In this live blog, at the heart of our project we’ve called “Ukraine Stories”, Ukrainian and Russian journalists write about the harsh living conditions that the Russian invasion has inflicted on them. We cannot always verify the events described in their articles, but their short reports and feature stories describe two countries in the turmoil of war. This blog is also available in Ukrainian and Russian
Food crisis due to war in Ukraine: The head of the African Union told Putin that Africans are also becoming victims
On the 100th day of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the President of the African Union and Senegal, Macky Sall, arrived in the Russian city of Sochi for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
He declared that African countries are “victims” of the war in Ukraine, against the backdrop of fears of a global food crisis. And asked Putin to “become aware” of this situation.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin will give Macky Sall a “full explanation of his vision concerning the grain” blocked in Ukrainian ports. And “will explain to our guests, our African friends, the de facto situation, the real state of affairs. He will explain once again what is going on there, who undermined the ports, what is necessary for the grain to leave, for nobody to block these ports,” Peskov added.
Putin himself did not mention grain supplies, but said that Russia "has always been on the side of Africa" and seeks to increase cooperation.
A word from our editors
9 hrs., 03.06.2022
100 days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine have passed. According to President Volodymyr Zelenskyi, as of today, about 20 per cent of our territory is under the control of the occupiers.
“Almost 125,000 square kilometres. This is much larger than the area of all the Benelux countries combined. About 300,000 square kilometres are contaminated with mines and unexploded ordnance. Almost 12 million Ukrainians have become internally displaced persons. More than 5 million, mostly women and children, have gone abroad.” he said.
Fighting stretches over a huge territory, from Kharkiv to Mykolaiv. The front line and constant fighting extends for more than a thousand kilometres. According to Zelenskyi, Ukraine is defending itself against virtually the entire active Russian army and needs more weapons from Western partners. All Russia’s combat-ready military units are involved in this aggression, a scale that most European countries would find enormous.
Meanwhile, the latest sixth package of anti-Russian sanctions in the EU includes a partial embargo on Russian oil supplies, and America has also extended its sanctions regime targeting members of Putin’s elite and financial institutions.
In more positive news from Ukraine…
Ukraine city sees wedding surge amid war
by Myroslava Opanasyk, 03.06.2022
During the three months of the war in Rivne 859 couples got married. For the same period last year, there were only 470 marriages. In this boomtime for matrimony, one in ten marriages today is with a soldier.
Wartime, it appears, means no-one has an appetite for divorce. There were only 36 of them in Rivne over the same period according to the Western Interregional Department of the Ministry of Justice.
Rivne psychologist Alla Yaremovich explains such a surge in marriages from being constantly under stress due to war: people learn to make decisions faster, because hesitation can be fatal .
“The vast majority of people in conditions of catastrophic stress are able to act decisively. The protective mechanisms of the psyche work, feelings are sharpened and experienced more vividly. The need for support, understanding and help grows. Basic needs gain more weight and can speed up important decisions. There is a growing conscious or unconscious desire to leave behind healthy offspring, descendants who will continue the family traditions, and will carry into the future national identity. During critical events, people lose their illusions, become natural, real, and masks fall off. There is no need to resort to certain manipulations in a relationship.”
Yaremovich also offers a reason for the very small number of divorces:
“Divorce is a stress, and divorce during hostilities is a double stress.
Tension, anxiety, and fear increase. Uncertainty is more frightening, it is difficult to predict the future. The need to save lives becomes more important than the need to clear up minor misunderstandings. Partners begin to value more what they have than what they can receive in the event of a divorce.
They don't want to take risks. It's easier to survive as a group. Partners who have lived together for some time have an idea of each other, they know what to expect. Predictability is somewhat reassuring. There is more empathy, acceptance, patience, and endurance. The vast majority of claims on both sides decline. This allows partners to look at divorce from a different perspective. It often happens that a couple who have gone through difficult trials together find it restores and strengthens the relationship. They kind of go to another level.”
Yaremovich concludes that deeper study of the reasons for marriage and divorce rates will be possible after victory.
