Ukraine War: Is Today the Last Time I Heard From My Family?

While my family and friends back in Ukraine are surviving a full-scale war, I pretend to live a normal life in Shanghai hoping to hear from them today, just one more time.

(Feature Photo Source: Reuters)

“At 5 a.m., I was sleeping peacefully. Everything was normal and then…Bang! We thought that it was a firecracker at first, and we wanted to believe that it was just a firecracker, but firecrackers can’t be that loud and can’t be three in a row, and that makes you shiver. In the first several seconds, you refuse to realize that the war has started,” shares Mariya Matsegora, my 15-year-old sister. 

When everything started, I didn’t have a clue about what was happening. Only three hours later, I opened my phone and read the news. With my shaking hands, I was desperately looking up other official news sources and praying that the news I just read was fake. It wasn’t. I called my dad, and all he said was “Tanya, we have war. I will not explain. You understand everything,” and immediately hung up. I wish I didn’t understand, but unfortunately, back in 2014, in Donetsk, my family and I already knew what the war looked like. We lost everything there, and our home was completely destroyed. We had to leave almost everything we had behind and rebuild our lives again. But everything we lived through 8 years ago was happening again. I was sitting in the academic building, staring at my phone and trying to process everything. Five minutes later, I had to go to class.

Residential areas after artillery attacks in Irpin.
(Source: Olga Kompaniyets)

Since that day, every time I spend the night in a comfy bed, I think about my family spending the night in the basement seeking shelter from Russian bombs trying to fall asleep but shuddering from every explosion.

“It is really really cold there [in the basement]. It is warm if we sleep with five people on one mattress, but there is always someone who is basically laying on you. It is warm but so uncomfortable. Still, sleeping alone is too cold. In the first few days I couldn’t sleep at all, I kept shuddering at every sound,” explains Mariya.

Civilians are seeking shelter in the basement from Russian bombs.
(Source: Anna Mykhailova)

One of the scariest parts for me is that in just a few days the war became something normal, a part of everyday life that I would casually discuss with my 15-years-old sister. “We spend the night in the basement. In the morning, we come up to the apartment. We take a shower in turns, and I always hope that there will be no air raid siren at that moment […] then we have breakfast and then we usually run to the basement again. Basically, we run back and forth all day. I wish we lived on the lower floor…” and I try not to think that while my everyday life consists of classes, homeworks, and tests, my family’s and friends’  main task for a day is to stay alive.

When the war becomes the focus of your life, “you understand that you can die from a missile to your head, every minute your home can be targeted by a bomb, your friend can get killed…,” says Mariya, “just a few days ago, I was making plans for my future, wanted to become a millionaire, worrying about the physics test, and having a crush on a guy, but now everything seems so silly and all I need is peace. I am done running up and down stairs from the ninth floor.”

Civilians hiding in subway stations during air raids in Vasilkiv.
(Source: Anna Mykhailova)

So many people ask me the same question: “Are you okay?” I tell them that I am, but truthfully, the war has become a part of my everyday life as well. I am losing my mind when my friend or my mom doesn’t respond immediately, I’m checking the news every two minutes praying to not find a picture of my destroyed home. I’m seeing the pictures of dead bodies in the places I spent time with my friends, barely recognizing the ashes of the cities I used to live in, and realizing that every text could be the last time I hear from my family. I can’t count on financial support from my family, and maybe I will never be able to go home again.

But still, it is not me you need to worry about; it is my 15-years-old sister Mariya Matsegora who “just wanted to be a kid.” Worry about my five-year-old cousin Ilya Kovbasyuk who knows that “sirens mean that you need to run to the stairs because you need to”. Worry about Markiv Ivan, my good friend and 18-years-old engineering student, who continues to work in a grocery store overtime without weekends even when the world around seems to be collapsing so that people can get at least some food. Worry about Olexsandr Ivanov, my best friend’s classmate who was killed by this war, and millions of other Ukrainians who fight, who keep losing their loved ones in this war, who are grateful just to survive a day, and who are spending sleepless nights in basements and subway stations. Please worry about them.

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