War diary: a personal account from southern Ukraine

Mural painted by children in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and the Donbas. All photos by the author

Usually in this notebook, my favourite one, with coffee on the cover, I write fairy tales. However, a new tale about adorable, winged cats has been paused uncompleted. Now I am writing about the war.

To this day we all think it’s a dream. A nightmare that is about to pass, you just have to wake up. But this is not a dream. This is the reality. Air raid alarm sirens day and night. Worry for relatives and friends who are in other cities, where Russian missiles and bombs are destroying homes. Who would have thought that this could happen in the 21st century?

Reading about World War II in books and textbooks, we thought ‘It’s awful, but it’s in the past; it’s so good that it was long ago and will not happen again. But it has. Although no one believed it could. I couldn’t believe it.

Everyone believed that things would work out.

Everyone hoped that there would be no war.

Although this stormy premonition has long been felt in the air.

Since the autumn of 2021 Russian troops have been accumulating on the borders of Ukraine under the pretext of ’training’. There were rumours that a full-scale invasion could begin in January. You can imagine how Ukrainians celebrated the New Year with such predictions. Christmas and New Year holidays were overshadowed by a cloud of worry. January was over. The situation remained tense. British and US intelligence warned that the invasion could begin at any time. Russia lied that this was training and troops were already withdrawing. We read the news and got more and more nervous.

10 days before the war

It was Valentine’s Day. I baked some heart-shaped cookies. With a heavy heart, but I still baked them because it’s a tradition. Because despite an uncertain future, I wanted to bring my family and colleagues some cheer. In the editorial office of our publisher – the city newspaper TV Universe and the website Gard.City – it was noisy and fun, as usual. But even here, in this friendly atmosphere, the shadow of that anxiety was already fluttering its cold wings. I went to do a photo report about swans wintering in the city and visiting the river nearby. The day was almost spring-like: the golden tassels of last year’s reeds against the clear blue sky, the sun-warmed boards of an old fishing bridge, the blue river where the ice had almost melted. And a whole flock of swans feeding peacefully near the shore. This picture was reassuring, and we still hoped that everything would work out for the best.

The day before the war

The editorial office finalised the next print run of our newspaper. At that time no one knew that it would never reach our city on the way from the printing house: on 24 February the vehicle carrying newspaper was bombed in Uman city. And after work I decided to go to the shores of the Southern Boug River. Next to the city is the Boug Gard National Park, after which our online publishing site, Gard.City, is named, – with picturesque rocks, stormy rapids and rare plants. Half-an-hour’s bike ride and nature is all around. I went to look for early blossoms to photograph. The day was beautiful: under the blue sky the first green grass was spring-green, the river sparkled, freed from the ice, and in some places the slopes, already heated by the sun, were so warm that you could just lie on the grass. Who knew that it was the last peaceful day before the war?

On the way back, I passed a long fence, painted by children back in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and Donbas. Yellow and blue colors have not faded in 8 years, as well as the inscriptions:

"Ukraine is peace"
"I love Ukraine!"
"We stand for peace on all the earth"
"Ukraine is free and independent!"

I believe that I came across that fence for a reason and these words will be prophetic.

The first day of the war

I woke up in the morning and saw a missed call from my mother. From Kyiv. I immediately understood: something had happened. A call at dawn? I opened messenger and read: “The war has started. Kyiv was bombed …” I couldn’t believe it right away. We began to message and call relatives and acquaintances. No one could understand anything.

What’s going on?

What shall I do?

What’s going to happen?

The children still started their on-line lessons. And I went to the city on an editorial assignment. I went and saw queues at gas stations, shops, pharmacies, cash machines. People did not know what to expect and stocked up on food, medicine and fuel. But there was no panic. There was no chaos, no noise, no hustle and bustle. People stood quietly in queues, gathered in groups of two or three, talked, some even tried to make light of what was happening. Like one grandmother, who, learning that there was a shortage of bread and no indication of when more would become available, said: “Let’s dry our bread for long storage!” Or, like a smiling saleswoman in a store, who reassured customers: “Don’t worry, we have more, I just didn’t have time to put it out on the shelves. Everything is fine. We will live!” These encouraging words and smiles warmed my soul.

