Give a heart to Ukraine: Interviews with the protagonists

Here are the people from Kyiv whom we thank for these breathtaking photos. They were so kind to tell us about their feelings during the photoshoot and how it is to live in Kyiv now. Read the interviews with them.

Eugeniy - a soldier that the crew accidentally met during the photoshoot

Oksana - the photographer

Anna - the blonde model, a ballet dancer

Taisiya - the brunette model, a dancer

Kirill - the man model, a yoga teacher

Eugeniy

What was your daily routine like before the war?

Like many others, my life was quiet and balanced. I spent most of my time at work (I am the cook in a restaurant). My daughter and I were living apart at the time, but we spent every weekend together.

How old are you? 

I am 38 years old.

What do you do these days? What has changed the most? 

Because of my health problems, I had never served in the military before the war. As a result, when Russian aggressions struck my country and community, all health concerns were put on hold. On February 24th, 2022, I decided to defend my Ukraine, my home city of Kyiv, with a rifle in my hands. And it is not just about me defending my country. I want to protect every Ukrainian, every small town, and every single person. When children or people die, the greatest loss occurs...

Can you describe your feelings after the first attack? Did you expect it or not? 

That did not surprise me in the least. I knew it was possible, but I refused to believe it until it happened. There was no memory of the initial assault, but there was a clear plan of what to do. The plan was put together a few days before the war started.

What is your task in the military? 

I am a soldier who uses automatic weapons. I do not have a rank or a position. All I do is protect my people from the enemy as best I can. I use all of the power, love, possibilities, and knowledge I have gained since the beginning of the war.

How is it possible to survive in Kyiv now? 

Surviving will be extremely difficult. We must adjust to our new lifestyle. It has not been easy to live during the war. Priorities are shifting; it no longer matters what you wear or drive; everyone is now treated equally. And we will make it work because we are Ukrainians, we are one family, and we are a strong nation. And the only way we will get through this is if we join our hands.

Why have you decided to stay in Kyiv? 

Kyiv is my hometown; I was born and raised here for the past 38 years. I know my way around town like the back of my hand. Who better than a native of Kyiv? That knows this city and is its most ardent defender. As a result, leaving my home when the war broke out would be the same as kneeling before the enemy. But I will never do it because the only reason I can do it is for God and my mother.

How often do you feel fear and anger? 

A person's fear is natural. Fear can be managed. There is frequently apprehension about the safety of the family. (At the start of the war, my wife and daughter were unable to leave immediately, and now my parents have also arrived in Kyiv.) It is terrifying to be in Gradov or Artillery shelling positions; you lie down and pray to God that the shells do not hit you or the guy in the trench. Making an effort to pray. I am not sure how I can explain this. When it comes to emotions, anger is overwhelming, especially after shelling or seeing dead bodies or injured people. You want to tear everything apart and throw it around. Most importantly, anger arises in your mind when you are unable to respond to these questions: For what? Who are we disturbing? And why is this happening?

When were you worried the most? 

To be honest, the most stressful time for me was during childbirth when my daughter was born. I was present in the delivery room and witnessed everything; that was the most powerful experience in my life. And in the war, I have many concerns; every day, something new appears, and its strength cannot be measured; it is something that cannot be described in words.

What about your family? How does the war affect them? 

My family is now safe and far away from the battle. My family consists of four men: my father is unable to fight due to a disability. Uncle: He lives an immoral life as an alcoholic, and a slacker. My sister's husband and his family are now providing security for the entire family. He is a good person who wanted to go to war, but I told him that only I would go. If something were to happen to me, he would be able to support our entire family. But if we went together and something bad happened, our family would be in a bad situation. As a result, I am the only member of my family who serves in the military.

How can other people, other countries help you? 

Help from all countries is great in any form. Thank you for this! However, everyone, in my opinion, is afraid of Russia. At the moment, Ukraine is defending not only its own territory and freedom but rather the entire continent of Europe. "Appetite comes with eating" - if we let Russia win, it will go even further. (However, Russia will never win!) So, if we are talking about assistance, we will need the same things you would need if you were protecting yourself.

