Bunkered down in the basements of their Kyiv homes, frightened, alone and desperate to share what they are living through to the rest of the world, team members from marie claire Ukraine speak to writer Galia Loupan.
When the bombs started falling on Ukraine, our first reaction was shock and disbelief, like everyone else watching from afar. But we also worried for our team at marie claire Ukraine. After a stressful 24 hour wait, we finally received word that they were safe and in shelters—for the moment. But they felt scared, angry and alone. Editor-in-Chief Irina Tatarenko then asked us to share what was happening to them and their country. “It is hell. Please, we beg you, spread word of the situation in Ukraine,” she said. “We need your support so much.”
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech on February 21, marie claire Ukraine Brand Director Katerina Lagutina had been uneasy—she’d published warning posts on social media and even wrote a press release about increasing pressure on Ukraine’s involvement with NATO. On February 23, Katerina had spent a long day at the office, so she went to the theatre. Life felt normal—but that would soon change. Mere hours later, at 4am, Katerina was woken up by her phone ringing loudly, and when she picked up, her best friend told her that war had started. Russian troops entered Ukraine.
“From this point on, I couldn’t tell the date or the day of the week. I could only count like this: first day of the war, second day of the war,” she explains.
Katerina comes from Luhansh, which is located in the Donbass region, but she moved to Kiev in 2014. When the war broke out, as she felt safer there. She remembers seeing soldiers “shooting from the roofs of civilian houses” in her hometown when she left. But now it’s happening again, and she’s had to take shelter in the basement of her new home.
“There is no protection here. But the reaction of the population shocked me: everyone is so calm, following the rules. Even the children don’t cry in the shelters. People are organising water supply, places to sit… Shops and pharmacies are closed in our district, but we still have water and electricity. The internet still works, but not well,” she says.
Liza Prykhodko, a photographer for marie claire Ukraine, had a similar experience.
“At first you don’t believe it, and you think if you go outside you will die immediately,” she says.
“When I heard the first siren, I just felt nausea. And then the next day, there was the sound of shelling, and all I was doing was trying to reassure my family and friends on the phone. Because for me it was worse to make them feel anguish than it was to stay in the shelter hearing all the alarms and explosions.
“All we can think about are those we love who are not with us, and worry. All we do is write almost every hour. ‘Are you OK? ‘– ‘Was your building hit?’ – ‘Is everyone alive in your family?’ – ‘Have you managed to sleep, even a little bit?’ – ‘Have you eaten something?’ – ‘We are strong’ – ‘I love you.’”
On the first day, Russian forces targeted military infrastructure and airports only. Liza put scotch tape on her windows, to prevent rooms from being filled with broken glass if a bomb fell nearby. The idea of using scotch tape as bomb protection would seem laughable if it wasn’t so sad.
But it does make sense, and there is little else the people can do. She adds: “All we have for protection is our prayers and the people around us. Because nobody expected the aggressor would attack civilians.”
When asked if they saw the war coming, Liza’s answer is an angry “no”. For Katerina, it’s slightly different. “Of course we were afraid of this,” she says. “We have been living in war for eight years. But this was a total shock to us, we never expected this to happen, not like this. Of course we hope that the world will support us, this is totally insane!
“For us it is important that the whole world talk about Ukraine. When we stop talking about it, it will have become normal. We are so much smaller than our enemy. If Putin stops fighting, there will be no war. If we stop fighting, there will be no Ukraine.”
So far, other countries have imposed sanctions on Russia and are sending infrastructure to support Ukranians, but direct involvement comes with great risks, and so far, Ukrainian people and their government are relying on themselves.
Liza and Katerina feel pride for their fellow civilians as they watch people of all ages line up to join the fight and protect their neighbourhoods, and their country.
They are also proud of the bravery of their president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and of the fact that he didn’t flee the capital city and stayed with his people. When the United States offered to evacuate him to safety, he reportedly said: “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
This seems to have empowered the Ukrainian people, who are defending their country with everything they have.
Liza explains: “I feel scared, I feel anxious and angry, but I also feel pride for my country.”
The same goes for Katerina: “Now, my feelings are filled with resentment at this injustice. What is happening is unfair to the people of Ukraine. But the main feeling I have is immense pride for our President, Mr. Vladimir Zelensky, and our army.” Both see these men as protectors, defenders and saviours.
When asked what the rest of us can do for them, Liza had one answer.
“Don’t be silent!,” she said. “Be loud! Me and my country are grateful to those who speak up! You can’t imagine how important your support is to us.”