One year ago, after Russia invaded Ukraine, New York Magazine asked 30 young people in Ukraine to share their experiences of life under siege. Since then, Ukrainians, who continue to beat back Vladimir Putin’s army, have endured a Russian campaign of atrocities against civilians — bombings of electrical grids, razings of residential neighborhoods, murder, rape, torture, and deportation. More than 5 million Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes and start over in new cities or regions, and more than 8 million have crossed the border entirely. We spoke with a group of our original subjects to hear how their lives have changed since February 24, 2022.
Inna Zadorozhna, 26, virtual assistant
Before the invasion: Cherkasy.
Last March, I left my home in the center of Ukraine and went to Bulgaria. I noticed that people in Bulgaria are not welcoming toward Ukrainians, especially the older generation. I was in Bulgaria when Bucha happened, and I heard one older Bulgarian woman mocking it, saying how staged it was. That was the moment I made my decision to leave. In April, I moved to Estonia, and kind people helped me get settled. Now I’m learning Estonian. Since I’ve left home, I feel guilty for every moment of pleasure. You get instant regret, so finally you stop feeling pleasure. Most of my friends who left Ukraine have this feeling too.
My parents are still in Ukraine. Our hometown is in a rather safe place; despite the daily air raids and lack of electricity, life continues. Still, I worry about them and miss them terribly. I asked them to come to me multiple times, but they said they will never leave their home no matter what. Because of the electricity issues, sometimes I have problems speaking with them. It seems they are already used to the new way of life, to the air raids and darkness.
Yehor Shatailo, 29, stand-up comic
Before the invasion: Kyiv.
Now: Kyiv Oblast.
A mental breakdown — that’s what happened. Rumination is a longtime condition of mine: Even before the war, I could pick up a thought and ruminate all day, my thoughts moving in a circle. Before the invasion, I was ruminating about COVID, and before COVID, it was climate change and AI. Now I ruminate about two things: rockets and a second assault from the Belarusian border to the north. But mostly rockets. They changed me for the worse.
About a month ago, I started taking medication for anxiety and depression, and now I’m under supervision from a psychiatrist. I had to take a break from comedy because of my mental condition — I couldn’t write jokes, I couldn’t think about anything but safety — but now it’s coming back a bit. Some of my jokes are about early wartime, when we were asking for weapons from the West. Every time we asked for weaponry, we had to engage in a philosophical debate: What is considered a tank? What is or isn’t a plane? We couldn’t have a plane, but when we asked for plane parts, the West said “yes.” So couldn’t they just give us an F-16 without a coffee holder?
We get a rocket every one or two weeks. Last night, there was one, but I was sleeping. Every time I sleep through rockets, I feel lucky.
Mariia Shuvalova, 29, Ph.D. candidate, university lecturer, and acquisitions editor
Before the invasion: Kyiv.
I have electricity! It’s amazing. For the first time since October, we’ve had electricity for four days in a row.
In October, there was a total blackout in the whole city for three days, no power anywhere. Later, there was a shutdown schedule. If there was only a little bit of Russian bombardment, we’d have planned shutdowns, maybe just four hours of electricity at night and four during the day. If the Russians were bombing us severely, we’d have emergency schedules.
I wasn’t able to do my work because there was no internet, but I found an office that bought Starlink and power generators. They were letting freelancers rent spots in the hallways of this business center, so I worked in the corridors with other people and their dogs. I’d do Zoom calls in a closet and teach classes in there. This co-working space was located near the university, which seemed pretty safe, but it was bombed on New Year’s Eve. Luckily, they had a bomb shelter and everybody went downstairs and stayed alive.
The whole city has become a co-working space. Starlink and generators have appeared in coffee shops, and almost every restaurant or café allows people to come and work. They have one menu in case there is electricity and one menu in case there isn’t. We’ve been working in gas stations, or you can go to the supermarket or the post office or hardware store and they’ll allow you to charge your devices and work a bit. It’s completely okay to take your hair dryer to the post office and use it there, to bring your kitchen stuff to an appliance store to defrost meat. Every spot in the city might be your kitchen, the place you put on makeup; you can sleep everywhere, work everywhere.
My brother, who is on the front lines, is still alive, but a lot of people from his unit are not. My husband is working and going to military trainings because you never know when he will be mobilized, and it’s much better to train now than to not know how to shoot and to then be killed during the first week, you know?
Anastasiia Viekua, 28, Pilates instructor
Before the invasion: Kyiv.
Now: Tsawwassen, Canada.