Why did you agree to participate in this photoshoot? What impression does it leave on you?

I am not a professional model. I am now a soldier. I agreed to this photoshoot because I was experiencing such strong emotions at the time... In my opinion, this model in a white gown represented Ukraine - a young, frail, defenceless girl... I wanted to protect her, and kissing her hand showed my respect, devotion, and support.

What do you wish for your Ukrainian brothers and sisters?

Peaceful sky.

What is your attitude to the fact that the war is happening because of individual interests? 

During the war, I discovered that it is not just about death. It is also about living life. After the war, each survivor has his or her own BEFORE and AFTER. This war is not about individual interests; it is about Putin's. Let us call it a spade. History is rhyming, and Putin is emulating Hitler. They behave as if they were carbon copies. And the result will be the same. Everything that happens in the world happens because of someone's interests. Sometimes things go as planned, and no one is harmed, but other times things go terribly wrong, and destruction and war are on the way. In this situation, there is a convergence of interests, and the result is terrible: people, children, and cities are being destroyed.

Do you believe that Ukraine will win? 

Ukraine has already won. And the first victory was achieved through people's unity and solidarity. Everyone has done and continues to do everything they can for our country, people, and army. Volunteers are incredible. Even small children are drawing beautiful and touching pictures, which contribute to the victory. So, with people like Ukrainians on our side, we will undoubtedly win.


Oksana

What was your daily routine like before the war?

I am a 29-year-old photographer with a background in ballet and law. Ballet has been a part of my life since I was five years old, and photography has been a part of my life for over ten years. My life was filled with beauty, aesthetics, and wonderful people. I had photoshoots or post-production processes almost every day with the most talented dancers. I worked on exciting projects and collaborated with ballet dancers, ballet schools, ballet competitions, shops, and so on. When I was travelling a lot, I enjoyed every minute of my work, as well as days spent with my large family and wonderful friends.

But...24.02.2022! Tears break down.

What do you do these days?

In the early days of the war, the main goal was to protect your family as best you could, to ensure that everyone in your family was alive and well (at least by words). Everyone is in or near Kyiv. After that, you start worrying about your friends and try to help them in any way you can (informational, physical or just moral). For a long time, our messages were the same, every half hour or so: "How are you?" Whether "quietly" or not... The most important thing is to get a response. Day and night...

After that, a new phase began, in which, despite the daily concerns of your family and friends, you began to think about the people around you, about Ukrainians, about the entire Ukraine tragedy. And right now, all I want is to help, to be useful and effective. You realise you still have a home, family, and food - but someone does not! Many people chose or were forced to relocate to western Ukraine or elsewhere. So, with the help of my friend Sveta, who lives in France, we began collecting, verifying, and disseminating information about transfers, volunteers, shelters, new rules, new countries, and so on. She has also offered her home as a temporary shelter, and we have linked all of our friends from all over the world to help refugees. At the moment, we are working on a charity website called "artsforukraine," where you can buy my ballet Ukrainian illustrations, and 100% of the proceeds will go to charity.

What has changed the most? 

Everything is different now. Everyday life is no longer the same. It is surreal to think about how much I miss something or what I have lost (you know I missed all my life before the war, but my family are alive, at home - and this is the biggest happiness). People and children in my country are dying or have been killed, families are being separated, people are being forced to flee their homes, lives are being destroyed, and cities and villages are being occupied. Horror. And when someone asks, "How are you?" or "How is my family?" it is extremely difficult to respond, “I am ok and my family as well.“ Because now “me and my family“ is the whole of Ukraine, all Ukrainians.

Can you describe your feelings after the first attack? Did you expect it or not? 

Confusion.

NO. It came as a surprise to me. I try not to be concerned about things that are unlikely to happen. (However, as I later discovered, Russia had planned this war for a long time...(First they wanted East Ukraine, Crimea and now all of Ukraine). People around us were talking about it, and we did not want to believe it... It seemed impossible in the twenty-first century. My camera and laptop were my "bug-out bag" at the time. That is it.

