We sit with our colleagues from Ukraine, Eugene Semenchuk and Feride Kurtmamedova, to discuss the unfortunate and devastating events that have been taking place in their country since February 2022.
Talking to Eugene and Feride
Most of us are fortunate enough to have never experience war, firsthand. It's difficult to even imagine the emotional impact of looking out of our windows and witnessing the horrific destruction of homes. cities and towns, or losing family members and friends.
Putting aside the political views of the Ukraine war and what we've learned through the media, let's take a moment to consider the perspective of our colleagues Eugene and Feride. Through sharing their own experiences and devastating memories of the ongoing situation, they help to provide us with a more personal and humanizing understanding of the conflict.
We express our sincere gratitude to Eugene and Feride for demonstrating immense courage during a very frightening time, and for using their voices to raise awareness about the situation. We stand in solidarity with them and the resilient people of Ukraine.
The war with Russia has been ongoing in Ukraine for almost a year now. In the lead-up to February 24th, there were a lot of news reports warning us about the possibility of Russian invasion in Ukraine. Despite my hopes that it wouldn't happen, I knew that it was a very real possibility.
February 24th was a shocking and devastating day as I found out that the war had indeed broken out. I was living in Kyiv at that time, where I still reside. Those first three weeks of the war were truly tough, horrific, and marked by extreme hardship. Unfortunately, my wife's parents, sister, nephew, my cousins, and their families were captured during the occupation of the Kyiv region. It was a really scary time, and for forty long days, they had to survive on the bare minimum basic necessities like water, heating, electricity and even food.
In the aftermath of the initial shock of the war's outbreak, the people of Ukraine banded together to support their nation's forces and anyone living in the occupation zones. My wife and I felt compelled to do our part and started volunteering by sending essential supplies such as food and medication to our relatives and other people in those areas. We knew that by working together, we could help alleviate some of the suffering caused by the conflict and make a small difference in the lives of those affected by it.
During the Spring holiday on March 8th, my friends and I created the coat of arms of Ukraine in the center of the city using colorful tulips. Our aim was to inspire and bring hope to our fellow Ukrainians for a better future. Even when Kyiv was under siege, the Ukrainian people didn't lose hope or courage, showing incredible strength in the face of adversity.
Fast forward to April, things were still tense but when the Russian forces finally left Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions after their loss, we felt some relief. Even during the worst moments, we never lost hope or courage.
Following the end of the occupation, I went to visit my relatives and was relieved to find that everyone was in good health.
The period of spring and summer was peaceful for us in Kyiv, as we didn't experience any rocket attacks except on August 24th, the Independence Day of Ukraine. Sadly, things changed dramatically after Ukrainian troops liberated the Kharkiv and Kherson regions. The Russian forces, out of anger and for reasons unknown, started to attack our energy infrastructure, hospitals and residential buildings. Then, they targeted innocent civilians simply because they were Ukrainian and not Russian.
Since October 10th, 2022, almost every city in Ukraine has been subjected to rocket attacks every 1-3 weeks. It was a tough time for us during the beginning of autumn. We experienced power outages for over 12, 24, and sometimes 50 hours, as the Russians were targeting our centralized heating centers along with the energy infrastructures. There were days when my flat was without water, electricity, and heating, where I'd sleep in temperatures as low as 12 degrees. But as a nation, we remained resilient and resourceful. Businesses and individuals started to invest in individual generators, heaters, and Starlinks for internet access, adapting to the challenging situation we were in.
The current situation in my city and country has been better but remains far from ideal, as we are still being hit by rockets every two weeks. Despite this, I have been doing my best to help those affected by the conflict. I have been volunteering at the Army of Volunteers center, assisting people who have lost their homes, as well as manufacturing and distributing cooking tiles and stoves to the Ukrainian military in the trenches. In order to stay safe while I am working in these tumultuous times, I have been spending my days in a bomb shelter but still continue to do everything in my power to make sure those around me are taken care of.
The Ukrainian population has faced one of the toughest winters in modern times, but we remain strong and hopeful in our determination to come out victorious.
On February 24, I woke up around 5 a.m. from a powerful explosion. My neighbor knocked on the door and told me that a war had started because Russia had attacked our country. A minute later, several more explosions were heard. I was scared and couldn't believe that such a devastating event could still take place in the 21st century. I quickly and anxiously packed my backpack, grabbed my documents, a flashlight, a laptop, water, some food, and warm clothes before making my way to a shelter.
We were scrolling through the news to understand what was happening because of constant explosions. At the time, I lived in the government quarter but the location wasn't very safe, so I decided to go to my friend's home in the suburbs. They had a private house with a basement. About 15 people gathered there. We furnished the basement with improvised beds to sleep in because we knew it would be too dangerous to stay in the bedrooms.
We covered all the windows in each room with blankets and tried not to turn the lights on as there was light masking. We stayed in the basement most of the time and only went upstairs to use the restroom or get food. We decided to buy sewing machines and set up a sewing workshop where we could sew buffs for the soldiers.
We stayed in my friend’s basement for about two weeks but as we were not far from Bucha, staying there was very risky. Some of my friends decided to go abroad, but I decided to return to my apartment. We did our best to support each other and remained in touch. Our mornings began with a message to friends asking how we were, to which the answer was, hopefully, 'Alive'.
The first months of the war were really scary but over time, the sound of the air alarm became something casual and familiar. Each of us went through a period where we became tired of being afraid and chose to keep on living, adapting to the new conditions.
Eventually, you get used to living in the countryside during war. Soon came the realization that the outcome of the war depended on each of us. Therefore, we tried to do everything we could - volunteer, wove camouflage nets, prepare food for the soldiers, and many other things.
During the massive rocket attacks, we hid in the subway, which became our shelter. We sang the national anthem of Ukraine together as a way to encourage one another and keep the fighting spirit. We became stronger as a nation. System blackouts began in autumn and enormous missile attacks on infrastructure facilities damaged power plants in the country, causing power shortages.
I decided to leave the country in November and temporarily stay in Romania. I am very grateful to people from all over the world who support Ukraine and my fellow Ukrainians.
Sadly, many people died in this war. Almost every Ukrainian has lost a loved one, home, and peace. Many are currently living in other countries, awaiting the opportunity to return home. Each of us believes in victory and continue to do everything we can to bring us closer to it.