My dad was released from the hospital recently. He had volunteered to fight on the first day, and at some point he was sent to the east of Ukraine. I heard that artillery had been prioritized to different territories, and my dad was in an area with no artillery. At the end of November, Russian tanks approached them and they had no defense. He was shelled, and now he has brain damage. His social skills are definitely weird now, and you never know what kind of consequences you can have later. Now he’s recovering at home in Lviv.
Still, everyone is alive. Last March, when there were a lot of explosions, I saw a post on Facebook from a woman in the Vancouver area who was hiring a Pilates instructor. We arranged a Zoom, and it felt like a match, so I’ve been here since. My dad’s wife, my stepmom, moved with her three kids to New York. My stepson is now in Belgium with his grandma. And my husband is still in Ukraine. I’m definitely afraid for our marriage: The longer he stays, the more he says he wants to be in Ukraine. And I want to go back as well. We have a ten-hour time difference, and sometimes, when I see attacks have started from Russia, I just don’t go to sleep — that way, I can check in with everyone to know they were not hit.
Liana Muradian, 25, medical student
Before the invasion: Ivano-Frankivsk.
Now: Nantes, France.
I left Ukraine last March and was advised to come to Nantes because it is not a very big city and refugees will be helped. My mother was in Kherson, our hometown, which was under Russian occupation. She made four attempts to leave and each time was not allowed — there were Russian checkpoints that did not let people out. But on the fifth try, she was successful. Her journey to Nantes was even longer than mine, and she arrived frightened and not herself. For the first months, she did not believe that she was safe, just like me. We were afraid of the sound of airplanes, hail, or lightning. There were almost no conversations.
In the past year, I became ten years older. My mother and I switched roles; I do all the important things because my mother does not know the language here. I go to doctors as a translator; I deal with all bureaucratic matters. An association helped us with housing, and now we live with a French family. My university is allowing me to continue online.
We have friends left in Kherson. There’s shelling every day, and the houses of our neighbors have been partially destroyed. Many people are forced to abandon their homes, because if they don’t, the Russian troops will take their cars or settle in their homes. Every evening before going to sleep, I remember the streets and buildings of my hometown, because I am afraid that I will forget and then the Russians will have taken everything from me.
Daria Holovatenko, 19, student
Before the invasion: Avdiivka.
For the past year, my family and I have been in Novomoskovsk. We live in a recreation center with 17 of our family and friends, and each family has its own small room. We are used to it, but I really want to go home to my own apartment, lie down on my favorite bed, and drink from my mug.
Lesyk Yakymchuk, 30, NGO director
Before the invasion: Ohio.
I’m still volunteering. When the war started, I left my graduate program in Ohio and came back to Ukraine to help soldiers and civilians with first aid. Today, we’re also organizing training for soldiers: how to use a first-aid kit, tourniquets, bandages during battle.
I’m in contact with my university, and I hope that the war will be over this year and that I can complete my studies. At the same time, I don’t know how I’ll be able to. I’ve changed completely. Before the war, I was shy and introverted, and now people see me as someone who can help — my phone number is everywhere, and everybody calls me. It’s easier to act, and I’m more confident, but at the same time, I’m more lost. I’m so sad that the soldiers are wasting their time, their brains, their lives on this shit. And I am, too. I turned 30 a few days ago, and this war stole a year of my life.
Danyil Zadorozhnyi, 27, poet and journalist
Before the invasion: Lviv.
In Lviv, everything is relatively calm compared to Kyiv or cities closer to the front lines. I live in the same place I lived before with my partner and our cat. There is occasional shelling and weekly air-raid alerts, but not a lot of people pay attention to the sirens. A lot of businesses are closing, but if you didn’t know about it, it’d be hard to tell there’s a war going on; visually, everything looks the way it did before. There are a lot of tourists here again.
Still, I think everyone has come to terms with the fact that the war is going to go on for a long time. My parents and younger brother are in the E.U. now. My friends have scattered among different cities; some joined the army and are still in training. Some are no longer living. There’s a dire shortage of military aid. I personally am very ashamed that I haven’t joined up, but I don’t want to lose any more control over my own life than I already have.
Svyatoslav Fursin, 25, IT engineer and former member of the Territorial Defense Forces
Before the invasion: Kyiv.
My wife and I spend more time together now that I don’t have to go on military trips for weeks. Most of my time goes to studying web technology and working on small outsource projects — when we have electricity, of course. As much as possible, we are helping our local Territorial Defense Forces. Technically, we are not members, but we still have equipment and arms and are ready to go fight again if needed.
Julia Berdiyarova, 29, museum worker
Before the invasion: Kyiv and Odesa.