Ukrainians celebrate win over Scotland in Glasgow
by Maria Romanenko, 03.06.2022
On 1 June, in Glasgow, the Ukrainian football team defeated the Scottish one with a score of 3-1. Now the Ukrainians will pave the way all the way within the framework of the World Cup 2022.
Scottish fans took the loss graciously. Many shook hands and hugged the Ukrainian fans located across the fence.
As for Ukraine, it was a special day, not only because it is the national team’s first competitive game since Russia started an all-out war against the country on 24 February. It was also Ukraine’s chance to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 2006.
Around 2,000 Ukrainian football fans watched the game from the Ukrainian sector.
Some of them had to travel a long way because of the war. For example, Olga and her father who came to Glasgow all the way from Lviv. To catch the game in person, the pair had to cross the border into Poland and then fly from Krakow to Glasgow.
Ukrainians took advantage of the football match not only to support their team, but also Ukraine as a whole. Many put on national costumes and held Ukrainian flags.
More bright photos in the article.
Meanwhile in Russia…
Teacher writes dozens of letters with the letter Z to spare her pupils
The authorities of a small town located in north-western Russia asked an English and geography teacher to prepare with her pupils letters with a “Z” written on the cover. She couldn’t refuse the assignment, so decided to draw the letters herself, reported Sever. Realii, a Russian independent media. “I am like a buffer between the children and their descent into hell. I have a trained psyche and if I draw 30 Z's, I won’t start believing that the special operation is a good thing, but if the kids draw it... maybe [they will]”, explains the teacher before questioning: “why are the letters military letters if there is no war?”.
The class was then supposed to attend a flash mob with these drawings but they arrived “too late” to the event. “We just took a picture with the children on the spot to mark that we were there,” adds the teacher.
Russian lawmaker suggests kidnapping NATO official
“In the very near future, some military minister of a NATO country will take the train to Kyiv in order to talk to Zelensky and won't make it. He will wake up in Moscow,” said Oleg Morozov, a Russian lawmaker of the State Duma, on state TV channel Russia-1, Russian independent media Agency. News reported.
When asked by the show host if the person would indeed be kidnapped, Morozov said yes, adding that in such a scenario, the official could be tried in Moscow and be held responsible for supplying weapons to Kyiv.
Morozov is already known for proposing to label certain Russians as “undesirable” citizens and forbid them from entering Russia. He also suggested “denazifying” Poland after the end of the war in Ukraine.
Concentration camp survivor’s book becomes bestseller in Russia
The book Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything, written by psychologist Viktor Frankl, who went through German concentration camps, became a bestseller in one of Russia's largest online retailers, Ozon, according to Russian media Agency. News.
Frankl was imprisoned in a concentration camp from 1942 till the arrival of the American army in April 1945 and published his story a year later.
Another March-April bestseller on Ozon is called All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin. The book, written by journalist Mikhail Zygar tells the story of Russia throughout the reign of Vladimir Putin, from 2000 to 2015. The book is based on documents, open sources, and dozens of unique personal interviews conducted by the author with actors of Vladimir Putin's inner circle.
A word from our editors
9 hrs., 02.06.2022
Over the past 24 hours, air raids have been heard over almost all Ukraine, except for the Kherson region. In the occupied territories in the east and south, there is a partial or complete lack of gas supply, electricity, and water, and Ukrainian mobile communications. The region needs medicine and humanitarian aid. Fighting and shelling continues, Ukrainian Pravda reports.
On the night of 2 June, the Russians fired 3 missiles at Krasnopil in the Sumy region.
Ukrainian troops retain control of the Sievierodonetsk industrial zone in the Luhansk region, while reportedly Russian troops used prohibited cluster munitions on the outskirts of Slovyansk in the Donetsk region.
In the Lviv region, trains are not running on the line damaged by Russian missiles.
There were air raid alerts during the night in the Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, and Mykolaiv regions, and renewed enemy shelling.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi marked International Children’s Day by saying at least 243 children have died in the war so far, 446 children have been injured and more than 200,000 have been reportedly deported to Russia.
