citizens and wounded soldiers, the entire complex surrounded by Russians.

After a three month siege, Mariupol finally fell to Russia.

The civilians were evacuated, and the Ukrainian soldiers captured. 

For weeks, they heard nothing from Maks. 

It wasn’t until July that he got his hands on a phone to tell his mum that he was in Olenivka, a prison camp in eastern Ukraine.

A few days after that, a massive explosion rocked the prison.

“Blackened and burned, just metal bed frames remain intact at the prison where untold terror was unleashed. Malnourished bodies are littered throughout the complex, piled up inside and out.”

10 News First

Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed. 

Maks escaped.

But today, he is deep in Russia, his future still uncertain.

“So the latest update is that he is in a Russian colony really far away, in the east of Russia, in the southeast. That’s 3000 kilometres away, even more so. So we’re hoping he’s gonna be exchanged.”


Since we started talking to Halyna her world has changed a lot.

For the past six months, she has been living in the United Kingdom.

“I do see a lot of flags around here and I don’t know what to do. Like do I salute it?”


She’s now watching the war from a small town in Devon. 

But struggles to escape it, even on dates.

“He offered to bet £20 that Putin’s going to win the war in two months. He was very anti-UK and anti-America, but in a weird way. He was talking about wanting to get a Russian passport.”


She’s with her sister and her niece, working for Ukrainian media, but she’s sad to be so far from home and doesn’t have much hope in diplomacy bringing an end to Russia’s invasion.

“I don’t really feel like there can be an agreement. How do you negotiate with people who do war crimes and genocide and say that your country as a state does not exist? Like you can’t really negotiate with that.”


But she’s optimistic.

“I think of my great grandparents and the generations of my family who lived for centuries not too far from the Russian border. And, you know, they made it and they stayed and they made something with their lives and I think it’s gonna be fine in the end.”


Halyna plans to visit Ukraine soon, to pack up her apartment, visit the dentist and see her parents.

But as the war grinds on her life continues in quiet, rural Devon whilst her homeland is consumed by the noise and brutality of the Russian invasion.

It’s a reality that will be familiar to so many uprooted Ukrainians.

In all of them is a hope that soon they will be able to go home, for good.