Now: Cologne, Germany.
There’s a group of curators in Cologne preparing a big exhibition about Ukrainian modernism, and they invited me to work on it with them. I’ve been here since May, and I have a contract for a year. The first few months in Germany were surreal. I came from Odesa, a city that was preparing for the worst-scenario invasion: We saw how close the Russian warships were getting. I came from that reality to normal life: people drinking wine in cafés, going to the cinema. Back then, I was not able to be part of normal life; only now can I sometimes live normally.
At the beginning of the invasion, everybody said that “How are you?” was the new “I love you.” But now we’re not able to ask each other even “How are you?” because the question hurts. A lot of people just disappear because they aren’t able to keep up contact. With one of my friends, we didn’t even talk about it — we just disappeared from each other’s lives.
I didn’t know anybody in Cologne, and I understood that if I stayed in such isolation, it would influence me deeply. So I tried to go on dates. But dating here — oh, it’s complicated. Someone asked me on Tinder, “Do you live in Germany, or are you a traveler?” I said, “Neither, I’m a refugee.” And then she just deleted our dialogue. I have energy for easy talk with someone, but I’m absolutely not able to build deep connections with new people. This generation in Germany has never seen war, or revolution, or huge political changes. We’re living in very different worlds.
Viktoriia Khutorna, 25, copywriter
Before the invasion: Kyiv.
We tried to stay in Kyiv, but in June, my district was attacked with missiles, and I was woken up at 6 a.m. by bombing and explosions. After that, I felt I could not stay in those conditions.
I had a friend in Rome, and now I’m here with my mom. The most difficult thing was giving up my apartment in Kyiv. I had lived there for nine years, but I told my landlord, “I don’t know when I’ll be back, and it doesn’t make sense for me to keep paying rent.”
In Rome, we found that there are demonstrations held every Sunday in the central square, and now we go every week to stand with dozens of Ukrainians. We always get on our knees for a song in memory of the Ukrainian soldiers who have died. You live through everything again in that moment.
Masha Varnas, 27, publicist and social-media manager
Before the invasion: Odesa.
I still live in Odesa, and I don’t plan to leave — it’s probably one of the safest cities in Ukraine now. I do not believe in God, but it seems that someone in heaven is protecting us, because at the beginning, many thought that there would be a second Mariupol in Odesa. Still, this state is like sleeping on a powder keg. You get used to the calm, but you always feel a background anxiety.
At the beginning of the war, I was not afraid of anything. But over time, anxiety began to roll in. My panic attacks, which I had since childhood, became more frequent. But I have been successfully fighting panic attacks for several months now. I see a psychotherapist, go horseback riding, bought a gym membership. I don’t drink alcohol and hardly smoke.
My fiancé and I decided that, for now, we will work hard and save up money for a wedding. But even without an official engagement, we are husband and wife, who during the war only fell in love more. We began to quarrel less. War changes priorities; you don’t have time to fight about who does the dishes today.
Petro Chekal, 21, student and photographer
Before the invasion: Kharkiv.
Most of the time, I’m traveling around Ukraine and taking photographs. Every day, the country is being attacked, but it’s more calm than at the beginning; I’m thinking of traveling somewhere closer to the front.
Sana Shahmuradova, 26, painter
Before the invasion: Kyiv.
Even at the beginning of the war, I was afraid for my perception. My curiosity is not how it used to be — it’s hard to be interested in anything not related to Ukraine: other cultures, even art. That’s part of why I pushed myself to leave. Three weeks ago, I left Ukraine for the first time and am now in Dublin for an arts residency.
Leonid, 20, a sociology student, and his older sister, Nasta, 22, a social-media manager
Before the invasion: Kyiv.
Leonid: We’ve lived together almost three years, and until the invasion, we had a lot of fights. At the start of the war, we weren’t friends — mostly it was, “Oh yeah, we’re related, so we better stick together.”
Nasta: We’re actually friends now. We hug a lot, which we didn’t do before. Yesterday at 2 a.m., we were hanging out in the kitchen talking, and that never used to happen.
In ten years, maybe I will be able to process everything, but now it’s too much. Recently, I went to Poland with friends to celebrate the New Year. It was my first visit outside Ukraine since the invasion. We sat in the kitchen of a rented flat, talking about world issues but not directly talking about war, and for a small moment I felt like we were back at my friend’s kitchen in Kyiv hanging out, like nothing bad was happening. And then you’re thrown back — it’s not the same, you’re in Poland, everybody has lost their homes, and my friend’s dad is in the army. Moments like this happen.
Translations by Elina Alter and Iryna Pugachova