Irpin in the Kyiv region was the scene of the most dramatic destruction and among the first to see it was The Mountain Rescue Team from the Carpathian mountains.
Cleaning up Irpin: ‘our hearts were broken’
by Olha Surovska, 02.06.2022
In normal times, the Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) searches for people lost or injured in the Carpathian mountains. They are physically strong volunteers and experienced trekkers who have been trained to work on treacherous grounds such as cliffs, rivers, and avalanches.
When the city of Irpin in the Kyiv region was liberated from the Russian invasion on 28 March, MRT volunteers were among the first ones to help clean up the town. At that time, because the Ukrainian military and special town services were the only ones allowed to enter the city in ruins, they were among the first to see what the Russians had left behind.
“When we saw the ruined buildings and burnt cars, we were shocked. Our hearts were broken,” says Viktor Shushval, an MRT member.
80 per cent of Irpin has been totally destroyed by the war. The team of six people worked hand in hand with the State Emergency Service of Ukraine (SES). Their main task was to clean up a school and particularly secure its damaged metal roof.
“At the first meeting, we were told that any closed doors in the town should not be opened, and nothing should be lifted that might explode. SES sappers had already cleared the ground around the school, but some shells could still be lying around. We saw several holes from shells that went through the roof. Caution was needed constantly,” says another MRT member, Taras Zayets.
Volunteers were allowed to live in the school, where they were working. They found only one room with two undamaged windows, which they covered with furniture and canvas and turned into their headquarters, where they would sleep for the entire clearing operation. There was no water, electricity, and heat in Irpin.
“The most vulnerable people had stayed there – the elderly, who had nowhere to go, people with disabilities, mainly retirees. These people lived for a long time in awful conditions. We brought all the necessary things. Leaving the town, we gave the rest of our food to the locals. They were very thankful,” says Zayets.
The MRT volunteers will go on cleaning up the territory of Irpin as well as in other cities. At the moment, the team has received from the state eight other assignments.
At least 15 military recruitment offices have been set on fire in Russia since the beginning of the war in Ukraine
The Russian independent news platform 7x7 released a map of regions where military enlistment offices were set on fire. The latest incident occurred on 30 May in Crimea.
Odesa’s famous market comes to Ukraine’s rescue
by Tetiana Bezhenar, 01.06.2022
From the first days of the war, the outdoor market of Odessa doubled as a one-stop shop for all military needs. A couple of storage units are being used for sorting the goods that arrive from Europe, which are then sent to the regions that need them.
“We send all the necessary things to military units and hospitals. Moreover, our Avanhard community (a small village in Odesa region - ed.), has become home to many IDPs from the east of Ukraine. A lot of these people fled the war without any belongings. They’ve been supplied with everything they need,” market director Iryna Tkach said.
The traders were determined it would be business as usual in the teeth of all-out war, and that they would also unite to help defeat the enemy. This includes fundraising and procuring uniforms and ammunition for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, helping internally displaced persons (IDPs) with necessities, and sending humanitarian aid to the country’s war-torn regions.
The traders deem it their duty to ensure that every Ukrainian – be they a soldier or civilian, has everything they need. That’s why most of the 60,000 vendors at the ‘Seventh-Kilometre’ Market in Odesa, among the biggest markets in Europe, with its 75 hectares of territory featuring 15,000 market stalls and storage units, stayed put on 24 February.
Natalia Khlamova and her husband are one of them. They commute to the market daily, despite the ever-present risk of airstrikes. Nearly 100 per cent of the profits they make go to the IDPs and soldiers.
“We’ve been working as a humanitarian headquarters from the first day of Russia’s aggression. Volunteers got in touch with us straight away. We announced on our website that we wanted to help. We sold the items that we bought in Turkey at their face value. Not only did we supply the defenders in the Armed Forces and territorial defence forces of Ukraine in this way, but we paid taxes on these purchases, too. These days we purchase clothes for children in need,” Khlamova explained.
Apparently, businesses that keep running during the war are not only good for a country’s economy, they can also become a driving force for victory.
