Ukraine’s older women share tales of heartbreak and resilience

Photo of author

By Amit


Editor’s note: This story is part of As Equals, CNN’s ongoing series on gender inequality. For information about how the series is funded and more, check out our FAQs.

Kyiv, Ukraine (CNN) Ukraine has a large population of older people — one in four of its residents is over the age of 60 — and most of them are women. Some lived through World War II as children, only to see their lives disrupted again in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine began.

When Russia then launched its full-scale invasion last February, many of these women were unable or unwilling to leave. Of the 4.8 million Ukrainians who have registered in other European countries as refugees since the war began, most are younger women and children.

Older women stayed in Ukraine and largely remain invisible to the outside world, despite their experience, wisdom, and resilience.

Here are some of their stories, edited for clarity and brevity.

Valentina Romanova

Valentina Romanova is a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor who lives in an assisted-living home in Kyiv. Along with other residents, she was evacuated to western Ukraine for a few months last year but has since returned. Her mother and many friends and neighbors were among the more than 33,000 Jews murdered by SS units and German police at Babyn Yar, a ravine in Kyiv.


Valentina Romanova lives in a Jewish retirement home in Kyiv.

I am old, I’ve lived my age. Youth is what is important now. Unfortunately, a lot do not see any perspectives. Children at least do not understand what is waiting for them — all the difficulties, all the rebuilding and reconstruction. I feel sorry for the younger generation.

What we had to go through after World War II is just flowers in comparison with the consequences of this war. Such destruction!

We used to live in the city center, near the Golden Gate. There was a German Consulate across the street. Every other day a chubby man would go out and hang a flag with a Nazi sign on it and we children would throw rocks at him. There were four of us from the same yard — two boys and two girls of the same age.

“We have already lived through a war. We are are from Kyiv, we can manage.”

Valentina Romanova

My mother was killed in 1941 in Babyn Yar. I did not know about this; my father only told me when I came back to Kyiv in 1944. My father sent my mother to stay with his mother, but they were Ukrainians and my mother, as a Jew, was endangering the whole family for hiding her. So she left for the city to stay with her friend. I was told they were hiding together in some shed and caught a cold. I was told she died of pneumonia. They did not tell me the truth for a very long time.

I knew all the neighbors from our building personally. Unfortunately, most of them were killed in Babyn Yar. One of the boys we were throwing rocks with, Shura, he and his family survived.

When Kyiv was being bombed, I was evacuated. I was 11 years old. It was sudden — I was taken from a summer camp, while I was wearing my slippers, and grabbed my suitcase. While we were crossing the Dnipro river the bridge was being bombed. We managed to cross the bridge, but they shot at the train windows with machine guns. Grandma told us to hide under the bench. It was a town train with wooden benches. We did not understand what was happening. We were laughing and did not want to hide. Someone closed the window with a red pillow and others were screaming that the red pillow would be a target.


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Romanova’s parents are seen at the far right of this photograph from 1927.

When we reached Kharkiv, it was clear the bombing might last more than two weeks. Chelyabinsk agreed to accept the whole train of evacuees and that’s where I lived until I came back to Kyiv in the spring of 1944.

When the war started last year, we were offered an evacuation. But all of the residents were against the idea. Nobody wanted to leave. Regardless of the shelling, regardless of everything, we wanted to stay in Kyiv. I was born in the Kyiv region and have lived all my life in Kyiv city.

We have already lived through a war. We are are from Kyiv, we can manage. No water? We know where the wells are. No food? We are not afraid to starve. We did not want to leave. But the home administration said they couldn’t do it. Either we leave all together or we go live with our friends or relatives. But most of us didn’t have anyone to go to. So we left.

Klara Ushakova

Klara Ushakova, 74, lives in Kyiv, her eighth city since she and her family were forced to flee their home in Donetsk in 2014. They spent time living in Berdyansk, Uzhgorod, and Kramatorsk before settling in Mariupol in 2016. When Russian troops invaded Mariupol last March, she had to flee again.


