It was a windy Wednesday morning in Kyiv a fortnight ago and 14 journalists from Africa were visiting the National Museum of the Holodomor Genocide.
While learning about the genocide and how the ongoing war in Ukraine reminds Ukrainians of the Holodomor, an air raid alert went off and the tour guide started to look frantic.
Our tour ended immediately with the guide informing us that the museum had no shelter and we had to leave for the shelter in the metro station close by. Already, Ukrainians whose lives may have changed forever were trooping out of the museum.
This reporter and 13 other journalists from Africa made their way to the shelter in the metro station. On getting there, a lot of Ukrainians were already seated, some standing and waiting for the alert to go off.
While in the shelter, there was Nataliya Chernenko, a 56-year-old retired music teacher who had also come to the shelter in the metro as a result of the air raid alert. But this was not her first time; in fact, she spent three hours in the same spot the day before.
Mrs Chernenko told PREMIUM TIMES and other journalists present that she wanted Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to make peace with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and end the war even if Ukraine did not get back its occupied territories.
“We have lost more people than territories, so I would rather we make peace than lose more people,” she said.
Mrs Chernenko is depressed by the war. Yet, she has to be strong for her ailing mother and husband whom she believes became sick as a result of the war.
“They were fine before the war started and now they have cancer and I have to take them to the hospital every other day.”
She has completely lost hope; in the first days of the war, many Ukrainians including Mrs Chernenko felt it would end quickly but the feeling has changed as the war continues.
Stuck in the metro station while trying to take her ailing mother to the hospital, Mrs Chernenko soon broke down in tears while talking to journalists.
She said she believed the war in her country was a hybrid warfare.
“It feels like someone is engineering this, someone who makes more drones and missiles; compared to what I heard about the Second World War, it is the other form of the war,” Mrs Chernenko said.
Having lived 33 days in occupation, she fears very little these days. When asked if she wanted her name mentioned in the journalists’ article, she retorted “I am in my country.”
She narrated how her family had fled Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, on 24 February 2022 when the first missiles came down destroying parts of the city.
“We thought Kyiv would be subdued and so we ran to Brkyiv, a suburb 70 kilometres from Kyiv. On 26 February 2022, the Russians came in and occupied the town for 33 days,” Mrs Chernenko narrated.
According to her, there were two types of Russians during the occupation: the ones who just occupied and did nothing and the others who killed people just because they could.
While Mrs Chernenko wants the war to end, there is 50-year-old ‘Spanish’, as he is fondly called, who does not want his country to concede. The only option he sees is to get more weapons and air defence systems to win the war.
Spanish used to be an engineer before the war broke out. For love of country, he became a volunteer soldier defending his country at the frontline in the Donetsk region.
On joining the military, he and other volunteers received five weeks of simulation training in the UK before they were deployed to the war front. He is now injured and has returned to Kyiv to be treated.
Talking about his experience at the frontline, Spanish said he felt inadequate defending his country with just a gun compared to the artillery wielded by Russia.
Despite this challenge, he refused to leave the fighting but for the injury that forced him to return home.
When asked why he did not quit fighting, he asked “How can I do that?”
Spanish insists that Russia is not a country you negotiate with and so Ukraine must continue to fight with more air defence systems.
The ongoing war in Ukraine has lasted for 21 months with no end in sight as several propositions for peace have failed.
The war has oftentimes been referred to as a frozen conflict including recently by Slovakia’s new prime minister, Robert Fico.
Similarly, Ukraine’s military commander-in-chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi in October told The Economist that the war has reached a stalemate.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected Mr Zaluzhnyi’s position saying that a stalemate is unacceptable.