Last updated on July 17, 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 Khrystyna Bedriichuk from Ukraine with the mentorship of Chelsea Brack from the United States.“Holos” is the Ukrainian word for “Voice”.
**All interviews were in Ukrainian and translated to English by Khrystyna Bedriichuk**
When we Google adjectives for the word “war”, we see results such as cruel, bloody, horrific, destructive, etc. It looks so hopeless and desperate. But what does it look like not to be on the battlefield or in occupied regions, but still to live in the country during the war? I believe that the best way to understand this experience is to look at real life stories. That’s why today I will talk about life in Ukraine with the example of Ternopil Oblast, a territorial unit in the far west of Ukraine, 1122 km from the frontline in Bakhmut. There is no shelling here. There are no Russians here. There is no urban warfare, but there is still a danger of missile attacks. For example, during the month of January, the air raid siren went off 13 times. But this is not the only issue that bothers people in Ternopil oblast.
If you walk on the streets of Ternopil, you will hear the generators. Due to massive missile attacks and hits to energy infrastructure, the population of Ternopil Oblast (as well as other oblasts) has been suffering from constant power outages. As a result, scheduled and emergency power outages have been adopted. Stores and businesses are looking for ways to adapt their work to this new reality. Internet connections are unstable, so online communication and work have become more difficult and complicated. Many students fled abroad, but they still want to continue their education in Ukraine and hope that they will return home one day. As a consequence, schools and universities are trying to offer different types of educational processes despite the challenges created by war. The quality of life is decreasing, costs are rising, and the economy is in decline. All of these factors have their impact on the life of Ukrainians. To give some better understanding, I asked people in Ternopil and Ternopil oblast to share their stories.
The first person who agreed to give comments was Iryna Ostapiuk, a student from Ternopil National Medical University:
KHRYSTYNA BEDRIICHUK (interviewer): There are many people who left Ukraine. Why did you decide to stay?
IRYNA OSTAPIUK: I decided to stay in Ukraine to become a doctor. It is one of my biggest dreams. However, I feel that now it is much harder to fulfill it and life is quite unpredictable. I have classes from Monday till Friday every week, but some of them are online because not all buildings, where classes were held previously, have a bomb shelter. Due to safety reasons we are studying a few subjects at home (from our homes/own places).
BEDRIICHUK: Do you rent an apartment or do you live in a dorm?
OSTAPIUK: I live in a dorm with a roommate. The friendly atmosphere in my room lifts my spirits. When there was no power, we turned on flashlights. Without power I couldn’t study properly sometimes during the autumn term. We had a longer winter break this year and returned to our studies at the end of January. Now the power supply is going back to normal and I am glad that it is not necessary to adjust my schedule to do simple everyday tasks anymore.
The second person is Anastasiia Medvid, a teacher of English and German languages in a village located 50 km (31 miles) from Ternopil. When the war started she was pregnant and in the spring of 2022, she gave birth to her daughter. Due to the war, Anastasiia hasn’t been able to enjoy motherhood.
KHRYSTYNA BEDRIICHUK (interviewer): How did the war affect your life?
ANASTASIA MEDVID: War has had a negative impact on my life. I discovered that I was pregnant before the full-scale invasion. I was happy and started dreaming about being a mother.
BEDRIICHUK: What exactly changed in your plans?
MEDVID: Before the war, I expected to stay with my baby and go on maternity leave but now I am forced to work due to the rapid increase in prices to buy all of the necessary things and support my family.
BEDRIICHUK: Did anything change for you as a teacher?
MEDVID: It is harder to be a teacher too. Today I came to school and a few minutes after the beginning of the lesson I heard an air raid siren. I went to a bomb shelter with my students immediately. It is cold there as in the majority of basements. I am always worried about the health of my students. At least today there wasn’t a power outage so we didn’t have to spend time in darkness. Since the start of the school year, there have been many air raid alarms. Some children are afraid of missile attacks and start crying when they hear an air raid alarm.