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Klara Ushakova lives in an apartment in Kyiv after fleeing the besieged city of Mariupol. She previously fled Donetsk when fighting broke out in 2014.

I really loved Mariupol, it was much better than Donetsk. I was not sorry to move to Mariupol, not sorry at all. It was such a beautiful city. Clean and tidy. I really miss it. We lived in Mariupol for six years and four months.

I miss my friends the most.

I have a friend, Krystyna, she was my neighbor. She always brought me fresh produce. I would bake for her. I would bake pizza and biscuits and pastries and she’d give me her produce. Butter, chicken, rabbits, eggs, everything. She was feeding me so much that I was embarrassed. Sometimes I wouldn’t open the door when she came with the produce, and she’d just hang the bag on our door handle.

Living was easier in Mariupol. Our people in Donetsk, I can’t say I hated them, but when I saw them go to the 2014 referendum (held by pro-Russian separatists on splitting from Kyiv) yelling “Russia!” I couldn’t have good feelings towards them, and I hate them now. I hate them now.

I don’t remember the date the explosions started. We came out onto the landing, and my husband said: “Look!” And I saw nine tanks with the letter Z standing by our apartment block. A white letter Z.

“There was no shelter. There was no one to put the fire out.”

Klara Ushakova

We were really scared. It was as if they were watching someone.

We could hear someone running up the stairs, some military men. Maybe they were Azov fighters, I don’t know. I couldn’t tell who was who. They went up to the ninth floor, and they must have fired on the tank that stood next to the building. The tank blew up, and part of the building caught fire. A piece of the turret flew into my neighbor Krystyna’s kitchen.

Everything was blown apart, from the ninth floor to the ground. Everything. There was thick smoke from the fire. We put on masks and ran down, but there was gunfire in the street. There was no shelter. There was no one to put the fire out. No fire trucks, nothing. No water. That’s it. Where could we go? We watched the tank burn down and went back home.

When we fled, we spent three days in Berdiansk. In the sports center there, we all had to register. Filtration. I said, “Hello, I am old, my husband is ill, can we please leave. I cannot leave my husband alone.”

We were told to go to the evacuation buses. We got on the buses, but they were not allowed to leave. We were waiting and waiting and waiting. And nothing was happening. And then, on the third day, the driver said we could finally go, and we started moving towards Zaporizhzhia.

There were 22 Russian checkpoints along the route.

Hanna Serhiienko

Hanna Serhiienko, 65, lives in a small village about two hours south of Kyiv, where her house acts as a hub for local volunteers making camouflage nets for the front lines.


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Hanna Serhiienko makes nets for the Ukrainian military at her home in Vynarivka.

The war did not start a year ago. It started in 2014. I was retired but still working and I didn’t know how to help. I could not go to the front lines. Then I saw people weaving camouflage nets on TV. So, I found like-minded people, quit my job and on December 9, 2014 we started weaving.

When I sent a photo of the first net we made to the volunteers in Odesa, they said, ‘This is not a net, this is a carpet!’ It was way too dense.

When the full-scale invasion started, I posted on Facebook calling my neighbors to come and join the weaving. And they did! The children are really enjoying it.

We try to mimic nature. There are no single-colored blocks or straight lines in nature.

I grew up in the Bulgarian district in the Odesa region. Bulgarians settled there during the Russian-Turkish war. Everybody speaks Bulgarian there. When we went to school, they taught us Russian. The first time I heard Ukrainian was in high school. In my first assignment, I made 140 mistakes!


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Hanna’s husband, Ivan Serhiienko, makes candles for the soldiers to use in front-line trenches.

I’ll never forget my Bulgarian roots, but I was born and raised in Ukraine, I live in Ukraine. So, I usually say we are Bulgarian-Ukrainian.

In winter, when we are weaving, we do “dirty snow” colors. It’s not fully white, but rather with some blotches. Now, it’s not spring yet and there’s no grass, so we use grey and black and a little bit of green in some spots. In April there will be more green and we will add some colors. And then starting from July, and this was different last year compared to before, because we wove for Kherson, which is different from Donbas, we will use yellow and brown colors. And then for September and October it’s yellow and red, like the leaves.

