How Ukraїner volunteers lived the first day of the full-scale invasion

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The full-scale war initiated by Russia has been ongoing for 5 months. It is hard to believe that so much time has passed since “that day” (24.02.22), that Ukrainians continue to resist the Russian occupiers on all fronts, and that, to some extent, they have even adapted to the new reality. Many have photographed or video-recorded their circumstances and the events since the first days of the Russian invasion. These personal chronicles are important for understanding who we are and what we are fighting for.

Ukraїner team shared their archives and memories of the first day of the full-scale war.

Olexandr Sharma, cameraman

— That night, I did not sleep at all. Friends from Marik (Mariupol. – ed.) were writing at 22:00 o’clock that it “started” there. So we chatted the whole night, and then at 4:30, when that speech came out (Zelensky’s speech. — ed.), everything became clear. I remember those endless moments when everything became clear, nothing happened…

Olexii Karpovych, photographer

– Russian planes flew in the direction of Brovary, and morning “hits” were heard from there in the Boryspil region. That’s how the morning started for us, although I missed the strike itself because I was tired and asleep. But a friend told me later that there was a shock wave. We went out to take a quick look at the horizon in order to see if there were any flames. Of course, we now know that if we had seen them then, it would have been close. Well, thank God that the occupiers never managed to break through this direction.

Natalka Ponedilok, editor

— We woke up from calls from Kyiv, where everything was “banging”. We went out to collect supplies of drinking water from the vending machine. There were queues at the ATM on the street. The shelves in the supermarket were almost empty, and it was difficult to withdraw money. However, all the people were polite and gentle to each other. It calmed us down a bit. The photo – the search and inspection of the nearest shelter near the house.

Petro Chekal, photographer

— My mom is talking with family and friends, recovering from the shock. They are thinking what to do next while they are still in Kharkiv.

Sofia Soliar, photographer

— I went to check the basement when I woke up from the sound of the siren. It was open for the first time since I started living here.

Lisa Litvinenko, film editor

— On the 24th, I was sleeping during the explosions in my city because I was heavily ill with COVID. I broke the quarantine and went to get tape for the windows. I understood that I wouldn’t be able to evacuate in the following weeks.

Oleksandr Khomenko, photographer

— A traffic jam on Peremohy Avenue in Kyiv. People are massively trying to flee the city.

Olia Hakh, author

— On the 24th of February in the morning, I had a total block and I had no idea what to do. I faced the war with 50 hryvnias in my pocket, so I needed to withdraw money from my card. In the photo — a queue at the ATM. I was waiting there for around 3 hours and still couldn’t withdraw money. I had a feeling in the queue that all those people were thinking about one thing — the war. And when you make eye contact with somebody for at least a second, you understand that you two are thinking about the same thing. And so with everybody. The same thought for the whole queue, the city, and the country. From time to time, someone reads the news in a low voice and you listen unconsciously as if it contains the most intimate information. That day, everyone seemed to become one whole and thought one thought.

Kostiantyn Huzenko, photographer

My friends from another flat have already collected their things to go and live together in one big team, and I invited them to wind down a bit. The photo is from the coffee shop next to my house that kept working.

Yurii Stefaniak, photographer

— There were a bunch of people on the street at 8 a.m. A trip in the traffic jam of the cars, which tried to flee the city; people with suitcases were looking for ways to evacuate; people in the queues to the shops; and some were simply going to work. But what impressed me the most was people’s calmness. There was no panic. It seemed like everyone knew that this day would come.

Karina Piliugina, producer

— On the 24th of February in the morning, Misha came to us in order to give a camera to Oleg. We talked a lot with friends and relatives from different cities of Ukraine. We constantly heard explosions.

Nadiia Melnychenko, film editor

— I didn’t wake up from the sound of explosions but rather from a bunch of messages in various chats. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for a few hours. Then I packed a backpack with my documents and a laptop. My mom totally refused to go to western Ukraine. I got scared. I cried. At 12, we heard explosions again. I filled all the bottles, even glass wine bottles, with water. Then I went to look for the cat’s food, I grabbed the last one from the shelf in “Silpo”. I then packed my cat in a carrier, and sat with him, dressed and in my shoes, in the hallway. The cat was yowling (it doesn’t like the carrier). I went to my parents overnight, we slept in turns. We left the next day.

Lesia Khomiak, coordinator of the Spanish version of the website

— My colleague and friend Nadia called me at 5 a.m. and told me that the war started. Then she told me she wanted to take me out of Kyiv to the village in Cherkashchyna. At the moment when this photo was taken I was calling my dad, who was in Lutsk. I woke him up with the phrase: “Dad, the war started.”