Why have you decided to stay in Kyiv? 

My entire family lives in or near Kyiv. What is more, I have a husband who is not permitted to travel abroad due to mobilisation. I can not abandon him and my entire family. Perhaps if I had children, I would make a different decision (because we should protect our children and keep them out of the war). But now I have decided to stay, as has my entire family - we love Kyiv, Ukraine, and each other.

How often do you experience fear and anger?

Sometimes. What we are feeling now is deep pain for our people, children, women... But only love can triumph, so I have a lot of love and gratitude in my heart. I am trying to keep and raise it.

What about your loved ones? What effect does the war have on them?

I come from a large family. That is why my concerns have multiplied. The most important thing is that everyone is alive and well. My husband is an IT specialist, so he is fortunate to be working and contributing to our Country's economy by donating and assisting in any way he can. My brother is assisting in territory defence. My uncle and father look after our family's women and children. We now share a home with my father and two nephews (7 and 9 years old). Because we are stronger together, and we have more joy and calmness together. But time will tell how we should proceed because Kyiv and its surroundings are becoming safer. We will most likely split up to continue our lives in a new reality.

In general, what does tenderness mean to you? How do you see women's roles in everyday life? How did the war affect it?

Tenderness provides you with peace, light, and good energy. It is softness, sensitivity, and consideration. The role is enormous, and I would like to draw parallels with my mother - she is so wise (always, but especially during the war), calm, confident, and always has a word to soothe, show her love, and so on. My tenderness has also increased as a result of the war. I feel it when I talk to my nephews and want to share my kind and encouraging words with others.

It is claimed that women have a natural need to care for others. To some of them, the war provides no opportunity to protect the people they care about. Do you consider the women in your life to be "broken" or not?

Your words simply penetrate the heart. It is excruciating... Some of them are exhausted because reality is cruel and everyone suffers in their own way. Most women, on the other hand, should be strong, and they are! You know, they do not have any other choice; it is just as important to find strength... for protecting children (even if they are not yours), caring for the elderly, and animals, and being considerate to men and military members. It is like a chain; if women are weak, the entire society can break.

How can other people, other countries help you?

Thank you so much for everything you do for us. Thank you to everyone and every country. Thank you for your assistance! Just keep going... I am aware that humanitarian aid is diminishing by the day. I understand that staying in shape is impossible all of the time, but do not get tired of talking about it, and do not stop helping our people as much as you can. If you have a job to offer, do so; if you have a spare house, rent it out to them for a low cost; and if you can adopt a child or a dog, do so. I believe that we will be able to stand together. And, most importantly, Putin must be stopped. If you are capable of doing so, please put a stop to him! There will be no fiddling. Globally, all we need now is a simple happy life with our people, country, and family (all of which are being destroyed by "Russian peace" every day). Priorities have shifted, and now only this matters.

Why did you agree to participate in this photoshoot? What impression does it leave on you?

I am grateful to be a part of such a wonderful charity project, grateful that I can be useful with a camera in my hands, grateful that this photoshoot and these words can change and save someone's life. Thank you for this opportunity! I want people all over the world to see our people's and Motherland's light, spirit, kindness, and big hearts in one hand. And the great strength, desire for freedom, and life tragedy in the other. Without a doubt, we will stand. The light will triumph over the darkness, and good will triumph over evil.

Can you describe your feelings during the photoshoot? Have you experienced something surprising? 

It was an emotional day. It was wonderful to see people who live in Kyiv and agreed to this shoot hugging each other. I felt the value of holding my camera and being able to create something significant. When we were shooting in the location with the destroyed mall and houses, I felt tremble and sadness. I can not even describe how difficult it was to see and photograph the destroyed buildings and houses in the background (I was terrified when I realised the horror was not over). I would never do something like this if I did not have any sense or idea of what I was doing. It is a major annoyance. I was grateful to the people we met for their open hearts. They were eager to assist us. I also felt pride when I saw so many caring people around me, with their smiles and kindness. Everything is surprising to me because I have never experienced such complex emotions.