Every time we weave the winter camouflage nets, I think “I hope this will be the last time we make them.” Each season, we are hoping that we are making this season for the last time and will never have to do it again. But unfortunately, for all these years, we’ve been coming back again.

Valentina Tokariova

Valentina Tokariova, 85, was born in Russia. She moved to Ukraine as a young woman and lived in Donbas in eastern Ukraine for 60 years, until the war started there in 2014. She fled to Kyiv and has been living there ever since.


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Valentina Tokariova knits a vest in her apartment at the Jewish retirement home where she lives in Kyiv.

I spend a lot of time on my computer. I like to watch TV and videos on YouTube. Since the war started, I mostly watch political videos. Lots of news and interviews and experts talking about the situation. I believe we will be victorious. Whatever happens, we will be victorious. You can’t come into a foreign land and take everything, it doesn’t make sense.

I am Russian by birth, born in Novosibirsk. So, in my head, I still don’t understand how this happened and how there can be a war. I thought it was impossible.

I came to Donbas in 1962. I was 23 and I followed a young man. He is not worth telling you about. We lived together for seven years and then he abandoned me and our son.

For 60 years, I’ve been living in Ukraine. I worked my whole life for Ukraine, this is my family, my home, this is my country. I am Ukrainian now. I consider Ukrainian culture my own.

I lived in Donetsk and I had lots of friends there, some of whom I’ve been friends with for 60 years. In 2014, some of my friends left to live with their children in Kyiv region. And they were telling me: “We worry for you. Just come here, don’t be stupid.” So I did.

“I still don’t understand how this happened and how there can be a war. I thought it was impossible.”

Valentina Tokariova

In Donetsk, many people speak in Surzhyk (a mixture of Ukrainian and another language, often Russian). I always felt comfortable there.

We’d get together with the neighbors in my country house and we would dance and have a good time together no matter what language people spoke. The whole settlement is gone now, burnt to the ground. I had a nice garden, lots of plants. Especially the garlic, it was growing so well there.

My son passed away more than 10 years ago. I was very depressed when he died. I thought I’d never make it through. My friends helped me and little by little, I got better. Every mother thinks her son is handsome, but my son was very handsome. He liked sports, he liked cycling and to play table tennis with me. We were evenly matched.

He died before the war started. He was very ill, I was taking care of him. He was scheduled for an operation, but he died before he could have it. I buried him in Donetsk and now I can’t even go to visit his grave.

Nadiya Lutsenko

Nadiya Lutsenko, 83, is a former teacher of Ukrainian language from Donbas. She was forced to flee her home in 2014 and then again in 2022. She loves Ukrainian literature and keeps up to date with contemporary authors. She now lives with her sister in Kyiv.


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Nadiya Lutsenko poses for a portrait behind a lace curtain in the Kyiv apartment where she lives with her sister.

Life has changed so much that I just see a dead end.

Until recently, I lived in the Bakhmut district of Donetsk region. I had to leave in 2014 after the first events in the Donetsk region. For some time, I lived in Kamianets-Podilskyi with my sister and then I came back and lived in Donbas. I was hoping that somehow life would get better.

In 2022, there were troops there, guarding, protecting us, but it didn’t work out.

When the Russians invaded our village, they destroyed the entire place. I was already 82 years old and thought I would live out my life there. I buried my son and my husband in the village. Their graves were destroyed. I didn’t even take the childhood photos of my son and family with me. I have nothing. I do not regret losing my property or anything, but I wish I had those photos.


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Lutsenko holds a book by famous 19th-century Ukrainian author Taras Shevchenko.

I was caught in the blast wave when our house in Donbas was bombed. Our village was shelled for two weeks and we were sitting under the explosions and my ears were blocked. I got some treatment, but nothing helped. I still can’t hear very well, and I have headaches.

I was born during World War II. I was a child of the war against fascism and now I am a grandmother of the war against Ruscism. We Ukrainians liberated Europe together with the Russians. My father took part in the liberation and died in Poland, leaving my mother on her own with four children. He died, but we survived.

