Five Ukrainians share how their lives have changed two years into war

Posted on : 2024-02-27 17:05 KST Modified on : 2024-02-27 20:13 KST
The Hankyoreh reached out to five Ukrainians it met while reporting on the ground in Kyiv, Lviv and the country’s border with Poland after the outbreak of war to see how their perceptions have changed as the war passes the two-year mark
Maryna Pasichnyk meets with her husband in Kharkiv, Ukraine, to celebrate their second wedding anniversary on Oct. 8, 2022. She had fled to Lviv at the time and taken a train after work on Friday to meet her husband, who was stationed in Kharkiv, for a few hours the next day. (courtesy of Maryna Pasichnyk)
Maryna Pasichnyk meets with her husband in Kharkiv, Ukraine, to celebrate their second wedding anniversary on Oct. 8, 2022. She had fled to Lviv at the time and taken a train after work on Friday to meet her husband, who was stationed in Kharkiv, for a few hours the next day. (courtesy of Maryna Pasichnyk)

Two years have passed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine touched off a bloody conflict, and soon the third spring of the war will come to Ukraine.
 
Maryna Pasichnyk, a 39-year-old from Saltivka, a large city located in the northeastern region of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine and current battle zone, has, for the past two springs, lost a baby each year.
 
“The Russian military is taking away our dream of becoming loving parents,” she says. 
 
Soldiers are being redeployed to the battlefield even after sustaining wounds, and some are struggling to adjust to life in an unfamiliar environment.
 
The war in Ukraine, which was triggered by Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country on Feb. 24, 2022, is now two years old. Ukrainian forces launched a counter-offensive in June 2023, but are struggling as support from the West has been delayed while Russian forces have reorganized its battle lines.
 
There appears to be no end to the war in sight. 

The Hankyoreh has covered the situation from the capital of Kyiv, the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine, and Poland’s border with the war-torn country. Two years after the outbreak of the war, the Hankyoreh reached out to those Ukrainians that our reporters encountered while reporting on the ground to ask them about their lives, about the changes they’ve seen. A soldier on the front lines spoke of the gory and gritty details of life at war. 

All interviews were conducted online in February.  

War takes another child

Pasichnyk experienced a miscarriage in March 2022. It was shortly after the outbreak of the war on Feb. 24 of that year, when Russian forces crossed the border and advanced toward the city of Kharkiv, clashing with Ukrainian forces and shelling the city indiscriminately. She was 13 weeks pregnant. Her unborn child’s heart was beating with no problems up until the sixth day of the war. The doctor said that severe stress had caused the miscarriage. 

It was like she’d been struck by lightning. 

The tragedy did not end there. Last spring, two years after the war broke out, she lost another child. She left the stillborn baby in her womb, hypnotized by the vague hope that perhaps a miracle would bring it back to life, for a week after she heard the news. The couple’s hopes were reduced to ashes. Just like their home that had been shelled by the Russians. 

Maryna Pasichnyk returned to her hometown of Kharkiv last year. She can be seen working in this photo, but said that she had to quit working at the moment due to the intensification of shelling. (courtesy of Maryna Pasichnyk)
Maryna Pasichnyk returned to her hometown of Kharkiv last year. She can be seen working in this photo, but said that she had to quit working at the moment due to the intensification of shelling. (courtesy of Maryna Pasichnyk)

The Hankyoreh first spoke with Pasichnyk near the end of the first year of the war. She was working for an organization that helped internally displaced persons in Lviv. As someone who was forced to flee her home, she found meaning in helping others in her situation. Through acquaintances, she even managed to find a new place to live. 

Yet her troubles continued. Most of the money she earned was spent on a continually skyrocketing rent. More than anything, she missed her family. Her parents had already returned in the fall, after Ukrainian forces retook the city. Last year, after her husband was discharged from the military, they returned to Kharkiv for the first time in a year and three months. 

The city they returned to took heavy shelling, day after day. Pasichnyk mentioned that she “heard two explosions” as she was writing her responses to our reporter’s questions. The upcoming spring will likely be filled with daily air-raid sirens, the sky filled with Russian missiles — business as usual. Yet Pasichnyk still hasn’t given up hope on being a mother.

“I’m going to recover my health and become a mother. I will not give up,” she vowed.

“I will protect myself until the day Ukraine emerges victorious in this war.”

According to the International Organization for Migration, around 3.67 million people remain internally displaced in Ukraine as of September 2023. Around 4.57 million have returned to their place of habitual residence.   

