Since February we have been telling the story of Halyna, a Ukrainian woman who woke up one morning to find her country at war. We catch up with her, six months on
“Okay, so, I’ve just opened Twitter. 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
On 24 February, Halyna watched from her apartment in Kyiv as Russia launched an invasion against her homeland.
Halyna is a 28-year-old woman from Ukraine. We haven’t used her real name.
In the early days of the war, we told her story.
About how she escaped from Kyiv…
“A lot of people were trying to get in. So my sister and her boyfriend basically crammed me inside one of the wagons… And I got a little bit upset because I didn’t want to leave my sister.”Halyna
How her parents faced Russian occupation…
“A large part of the region doesn’t have any power right now, so we have to limit communication to my family.”Halyna
And how her cousin became one of the last defenders of Mariupol…
“To see him accidentally become the nation’s hero is very strange.
“And so we’re all very proud. But also I would rather not have had him in this situation. And I can’t believe that he’s in there, and I just don’t want him to die.”Halyna
So six months into the invasion, how is Halyna doing now?
“They messaged me and we did a Zoom call and I don’t know what happened, but now I’m in Devon and I’ve been here for like almost two weeks. I don’t know…”Halyna
For the very first time, we are telling this story from the same country as Halyna.
“I do see a lot of flags around here and I don’t know what to do. Like do I salute it?”Halyna
Because after months of missiles flying overhead in Kyiv, Halyna is now in the United Kingdom.
She’s one of the newest residents of a town called Cranbrook – a long way from home.
“Some kind person gifted me a bike, because I’m used to cycling around Kyiv. The other day I went cycling around the area. It was a lovely couple of hours. I found also one small village and I’m cycling through this village and I see the car coming right at my lane. And I think: ‘What an asshole, it’s a small road. You don’t have to go at me in my lane.’ And I realise that I’m the asshole that goes in his lane, because you don’t go the same way as we do in Europe.Halyna
Halyna lives five minutes away from her sister, who was also taken in by a family in the UK. Their parents are still in eastern Ukraine, a few dozen kilometres from the Russian border. They are no longer living under occupation, but not entirely out of the woods either.
“I feel guilty that they are so close to the border and in a much more dangerous situations than me.”Halyna
And then there is Halyna’s cousin.
Halyna’s cousin is a man called Maks – a member of the national guard, who, when Russia invaded Ukraine, suddenly found himself on the frontline.
He became, in fact, one of the symbols of Ukrainian resistance, holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol – the final fortress of the city devastated and eventually taken by Russia.
For weeks, there was radio silence from Maks. No one knew where he was. If he was even alive.
But then in July…
“He managed to get his hands on the phone and he called his mum a couple of times from Olenivka. His last call was a few days before the shelling of the Olenivka camp, when many prisoners died.”Halyna
Olenivka is a Russian prison camp in occupied Ukraine. A few weeks ago dozens of Ukrainian soldiers were killed there.
“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
Halyna didn’t know if her cousin was among them.
“Oh my god it was so horrible. For almost two days we didn’t know what happened to him. We just knew that something happened in Olenivka.”Halyna
Until Maks’s parents got a call.
“He survived. His friend was also there. He called his relatives and he told his relatives that my cousin is okay.”Halyna
At the last minute he had relocated to another part of the camp – and escaped the bloodbath.
But Halyna now, once again, doesn’t know where he is or how he is.
Halyna may be safe in the UK, but she is plagued by the death and misery inflicted by Russia.
“I think I was a better person six months ago. I wouldn’t have some of my more cruel thoughts that I sometimes catch myself thinking. I definitely wouldn’t be glad that a lot of people die – six months ago – even if they were Russian. I definitely became a bit bloodthirsty but I’d say it’s justified on my end.”Halyna
She is no longer a 28 year old with the usual fears about what she’s doing with her life.
“A lot of things that used to matter to me, you know, six months ago, they don’t. I used to worry about all those kinds of things, like not having a good career and not achieving enough at my age; not doing enough, not succeeding quick enough.”Halyna
She just gets on with things and hopes for a better tomorrow.
“I am optimistic, but sometimes I do get these days when I have these very dark thoughts about what the future for Ukraine is gonna be, how will we rebuild, how many people will return from those who fled the country, and how are we going to live with this constant threat of Russia looming over us.
“But I think it’s gonna be fine. And 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
Today’s episode was written by Xavier Greenwood and mixed by Imy Harper.