It was odd, winter thought, that the flowers should dare
Lift their delicate heads from the snow to the air.
From his icicle lips freezing whirlwinds he blew
And he piled the snow thick, stack by stack, on the blooms.
Though the flowers bent down, sadly pressed to their beds,
When the blizzard was spent, they again raised their heads.
And the winter can’t fathom why, do what he will,
He has not got the power small flowers to kill.
— Ivan Franko
I woke up on the 24th February, in my bed in Ivano-Frankvisk, practically bombarded with messages from my friends, as we were all hearing the news for the first time that Putin had decided to commence what he was calling a “special operation”, but what turned out to be his war on my home country, Ukraine.
Of course, I was beyond scared. But the thoughts that surrounded most of us Ukrainians at the time were endless streams of questions: what is actually going on? Is any of this even true?
These questions were answered fairly quickly, as I found my mum looking for documents, in particular our passports — this was two or three hours after Putin had made his announcement. As I began helping her to look for them, we heard a bomb. I think that was the scariest moment of my life.
About 20 minutes later, we heard sirens for the first time. Everything about this was completely new to us, and so I don’t think it’s surprising that, immediately after that, panic ensued, and most people had already resolved that they wanted to leave.
Pretty soon after the start of the war, certain measures were put into place, and we were forced quickly to adjust to these new changes. A curfew was introduced, meaning that we couldn’t leave our houses after 11 p.m., and after that time, all lights had to be turned off and curtains had to be shut. For months, we were forced to live in darkness. We were frightened of even falling asleep — what could happen during the night when we weren’t alert? On multiple occasions, I ended up sleeping in the bath, since we deemed this as the safest place to stay over night. I was starting to live a life completely governed by fear of what might happen when I wasn’t paying attention.
I don’t think this feeling was uncommon, given how mentally exhausting everything was. Everyone my age, who should have still been enjoying our childhoods, was forced to mature. Putin and his war stole so much time from our lives, when we should have been allowed to go to parties, or spend time with our friends. Even our school lives were compromised. I know that we can’t go back in time and change the past, but it really is my biggest dream to be able to think, act and feel like a child again. But this right was stripped from me, and all my friends, and instead, we spent our days constantly thinking about the possible danger around us. I remember trying to figure out how long my phone battery could last, since the frequent electricity cuts meant that I couldn’t charge it often. What might happen if I couldn’t contact someone, or receive updates from my loved ones? We were also often thinking about when we might be able to get food, since supplies were incredibly unstable. I was even constantly concerned about my little brother and how to make sure that he was staying safe. These are not thoughts that a 16 year old should be having every single day.
In early May, as Russia was celebrating their ‘Victory Day’ (a memorial and celebration day for the end of the Second World War), we were all forced to stay in shelters, while the sirens continued to ring outside.
For months, our lives were full of sitting and waiting.
This all became a routine for us, and after a couple of months we were even starting to get used to it. I began helping to gather donations for other Ukrainians who were in need. We collected things like food and clothes, particularly jackets, since, even in the spring, Ukraine is still cold. It was only when we started to hear rumours that Russia could find another route of attack, by way of Belarus, that my parents finally decided it was time for my mum, my little brother and me to move out of the country, though my dad had to stay. My parents had lived in London a while ago and have friends here, so they decided that this was the best place to come to, since at least they knew it relatively well. I had also been learning English at school, and therefore I didn’t feel completely lost and confused.
We moved in June, and my first few weeks here were incredible. Everyone always considers London to be such a special, new and interesting place, and it felt exactly like that when I first arrived. But, fairly quickly, I really started to miss my friends. And, what’s more, I began to miss my home — not just my house, but my country. I found it difficult getting out of bed each day, and I didn’t know how to cope with everything I was feeling. I was becoming depressed, unable to connect with others around me. I was losing hope.
It was only really through little things, like seeing the Ukrainian flag around London, that I felt a renewed sense of confidence, and even a bit more optimism. It felt really good to know that people here really do care about this war, and they support Ukraine. When I came to Brampton, I was amazed at how helpful the College was to me. I really didn’t think I’d receive this kind of support from the staff, my teachers and my friends here, who always make me feel so much more comfortable and confident. I was even lucky enough to go on the Venice trip, and able to have some fun there at a time when it still can feel so difficult just to cope with this reality.
I sometimes feel like this is all just a dream, and that I’ll wake up at any moment, in my bed in Ivano-Frankvisk, and get back to my life as it should be. Everything still feels so impossible: the fact that I have friends and family still in Ukraine — my uncle is even fighting there. The fact that our neighbours, even relatives, are now essentially our enemies.
On the 10th of October, in London, I woke up to countless messages from friends back in Ukraine. Immediately, I was filled with dread — my biggest fear is that I’ll hear some bad news from back home. My city had been bombed by Putin’s army three times. Once again, I felt helpless, and what’s more, hopeless. I love living in London, but my home, my family, and my whole life will always be in Ukraine. I don’t know how I would carry on if I were to lose someone close to me. It often occurs that, even when I’m smiling, or laughing with my friends here, I can’t shake the idea that something terrible and life-altering could happen back home at the same time. We all cry occasionally when we’ve lost something, or someone, but most people in Ukraine are still crying, and are struggling to see an end to this despair.
It doesn’t even feel like this is about politics anymore. It’s about people. There are so many people all around the world who are refusing to analyse this situation and acknowledge just how many are suffering every single day. I’ve received messages quite a few times from Russian teenagers, saying such horrifying things, just trying to cause me pain, simply because they’ve been taught to hate people like me, and are now lashing out against Ukrainians, even though our generation has nothing to hate each other for. They seem to think that if someone might have a different opinion from them, then we deserve to suffer because of that.
Luckily, however, I really do feel as though all of my peers here are very supportive and respectful of me and my country.
Ultimately, the most important thing is that people don’t forget that this war is still going on. Just because the shock may have worn off a little, people mustn’t put it away somewhere in their minds.
Forgetting about the past will always be what causes problems in the future.
I really hope that everyone here never has to go through these same experiences, or anything remotely similar. You may never fully know how I feel, but I suppose this is a good thing, as it means you won’t have suffered in the same way. All that matters is that everyone still listens to us Ukrainians when we tell our stories, and continues to help us, because this war is not over yet.
It’s crucial that people still donate to all those in Ukraine still struggling and fighting for their lives — particularly funding the Ukrainian military. I’m really grateful that Brampton works to provide some sort of help for my country, and that people are donating and partaking in these activities, and I hope that people continue to believe that my home country is worth fighting for.
By Olesia Kharyk, student
The College intends to hold an event for Ukraine in the near future, which will include the opportunity for Olesia to tell her story to the student body and staff. We will also use this opportunity to raise funds for Ukraine.
The Charitable Trust has recently made a donation to President Zelensky’s fund United24. Last year we ran a major fundraising appeal for Ukraine and we are pleased to have raised £47,000 for the armed forces and emergency humanitarian relief.