A word from our editors
9 hrs., 01.06.2022
We are into the ninety-eighth day of the heroic stand of the Ukrainian army against Russia’s military invasion.
President Joe Biden confirmed the United States will send more advanced rocket systems to Ukraine with the ability to more precisely strike targets on the battlefield from a greater distance inside Ukraine, what he called "key targets" of Russia's invasion force.
The day before, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi stated “Our plan is to deoccupy our entire territory in accordance with international law, and we don't care about Russia’s plans”, following talks with President of the Slovak Republic Zuzana Čaputová in Kyiv.
The aggressor conducted air raids in the eastern-northern Sumy and Kharkiv regions and in Donbas, while in Donetsk air power was concentrating on supporting Russian offensive operations. In Sievierodonetsk, Russians carried out assault operations in the northern, southern and eastern districts of the city. Evacuation of an estimated 12,000 civilians, is blocked.
The Russian occupiers also launched an air strike on Sievierodonetsk, hitting a nitric acid tank at a chemical plant. Residents of the region were urged to stay in shelters and use, if possible, protective face masks soaked in soda solution.
In the South the enemy's main efforts are focused on maintaining their occupied positions and carrying out massive shelling from rocket-propelled grenade launchers, artillery, and mortars.
In the waters of the Black and Azov Seas, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet continues to isolate the area of hostilities and blockade shipping.
How to run a school during wartime
Two teachers decided to stay in Kharkiv while hundreds of thousands of citizens left the city. They tell how they contribute to the frontline through education.
by Kateryna Kyselyova, 31.05.2022
Her face was only lit by a small table lamp – the city still goes completely dark at nighttime to prevent air raids. Liudmyla Tabolina, headteacher of Kharkiv school № 10, remembers:
“On the morning of 24 February, as I approached the school, I saw two men moving our school bench. They just wanted to borrow something to sit on during the air raids when they were hiding in the basement.”
Since the beginning of full-scale Russian invasion, Kharkiv has become synonymous with wanton destruction and civilian suffering. The ones who stayed organised themselves. Up to 100 people were cooped up in the spacious basement of Tabolina’s school, with its canteen and locker rooms shelter during the frightening days of early March. During the more peaceful days of April, they were around 50. Tabolina found herself in charge of the humanitarian supplies, from food to essential hygiene items to even clothes. Even wifi was installed in the basement so that people could work remotely.
Teachers of school № 10 resumed distance learning earlier than predicted as they understood that children needed training, support and communication.“Our school has some kind of invisible protection,” Tabolina continues.
“I imagine it as an unwavering, anchored ship in a Sea Battle game: all the houses around the school got seriously damaged, while our school has minor injuries – just bruises, I would say.”‘
By mid-May, according to the local authorities, nearly 260 educational institutions, including kindergartens, schools, and colleges were damaged or demolished. That’s why when Olena Dolgopol, working in education for the last 30 years, saw a call for volunteers to give classes to kids living in metro stations, she had no doubts about her commitment.
The aim of the project, supported by UNICEF, is to give emotional and psychological support to children rather than deliver school curriculum lessons.
Two teachers were assigned in each metro station. They would come to draw, sing and play with the children. Dolgopol and her students first took places on the stairs, later they got four tables for their improvised classroom.
“Children once asked me: does a Russian soldier have a human face? That question startled me at first. I realised later that adults would call Russian troops orcs, so children wanted to know if they looked like human beings at all,” Dolgopol said.
“Some other day, when we talked about ‘victory’, I was surprised to see that the children did not understand what victory for Ukraine would mean in this war. I found a map and showed how far the Ukrainian army would push the enemies out of Ukrainian land. ‘That is a victory for us!’ shouted one boy.”
She would draw with children a lot, but she didn’t risk saying “draw what you like”.
“I knew from colleagues volunteering at other stations that children would make frightening drawings with skeletons, black crosses. We would then pass the information to psychologists who volunteered with us and they would work with kids individually on their trauma,” she said.