“I buried my son and my husband in the village. Their graves were destroyed.”

Nadiya Lutsenko

I worked for 50 years at a school as a Ukrainian language teacher. I like Ukrainian literature from the period before the 1917 revolution. Marko Vovchok and other authors. The language is very beautiful there. Among contemporary Ukrainian authors, I like Vasyl Skliar. His Ukrainian language is just wonderful.

But to explore Ukrainian literature one should, of course, start with “Kobzar” by (Taras) Shevchenko. I like what Shevchenko writes and how he writes. It has a real soul. I remember Shevchenko’s words at night: “It is dawning, the edge of the sky is burning, a nightingale in a dark grove meets the sun, the wind is blowing softly.”

Lidia Terepniova

Lidia Mikhailovna Terepniova, 74, is a volunteer at the Halom Jewish Community Center in Kyiv. During the first months of the invasion, she was coordinating humanitarian aid distribution among the center’s clients. Her son has emigrated to Israel, but she wants to stay home, where all her friends are.


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Lidia Terepniova lives in Kyiv and volunteers at the Halom Jewish Community Center.

My dad was born and raised in Kyiv, in Podil. He was a soldier liberating Kharkiv when he saw my mom and fell in love with her. They got married there. So I was born in Kharkiv but we moved to Kyiv in 1950.

It was a very difficult time after the war. Everything had to be started from scratch. You needed new spoons, new tablecloth, new everything! My father was very handy, so he would build furniture himself.

We lived in the Pechersk residential district, but my mom was working in Podil. So, every day I would ride a tram with my mom all the way from Pechersk to Podil, which took more than an hour one way. I liked it back then. But then 30 years later I couldn’t stand the trams anymore, I was getting sick of them.

When I was 13 or 14 years old, my parents arranged a birthday party for me, because I complained it was boring at school. My mum said: “Well no one is going to entertain you, unless you do it yourself.” So I invited my friends over. They loved it. We danced a lot and listened to music.

“If there’s a joy, you can share it. If there’s a sorrow, it’s easier to get through it all together.”

Lidia Terepniova

I’m still in touch with my classmates. We either gather at my place or at another classmate’s house. We talk about our children and our school days. My two best friends were very smart but very naughty back then. They always got straight As, but this one time they got a B for behavior. We still remember that and laugh about it sometimes!

Seven years ago, I began volunteering at the Halom center. I would call people and invite them to visit. When the war started, I was calling people and asking if they needed anything: food, medicines, services and so on. A lot of people from here evacuated and left and now they are calling all the time and asking how we are and what’s happening in the center. They miss the community a lot.

We have “Dance and Meet” club on Fridays, although we already know each other well.

All my friends are here. I talk to them every day. I simply could not leave! The fact that I am not alone helps me to get through. We are helping each other. If there’s a joy, you can share it. If there’s a sorrow, it’s easier to get through it all together.

Nadia Krasnozhon

Nadia Krasnozhon, 87, is a Ukrainian poet and a former political activist. She was a member of Narodnyi Rukh, the first opposition party in Soviet Ukraine, and took part in the 1990 pro-independence protest campaign known as Revolution on Granite. She returned to the site of the protests — Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square — in 2004 for the Orange Revolution and again in 2014 during the Revolution of Dignity. She lives in a small village about an hour east of Kyiv and is working on a new poetry collection focused on the war with Russia.


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Nadia Krasnozhon reads some of her poetry at the retirement home where she lives in Peremoha.

I was born in this village, and I’ve lived here my whole life. It used to be called Yadlivka before Communists renamed it Peremoha (Ukrainian for “Victory”).

During World War II, the Germans kicked everybody out of the village and burnt it. Everyone was taken to Brovary and segregated into groups. Those who were strong and young were taken to Germany. Those who had a lot of kids were sent to Vinnytsia, southwest of Kyiv. The rest were sent north to a concentration camp in Brovary. I was in the third group. We were kept behind barbed wire until Brovary was liberated.

When we asked how Yadlivka was, we were told that the church and roosters were the only ones that survived.

