We first spoke to then 26-year-old Natalia in 2022, not long after Russia invaded Ukraine. As one year of war in Ukraine surpassed, we spoke to Natalia again to reflect on the past year and give an update on her situation.
This is part one of a two-part series. To read part one, please visit our website here.
Life is much more difficult now than when we last spoke, although the situation is worse, I’ve become accustomed to living in a war zone. I’ve become used to the sounds of missile attacks, although that’s not to say that they’re not scary anymore, because they definitely are.
We’re still forced to hide underground when the siren sounds, and children with their pets and families will all hide together. We’ve become so used to going underground now that there are some home comforts there: mattresses, chairs, activities to do whilst people wait for the siren to turn off. The difficult part is trying to work around the sirens, as I’ll often be in the middle of a task and then be forced to retreat underground. The intermittent electricity has also made working really difficult, especially when I have to work to deadlines.
As a whole, I’m doing ok. Sometimes I’m ok, sometimes I cry – it depends on the day. Winter is really difficult in Ukraine, so this makes the situation harder.
In October, I was able to leave Ukraine to go to France to visit my cousin with my family, and whilst I was there, I still wanted to go back home. It was difficult for people to believe that I’d want to leave a safe country to go home to a war zone where there are constant shellings and the sound of air raid sirens blast throughout the city, but I just missed my home.
When we last spoke, I was living near Kyiv, but I’ve since moved and I’m now living further away. This still isn’t ideal, and I’m scared that due to shellings targeting infrastructure, my home is going to be hit as I live in an area with something they would target.
I was really hesitant to return to this area of Ukraine. Just a few months ago, there were still rockets flying over our heads, and when it came time to return these memories came flooding back to me. On the train on my way back I remember my heart racing when we got closer to the station in Kyiv. It was a mix of being afraid, but also wondering what would be left.
When we got back it, didn’t look how I imagined. It was the beginning of May 2022 when we returned, and the flowers had blossomed and everything was green and picturesque. When we initially left it was winter and everything was cold and covered in snow.
When we returned, people had returned to the streets as if nothing had happened – only the ruins of former buildings were there to remind us of the invasion.
Things are still far from perfect: there are still shellings, residential buildings are still being targeted, and lives are still being ruined. But I feel somewhat positive and hopeful for the future that we will be able to return to normal. Until then, I’m grateful to everyone supporting Ukraine, donating money and hosting refugees from Ukraine.
I was surprised because Britain is so far away from Ukraine, but it warmed my heart to see how British people supported and continue to support people from Ukraine. We are really grateful for everything they do for us, because we really need it right now.
To read Natalia’s Gallery of the (New) Home submission, please visit our website here.
Millions of people like Natalia have been forced to flee their homes. UNHCR is in Ukraine and neighbouring countries providing lifesaving assistance. Please donate today to support UNHCR’s vital work.