Only a week ago, it seemed to us, Ukrainians, that the full-scale war is not something that could be applied to us. It appeared to be a distant relic of the barbarian past. Civilized countries have already learned to solve everything through diplomacy, involving the UN, the Security Council of Europe, and other responsible bodies. In developing countries that only start their way to prosperity, wars or military conflicts may still happen. Nevertheless, in the absence of any logic, the war has unleashed in the very center of Europe, using archaic methods of influence that are alien to modern society. Russia has invaded Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin rules his country by questionable standards, which are way far from the modern reality. Instead of the state and living level development, the funds are generously invested in the army or space resources, and weaponized threats are preferred over any diplomatic conversation. His government has zombified the citizens by feeding them constant lies, intimidating and restricting their rights and liberties. Most Russians are afraid to join protests. Hence, they become accomplices by supporting the regime with their acquiescence, and the minority who still joins end up in jail.
How the war started for us
Since WWII, the largest war began February 24, 2022, with multiple missile attacks on major Ukrainian cities, such as Kyiv, Odesa, Dnipro, Kharkiv, and others. Mykolaiv was one of them. Mykolaiv is the city in the south of Ukraine, where our main office is located. Africa Images has 80 employees working. That day, our lives have changed forever. Everybody is scared for their lives, especially many of us who have little children. We feel lost and still cannot believe it's happening and hope to wake up from this terrible nightmare. Here are some of our stories below, the stories reflect the events at the moment of writing this article.
Olga, the CEO: The day when everything started, I woke up at 5 am to the sound of loud explosions and military aircrafts crossing the sky at high speed. We did not prepare and did not leave, as nobody expected this. My family, including my little daughter, parents, and myself, stay at home in the same city. We constantly hear the sound of explosions, sirens blaring, which means we need to hide again. We do not feel safe in our own house! Most of the groceries do not have any goods left. Russian troops attacked the city a few times, and battles unfolded. They destroyed a few houses, a hypermarket just a few blocks from our house, and gasoline stations. There is no gas supply in our city. We do not know what to do. It's dangerous to leave the city, too, as the civilian cars are often shot down straight on the road by invaders. We just want to stay alive, and it's terrifying to live this way.
Kate, the copywriter: Can you even imagine what it means to wake up early in the morning and go to bed late at night just with one feeling – fear? The last few days' events have become a part of daily life for the Ukrainian people. Our mornings start with calling our loved ones and the worst if nobody answers you. People in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, and many more large cities or small towns in Ukraine spend their nights in bomb shelters. They don't even know if they can return to their homes again. All over the country, we hear air raid sirens every day. Who could think that in the XXI century in the middle of Europe, we would talk about war? But, unfortunately, it has become our reality today. I live in a small town in Transcarpathia. It is considered a quiet region even today. Thousands of civilians have arrived here in the last few days. We try to help everyone. Every day I meet people from different cities who left their homes in a hurry, sharing their stories with me. Though my house is not that big, we share our home with two other families from Kyiv. Our living room has become an extra bedroom, too. It's a little tight, but it doesn't matter. We just want to help these people. On February 24, when we were sleeping in our cozy beds, these poor people spent two nights in a bomb shelter. They fled Kyiv after the rocket hit the building near their house and spent almost 2 days traveling. Their friends and relatives remain in the capital.
Tatiana, the photographer: My husband is an officer. When the war began, he was more or less 400 km away from us. The night of February 23-24 was disturbing. My 1.6-year-old son and I were alone at home, he did not sleep until 2 am, and I could not calm him down. Children indeed feel everything. Finally, we fell asleep, and at 5 am, I woke up from the first explosion. Fear and paralysis came over me. Fortunately, my son didn't wake up. I couldn't believe that it was an explosion. But it happened again and again. Trying not to wake the baby, I texted my husband and parents. Nobody understood whether this was really a war yet. I decided to leave the city immediately since nobody knew what would happen soon. My father brought us to the village near Mykolaiv. I haven't heard explosions anymore, but they are still fresh in my memory. My husband is on military duty and protecting us and our country. In addition, my father, who was previously in the anti-terrorist operation zone, is now also at the forefront. These days, I can't eat or sleep. I am always on the phone just to get a message or call with the words "I'm alive." And it's like a breath of fresh air. Physically I am here, with my son, but I am with my husband and father in my thoughts. It is so painful and scary that I wish nobody to experience this horror. All material values are nothing. I dream of one thing only - the end of the war and both, my husband and father, alive and with us. I also want a bright future for my son, so he has a happy childhood and a father.