“I recall three girls at my station. They came to the Kharkiv metro by foot from a distant village in the Kharkiv region. Ukrainian soldiers warned their parents: ‘Save the girls, it’s going to be hell here in a couple of days.’ So their parents sent them to the city. The girls naturally did not realise what could happen to them, they just thought of it as an adventure.”
These days Kharkiv metro is returning to its main mission of transporting people. Some are coming back to their homes – if they’re still there. But Dolgopol’s school project is far from over: they’re looking for a secure location to continue classes in the summer as the children need continued support and a safe space for emotional wellbeing.
A word from our editors
10 hrs., 31.05.2022
Spring might be coming to an end today but the fighting in Ukraine’s Donbas continues.
According to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Russia is firing at the Ukrainian troops with mortars, artillery and rocket-propelled grenade launchers by the demarcation line in the Donetsk direction.
“The main efforts are focused on establishing control over the city of Sievierodonetsk. [Russia] actively uses means of electronic warfare,” the General Staff wrote.
We start today’s coverage with a story about the abduction of men in Russia-occupied Kherson.
Men abducted by Russia in occupied Kherson
by Daria Kotielnikova, 31.05.2022
Instances of kidnapped men have become a common occurrence in occupied Kherson and its region. It is difficult to calculate how many have been kidnapped – some cases are not being reported officially due to fear or lack of knowledge about how to act in the situation. Two women share stories of their family members who have been missing for more than a month. Read the full story.
Odesa Railway mobilises to evacuate refugees westwards
by Tetiana Bezhenar, 30.05.2022
From the first days of the war, Odesa Railway workers have been helping people who have already suffered from the Russian occupiers. Refugees are being evacuated through the city to Western Ukraine.
Oksana Terletska is a conductor on the Odesa-Rakhiv, (in the Transcarpatia region - ed.), train. Every day she risks her own life to save others. She remembers the first days of the war with tears in her eyes because she had never seen so many people who lost not only their homes but also their relatives, in an instant.
“Thousands of refugees fleeing the war, frightened people with children, the first time I had ever seen such a large flow of people. There were tears of despair and anxiety for the future on their faces. Their only desire was to hide from the war. They have nowhere else to live. What they’d built over the years the war destroyed in a second,” says Oksana.
The hardest thing, say the railroad workers on long-distance 14-hour trips, is to be "caught on the rails" when a siren sounds, because you never know when or where a shell or a rocket could come. In such moments you have to be not just a guide, but also a psychologist, a good aunt, mother, or friend.
“There were days when 300 people would cram into one car, (designed for 50-60 people - ed.). Everyone stayed strong, riding standing and silent, just praying to God to get to a safe place as soon as possible,” says Oksana.
Since the beginning of the war, the Odesa Railway has added more trains to the line to help everyone in need. Every day, eight trains and two more evacuation trains leave from Odesa to western Ukraine close to the borders of Poland and Hungary. Refugees from Kherson and Mykolayiv were met and escorted by volunteers which helped ensure more than 10,000 people affected by Russian aggression left the platforms every day in March-April.
“Priority for free evacuation trains was given to orphans and people with disabilities. A bomb shelter for 1,000 people was set up in the station. We worked out the safest routes for our drivers, slowing down only in dangerous areas, and stopping at the nearest station to use its bomb shelter if an air raid siren sounded”, says Serhiy Nikulin, director of the Odesa Railway regional branch.
Now the flow of refugees from the invaded areas has decreased significantly. Instead, it’s the residents of Odesa who are starting to go. The city has been hit by heavy missile strikes again, forcing some people to seek safety. They take their most valuable things with them, not forgetting their pets.
“We took everything we needed for the first week. Let's see how the situation unfolds in the future and then we will return home. We are from Odesa and no matter what happens, we do not plan to stay away for long”, says one of the evacuees.
Odesa Railway says that in an emergency, they are ready to evacuate 20,000 passengers a day. In total, since the beginning of the war, they have evacuated more than 230,000 people through the city. This is their war, and they are ready to risk their lives if they can help save thousands of others.