I’ve been writing poetry since childhood, but I had never published anything before retiring. Since then, I’ve published five collections of poems. My motto is “I am writing when I have something to say.”


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Krasnozhon, a former political activist, is working on a new poetry collection focused on the war with Russia.

I wrote a poem “Yadlivka cannot be burnt” which is about the German occupation and then Russian occupation.

I could have never imagined that there would be another war, another occupation. I remember when the Russians brought their military equipment close to our border last year, a nurse asked me: “What do you think, will they attack?” And I said: ‘”That can’t happen.”

I thought they were better than they turned out to be.

The Russians came to Peremoha on February 28. The soldiers came to our care home too. They were looking for partisans, checking each room. They came every day. Then, when they opened the evacuation corridors, we were evacuated to Rzhyshchiv, just south of Kyiv.

Liudmyla Vaisburg

Liudmyla Vaisburg is 92 years old. Apart from a brief period during World War II, she has spent her entire life in Kyiv. She started losing her sight when she was young and says she wasn’t allowed to have children because of her disability. She lives in an assisted-living home in Kyiv.

Liudmyla Vaisburg rests her hand on a window in her apartment.

Vaisburg has lived in Kyiv most of her life.

I was 10 when World War II started. I lived through it all — the bombing, the evacuation.

We were evacuated to Ufa in Russia. It took us more than a month to get there. My mom had two of us, me and my younger brother. So she took us to the railway station and tried somehow to get on the evacuation train. We packed our stuff into a bucket and when people saw her with it, they grabbed her and pulled her in. This bucket turned out to be a very significant object for us later. We got some water in it, some soups, although very seldom. This bucket actually saved us.

It was very scary. Our train was under bombardment. I remember we were in Lysychansk and there was another evacuation train right in front of us and it got bombed. I remember there was a woman hanging from the roof of a train. A dead woman. She was holding a baby in her hands.

When I saw this, I cried and said “Mommy, I want to live.”

I was only 10 years old. It was very difficult.

“We could have never imagined there would be another war. Second war and second evacuation.”

Liudmyla Vaisburg

My father went to fight on the third day of war. He made it through the whole war. But unfortunately, he died on May 9, 1945. He died of a stray bullet in Szczecin. We received pictures and a letter from him dated May 8. It was full of joy and it said, “We won’t have a vacation when we come back, but hopefully those who’ve been through it all will be allowed to go and meet our families!” And then we received a letter from his commander that we lost a father and a husband, and they lost a brother-in-arms.

We could have never imagined there would be another war. Second war and second evacuation.

When I graduated at 19, I already had a grey hair strand. That’s when I started dyeing my hair, because I was told, “Why are you so young and already with grey hair!”

We came back to Kyiv in 1945 and except for my travels, I have not left Kyiv since. I traveled all over the USSR. I tried to travel on each vacation. I was a school teacher, so I had long vacations. I really enjoyed traveling. I wanted to go everywhere.

I had to quit teaching because I started losing my sight and wasn’t allowed to work at the school anymore. That was 1985. I worked at the school for 18 years. I then worked at the university in the electrochemistry lab. Here, I had a lot of business trips so I was traveling again. I was married, sometimes we traveled together, but I was not allowed to have children because of my vision.

Unfortunately, now I can only dream of traveling. Now I am suffering from lack of walks and fresh air because I’m not allowed to go out alone. Now I can only travel around the building.

Yulia Hermanovska

Yulia Hermanovska is 79. She has been living on her own in Kyiv since her husband died five years ago. She still doesn’t like to go to the room they shared, where he passed away, preferring instead to sleep on the sofa.


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Yulia Hermanovska lives on her own in an apartment in Kyiv.

I have cancer, fourth stage. I’ve been fighting it for three years already, this is my fourth.

When people look at me, they can never tell I have cancer. I don’t regret anything. I have lived for 79 years — that’s good!

During the war my doctor evacuated at the exact time I was due to start my treatment, in February 2022. She only came back in May. I felt really bad at the time, but by the end of May I started intensive therapy. I feel so much better now! When I was diagnosed in 2020, I was told I would have two to five years. We’ll see.