Olga, the publisher: I remember the first explosion on February 24, 2022, at precisely 4:57 am. I was secretly hoping it was military training, I closed my eyes and tried to get back to sleep, but the second and third explosions did not leave any hope and woke me up completely. The car alarms were blaring downstairs. I was so scared, my heart almost jumped out. I heard my neighbor with a kid run out of the building with a bag and leave. I have to stay with my parents in the village as it is safer here. I still do not understand why we "need to be saved," and from whom as we are a prosperous and peaceful country, and we do not need any Russian "liberators." Civilians, including children, are dying because of the fire, the infrastructure is destroyed, whole city districts are destroyed, the cities are in agony. What for? Our people did not ask for this war. Why do we need to hide in the basements, be scared to fall asleep every single night, or die? Russian people can stop it. They need to go out and raise their voices. Otherwise, they will never clean themselves from the blood of innocent people on them, their children, and the next generations. We want to live and have a peaceful sky above us! No to war!
Volodymyr, the copywriter: War has changed everything. Do you know the feeling of waking up in the morning not from an alarm clock but from the shaking of the windows in the house, rattling of the walls, and the rapidly growing panic on the street? I hope you will never know. A modern parody of Hitler also decided to trigger the war at 4 in the morning. After the explosions, I tried to calm my family, although my own anxiety was in full swing. Just imagine that in a split of a second, you forget about the unsubmitted reports at work, the upcoming trip to the dentist, any problems in your personal life. The brain starts to spend all the mental resources on survival instead. As soon as you think that the situation is getting slightly better, another explosion happens, and news about human losses drag you to another emotional black hole. Once the war started, I went online and saw the pictures of burning military installations and civilian airports. The next hour I felt precisely the same as in a nightmare: how is it, what kind of war in such a civilized time? Awareness of the situation comes a little later when the news of military and civilian casualties flows like a stream. These days, I spend most of the time gathering information such as news, reports, stories, briefings, summaries - all this is consumed in huge volumes. Sometimes only a minute passes when the siren is turned on, and the missile falls. Just a minute to save your life from the "liberators." For many of us, life has turned into self-reproach. Many Ukrainians feel guilty for coexisting relatively peacefully away from the front line while the best sons and daughters of the country lay down their lives. A lot stands on the defense of the country. We know examples when people are ready to join the defense, but they are refused for no experience with weapons and lack spare time to teach. Actually, this is another difference between our people and the occupier: we value every life, while the Russian side throws rookies to face the professional Ukrainian army.
Anna, the assistant photographer: At 5 am on February 24, my life, like many Ukrainians, changed once and for all. A part of me was taken from me, my job, family, and home! I am 24 years old. I was born and raised in the Independent, Free, and Democratic Ukraine. If you ask me, Russia is not just a foreign country for me. This country constantly belittles our dignity, harasses and tries to rewrite events by deceiving even their own people. We, Ukrainians, have been a great nation for centuries, and we will not allow these events to be erased or forgotten. What is happening in Ukraine now is not just a war. We have been living in absolute hell for about a week now and who knows how more… Our cities are being bombed, civilians are being shot. Women are giving birth in bomb shelters and the subway. When the older generation said: "If only there was no war," no one truly understood the importance and meaning of these words! Money, career, entertainment, relationships - it all became really unimportant but to survive and save our country! Russia started the war against Ukraine and against the entire civilized world! We must stop this madness. God save Ukraine!
Kate, the data analyst: I am 26 years old. I was born and now live in independent Ukraine, in the city of Mykolayiv. My parents were born in the USSR. I have spoken two languages since birth. My grandparents talked to me in Ukrainian and my parents in Russian. It turned out that the language I spoke most of my life is called "surzhyk," which means a language mix. Nobody "oppressed" me for this so-called dialect which sounded more like the Russian language. Now, I just don't want to talk like that. On February 24, 2022, I woke up from loud explosions and military aircraft in my hometown. It was around 5 am. After watching the news, I started waking up my family with the words: "Wake up, the war has started ...". It is impossible to convey the horror we all felt at that moment. We are all Ukrainians. Since then, we have only dreamed of a good night's sleep. We did not attack anyone but stood on our land and protected it confidently. Every Ukrainian is doing everything possible to stop this senseless massacre. It hurts that this is happening in my homeland. Since childhood, we have been told that the aggressor country is our "friends and neighbors." But friends don't do that. They do not kill civilians. They do not shoot at homes or young children and women. However, despite all this horror and pain, every Ukrainian now feels the unity of our people more than ever. Since childhood, I was proud that I was born Ukrainian, and now this feeling is just incredible. I look with great love in my heart at my strong, free and beautiful people. I believe that the truth will prevail, that Peace will reign in our Independent Ukraine and in the whole world.
