Frightened, alone and sheltering in basements in Kyiv, Marie Claire Ukraine’s editors speak to Gaila Loupan about the reality of the war they are living through…
When the bombs started falling on Ukraine, our first reaction was shock and disbelief, like everyone else around the world. But we also feared for the team behind our sister edition, Marie Claire Ukraine. After a stressful 24 hour wait, we eventually heard back from the team in Kyiv. They informed us that they were bunkered down and keeping safe in shelters, but that they were scared, angry and alone.
Editor-in-Chief Irina Tatarenko asked us to share their stories and to spread word of what was happening to them and their country.
“It is hell,” she explained. “Please, we beg you, spread word of the situation in Ukraine. We need your support so much.”
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech on February 21, Marie Claire Ukraine Brand Director Katerina Lagutina had been uneasy, publishing warning posts to social media and even writing a press release about how Ukraine should join NATO. On February 23, after a long day at the office, Katerina went to the theatre. Life felt normal, but at 4am that night Russian troops entered Ukraine. She was woken up by her phone ringing persistently and when she picked up, her best friend told her flatly that war had started.
“From this point on, I couldn’t tell the date or the day of the week. I could only count like this: first day of the war, second day of the war,” she explained.
Katerina Lagutina comes from Luhansh, in the Donbass region. She moved to Kyiv in 2014, when the war broke out, as she felt safer there. She remembers seeing soldiers “shooting from the roofs of civilian houses” in her hometown when she left. And now it’s happening again, with Katerina forced to take shelter in the basement of her new home.
“There is no protection here, but the reaction of the population has shocked me,” she explained. “Everyone is so calm, everyone is following the rules – even the children don’t cry in the shelters.
“Shops and pharmacies are closed in our district, but we still have water and electricity,” she continued. “People are organizing water supplies and places to sit, and the Internet still works, but not well.”
Liza Prykhodko, a photographer for Marie Claire Ukraine, had a similar experience.
“At first you don’t believe it, and you think that if you go outside you will die immediately,” she recalled. “When I heard the first siren, I just felt nausea. And then the next day, there was the sound of shelling. All I could do was try to reassure my family and friends on the phone. For me it was worse to make them feel anguish than it was to stay in the shelter hearing all the alarms and explosions.
“All we can think about are our loved ones who are not with us, and worry. All we do here is write to each other almost every hour. ‘Are you OK? ‘– ‘Was your building hit?’ – ‘Is everyone alive in your family?’ – ‘Have you managed to sleep, even a little bit?’ – ‘Have you eaten something?’ – ‘We are strong’ – ‘I love you.’ ”
On the first day, the targets were only military infrastructure and airports – something that Liza recalled forced them to put scotch tape on their windows, to prevent their rooms from being filled with broken glass if a bomb falls nearby.
The idea of using scotch tape as bomb protection would seem laughable if it wasn’t so sad. But it does make sense, and there is little else the people can do.
“All we have for protection is our prayers and the people around us,” she explained. “Because nobody expected the aggressor would attack civilians.”
When asked if they saw the war coming, Liza’s answer was a stern and angry “no”, but for Katerina it was slightly different.
“Of course we were afraid of this,” she explained. “We have been living in war for eight years. But this was a total shock to us – we never expected this to happen, not like this. Of course we hope that the world will support us, this is totally insane!”
She continued: “For us it is important that the whole world talks about Ukraine. When we stop talking about it, it will have become normal. We are so much smaller than our enemy. If Putin stops fighting, there will be no war. If we stop fighting, there will be no Ukraine.”
While countries across the world are imposing harsh sanctions on Russia and sending aid and support to Ukraine, the Ukrainian people and their government are having to rely on themselves.
Men and women of all ages are lining up to join the fight and protect their country, including President Vladimir Zelenskyy who chose to stay with his people instead of fleeing the capital city.
When he was offered safe passage out of the country, he is rumoured to have told world leaders: “I need ammunition, not a ride”
This seems to have galvanized the Ukrainian people, who are defending their country with everything they have.
“I feel scared, anxious and angry, but I also feel pride for my country,” Liza explained. The same goes for Katerina, who hailed President Zelenskyy and Ukraine’s army as their protectors, defenders and saviours.
“Now, my feelings are filled with resentment at this injustice,” she explained. “What is happening is unfair to the people of Ukraine. But the main feeling I have is immense pride for our President, Mr. Vladimir Zelenskyy, and our army.”
When asked what the rest of us can do to help them, Liza had one answer:
“Don’t be silent! Be loud! Me and my country are grateful to those who speak up! You can’t imagine how important your support is to us!”
Here’s how you can support people under threat in Ukraine right now.