All the bread was bought up in the city that day, the shelves in the shops were empty. However, the bakery was constantly baking fresh stock. I went to buy some bread for my family and for a colleague. There were three loaves left. The man in front of me took just ONE. People didn’t take much. They left enough for others. The saleswoman took out some more warm bread and offered it to us, saying: “I left it for myself, but here, take it. This is the third time. No problem, we’ll bake more.”

2nd day of the war. About unity

People came together. Such a sense of unity within the city and the whole country had not been felt since the Revolution of Dignity on the Maidan.

Absolute strangers were ready to help each other. Because we are all Ukrainians.

Some carried groceries and baked cakes for the military.

Some gave medicine or warm clothes to those in need.

Some were ready to give their apartment or house to refugees from other cities for free.

Some just asked, “How are you?”

And this “How are you?” – from near and far, from those whom I have not heard for years – comforted and gave me strength.

3rd day of the war. About endurance

A nation-wide mobilization was announced. Many men went to the army or to the territorial defence. My colleagues from the editorial office, my husband and our friends too. It was scary to be alone taking care of the children, but now I had to take care of them while our men defended Ukraine. The fear and confusion of the first days passed. Stability and endurance remained. Hold on. Do everything you can. Feed, care, protect. Believe in our victory.

4th day of the war. About the basement and the cats in the basket

It was scary to sleep at night, especially in a multi-storey building. From 9pm to midnight the children did not sleep, and from midnight I stood watch almost until morning: what if there’s an air raid alert? But it was necessary to rest. We decided to move to stay with our relatives in their house. We just got ready to go and – an air raid alarm! We put our two cats into a portable basket, grabbed an emergency back-pack and ran to the nearest shelter. It was the basement of a neighboring house. Strangers gathered in front of it. However, seeing us, they invited us in hospitably, ”Come in, yes, of course, you can hide here, there is enough space for everyone. Yes, you can bring your pets. Oh, who do you have, cats? How beautiful! Go on, here – you can even sit down …” Someone came with a dog, someone with children. And again the atmosphere of mutual support prevailed, one that now envelops the whole of Ukraine.

However, to run to the basement of a neighbouring house from the top floor, at night, and with cats …

It was a pity to leave our home, where everything is familiar, dearly beloved, and comfortable. But the decision was made: when we could leave the shelter we took the essentials, a basket with our cats and went to our relatives. It was getting dark, and the curfew was about to begin. Taxis were not available. We had just started to walk down the street when the siren sounded. I will remember for a long time how, at dusk, with two children and two cats in a basket, with heavy bags, I raced through the streets to a safe place as fast as possible. The cats were so frightened that they lay crouched and silent. Our relatives took us in, lodged us in the small outhouse, where it was warm, and most importantly, where there was a basement nearby in which we could all hide during the air raid alarms. Among the potatoes and cans of preserves.

About relatives

Many people have relatives or acquaintances in Russia. More precisely, they had them.

Most of these relatives just don’t trust us. They trust what they see on TV.

They say, “Don’t worry, this is a special operation.”

We say, “This is a real war here!”

They say, “Be patient, you will be liberated soon.”

We answer, “There is no need to liberate us! We are on our own land, in our own country, in our own home. We just want to live in peace. Why have you barged in here?!!”

They say, “Your Nazis oppress Russian-speakers.”

We answer, “My family speaks Russian, and no one has ever oppressed us, even in Western Ukraine.”

They do not believe us.

They believe in propaganda and fakes that are spread in their media.

The result is a rupture of relations.

Many of my Ukrainian acquaintances have stopped talking with relatives from Russia, because it was not possible to persuade them of the truth of what is really going on.

During the same time, captured Russian soldiers were writing home to say, “While here, we saw neither Nazis nor Banderas … despite the fact that many children here are having to hide in basements, we are being treated well.”

About closing the sky

All of Ukraine is asking the EU and the United States to close the skies.