Our next story is about how the army reflects modern Ukrainian society, with less discrimination against the LGBTIQ+ community, who are defending their state the same way that others do.
Ukrainian LGBTIQ+ community: ‘we’re also taking part in this war’
by Maryna Bakyeva, 30.05.2022
Though sexual diversity in Ukraine is not outlawed (it's legal since independence in 1991), the LGBTIQ+ community have long been under stigma and marginalised. In the past month alone, Ukrainians have heard hate speech towards LGBTIQ+ community from at least two public figures.
LGBTIQ+ representatives within the Ukrainian army are rarely portrayed. In 2018, Viktor Pylypenko, an openly gay veteran of the Donbas Volunteer Battalion, decided to change that by forming LGBT Military, a union of military, veterans and volunteers fighting for equal rights. The idea for the union came after he attended a life-changing exhibition. Here’s how came it about, together with the stories of two other soldiers from LGBTIQ+ community that the union has helped to support. Read the full article here.
Meanwhile in Russia…
Netflix has officially withdrawn from Russia
Russian subscribers have been disconnected from the streaming platform, said one of its spokeperson to the AFP on Monday. The company was waiting for the period of previously paid subscriptions to end to fully stop its services.
According to Netflix, this decision was the last step in the process of leaving the Russian market.
‘We can't wash off the blood’
Activist Natalya Perova was detained by the police on 30 May, following her anti-war protest near the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On 29 May, Perova and another Russian activist, Lyudmila Annenkova, covered themselves with blood-red paint and demonstrated in front of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow.
A word from our editors
10 hrs., 30.05.2022
Good morning. Day 96 of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine. This weekend saw the situation intensify in the east of Ukraine. While the country carried out a successful counterattack on Russia on Saturday, 28 May, heavy fighting continues in the Donbas.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported that Ukraine’s counterattack strengthened the country’s position in the south of the country.
“(The) enemy suffered losses and had to retreat to unfavourable positions near Avdiivka, Lozove, and Bilohirka in the Kherson region. The fighting continues,” the General Staff wrote.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, Ukraine’s counterattack will prevent Russia from advancing in the south.
At the same time, the situation in part of the Donbas remains critical. Last week, Luhansk authorities reported that 95 per cent of the Luhansk region is already occupied by Russia.
On Sunday, Ukrainian forces were fighting to hold off Russia attempts to capture the Severodonetsk, the largest city they still hold in the eastern Donbas region, but were weathering heavy artillery barrages. “The situation has extremely escalated,” said Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai, cited by Reuters.
But the rest of Ukraine holds on and some positive stories of resilience are found in every city, such as that of Mariupol.
We start our blog this week with a story of an eight year-old schoolboy who kept a diary as his family sheltered from the bombs that rained down on the besieged city of Mariupol. At his side for several days, photographer Yevhen Sosnovsky photographed his notebook and documented the city’s devastation.
Diary of a schoolboy from Mariupol: escaping a city that is no more
By Liudmyla Makei, 30.05.2022
Sunday, 3 May. “I slept well, woke up, smiled, got up, and read my book until the 25th page. My grandfather is dead, I have a wound in my back, my skin is gone, my sister has injuries to the head and mom no longer has flesh in the arm and a hole in the leg.”
Monday, 4 May. “Grandma went looking for water and she came back. By the way, it’s almost my birthday. I am eight, my sister’s 15, my mum is 38 and needs a bandage. Two of my dogs died. So did my Grandma Halya and my favourite city, Mariupol.”
These lines were written by a school boy from Mariupol. He kept a diary for the entire two months he spent in a basement in Mariupol together with his mother, sister, and neighbours hiding from the bombing. Artist and photographer, Yevhen Sosnovsky took pictures of the boy and the diary after living with the family in a basement for several days.
Sosnovsky managed to escape Mariupol after 62 days in the besieged city and published his pictures on Facebook. The photos he took of the boy, his diary, and life in Mariupol are getting so much support that the photographer has no time to answer all the messages, he said.
We spoke with the photographer to learn about his escape and the young boy who remains in the besieged city. Read the full article here.