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Letter from Ukraine: Exhausted in Kyiv

"War is a state when you forget what sleeping is. You sleep three to four hours a day. You are tired, but you cannot sleep anymore."

My name is Valentina Radchenko. I have worked at the railroad station since 2006. I have my own store there to sell trinkets and souvenir products. I had four such stores before the pandemic; now there is one left.

We started to make a bit of a comeback from the crisis starting in the summer of 2021. We made plans about expansion, and in February 2022 we were able to get another sales point. We put all our savings into repairing it and buying the products to sell. February is always considered the most difficult month for sales, and this year was no exception, so we were not able to recoup the money that we invested.

There were also plans to open a flower shop at the train station, but the start of the war changed all that.

On 24 February we woke up from blasts, which could be heard from any neighbourhood in Kyiv. At first it was frightening, but then our fear turned to anger.

The first days were the most frightening. The constant blasts and air raid sirens did not let you relax and rest. We slept three to four hours. Nobody thought about work during those days, we only thought about surviving. There were so many emotions on those days, from fear, despair and bitterness to anger. You don’t think about the possibility of being left without a job or without an apartment. You only think about how to save your life and the lives of your children and grandchildren.

At this time we also had to close the store and evacuate all the employees. They lost their jobs when the war started. This is nine people in total, but we could not continue working because it would jeopardize their safety.

Our store is set up in such a way that there is no possibility to close it. There are so many products there, and it is impossible to move them under current conditions. We took the most valuable things; the rest we kept on the shelves.

It was impossible to buy any kind of plastic to cover them up because the air raid sirens were screaming all day, and it was very dangerous to go and buy something. We covered them up with an ordinary net and left.

Now I have had to flee Kyiv with my daughter and grandson, who is three years old. But the men stayed behind in the city to protect our home. After being in Kyiv for seven days, even now when I am in the western part of Ukraine, I still wake up from every movement and sound. Today there was a helicopter flying overhead, and I started trembling even though I understand that it cannot belong to the occupants.

War is a state when you forget what sleeping is. You sleep three to four hours a day. You are tired, but you cannot sleep anymore. This has been the case for more than 11 days now.

Every day I am praying for our defenders who are risking their lives to try and protect us and free Ukraine from these inhuman people. 

Editor’s note: With the help of a translator, we were grateful to receive this personal story from a businesswoman in Kyiv, the first of what we hope will be many contributions to an understanding of life in the Ukraine capital under Russian siege.