06.    Nina (Kyiv)

Ukraine is full of proud, generous, hardworking, talented people who cherish their freedom – people in many ways similar to the British. Our culture has matured over centuries, and though it’s been undermined and distorted, it’s been kept alive to this day because of our people. For hundreds of years the Russian and Soviet empires tried to rewrite our history, appropriate our traditions, destroy our intelligentsia. They even tried to starve us into submission, in our own fertile lands. Because we refused to obey, refused to be reduced to cattle.

Before the war I worked as an interior designer. I hoped to start my own construction company, to design and build premium housing. I remember on the night of the 23rd of February I went to bed late. Around 3am I looked out of the window, and time and space seemed to be frozen. There was no movement, not a breath of wind. I thought: I’ve never known it this quiet. It was so strange. Like just before a storm. And in the morning I got the call from my mother… It had begun... A new life had begun…

I remember the search for a bomb shelter… Nothing nearby… I taped up my windows... The very first missile landed near my house… The walls shaking… You can’t make sense of it, you can’t take decisions...

In these moments instinct takes over, people reach out for their loved ones. My mother and I searched for a safe place to stay, and we found a house with a basement. There were several families there. We all took turns sleeping and monitoring the news... There was one time in each day when we felt truly alive: the communal supper, when everyone, all of us strangers, would come together for a candlelit meal.

I’m living in the UK now, but I know the shelling hasn’t stopped. You’re a thousand miles away, the phone connection often cuts out, and you don’t know where the bombs have landed. For hours you can’t call and check people are OK… It’s hard being separated from relatives and friends. You miss having someone to hold, someone to talk to about your pain... I keep a photo of my parents by my side, and at night I hug the pillow I took from home.

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