February 24 was the day war started, the day it all really began for me.
My mom came into my room and said: “Valeria - there’s been a bomb in Kyiv and destroyed buildings.” I actually live in my flat in the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv, but a few days before February 24, I had travelled to Chernihiv, back to be with my parents to the home they lived in and I grew up in.
Our flat in Chernihiv, where I grew up, is the best place in the world. It’s full of memories and emotions. I experienced all the ups and downs of my childhood there. It's an apartment with high ceilings and big windows and I love it when the wooden floor creaks when I enter my bedroom. I like it when I come into the kitchen and my mother is cooking - it's really cosy, really comforting.
This flat, this place, takes me back to when I was a child. I am the youngest in the family which means I will always remain the little girl to everyone. The school I went to is close to our house and I had a wonderful time there - even though all the teachers hated me (!).
That morning, February 24, it was a very strange feeling when my mom woke me up. The first thing I wanted to know was which buildings had been bombed and where, so I turned on my phone to check if my friends had written anything in our Telegram group. Telegram is the app where we discuss everything.
My friends told me the war had started. One of them, my friend Aksinia had tried to get to the Czech Republic that day to see her boyfriend. When she arrived at the airport, it was closed - landmines had been scattered across the runway. She was really upset. She said everyone had run out of the airport, afraid. She was the first person I knew who had seen or witnessed the situation. It is horrific when you hear bombs. You can hear them, but you can’t do anything about it - you’re just a toy.
It was 24 February and the sky was grey when Putin invaded, when the explosions started in Kyiv - the ones my mom woke me to tell me about.
I had breakfast that morning and went outside to see what the situation in Chernihiv was like. I had never expected anything would actually happen.
When I went outside I saw long queues everywhere, people were queuing to get cash out of the ATMs. The first thing my father did, as the war started, was go and buy fuel.
I filmed Ukrainian soldiers with my cellphone, until they came over and asked me to delete the videos and the photos. I was shooting on my phone because I was scared to take out my camera. I’d spent a lot of money on a new camera, specifically to take pictures in Kyiv. But I was now afraid to take it with me - the Ukrainian soldiers didn’t want to be filmed anyway. It was really frightening.
But still, despite everything, I didn't think there would be a war, that the war would actually start. A lot of people were talking about when they thought it would begin. I had a friend who had already left, who escaped to the east, who told me the war would start one day soon. But it seemed like everyone talked about the war starting, but no-one believed it. Or no-one wanted to believe it.
© Valeria Shashenok 2022-05-13