Citizen Journalism: The peace we'd once known
As natives of Kharkiv, Anna and her family have been coping with the Russian invasion from the moment the first missile hit.
February 24, 2022, 5 a.m., Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Our family was woken up from our peaceful dreams by the most powerful, terrible explosion. The condition inside our home was beyond words. We were in utter shock as we began to realize what was happening.
Was a Russian invasion really possible in the year 2022? Our worst nightmare had become a reality and our dread sank deeper as we began to realize the new reality we found ourselves in. Our family was in the midst of the first moments of the invasion.
I quickly grabbed my two-year-old daughter Diana and ran out into the hallway. Coming through the window, I saw a vast orange glow of light. The glass in the window rattled with the bombing. It felt like the end of the world. Our lives were transformed in an instant when that ominous orange glow spread across Kharkiv.
I have been accustomed to living in a peaceful world for my entire life. The reality of war didn't seem plausible to me. I saw no sense in living in such a world of chaos and destruction. To me, such a world is unacceptable.
My daughter started crying, and my husband and I carried her in our arms for several hours that first morning while we frantically prepared for what was to come. I packed a suitcase with documents, warm clothes, water, and other necessities in case we needed to leave. The explosions and shelling were constant—there was not a single moment of silence. The mere thought of going to the nearest bomb shelter frightened us. We could not yet conceive of the idea of leaving the city under such attacks.
We decided to stay in our home. We equipped the pantry, which had been renovated from an old elevator shaft and had bearing walls, therefore making it an effective makeshift bomb shelter. While my husband ran out for food, water, and other supplies, I sorted through all the things in our pantry and made a bed there. In the coming days, we waited out the heaviest shelling and rocket attacks in that small space. A corridor was arranged under our residential block. During the lulls in rocket fire, we ate there and played with our child. We barricaded the rest of the rooms and the kitchen as best we could. We sealed the windows and glass doors with tape. We also barricaded the balcony by propping our sofa across its opening. In the kitchen, we placed a thick mattress tightly against the window. My daughter and I didn't see sunlight for eleven days—the duration of time we spent in Kharkiv after the invasion started.
The shelling was constant, day and night, during the first days of the war. On day five, a rocket flew over our home, damaging the technical floor and striking a house nearby. The sound of the explosion was so loud. Everything shook so violently that we thought it was the end for us. Through the open closet door, we saw a flash. We fell to the floor as the rocket landed. Then the lights extinguished and we were plunged into darkness. The entire street went dark. We didn't know if or when power would be restored. But we knew staying in touch with our friends and family was very important. So we tried to save phone charges and use candles for light, but after a day and a half, our phones were almost dead. My husband decided to go across the street to his sister's apartment to charge all our gadgets—phones, power banks, and laptops. I was very worried as the shelling had not subsided at all during this time.
As he ventured out, my child and I were left without communication, without light, and plunged into deep, lonely uncertainty. After a while, we heard a persistent knocking on our door. Despite our waiting for my husband’s return, the knocks on the door still terrified us. We did not believe it was him. Marauders and reports of “little green men” were common at this time. The doors to our building’s entrance were not locked due to the lack of light. However, our door was locked. The sound of knocking reverberated in other stairwells too. The person who was knocking on our door ran after someone who opened another door and I heard screaming and a loud commotion. I couldn't call the police—my phone was dead. I do not know how I kept my composure during the time my husband was gone.
Thank God, however, that everything went well for us in the end. My husband returned with charged phones and brought extra water. About half an hour later the power was restored. But the events of that day, and the ten days before that, strengthened our resolve to try to leave Kharkiv. We had suffered the wildest swings of shock, incomprehension, despair, rejection, anger, aggression, and hopelessness. We still could not understand how this was happening to us.
We searched for an emotional light in the darkness from news outlets, social media, and anything else from the outside world, but even this proved to be hopeless. Our only source of solace was our daughter, who we knew was safe and constantly nearby. But the threat that the invasion posed to her life haunted us. She was a two-year-old child who had already learned to fall to the floor during shelling and cover herself with a blanket. Although she didn’t understand what was happening at the time, the war left a strong mark on her psyche. I was very afraid to leave the city with her. Every day there were stories about convoys of cars that fell under shelling—killing the children within them.
I hoped that everything would end quickly, but there was no end to the attacks. For several days I debated with myself about what the best course of action was—to leave or stay. Finally, on March 7, we decided to leave by train. My husband decided to stay in Kharkiv for a while. We got to the station by taxi, holding our breath throughout the entire trip. We waited at the station for several hours, boarded, and rode the train west for several more hours. We arrived at our parent’s hometown at 1:00 am, past the government-mandated curfew. As a result, we could not yet travel to my parent’s home, so we spent the night in the subway. My daughter didn't sleep a wink. For a month or more, she has not been able to sleep. She cries often. She is frightened by sharp sounds. She is awake all night and sleeps all day. It has been very difficult to establish a regimen and bring her psyche back to a normal state.
We eventually arrived in Dnipro, and everything became so much calmer. However, Russian missiles continue to pose a threat—even to cities like Dnipro that were once considered safe havens in the early weeks of the invasion. My husband and I hope that one day the peace we’d once known before this horrible war will be restored—for our daughter’s sake, and for the sake of all people in our country.