20-year-old Valeria was living in Kyiv when the war broke out, working for a Ukrainian newspaper. Editing news in Ukrainian, English, and Russian, her work never ends.
Now, she is working and volunteering to help her country the best she can. “I’m living off coffee and green tea,” she tells me on the phone.
Valeria had been following the escalation in Mariupol the night the war broke out. At 04:30, she managed to fall asleep. Just an hour and a half later, her boyfriend called her awake. “Read the news and take care," he told her, not to scare her.
“I thought to myself it was some kind of joke. A second later, I heard the explosion. This was the worst moment of my life," Valeria said. "I understood the gravity of the situation when I felt the walls of my house tremble.”
Having just started her career and planning to move in with her boyfriend in Kyiv, her dreams were shattered within the first hours of the invasion.
“Even the little dreams. A few days before the invasion, I bought a blanket from a thrift store to take to a picnic when it got a little warmer. It felt like my life was falling apart.”
Take the slow train
Valeria wanted to stay in Kyiv, but explosions, vibrating walls, and cracking glass made her decide to leave the city.
Boarding the train to Lviv, conductors let passengers on without tickets, squeezing as many people as possible into the carriages. For the first time, Valeria heard someone say “I’m a refugee” – an elderly woman without a ticket.
“We fit 12 people in my carriage and people were in the corridors. But even though everyone was exhausted, tired, and nervous, everyone was being kind to each other." The 500 km trip from Kyiv to Lviv would normally take around six hours; it took them nine.
Despite the danger, Valeria has no desire to leave her home country: “I want to stay here, I just want to help. I’m sending my mum food, I can collect provisions, I can send money to volunteer groups.”
“The most horrifying thing is that right now you forget about your basic needs. We sleep less, we eat less, I even forget to pee. The only thing on my mind right now is being safe and making sure that your close ones are safe.”
Many civilians take up arms, volunteer, donate money or spread information to help the Ukrainian army fight against their occupiers.
"War is the ugliest thing on earth and nobody should have to experience that. But it surprises me how something so ugly as war created something so beautiful. If somebody asks 'How are you?', that means they love you.”
“When I was small I thought I was unlucky to have been born here, I could have lived anywhere. But now I’m sure I’m in the right place. No nation in the world will be as successful as Ukraine is today.”
“I am proud of the Ukrainian army. I am proud of every civilian who took up arms, every resident who stopped tanks, everyone who is donating blood, volunteering, accepting refugees. I am proud of every Ukrainian. I am proud to be Ukrainian.”