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Yuliya Grytsenko, who is caring for her 10-year-old daughter, Polina, infirm father Mykola and ill brother, says she wakes up every morning to her “new reality” after a malfunctioning Ukrainian surface to air missile struck the Soviet-era tower block next to hers. Though some two million Kyvianies – around half its population – have already fled the capital, the former TV producer explains there was something even greater she could not escape: the feeling that leaving would betray her home of more than three decades.
“I am under a lot of pressure from my father and from people I know who have already left” says Yuliya, 37.
“’Think of your child’, they tell me, ‘save your daughter’.
“And I was ready to go. The TV channel I worked for organised an evacuation, and a friend in Germany even offered to home us.
“Of course I’m scared, but I decided I had to stay because, if everyone leaves it will be… it’s wrong. These are my walls, my city, it’s my people who are fighting and dying to protect it.”
In a sardonic twist, Yuliya was born in Russia.
Her 65-year-old father, a native of Sumy, had served the USSR loyally in Russia’s eastern region of Transbaikalia, and brought his family to Kyiv after being rewarded with an apartment in its dying days.
These are the very people Putin had in mind when he referred to “those dearest to us – not only colleagues, friends and people who once served together, but also relatives, people bound by blood, by family ties.”
Sitting on the bed in the sitting room which she shares with Polina, she adds: “Until recently, I really couldn’t believe what was happening.
“The day before the invasion, I told my friend there would be no war. The most we could imagine was that Putin would try to break through Ukraine’s positions in the Donbas to seize Donetsk and Luhansk,” she recalls.
“But to destroy dozens of cities, to break in from all directions, to bomb civilians, none of us imagined it possible.
Yuliya has always supported the country’s efforts to forge ever closer ties with Europe.
“ I’m ashamed to say it now but I was one of those who criticised Zelensky for not doing enough to resist Russia. That has completely changed now, of course,“ she says.
“But my parents spent 14 years in Russia and were very sentimental towards it.
“My father’s faith was shaken in 2014 but my mother, Olena, held on to fond memories of spending her youth there. It was incredibly difficult for her to accept the fact of Russia’s attack.”
Now besieged in Sumy, where she is looking after Masha, Yuliya’s 90-year-old grandmother, Olena’s opinions have changed.
“Now she understands who Putin really is,“ says Yuliya.
Olena was not one of 35,000 who this week left Sumy. But things there are improving.
“Now things are in relative order,” says Yuliya, adding:. “Relative order is the fashionable term, these days
“The other day my dad’s brother died, He was ill and he needed dialysis every two days. Unfortunately, because of this war, he couldn’t get the help he needed.
“The worst thing is that none of us were able to go to his funeral. My father is still very upset by this.”
When war broke out, Yuliya’s priority became to secure vital medicine to treat her brother’s debilitating neurological condition.
“His disease is progressing, and he cannot do without medicine,” she says.
“On the second day my father and I searched the city looking for a pharmacy that was still open.
“It took the whole day but, eventually, we found someone who gave us enough for a few months. He didn’t even want any money.
“As we were looking I heard on a news bulletin that a rocket had struck a tower block in our area. I was shaking, imagining it was my home.
“When I returned I learned it was a neighbouring building. The impact of the rocket was so great that flying rubble destroyed a nearby hypermarket where we used to shop.
“Now my father is afraid to let me go outside except to buy food.”
Normal life, when Yuliya would socialise with friends and explore her city, is a distant memory.
“I worked hard and was able to provide for my family. On my day off I would do things that seem so alien now, like going to the movies, eating in restaurants, drinking coffee with friends – I dream of drinking decent coffee today,” she says.
“I recently found a photo taken when I walked in Mariinsky Park all the way to the glass bridge. We were joking, laughing, so carefree.
“Now, it’s as if we are living in a terrible dream, and every morning you wake up and realise it’s your new reality.
“The days are a blur of air raid sirens and explosion blasts – I barely know what day of the week it is.
“But we try to live. The other day I took Polina to buy some flowers. We could hear gunfire nearby but we were able to find some joy in the beauty of tulips.
“I don’t know what day will be my last. In a war you live one day at a time and you can never be sure there will be a tomorrow. But while we have today, we can fill the dullness of this horror with colour.”
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Her daughter is just about coping, she says.
“Polina spends a lot of time surfing the internet, but I let her. She stays in touch with classmates who are still here and her teachers send supportive messages every day.
“Generally, she’s calm because I try so hard to remain calm. But when there are volleys of air defence rocket explosions, she calls me and we sit together, hugging.”
Yuliya adds: “I’m not special. There are many thousands of Ukrainians who are in my position. And our love for each other just grows. We’ve rallied like never before.
“I think Putin lives in a parallel universe. He doesn’t understand us at all.
“Putin will never be able to conquer Ukraine until he kills every last one of us.”
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