Driven by the dream of going back home with your brothers — alive

When Ukrainian soldiers recovered Pasichnyk’s hometown of Kharkiv in September 2023, Anton Parambul, 43, was on the battlefield as a soldier in Ukraine’s 1st Special Purpose Brigade. Parambul served in the battle of Bakhmut, a 10-month bloodbath that’s considered by many to be the bloodiest battle of the war. He also fought in the Serebryansky Forest, which separated the Ukrainian troops from the Russian-occupied city of Kreminna. He was injured in Bakhmut, but he escaped with his life. The comrades who fought alongside him are still hospitalized. Oleksandr, the commander who led the troops that evacuated him, died in battle. 

Anton Parambul and another soldier snapped this photo while carrying out an operation. The sign reads: “Warning! This is the Ukrainian border.” (courtesy of Anton Parambul)
Anton Parambul and another soldier snapped this photo while carrying out an operation. The sign reads: “Warning! This is the Ukrainian border.” (courtesy of Anton Parambul)

Parambul was recently reassigned to the 47th Mechanized Brigade, which led a major counter-offensive last year. 

“Every day, the invaders try to overrun us from Stepove,” he told us, referring to a village in the  Donetsk Oblast in eastern Ukraine.

A force of two or three armored vehicles, such as infantry fighting vehicles and tanks, accompanied by over 100 troops will launch an assault to overrun Parambul and his brigade at least twice a month. According to Parambul, the Russian troops bury their fallen comrades under the ruins of fallen houses in the village, which has since been reduced to a barren field scattered with artillery craters and shelled buildings.

“There has to be at least 2,000 of them buried out there. The Russians seem to have no regard for the lives of their soldiers. They just keep putting them through the meat grinder. There will be many more deaths going forward,” he says. 

Parambul volunteered to serve on the front lines shortly after Russia invaded his country. When asked if he was afraid for his life, he responded, “Yes, I’m afraid.” 

“However, if I show my fear, my comrades will also become afraid. I think of the day when I can return home alive with my brothers, and that keeps me focused exclusively on my mission,” he said. 

Anton Parambul, while serving in Ukraine’s 1st Special Purpose Brigade, carries out his duties near the Ukraine-Russia border near Belgorod in Russia. Behind him is Oleksandr, who later died during duty last year. (courtesy of Anton Parambul)
Anton Parambul, while serving in Ukraine’s 1st Special Purpose Brigade, carries out his duties near the Ukraine-Russia border near Belgorod in Russia. Behind him is Oleksandr, who later died during duty last year. (courtesy of Anton Parambul)

Parambul, who is ensnared in a battle that’s now lasted for more than 700 days, admits that he is tired. But he says he will not quit. 

People on the outside talk about negotiating for an end to the war, but that’s unimaginable to anybody on the inside, Parambul said. Having seen the Russians consistently go back on their word, the Ukrainians no longer trust any compromise or truce they offer. His dream is to go back home after Ukraine emerges victorious from the war. He will return to his family and take up farming. 

“God willing,” he said, he will raise his third child. 

Even when my next day could be my last, I have no intention of leaving my country

When Parambul is fighting on the front lines, Svitlana Legka, 46, of the Territorial Defense Forces has spent the past two years “on the front lines and on the roads to the front lines.” Before the war, Legka was a ballerina who taught dance at a university. When the Russians invaded, she enlisted in the Territorial Defense Forces. When we met her in June 2022 in Borodyanka, she told us she was in the process of delivering relief and medical supplies. Since then, her job has changed. She founded a charity organization to support the troops. The organization purchases and collects relief supplies and transports them to where they’re needed. When the Kakhovka Dam was breached and destroyed in June 2023, she traveled to the region to provide on-site support for relief efforts.  

As she constantly travels to the front, we asked her about the situation. 

“The soldiers are tired,” she said. “They want to return to their homes, their families, their relatives. But not before killing the enemy.” 

On Dec. 23 of last year, she concluded a lifelong promise with her fiance, who is currently serving on the front lines. When he proposed to her a year and a half ago, she responded, “I’ll marry you when the war ends.” But along the way, she changed her mind. Ultimately, she walked down the aisle not because the war was over, but because her next day could be her last. 

“My next day could be my last. Why should I delay my happiness and joy?” she said. 

Legka’s health has deteriorated as the war drags on. When asked about opportunities to flee to another country, she balked.  

“I have no desire to leave. There is a war going on in my country. I am needed here. I am useful here,” came her response. 

Artists associated with Svitlii, Svitlana Legka's charity foundation, pose for a photo after giving a performance for border troops in Lyman, in Donetsk, on June 13, 2023.
Artists associated with Svitlii, Svitlana Legka's charity foundation, pose for a photo after giving a performance for border troops in Lyman, in Donetsk, on June 13, 2023.