Aliona Malashyna, photographer

— We waited until the evening hoping to find something out and for the traffic jams to be over. The suitcases were packed in advance. We headed to Zakarpattia at 18:00. We spent most of the night in Vinnytsia in a basement, going up to our friends’ flat sometimes. The kids kept up well until the youngest saw a mattress in the basement and started crying that she didn’t want to live there.

Ilona Badenko, content manager

— A video from a supermarket with empty shelves, in the afternoon.

Maksym Starepravo, designer

— On the 23rd of February, I ordered cash in the bank and on the 24th I woke up from the sound of explosions. I went to the bank branch without knowing whether the banks worked. People were gathering around and fleeing Kyiv, and I calmly walked to the bank, simply observing the situation around me. Just at that moment, a colon of armored vehicles passed through my street.

Oxana Kuzema, sales manager

— I got out of bed at about 5 a.m. from a loud sound. I started scrolling through news sites and found zero information. I thought: if there was a war, it would be all the news. An unknown loud sound repeated. I remember a neighbour above me yelling at his wife: “Move out of the window, damn it.” Then the “war” was engraved in my head. I was scared stiff.

I went down to the basement, then out into the yard. At about 7 a.m. I returned to the apartment and jotted down endless instructions to my parents under the “Suspilne” channel stream. Later, the light went out in the house. Another thing was on my mind: I must get to the right bank of the river as bridges can be blown up. A friend who had a car came and picked me up. Later on, when I was in a shelter on the right bank of Kyiv, I found out that Russia had carried out air strikes on Brovary.

Natalia Vyshynska, coordinator of the information researching team

— We were evacuating from Kyiv. We left the left bank of the river by taxi at about 11 a.m. We picked Iryna Makarchuk (the producer of Ukraїner. — ed.) up with her husband and their dog. We went through Irpin, Bucha, Vorzel, Borodyanka to our farm in Zhytomyr region. The trip took almost all day because there were huge traffic jams. Beyond Kyiv, we tried to choose small rural roads, rather than the main motorway, so as not to come under airbursts or a blow up of bridges.

We tried to be constantly in touch with other teams that also left Kyiv at that time in order to warn them in case of some troubles on the way or to tell which roads were better to pass. Everybody spent the night on our farm. We took Irynka with her husband to Rivne the next day. When we got there, an air alarm started. Under this “wonderful” sound, I said goodbye to Irynka and we went away from the city again. We went to the farm, where during a month we were engaged only in volunteering, the formation of Territorial Defense, “pre-med” training, and tactics of guerrilla warfare. In short, we were preparing as much as possible in case the occupiers suddenly decided to go to Kyiv or Zhytomyr across the border with Belarus (which is 80 km. from our farm).

Anna Uraieva, SMM of English version, translation editor

— My girlfriend and I jumped into the train. She bought a ticket a few days ago to go home to her parents; I joined her (without a ticket). They let me in, I paid the conductor later. The day seemed infinite. We almost didn’t eat. We didn’t want to.

Many passengers jumped into the train without knowing where they would go. They were asking the conductor about the train’s route, and she was just shrugging her shoulders. According to the route, we would have to go through Irpin or Hostomel. Everyone was reading the news. The train departed. The conductor was quietly walking around the wagon, answering “We don’t go there anymore. The route was changed. Where do you need to go?… No-no, we don’t go there either. When will we arrive? Well, you see, I can’t promise you anything.”

I had no strength to analyse my state, there was no time to listen to myself. I saw this scared little boy with huge eyes and took a photo. He was silent. He was just watching. Just like us, he didn’t know where he was going. I sent the photo to the person I love. I wrote: “That’s how I feel right now.”

Olia Kovaliova, translator, translation editor

— The first evening and then night in the shelter (from 24th to 25th). There are no shelters in the new buildings, the metro is far from Vynohradar, so people from our complex spent the night either in a covered parking lot or in a technical semi-basement with pipes and wires. My boyfriend and I didn’t have mats or a mattress. That’s why we peeled off the upholstery from the sofa (the landlord of our rented apartment would be very “happy” to find out, but it was the least we thought about then). And we had a Coke instead of water because it was easier to get it the first morning; we were saving water. An unforgettable night when you lie the whole time looking at a huge pipe on the ceiling thinking: “If suddenly something “drops”, will you be covered by hot or cold water?”

Maksym Sytnikov, author, producer

— Cars are driving against the traffic in 8 rows on Zhytomyr highway.

Trayan Muse, SMM

— 24 hours ago there were a bunch of people here, life was thriving. Contrasts of the new reality. Night Lviv was then enveloped in silence and a state of desolation. We all were ready for the war.

The material is prepared by

Founder of Ukraїner:

Bogdan Logvynenko


Natalia Ponedilok


Anna Yabluchna

Photo editor:

Yurii Stefanyak

Cover by:

Content manager:

Kateryna Minkina


Diana Stukan

Translation editor:

Alex Fylypovych

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