BEDRIICHUK: I know that there were days when children were studying online due to the increased danger of missile attacks. How did you manage to teach students online during power outages?
MEDVID: I used mobile data and tried to charge my laptop before my lessons. However, there were days when I used my car battery as a source of power.
BEDRIICHUK: What about heat? Did you experience any difficulties with that part of life?
MEDVID: No, I am living in a house and have a wood-burning stove. It helps to maintain a heat in my house when there is no power. On the other hand, my neighbors used generators as a source of power and to turn on their heating system, but it is quite expensive. It’s no wonder that some of my colleagues and neighbors left Ukraine in this unstable time. It’s not only a safety concern but an economical one too.
BEDRIICHUK: How do you think migration from Ukraine affects the economy?
MEDVID: I am not sure about the economy, but I know that schools are looking for new teachers, so it definitely affects our education system. Also, there is a shortage of students.
The third interviewee, Halyna Pivtorak, is a pensioner. She is living in Buchach, a small town in the Ternopil region with a population near 10,000 people. Previously, Halyna worked as a nurse for more than forty years. We met in a bomb shelter during an air raid alarm.
KHRYSTYNA BEDRIICHUK (interviewer): Halyna, that’s the second time today that the siren went off. How do you feel about that?
HALYNA PIVTORAK: I believe that this shelter is safe enough to be here, so I am calm. However, I believe that these alarms affect my physical and mental well-being. Sometimes I get a heavy headache without any specific reason. Also, I am constantly worried about my relatives, friends, and neighbors.
BEDRIICHUK: Is anyone from your family and friends a soldier right now?
PIVTORAK: People from my generation are too old to fight with weapons in their arms but a lot of my neighbors or friends, who are as old as I, are volunteers.
BEDRIICHUK: Could you share with me some details of your volunteering experience?
PIVTORAK: Sometimes I spend time in a local volunteer center. People bring things that may be necessary for soldiers such as warm clothes, canned food, tools, and medications there and my role is to sort them. Also, I know that my friends from our community are helping to create special trench candles and weave camouflage nets. And many people are donating money to support our army. The hardest thing for me in volunteering was to adjust to air raid alarms and power outages.
BEDRIICHUK: Are power outages a common situation right now?
PIVTORAK: There has been a significant improvement in power since the start of February. For the first two months of this winter, there were days when I didn’t have power for 6 hours in a row. I am living alone, so I was bored. I was struggling to find a hobby but it is hard to do something without lights.
BEDRIICHUK: Have you used alternative sources of light?
PIVTORAK: Yes, mostly I have used candles. Fortunately, I have a gas boiler and gas stove, so I didn’t have a terrible experience of staying in a cold apartment and waiting for power to heat my flat, cook, or take a shower. On the contrary, my son and his family went through a tough time. Their boiler doesn’t work without power, so when there was no power it was cold in their flat. One more thing that has changed in my life is using my balcony instead of a fridge. As you may know, electrical devices may break from changes in current. Some of my neighbors’ fridges are broken down due to frequent power outages. I turned off my fridge in advance and didn’t use it for two months to prevent it from going the same path.
BEDRIICHUK: It sounds like that was a wise decision. Is there anything else that has changed in your life since February 24th of 2022?
PIVTORAK: There are a few more changes, but they aren’t visible. Last year changed my personality. Now I am more devoted to my son and grandchildren, I am feeling an urge to help others and be a part of my community. The connection with other people makes me stronger and helps to maintain my well-being.
In conclusion of all three stories, I can say that this period of full-scale war changed the lives of all Ukrainians. In my hometown Buchach where Halyna, my third interviewee, lives, there have been 7 official Remembrance days to honor the memory of people that died during the full-scale invasion. It is hard to be insensitive because the people that died aren’t just numbers. They were sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, colleagues, classmates, and neighbors to those in their communities. They were daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers. That is the key to understanding why Ukrainians are so engaged in volunteering and why civilians can’t forget about the war for a day, even when they are a thousand kilometers from the battlefield.