I lived in a village on the Ukrainian-Polish border and we spoke Surzhyk (a mix) of Ukrainian and Polish. When I came to Kyiv at the age of 14 to live with my sister, no one understood me because the words I spoke were derived from Polish. Everyone was speaking Russian. So I tried to switch too. I didn’t want others to laugh at me and my Ukrainian-Polish language.

I have always liked the Ukrainian language more, but I was forced to speak Russian because it was not modern and popular to speak Ukrainian back then. It was considered a villagers’ language.

“I don’t regret anything. I have lived for 79 years — that’s good!”

Yulia Hermanovska

The last seven and half years of my career, I worked as a librarian at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. When I had the job interview, they told me if I wanted to work there I could only use two languages: English or Ukrainian. So I had to switch back to Ukrainian at the age of 50, having spoken Russian all my adult life.

I quit when it was time for me to retire, although they did not want me to go. But the mushroom season was starting, so I left. I love picking mushrooms. I’m an addict really. I could go mushroom picking with my husband, my neighbors or even on my own. I really enjoyed going to the forest at sunrise, the fresh air!

I used to pickle them in a glass jar. My mushrooms were so tasty my in-laws used to really love them! I would give them the whole box of jars. I don’t actually like eating mushrooms. Just picking.

Unfortunately, my husband got sick when I was 70 and I stopped going out for mushrooms, although I still had the energy. When my husband died, I took a year to “resurrect,” so to say. But then I got cancer. And since then, I haven’t gone mushroom picking. I dream of them. When I can’t fall asleep, I picture those meadows, those moments when I found mushrooms.

Klara Rozkishna

Klara Rozkishna, 94, spent 40 years teaching chemistry in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. She was forced to flee her home in 2014 when fighting broke out between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces. Thinking she would only be away for a few weeks, she packed the bare minimum. It’s now been nine years since she left the town. She lives in Kyiv with her daughter.


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Klara Rozkishna lives in an apartment in Kyiv with her daughter. She fled Donetsk in 2014.

I wanted to become a doctor. When I came to the university to submit my application, they asked what I would like to study, and I said I wanted to wear a white lab coat and smell the scent of medicines. And they said, “That’s a chemist!” So that’s what I applied for. I started at the university in 1948.

After graduating, I worked in a factory. But I wasn’t meant for that work, and only stayed there for a few months. Then I became a teacher.

I first met my husband at school and once we became a couple, we were together for 61 years, 8 months and 7 days. Until his heart stopped four years ago. Not a day passes by without me missing him.

I remember the Holodomor famine in 1932. I was five years old when we fled from the more central Vinnytsia region to Kostiantynivka in the east and remember homeless children; they were sleeping in an overturned barrel. We did not go hungry because factories were working in Donbas.

When there was a war in 1941, we fled. In Uzbekistan, where we went, we were given accommodation, we were given a roof over our heads. So yes, I fled three times.


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An old photograph of Rozkishna and her husband, who died in 2009.

There was another famine in 1947. We were given 100 grams of bread, we collected it and took a loaf to our teacher whose wife was in bed, she could not get out of bed. We gave him this bread.

We left Donetsk on May 29, 2014. Once we saw Russian tanks, we left immediately.

Donetsk used to be a beautiful city. It was called the city of a million roses. One would think it’s a miners’ city, but there were so many roses! We used to live downtown and I loved walking along the Pushkin Boulevard. It was very green. Me and my husband lived in a house close to the Kalmius river. It was such a beautiful spot, so many flowers!

We abandoned everything we had there and locked our apartment. My husband died in 2009 and is buried in Donetsk. I even bought a spot for myself right next to him. But the cemetery was bombed. Because this is not a war. This is a slaughterhouse. They are barbarians.

But it is ok, Ukraine will win — I am sure.

We have support. I never believed in God, I am a scientist. But I heard this prayer on the radio: “Father, close the sky with your palms from our enemies.” So, every night before going to bed I say it.

