When the bombs started falling on Ukraine, we, like the rest of the world, felt shock and disbelief. We were devastated for the citizens of Ukraine, and deeply concerned about the staff of our sister publication, Marie Claire Ukraine. Finally, we received word that they were safe and, for now, in shelters. They told us that they felt scared, angry, and alone. “It is hell,” says Irina Tatarenko, editor-in-chief of the Ukraine edition. “Please, we beg you, spread word of the situation in Ukraine. We need your support so much.”
Since Putin’s speech on February 21—in which he recognized two pro-Russia separatist areas of Ukraine as independent republics—brand director Katerina Lagutina had felt uneasy, posting on social media about her fears regarding the political situation and urging that Ukraine be admitted to NATO. After a long day at the office on Wednesday, February 23, she went to the theater. Life still felt normal.
That night at 4 a.m., Russian troops entered Ukraine. Lagutina woke up to her phone ringing. She picked up, and her best friend told her that the war had started. “From this point on, I couldn’t tell the date or the day of the week,” she says. “I could only count like this: first day of the war, second day of the war…”
Lagutina is from Luhansk, in the Donbas region. In 2014, when armed conflict broke out in Ukraine and fighting began along the Russian border, she moved to Kyiv. Initially, she felt safer in the capital. Back in her hometown, Lagutina had seen soldiers firing guns “from the roofs of civilian houses.”
Now it’s happening again, this time in Kyiv, and Lagutina has had to take shelter in the basement of her new home. “There is no protection here,” she says. “But the people’s reaction shocked me: Everyone is so calm, following the rules. Even the children don’t cry in the shelters. People are organizing water supply and 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.”
“At first you don’t believe it, and you think if you go outside you will die immediately,” says Liza Prykhodko, a photographer for Marie Claire Ukraine. “When I heard the first siren, I just felt nauseated. And then the next day, there was the sound of shelling, and all I could do was try to reassure my family and friends on the phone, because for me it is worse that they agonize than it is [for me] to be 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.”
Almost hourly, she says, they reach out to each other, writing and calling, saying things like, “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?” They also say: “We are strong,” and “I love you.”
On the first day of the invasion, the targets were mainly military infrastructure and airports. To avoid being showered with broken glass if a bomb fell nearby, Prykhodko put Scotch tape on the windows of her home—which would seem laughable if it weren’t so sad, she says. But it might help, and there is little else they can do. She adds: “All we have for protection is our prayers and the people around us, because nobody expected [that] the aggressor would attack civilians.”
When asked if she saw the war coming, Prykhodko’s answer is an emphatic, “No!” For Lagutina, things are slightly different. “Of course we were afraid of this,” she says. “We have been living [with] war for eight years. But this was a total shock to us; we never expected this to happen—not like this.”
She and her colleagues hope the rest of the world will support her country. “This is totally insane!” she says of the conflict. “When we stop talking about it, it will 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.”
Other countries have imposed sanctions on Russia and are sending infrastructure to support Ukranians. But so far, the Ukrainian people and government are relying on themselves, rather than foreign troops, to defend their country.
Prykhodko and Lagutina are proud. They’ve watched as lines of men of all ages join the fight and protect their neighborhoods, their country. And they speak of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s bravery—that he refused to flee the quickly besieged capital city. He stayed with his people and is reported to have told those who wanted him to evacuate: “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
These feats have galvanized the Ukrainian people, who are fighting with everything they have. “I feel scared; I feel anxious and angry,” says Prykhodko, “but I also feel pride for my country.”
Lagutina agrees—and she is filled with anger at this “injustice,” she says. “What is happening is unfair to the people of Ukraine. But the main feeling I have is immense pride for our President, Mr. Volodymyr Zelensky, and our army.” Both see them as protectors, defenders, saviors.
But what can the rest of the world do to aid Ukrainians? “Don’t be silent! Be loud!” says Prykhodko. “Me and my country are grateful to those who speak up. You can’t imagine how important your support is to us.”
For information on how to help the people of Ukraine, go to our list of nonprofits and humanitarian organizations to donate to and support.
Galia Loupan is the chief content officer of Marie Claire International, working on brand identity and coordinating content collaboration across Marie Claire editions around the world, including France, the UK, Russia, China, Australia, Argentina, and Turkey, among other countries. She is based in France.
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