“I want to live a little longer”: Recollecting People’s Memories About The War

February 23, 2024
As we mark the second anniversary of full-scale war and tenth anniversary of Russian invasion, we reflect on Ukrainians’ stories to illustrate war’s enduring impact.
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This February draws a line under tenth year of Russian aggression against Ukraine and its Independence and the second year of the full-scale war. Being history's most documented war, it was often uncovered to us through the people's testimonies. So, we revisit them to look at our heroes' lives through the lens of one of the war's aspects - its continuation.

Escaping and rebuilding are processes too familiar to the citizens of contemporary Ukraine. In some cases, they come all together as war has many faces, or as the war lasts, some scenarios repeat. Such was the case of Katya, who fled from Mariupol but was chased by Russian occupation for the second time.

On February 24, 2022, crowds of people in Mariupol, as well as Katya herself, tried to flee the city under heavy assault. It was the first day of the war.

Having fled to her sister in Kamyanka, Zaporizhzhia oblast, Katya thought that she was safe. But Russian soldiers approached again.

The nearest railway station was destroyed when they got to our village Kamyanka. Everything happened so fast that it was difficult to even plan our next steps.

Soon, the war had taken not only Katya's house in Mariupol, destroyed by the enemy fire, but lots of locals' lives.

Tetiana from Donetsk also had to run from Russians twice. The first time was when Russian forces invaded Donbas in 2014, and the second one was in 2022, when shelling was loud in Kharkiv.

For 6 days Tetiana hid in her apartment and the local bomb shelter. The situation was getting worse, so a friend helped her escape to Dnipro. There, she took the evacuation train to Lviv, and then to Przemyśl. 

That time, I was able to remain in Ukraine, but now I don't feel safe in my home anymore. 

Tetiana's parents still remain on the territory that is not controlled by Ukraine. For now, it is impossible for them to leave.

Spreading as fast as mold, the occupants were uprooting people from their homes massively. Olha Leontieva, a public activist from Melitopol, is too among those having no chance to return home. She left the city when Russians began to look for her, coming armed to her house.

"I've been working with displaced people since 2014, and I thought I comprehended their experiences. After having fled myself, I realized that I hadn't truly grasped anything. It's impossible to fully understand without actually experiencing it."

Yevheniia Laptii, a photographer from Cherkaski Tyshky, Kharkiv oblast, has witnessed with own eyes how her home was destroyed. Of course, he had no other option except to leave.

A missile hit my house directly, so I just took my cat, left the house, and never came back.

Kamyanka, Mariupol, and Melitopol are still under Russian occupation. But Ukrainian warriors had liberated many lands that had been occupied since 2022, opening a path home to numerous Ukrainians.

When we talked to Victoria Zaritska, the head of the Savyntsi Settlement Council's Department of Culture, she was in high spirits. Having returned to Savyntsi, Kharkiv Oblast, when it was liberated and safe enough for her children, she felt inspired and ready to restore all that had been ruined by the temporary authorities for 6 months of reigning.

I asked friends to hide all equipment, including our computers and music equipment. People risked their lives and kept it all in the basements or in the attics.

As Victoria saw it, the liberation of Savyntsi happened just in time because the occupants were unable to carry out most of their plans, including confiscating all books in Ukrainian.

The residents of Kherson felt it differently, as many things had changed in the city before the Ukrainian army returned it to Ukraine. However, they opposed Russia and its rules as long as they could, which we know thanks to Lilia.

Lilia has lived in Kherson throughout the entire period of its occupation by Russia.

"From the start of the war, locals gathered, banded together, and rallied against the Russian presence. The Russians remained silent for some time before initiating a crackdown. They had no idea why we reacted with such hostility to them. Their surprise was obvious, and we realized that they had been fed another fairytale, that they were expected here and would be welcomed. Yet, there was this opposition, curses, and so on."

She was scared as all were and, luckily, she met Kherson's liberation untouched. But Viktoriia did not.

Viktoriia Kirilova, a resident of Kherson, shared with us how Russian invaders came to her repeatedly. They took her for interrogation, beat, and left with numerous scars.

"When I was being detained and the occupiers started scaring me that they would take me to the basement, my brain thought of terrible things: 'Well, rape - I can cope with that. Torture - depending on the kind of torture, you start to think about which method is the most painful for you. Murder - I don't want to be killed, I want to live a little longer."

Her lust for life must have been heard. Viktoriia could survive and even manage to retell the horrors she came through. But, of course, as Yevheniia Laptii said during our conversation, this war is with us forever, even when it's over.

Some of our heroes call it their personal 'happy end' that they escaped death, more serious injuries, or something else. But 'end' here is very conditional, rather nominative, because this war continues. And they realize it, too.

Even though many stories we share are told from a safer place and by people alive, this opportunity is provided to us and to them by soldiers, daily encountering with enemy. Yes, about half of Ukrainian lands, occupied in 2022, had been liberated during the war's course. But keeping them in Ukraine requires constant defense. And we shouldn't fall into illusions about the cost and fragility of it.

What we commemorate today is not the victory but the date, symbolizing fighting yesterday, today, and tomorrow. A lasting process, having no end yet.

So, when finishing reading the story with a 'good end', the relativity of it should be considered. For some, there is a 'good end', but for others, we cannot tell because they are no longer with us due to the war that is ten years old today.

Lisa Dzhulai
Journalist at UkraineWorld