Close the sky from Russian cruise missiles and bombs falling on peaceful homes. To schools, to kindergartens, to hospitals, even to maternity hospitals and cathedrals! Dangerous objects are under fire: oil storage facilities, nuclear power plants.

This is a threat not only to Ukraine, but also to Europe and the whole world.

Do you know what it’s like to sleep in intervals, to wake up several times a night from the sirens of an air raid alarm?

To jump out of a warm bed, grab some clothes, the children and animals and run to the shelter.

To sit for hours in a cold basement, wrapped in two or three old jackets, freezing all the same and listen to the sounds upstairs?

A month ago we fell ill with COVID-19. After sitting in a cold basement, I started coughing again. And now it is very difficult to find medicines in pharmacies.

Do you know what it’s like to look at the night sky over a dark city where no window is lit (yes, it’s blackout, like in World War II!), look at the sky, listen to sirens and pray?

What can an unarmed civilian do but pray?

Pray and hope in God and that this horror will soon be over and that all those you love will be alive and well.

Hope and believe. Believe in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and in our victory.

Believe and love. To love this world, which suddenly ceased to be a safe place. To love and desperately hope that we will be able to save it.

After all, now this war is not just about Ukraine.

This war is about the whole world.

The world we must save from the aggression of a tyrant who is not in his right mind and has already threatened the world with nuclear weapons. That is why right now all of us – Ukrainians, Europeans, Americans – need to unite against a common enemy.

To unite the whole world, as all Ukrainians have now united, to protect the whole world from war.

For all of it, the world, though irrevocably changed, remains just as beautiful.

With blue skies and blue rivers, with a conservation land where early blooms grow and where I can’t go now to see them.

But they are there. After all, spring is coming.

Spring always wins over winter.

Light always conquers darkness.

And Ukraine will defeat this Russian invasion. Because the truth is with us.

God is with us.

The whole world is with us!

And we are sincerely grateful to the world for their support. To all countries, public figures and ordinary people.

Please continue!

Support Ukraine.

We will win together!

About our publishing house

Our website:

There are currently only three of us left to work at the editorial office. Some went to defend Ukraine, some went to take their children to a safe place and to return back afterwards. Our newspaper office has remained in Uman city, and the site was left without advertisers. In fact, the editorial office has no commissions. However, it continues to work.

We write about the situation in the city to inform people about the new opening schedules of institutions and shops, transport running times, to find out where you can buy food and medicine when pension payments are delivered to retirees. We are monitoring the situation at the front line. We print ads for people who need something for free. We share simple recipes so that people can cook something and bake bread at home.

We collect folk art and memes to lift people’s spirits a little in these difficult times. We sleep and take shifts in turns. We are alerting people about air raids day and night. After all, in addition to the site, our Telegram channel and Viber group are now avidly followed, where only verified information is always available and we have never ‘sold out’ for a fake.

Our Telegram

Our Viber

Our Facebook page

We write, we do our job. After all, now each of us is fighting as best as we can.

Our weapon is the word.

The Ukrainian poet Lesia Ukrainka wrote:

“Word, why aren’t you hard iron that shines so brightly in the middle of battle?

“Word, why aren’t you as sharp as a sword – one that takes the head off the enemy’s shoulders?”

So, now the word is a weapon. It’s a sword, it’s a sabre, and it’s a spear. Each of us, journalists, is fighting in the informational space. We bring reliable information to people. We debunk fakes. We tell the world the truth. And the world hears us.

If you also want to support Ukraine, support our publication, our editorial office, we will be sincerely grateful for your help! Circulation of information about Russia’s war against Ukraine, words of support or funds – we are grateful for everything.

Financial support account :

If you wish to help directly, we have the details of the personal card of the journalist – the author of this article.
Her message: by transferring the funds, you will support the entire editorial board: funds will be spent on salaries to all journalists, and on transportation costs. In addition, we would very much like to restore the paper version of our publication: it is in demand among the elderly and this would be the first sign of a return to peace.

Contact editor@westcountryvoices.co.uk for details.