Last updated on June 14, 2023
Editor’s Note: This article is a part of the Holos Project, a four-way partnership (ENGin, The Los Angeles Times Insider, Published Points of View, The Outspoken) established to empower the voices of Ukrainian students across the world through one-on-one journalism mentorship. This article was written by Anna Maksymchuk from Ukraine with the mentorship of Joonha Lee from the United States. “Holos” is the Ukrainian word for “Voice”.
My name is Anna, I am 16 years old and I am from Ukraine. The whole world knows about the war in my Motherland, but not many people actually realize what a disaster it is. Well, I will tell you my story.
On February 24, 2022, I woke up to shots. Kyiv was bombarded from 5:00 A.M. in the morning. I don’t remember much about what happened before that fateful morning. Life was divided into “before” and “after”.
I woke up and ran to my parents. They were in the kitchen. Mom said that war had started and that they were going to the nearest store to make a strategic stock of essentials. No one knew what would happen next – no one. When they closed the front door, I was left alone, with my brother and sister still asleep. I lay and listened. The sounds outside the window were like a distant salute – but they were shelling.
After my parents had returned, my dad went to work. He is a doctor and people needed his help. We started to lower the basic necessities – blankets, food, and medicine – to the basement. This day was the first day of anxiety, despair, and uncertainty. We spent the night in the shelter: my sister and I slept together on the floor. In the morning, Dad returned from work. That day, relatives from the north of Ukraine came to us. We lived in the basement together for 8 days, which merged into one endless day. We constantly heard explosions, doors rattled as a result, and our hearts ached from the news. For some time there was no water or electricity.
My parents usually met with neighbors, and we supported each other and communicated. We were together because being together is easier and more reliable. We shared food and news. Relatives phoned us, and we tried to maintain contact. Contact is what kept us up.
Then my father said that we are going to the west of Ukraine, where it is safer. We covered a distance of 350 kilometers in 23 hours, and the drivers headed west almost without sleep. We were on the road for a very long time, because there were an incredible number of families escaping together with their small children, elderly people, and pets.
We arrived at night, with 13 people, two cats, and a parrot. We stayed at my grandmother’s house. Many people, saving themselves from the war, stayed in this house before and after our arrival: distant acquaintances, friends, and just ordinary people. The war united everyone. Ukrainians helped each other as much as they could. During one of the nights, 24 people slept in a single house! Grandma’s house became a shelter for dozens of refugees from the east of Ukraine, and not only. There they were fed and warmed, they found shelter there.
We lived in the Ukrainian West for about a month and then returned to Kyiv. Now, a year has passed since we left. During this time, an incredible amount of things have happened, to millions of Ukrainians – millions of unique stories, stories of grief, despair, and losses, but also victories.
There are those from the west and those from the east, from the north or from the south of Ukraine, those who went abroad or who remained under occupation, those who heroically held the defense of Chernihiv, those who voluntarily stood in lines at the military commissariats since February 24, those civilians who made “Molotov cocktails” just in the streets, being ready to defend their native land, those who had to hide with little children in underground shelters; those who performed operations on the wounded under fire, those who survived the occupation without electricity, water, or food, and, of course, those who defend our freedom and those who defended.
We will always remember everybody. We will always remember every participant in the defense of the Ukrainian capital, which the Russian occupiers wanted to forcibly take for 3 days, but the capital still stands. Every child raped, killed, maimed, or forcibly removed by the invaders. Every person who was in the Mariupol Drama Theater, a Ukrainian shelter, was bombed, despite “Children” being displayed in giant letters at the front. Every fighter of the legendary Azovstal Metallurgical Combine, an important iron and steel factory, who resided in those dungeons with limited access to water, medicine, and food, wounded military and civilians were under fire for about a month. Every defender who protected any city in Ukraine.
We will never forgive what Russia has done on Ukrainian lands. We will never forget that the occupiers shelled nuclear power plants, exposing not only Ukrainians, but the whole world to incredible danger, that they shamelessly poured mud on our state, its right to exist, and the right to life of the Ukrainian people. We will never forget the mass killings of civilians in Buchi. Or how at least 182 educational institutions were destroyed, 570 health care facilities and 18,000 infrastructure facilities were damaged, and 651 residential buildings were completely demolished – all only in the first six months of the war.
We will never forgive the Russians who forced the inhabitants of the occupied Ukrainian territories to fight against Ukraine, that at least 15,000 people went missing and all the numerous atrocities committed by Russians on Ukrainian lands. The Russians destroyed houses and memorials, bombed cities and the future of our children, shot up maternity hospitals, and destroyed our dreams. But they will never overcome our faith, unity, our power, and resilience. We will never forgive what the Russians did to Ukraine, just as we will never forget how the world accepted Ukrainian refugees.
On February 24, everyone made a choice: every person, every country, the whole world. We discovered who is who: who is a real friend, who is an enemy, who is reliable, and who is indifferent. Ukraine has found many friends and like-minded people in the international arena, those with whom he has been fighting for his freedom, independence, and truth side by side for more than a year. It’s already been a whole year.
The support of American society is incredibly important to us. Understanding, helping, and fighting together against the enemy is what unites us and keeps us going. We are extremely grateful to the USA for effective support – weapons, equipment, sanctions, military equipment, and financial assistance, which it has repeatedly provided and continues to provide. We watched with admiration as American President Biden came to Kyiv. This means a lot to every Ukrainian. Every day, reading the news, I feel the presence of this support from the United States. I realize that we are not alone in this fierce struggle, and that this war worries every continent and the whole world.
I believe that we have stood up for the truth and we want peace and silence to come. We don’t want to hear explosions or aerial alarms overhead, to be afraid to go to bed, to shudder at the news of offensives, to see tears, to see blood, to see war. But despite power cuts and curfews, aerial alarms, and missile attacks, we work, study, support, and continue to live. Sometimes, we have to go down to the school basement three times a day because of the shelling of Ukrainian cities, and we study in these shelters while the Ukrainian military defends our opportunity to live in a free country. Someone in Ukraine, someone abroad; someone at the military front, someone at the factory, someone in the kitchen, someone at the computer, and someone in the truck – everyone in their place, working for peace.
There are Ukrainian blue-yellow flags over the liberated city of Kherson, which was under occupation for 8 months, separated from Ukraine, without communication, without news, but with faith. Tears of joy on the cheeks of children when their parents return from the war, indescribable happiness of mothers after the exchange of captives, drawings, and letters created by children’s hands to the front, daily donations to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and most importantly – our spirit of unity – these are all the things that motivate us to move towards Victory.
“…It was dark. It was loud. It was difficult for many, scary for somebody… It can still be dark, loud and difficult for us. But we will definitely never be afraid again…”
President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky
We believe in a bright future, in our armed forces, and in justice. And we know that it depends on each of us. We will fight for the future of Ukrainian children, for the peaceful old age of grandparents, for the childhood that was taken from us, and for the happy moments that were taken away from us. In a war against an aggressor, everyone counts. Cut by a bloody war, the confident face of Ukraine proudly looks the enemy in the eye and with the whole world supporting it.
“…Keep fighting—you are sure to win!
God helps you in your fight!
For fame and freedom march with you,
And right is on your side!..”