On Thursday 24 February, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, 23-year-old Marta Dzhumaha hurriedly left her home in Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv, and fled to the west of the country. As the invasion intensifies, she explains what life is like in the nation and how Ukrainians are feeling.
I loved my life in Kyiv. I’d just finished my master’s degree and I was working as a PR manager at a health care tech company. I’d just got engaged to my boyfriend and had started to plan my wedding. I’d adopted a cat from a shelter.
I spent my spare time drinking coffee on the streets of Kyiv, going to my favourite parks and walking by the Dnipro river. My friends and I were waiting to see Kyiv in spring when it’s filled with the sweet scent of chestnut trees and lilacs. It’s magical.
I didn’t believe Russia would attack until the invasion happened. On Wednesday 23 February, I went to sleep without a thought about the upcoming war.
Then on Thursday 24 February, I woke up at 5.57am to a loud explosion. I was scared to hell. I woke up my boyfriend. “Has it started?” he asked. We didn’t feel safe in Kyiv, so we decided to leave immediately.
It was so sad to leave. We called a friend to give us a ride out of the city and while we ran to meet them I told my boyfriend that I hoped we’d be able to see our home one more time.
We were in a hurry and worried for our lives, so we left a lot behind. We took our cat and I packed one small backpack with documents, money and a sweater. We left everything else in our apartment.
As we left, the city was dark and foggy and people were terrified. There were two groups of people in the city: the first were trying to get out of Kyiv as soon as possible, and the others decided to stay at home, waiting for a better moment.
Seven of us (and one cat) squeezed into a car to leave. Most of the main roads were blocked by traffic jams. Someone told us it would be dangerous to move in the middle of this, but we decided to take the risk. It wasn’t comfortable, but no one complained. It took us 23 hours to reach our current destination in the west of Ukraine where my parents live.
Right now, every Ukrainian is worried about their safety, but we’re also worried about the safety of our homeland. Everyone is trying to protect Ukraine; some are joining the civilian defence and others are fighting an information war with our laptops.
We care about each other, we cry for people in Kharkiv and Chernihiv, we support our government and believe in our victory. I watch the news, hug my parents and write to my friends in other cities to ask how they are doing.
One of my best friends has stayed in Kyiv to protect the local people and our home. He knew how to hold a weapon and is so motivated, so it was an easy decision for him. I also have many acquaintances who have decided to join the civil defence.
Ukrainians are so united right now, it feels like we breathe in unison. People are trying to help each other in different ways. Owners of hotels or hostels are giving accommodation to refugees, restaurants and cafes are cooking and delivering food to those in need, volunteers are buying medicine for ill people, and young people, like me, are fighting against Russian propaganda online and sharing the reality of what is happening with the international community.
Seeing the war playing out on social media makes me furious. It’s so hard to believe human beings can bombard other human beings and pretend that it’s for good, that they are giving us freedom. I am scared that for the whole world, the Russian-Ukrainian war is only a film they are observing via the news. For us it’s reality.
I’ve realised I am not scared to die, but I am scared of the possible consequences of this war. I hope this nightmare will end soon and that Ukrainian civilians won’t die anymore. I hope the war will be the start of a better, stronger Ukraine.
Every nation has the right to develop, to live in peace, to cherish its own culture, language and traditions. Ukrainians can’t be deprived of their rights. We are an ancient nation with a unique history. Each Russian tank destroyed just increases the Ukrainians’ courage to resist. I know that hate is a very ugly emotion, but I hate what Russia is doing to Ukrainians.
Being a Ukrainian has never been an easy task, but I am so proud that I belong to an independent, distinctive, kind and empathetic nation. All throughout our history, we’ve had to fight for our development, but we became stronger and didn’t give up. I am proud to be Ukrainian, I want peace for the whole world.
Images: Marta Dzhumaha; Getty