I just hope to live until our victory.

Olha Mykhailivna

Olha Mykhailivna, 74, lives on her own in a Kyiv apartment block. She hasn’t been outside since July because she is afraid of getting stuck in the elevator if the power goes off, which happens regularly. She spent a few months as a refugee in Moldova after the full-scale war started last February but came back home in the summer.


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Olha Mykhailivna hasn’t left her apartment in Kyiv since July.

Nightmare. It’s just a nightmare.

I’m half-Russian. My mother is Ukrainian and met my father in Berlin. He was a Russian from Chelyabinsk and went to Berlin with the Red Army. My mother was taken as labor to Germany, she was 17 or 18 years old.

I didn’t live through World War II, but I did live through its consequences.

We lived as a family in Chelyabinsk. Everything was fine there, but my mother wanted to go back to Ukraine. When the dust settled, she said, “Let’s go to my homeland. I want to go to Ukraine.”

I was born in Chelyabinsk and went to school there and life was very good. I came here to Ukraine and cried every day. I was 9 years old. We came to the village of Volodarka. I came from Chelyabinsk with excellent grades in school. At that time, if you did well in school, your parents were given tickets to the theater.

I came here and I was like a black sheep. In Volodarka, everyone spoke Ukrainian. There was no Russian school there.

They called us katsaps (a derogatory name for Russians) and when they asked me to write on the blackboard, everyone laughed. I did not understand anything, and I got bad grades at school.

“Nightmare. It’s just a nightmare.”

Olha Mykhailivna

When I came to Kyiv to study and work, I saw that people understood me when I spoke Russian and it was easier for me. I was 17 years old and decided to adapt. I studied at the Institute of Soviet Trade, then I started working — there were lots of jobs in Kyiv at the time, especially for accountants.

My mother died recently. She was 98 years old, and now I live alone.

When the war in Ukraine started, we had rockets flying around and one house caught fire. I’m sitting here on the balcony thinking — if I am to die, I want instant death, if I am to be wounded, I want it to be a small one. And there are missiles flying back and forth.

But I’m not afraid of anything. I even used to shoot guns. I called the military enlistment office and asked them to give me a gun.

Maria Nyzhnyk

Maria Nyzhnyk, 95, dreamed of becoming a singer when she was a young girl. She still enjoys singing and is composing songs about her life in a care home east of Kyiv.


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Maria Nyzhnyk lives in a retirement home in Peremoha.

I’ve received medals for my work: I worked as a lathe operator at the same plant in Kyiv for 40 years. I worked there throughout the war. I wanted to become a singer and a journalist, but because of World War II, it all turned out differently.

But I am still writing songs and singing them. Although my hearing is not so good now.

I could never have imagined there would be another war. Maybe Putin is not even alive anymore, maybe someone is there instead of him, going against Ukraine.

I got married in 1949. My mom told me: “You are already 20, how much longer are you going to stay a maiden? Drop everything and start a family already. There’s a boy going after you!” and I said, “Let him go after me for a little longer.”

But then he and his mother convinced me to get married. He was a sailor, he served in the Caspian Sea, de-mining the sea after the war. He was a good man. Once I sewed swimming trunks for him, but I didn’t put any belt in them. He went to the sea and he lost them!

I loved him, but I could not save him. He died of cancer when he was 74.

We had three children. Two girls and a son. Only one is left now. The boy went fishing and never came back. The elder daughter has passed away.

My younger daughter was born disabled. She was born all twisted, but she had surgeries to treat her condition. She was told she wouldn’t be able to give birth, but she said “what kind of life it will be if I can’t give birth. I want a son or a daughter. When you die I want to have someone to help me.” And she did give birth. And now she’s all good and pretty. So now I have a granddaughter and a great-grandson!

This story was made possible thanks to the help of Yulia Guliaeva and Yulia Gulevych from Women’s Aid International, Alexander Kolesnikov from Helping Hand, Victor Popovich from the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, Iryna Lutai from Nasha Peremoga, Eli Buzunov from JDC and Olesya Koryagina.



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