Svitlana Legka and her partner Sergei were married on the front line of the war on Dec. 31, 2023, where he was serving. (courtesy of Svitlana Legka)
Svitlana Legka and her partner Sergei were married on the front line of the war on Dec. 31, 2023, where he was serving. (courtesy of Svitlana Legka)

Another kind of war: Life as a refugee

Yet not everybody is as strong as Legka. All over Ukraine, mothers have to make tough decisions to protect their children. Even if it means giving up everything. Since the war broke out, over 6 million Ukrainians have fled to other neighboring countries in Europe. Most of them are women and children. As of November 2023, approximately 4.2 million Ukrainian refugees are living under the European Union’s temporary protection scheme. 

Natalia Kirichenko, 48, has spent the past two years in Berlin with her daughter Mascha, who was a university student when the war broke out. 

When the Hankyoreh visited the family a year early at Christmastime, Kirichenko’s father Oleksandr, who is in his 70s, was with them. Now only the mother and daughter were there, after the father had to return to his hometown of Zaporizhzhia to care for his older sister.

The situation on the ground there is extremely difficult. “They’re only around 40 kilometers from the combat zone, so apparently there’s non-stop bombardment,” they explained.

Natalia and Mascha pose for a photo with a family from Odesa they met and live with in Berlin, Germany, for the first birthday of the family’s son in August 2023. (courtesy of Natalia)
Natalia and Mascha pose for a photo with a family from Odesa they met and live with in Berlin, Germany, for the first birthday of the family’s son in August 2023. (courtesy of Natalia)

Kirichenko’s younger brother Bohdan was recently called up for military service. As luck would have it, her husband was ruled out for mobilization due to heart issues.

With the help of the German government and community, the mother and daughter received a new place to stay. They are currently living with Ukrainian neighbors from Odesa. The government provides not only a residence but also support with costs for things like language classes and insurance.

Kirichenko, who worked in education for 25 years in Ukraine, has currently completed the intermediate B1 level of German instruction. She hopes to find work at a German school as her abilities improve.

While they are not facing the imminent threat of death in a shelling attack, life in a foreign land can sometimes seem like a battle. In particular, they had to work hard to avoid collapsing when her daughter Mascha developed mental health issues while staying at a refugee center.

Indeed, visiting the Tegel refugee center provided an up-close glimpse at how people were losing hope after having an ordinary life taken away from them. Some resorted to drinking and drugs, remaining awake around the clock yet not knowing what to do.

Mascha’s situation has improved significantly after three months of focused therapy, but she will still need to undergo another two years’ worth or more.
 
As high prices drain funds, some contemplate moving elsewhere

Kateryna Polishchuk, 35, has remained in Kyiv ever since the war began. These days, she has been considering moving away.

“Wages are so low and prices are rising very quickly, so it’s been tough to survive,” she explained. “I’m considering relocating to get a job overseas.”

Before the war, she never felt that her pay was not enough. Now everything has become expensive, including food and daily essentials. In the past, she made regular donations to the military and companies making drones; today, she no longer has the money.

She feels the situation could improve for her if she can make money in euros or dollars by working overseas. It would also allow her to help out her family.

Kateryna Polishchuk takes a selfie in a bookshop in Kyiv in October 2023. (courtesy of Kateryna Polishchuk)
Kateryna Polishchuk takes a selfie in a bookshop in Kyiv in October 2023. (courtesy of Kateryna Polishchuk)

She shared her memory of the blackouts that occurred in October of the war’s first year, when Russia launched large-scale air attacks on major Ukrainian energy infrastructure ahead of the winter.

“The big difference now compared with then is that the skies over the capital and the energy infrastructure have regained some stability through missile air defense systems provided by Western allies,” she explained.

Another change is the fact that people are now on the alert not only against Russia but also against “internal enemies.” Local media have reported on scandals involving corruption among government officials, including activities involving military supplies.

“It just infuriates me,” Polishchuk said.

“It doesn’t help our chances of victory at all if those people are siphoning off the money that’s supposed to go to the military. I wish the government would not get in the way of the armed forces,” she added.

The Ukrainians that I spoke to were struggling and weary after two years of warfare, but they still held out hopes for victory.

Polishchuk said, “My parents lived under Russian rule, and now children are living the same sort of life.”

“Things are repeating themselves. It’s because of the presence of Russia,” she continued.

Kirichenko stressed, “There are people who say we should reach a cease-fire and freeze the borders, but it’s the Ukrainian people who were burdened with this war who should set the conditions in terms of how the war will end.”

Legka emphasized that the war was not Ukraine’s issue alone.

“I wish the people of the world would not be apathetic,” she said.

“We did not choose this fate for ourselves. Any other country could suffer the same kind of carnage.”

By Noh Ji-won, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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