Tanya, the designer: I have been working in Africa Images for almost a year. A week ago, I was still living my everyday life. I slept peacefully in bed, I worked on our design projects. Every evening, my family and I shared a meal at the same table. Sometimes, I played Minecraft or Genshin Impact with my friends from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Not so long time ago I went to a new JYSK store in our city and finally chose a nice bed for myself. I really wanted to have it. Now, this store has been destroyed by occupants in a tank battle. It was located in a mall on the main street of our city and a tank battle. Military equipment swept through our city. By morning, 4 destroyed units of the enemy equipment remained on the avenue. Along the entire avenue, windows were smashed in the houses and stores, the signs of destruction and fire were everywhere. We have both photos of destruction and pictures of broken tanks, and everyone in Mykolaiv will recognize the place where it was filmed. A monument, a tank, was preserved since WWII as a reminder for "never again." Still, it happens again simply because a crazy dictator from another country thinks he can take our country over. I will never forget the sounds of explosions from February 24, 2022. I cannot express in words all the shock and horror that I experienced when I found out that the whole of Ukraine was attacked. Even now, in 2022, I have to read articles on surviving a nuclear strike! Yet, I believe in my country and army. Currently, my fitness is poor as I'm sick, and the nights spent in the basements do not make it better. Even though all I can do is shoot at the shooting range, I shoot down 20 cans out of 20, so I will join a defense once I recover. We will survive all this and come to a brighter future.
Nadia, the designer: "War with Russia? How could a brother go to war against his brother?" That's what I thought a month ago. I was born in the USSR, I live in Mykolaiv. My family is a mix of Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish blood, and all of our lives, we speak Russian. I have relatives and friends in Russia, and no matter what happens in the political arena, we believed that common sense would prevail and our peoples would come to an understanding. So when we heard the first explosions, we did not believe in what was happening until the end. This is not a conflict, not a military operation, not a misunderstanding. This is war! People whom I considered brotherly came to our land, our country, and they are killing us, our fathers, husbands, children, family, friends. No matter which language they speak or which nationality they belong to. They destroy our homes. My aunt and cousin live in Kharkiv. Now they have to hide in one of the Kharkiv bunkers. Every day, when we say goodbye on the phone, they tell me: "With God's will, we will hear each other again tomorrow." My godmother lives in New Kakhovka. I have not been able to get through to her for three days, and I am distraught. My mother lives with her brother's family on the other side of Mykolaiv, and there is a bridge between us. I can't come to her, and she can't come to me as bridges have been raised for security purposes. She is terminally ill. Every day she is injected with medicine to not cry from pain. She cannot walk and requires special care. The remaining medication is enough for seven days only. She is dying, and I cannot even say goodbye to her or hug her. I want to hug her so much! She, like any other mom, first of all, worries not about herself but about us, her children, and I reassure her on the phone: "Mommy, everything is okay, we are alive. I love you." I cry on my pillow at night or open the tap water in the bathroom so my children do not see or hear my sobs. They are already scared, and I don't want to scare them any more than that. I have to be strong for them. Many of my relatives are in the front line of war now, even though they are not military by profession. Former salesmen, cooks, electricians, librarians. If this war continues, then not only men but also women and children will take up arms. We don't need foreign land. We didn't attack Russia, Russia attacked us, and we must defend our home. I want to wake up from this nightmare and live my everyday life again. I want to hug my mom, check my son's assignments from school, ride bicycles with my whole family in nature. I want to go to the theater or cafe in the evening with my husband, have fun with friends in the club. I don't want any war. Russian soldiers, if you're going to liberate Ukraine, just turn around and leave. Go home to your mothers and wives. Leave us and our land alone!
What happens now
The whole world has united against Putin and the Russian elite. They counted on the fact that they would quickly seize Ukraine, and the EU and NATO would do nothing after the fact and score on us. Now, their country is crumbling in their hands. Their army is a pitiful sight of terrorists who fire at peaceful cities with missiles. The Kadyrov mercenaries have screwed up. Putin himself went mad. He was furious and horrified so much that after only 4 days of our defense, he began to threaten the whole world with nuclear weapons. Russia will soon be left with nothing, and its oligarchs will lose everything they had abroad. The people of Russia and Belarus, who have not been brainwashed by their governments' filthy propaganda, are horrified and furious at the attack on Ukraine. They are terrified for their friends and families under bombardment arranged by their dictator authorities. We hope that soon Putin will be removed by his own people, and we will reinstate our borders, in their former shape, including Donetsk, Lugansk, and Crimea.
The people of Ukraine are legends. Never forget that in Ukraine:
- the first ace pilot since 1945, "Phantom of Kyiv" has already shot down 21 aircraft;
- the Gopnik group got the enemy's panzer in Obolon with just bare hands;
- Roma gypsies stole two tanks;
- the farmer stole the tank with a tractor;
- Snake Island border guards told the Russian warship “Idi nakhui”, which translates as giving direction to go f--- themselves;
- a Ukrainian woman told the invaders to put sunflower seeds in their pockets so they grow on Ukrainian soil when they die.
Also, never forget those who suffered in the shelling or gave their lives for our freedom.
We hope this war will end as soon as possible and get back to our everyday life again. Nevertheless, these days we have become closer as a nation. We help each other, we share our home with people we didn't meet before. We are still strong, believe in our country, and never give up. Glory to Ukraine! Slava Ukraini!
Photos provided by: @libkos. Ukraine, Odesa. Railway Station: husbands send their wives with children to rescue. March 2, 2022