Ukraine: How My War Began
Journalist reports calm and confusion as Ukrainians wake up to a new reality.
I saw Russian fighter jets in the air above Kyiv on my way to work on Thursday morning. Three jets circled several times above the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital and then made a sharp turn to the north. It looked like the purpose was to spread fear and confusion.
Over the past two months, and especially in recent weeks, we Ukrainians had got used to starting the day browsing news sites first thing in the morning, catching up on the latest developments with Russian troops massing along our border. The atmosphere was just like in 2014, when Russia began its attack on Ukraine and our sovereignty.
February 24, 2022 began differently. People messaged each other, updating and sharing information about explosions in Kyiv, Kharkov and even in western Ukraine. Russia had invaded our country.
Very soon, there were reports of explosions in Vyshhorod, a small city near Kyiv. The Russian Federation carried out missile strikes on key military targets. An hour later, the explosions stopped, soon to be replaced by the roar of Russian fighter jets flying over the area at low altitude.
I got up and went to work as usual, although getting into Kyiv was challenging. A traffic jam stretched for many kilometres and from time to time, one could see the military convoys - armoured vehicles heading from Kyiv to the north and empty military buses returning back to the capital.
After passing a checkpoint at the entrance to Kyiv, it was much easier to drive. The capital city itself was almost empty. In the early morning, after the first blasts, many Ukrainians had begun fleeing to the relatively safe city of Lviv in the west. By 10 am, the Zhytomyr highway - the main road to Lviv – was full of seemingly endless traffic jams.
There was no such panic seen at the centre of the city. Unlike Vyshhorod, close to both the Belarusian border, where people had been filmed standing in long lines outside supermarkets and pharmacies, there were no queues in the centre of Kyiv apart from at ATMs, where people waited to withdraw money.
Public transport continued to work in the city, albeit with delays. The metro had become the main means of transportation for the population of Kyiv – and on February 24, it was free of charge.
Metro stations were also being used as bomb shelters. In the morning, many locals, especially families with children, sought refuge there from the Russian missile attacks. Soon it was reported that five metro stations would be used exclusively as shelters.
The city authorities had published a map of its shelters the day before. But, since over the past 30 years, all Kyiv basements (except for those of schools) have been privatised, many of them had been turned into grocery shops or even strip clubs, a source of much dark local humour.
"There is no doubt that Ukraine will resist the aggressor."
The situation in the centre was very different from peacetime. Khreshchatyk, the main street of Kyiv, was almost empty. Cafes and offices were closed. The only people there were either pedestrians hurriedly walking or groups wrapped in the national flag who had come out in the streets to show Putin and the world that Ukrainians were not going to hide away or give up.
Independence Square - the main site of the 2013-2014 revolution of dignity - was also empty apart from three foreign reporters were live-streaming simultaneously. One of them was wearing a bulletproof vest and a military helmet.
Later that night, a Russian fighter jet was shot down near Vyshhorod, near the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This area was seized by the Russian troops during the day; a potential springboard for an attack on Kyiv.
Ukrainian armoured vehicles were stationed at the entrance to Vyshhorod, with fighters from the territorial defence battalion along with local volunteers taking control of Kyiv’s hydroelectric power station. If damaged by enemy sabotage groups, the consequences for Kyiv would be dire.
The evening was relatively calm. With cafes closed, many citizens gathered in their yards to discuss the sanctions announced by the US and international community, and their plans for the next day.
That was the first day of the war. There is no doubt that the coming days and nights will not be easy – but also no doubt that Ukraine will resist the aggressor.
This publication was prepared under the “Ukraine Voices Project" implemented with the financial support of the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO).
This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.