Witnessing War Twice in Your 20s

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There’s a saying that every generation has its war. But there are people who have to go through it twice, despite being in their 20s. In this episode of NARA podcast we are talking with Ukrainians who experienced war in 2014 and are living through it again, in 2022, when Russia started a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, continuing its efforts to gain control over the country.

Maya is a student of political science and international relations. She was born in Donetsk. “I saw my future there. I have never thought that I’ll move from this city because it had a good perspective. My parents were building places to live for me, for my brother. My childhood was pretty amazing.”

<p>Maya never came back to Donetsk when the war started in 2014. Istanbul, 2020.</p>

Maya never came back to Donetsk when the war started in 2014. Istanbul, 2020.

In 2014, when the war in Eastern Ukraine began, Maya with her family fled to Dnipro for a year, then to Kyiv. “My parents told me that it's just gonna be for two weeks. 'Think of it as a holiday because you have to go to school, we cannot disrupt your routine.' We went for a holiday and we never came back.”

Now Maya lives in Istanbul but her family is still in Kyiv and faces war again. “They are feeling afraid and useless.”

In Istanbul Maya is volunteering in a humanitarian aid organization. In a warehouse she is loading boxes full of aid to the trucks to Ukraine. She says it’s the only thing she can do now. “I really need to do this because whenever I'm sitting at home, I'm reading the news, getting upset and crying.”

<p>A demonstration in Istanbul to support Ukraine on March 2.</p>

A demonstration in Istanbul to support Ukraine on March 2.

<p>Now Maya is volunteering in a warehouse, where she is loading boxes full of aid to the trucks to Ukraine.</p>

Now Maya is volunteering in a warehouse, where she is loading boxes full of aid to the trucks to Ukraine.

“What is ironic, I always thought about Luhansk as probably the most peaceful place and I couldn't imagine any war starting there,” says Kyrylo, a researcher in political sociology, who was born in Luhansk.

Now he lives in Kyiv. He spends his days in his apartment and nights in the shelter. “Generally speaking I'm ok, I'm safe, but mentally I'm not very ok because all of us are tired. During the first days you get some burst of energy and then you are slowly losing it.”

<p>A view through Kyrylo's window when Russia attacked Kyiv TV Tower on March 1.</p>

A view through Kyrylo's window when Russia attacked Kyiv TV Tower on March 1.

There are thousands of people who are sheltering in metro stations in Kyiv. A communication specialist Vlada spent few nights there when the war just started.

<p>“I made this photo just to keep in mind my condition when I haven't washed for five days, I was in my street clothes, sleeping in it and so on,” Vlada says.</p>

“I made this photo just to keep in mind my condition when I haven't washed for five days, I was in my street clothes, sleeping in it and so on,” Vlada says.

<p>For two days Vlada and her friends were sheltering in the Central Metro Station in Kyiv.</p>

For two days Vlada and her friends were sheltering in the Central Metro Station in Kyiv.

Vlada decided to escape from Kyiv. She and her friend made a last-minute decision to head west. They reached the train going to Lviv. But there was free space only in some of its carriages.

“A train conductor said that we should run to the end of the platform to manage to get into the train. It's around 400 meters. And we were just running from the start of the train to the end. I think it was the scariest thing that I've been through – not bombing, not shooting. The scariest thing is that you can lose the opportunity to be safe.”

They succeeded. They hopped on a train and safely reached Lviv – a destination for many Ukrainians looking for refuge in their own country.

<p>Vlada and her friend made a last-minute decision to head west to Lviv.</p>

Vlada and her friend made a last-minute decision to head west to Lviv.

<p>The train was crowded, there was free space only in some of its carriages.</p>

The train was crowded, there was free space only in some of its carriages.

Vlada's hometown is Kherson, a city in the south of Ukraine near the Crimean Peninsula which was annexed by Russia in 2014. Now it is the first major city captured by Russian forces. Barricaded inside of their house in the city center, her mom and younger sister are still there. “They put mattresses, pillows in front of the windows to stop the bullets.”

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There is a humanitarian crisis in Kherson because the green corridor for humanitarian aid is still not open. “It's really exhausting because you are safe but you don't know what you can do to help your relatives there. You can't help them at all. You can't even put them outside of the city because it's really dangerous.”

<p>Now Vlada is working to spread the message to the world about the Russian invasion. She and her friends are helping people in need to find necessary information.</p>

Now Vlada is working to spread the message to the world about the Russian invasion. She and her friends are helping people in need to find necessary information.

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The voiceover was recorded at Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania.

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