February 24, 2022: the day that changed everything

UWS Journalism student Anna Konovalenko reflects on one year since the invasion of Ukraine

By Anna Konovalenko

The full-scale war which began on the February 24 changed everything. In a matter of minutes, our lives were interrupted by missiles falling on our heads. We knew something was coming. Everyone was talking about the war and how Russian military forces were massing on our borders. We tried to prepare ourselves but kept hoping it was more of an information war. 

At that time I was a university student living in Kyiv. I woke up on February 24 at 5am, like most Ukrainians that day, to a call from my aunt saying that she had heard explosions. 

The first couple of hours of the invasion were the most shocking. The TV was playing nonstop, we just simply couldn’t believe it. We did the basic things that you need to do in emergencies. It was one of those situations you only ever read about in school books. Except it was real, it was happening.

We went to the shop to buy food and water, withdrew money, packed our bags and documents, taped windows so the glass would not break into big pieces and cut us. I remember standing on the stool while taping and nervously laughing at the situation. There was something unbelievable that in the 21st century, in the civilised world, I could simply be killed, because I am Ukrainian. Those first 24 hours lasted an eternity. 

The following day, we decided to go to our family in the west of Ukraine. Despite the constant threat of shelling, it was slightly further from central Ukraine which meant it was safer.  

200 miles would usually take us four hours to drive, it took us took at least 20 hours. The traffic was gridlocked, everyone was either trying to go to the west of Ukraine or cross the border to Poland, Moldova, and Romania. There were checkpoints all along the way, we needed to continually prove our Ukrainian identity by speaking a few words and showing our passports. We had our car searched over and over again by Territorial Defence Forces, who were people, including teenagers and old people, who wanted to protect their homes and keep themselves safe.

Days and nights felt the same as we went to and from the basement to hide during the air raid sirens, the TV never stopped playing and I never once switched off my phone because online news channels were updating the situation every minute. It was then that I developed the habit of checking my phone every five minutes. I still do it.

I didn’t want to go abroad and leave my parents and life in Ukraine. I was hoping that the war would end soon. It was around Easter that the news started to talk about the nuclear attack and the potential threat that was becoming more real every day. I decided to go abroad for a month or two. I went to Ireland because my uncle had friends there, who agreed to help me settle in.  

I stayed in Ireland for the summer because the situation at home continued to worsen. The decision to come to Scotland was spontaneous. I found out that UWS Journalism accepted students directly into 3rd year, enabling me to complete my studies. I grasped the opportunity.

This war caused a state of paralysis but at the same time, Ukrainians have never been so united in their actions as well as in their feelings. We feel pain for those who were killed, who were tortured and raped. We feel proud of those who were fighting till death, of those who still fight and of those who continue their lives when it seems unreal.

As a year passed nothing, in this respect has changed. We are still united and we will always be, and a part of every Ukrainian will always be living the day that war arrived in our country – February 24 2022.

Anna spoke to Ukrainian students in UWS and asked them to share their experiences with UWS Newsroom.

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