What is your attitude to the fact that the war is happening because of individual interests? 

Disgusting! Many things happened as a result of individual interests, and I am sure we do not know much about global acting. But when people, children, and animals are dying and being killed, and women are being raped in the twenty-first century, it is simply horrifying! There is no justification!

What do you wish for your Ukrainian brothers and sisters?

Peaceful sky. The strength to believe, live on and help others.


Anna

What was your daily routine like before the war?

My days were filled with people's communication and art. I used to be a photographer before the war. I have also been assisting my husband with administrative duties in his new business for the past three months. We are just like any other Ukrainian, trying to better ourselves, spending time with family and friends, and making plans. We had a good life.

What are you up to these days? What has changed the most?

Life is radically changing. There is no morning coffee, summary news, or phone calls to all of my family members who live in other cities asking, "How are you?" One of the most difficult aspects is being unable to do the things you enjoy.

Can you describe your emotions after the initial attack? Did you expect it or not?

I was awakened at 5 a.m. on February 24th by the first explosion. I thought I was still dreaming until the second explosion was much stronger, and I realised it was a war. It came as a surprise. The possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine has been discussed previously, but I do not believe it will occur in 2022. I have always believed that war was a thing of the past and that in a civilised world, everything can be handled diplomatically.

Why have you decided to stay in Kyiv?

We spent the first four nights on the metro, contemplating evacuation. Especially when Kyiv was stormed and fights erupted throughout the city. However, our capital has been well-protected by our army. My instincts told me that we were safe here. Furthermore, by being here, we can be more useful than if we were in a lesser-known city.

How often do you feel fear and rage?

At first, I was justified in being irritated all of the time. But then I realised it is better to channel the aggressor's rage into love and pray for Ukraine and our defenders. Anger annihilates us from within, robbing us of our ability to be useful. The fear is present at all times, even when Kyiv is going about its daily business. Our adversary is cunning because he is fighting an unfair war.

What about your loved ones? What effect does the war have on them?

My husband returned to work as much as he could to help the country's economy. After a month in the basement without electricity, gas, water, or a mobile connection, my brother and father were able to flee Mariupol city. Their homes had been destroyed. They do not know where they will go once the war is over. It is a huge tragedy for my family and me because it used to be my home. But now comes the most important thing in life.

In general, what does tenderness mean to you? How do you see women's roles in everyday life? How did the war affect it?

Tenderness, in my opinion, is the ability to inspire. That, in my opinion, is the role of the woman in everyday life. Every Ukrainian woman now inspires me. Women who went to the front; women who leave their homes and loved ones to leave the country to protect their children; or women who stayed and became volunteers. This is incredible bravery and unity.

It is claimed that women have a natural need to care for others. To some of them, the war provides no opportunity to protect the people they care about. Do you consider the women in your life to be broken” or not?

It is difficult to deny that many of those women are emotionally drained. But it is impossible to "break" our country or our women. Ukrainian women will do everything they can to inspire and support their men, families, and children, and will stand firm until victory.

How can other people, other countries help you? 

We are extremely grateful to our neighbouring countries for assisting the people and providing them with a place to stay, as well as for Ukraine's financial and humanitarian assistance. It is extremely valuable. Other countries must condemn everything that is happening in Ukraine, including everyone in their respective fields of politics, media, art, and so on.

The rest of the world needs to understand that, thanks to the bravery and resistance of the Ukrainians, people in many other parts of Europe can sleep peacefully at night. Everyone needs to know that Ukraine and the Ukrainian people are strong, independent, and culturally and historically rich. It is a country with resources and perspectives, and it is a country that evolves.

Why did you agree to participate in this photoshoot? What impression does it leave on you?

First and foremost, I saw it as an opportunity to help through charity. Being in Kyiv and taking part in this photoshoot allows us to show the world our reality and how it has affected our lives. To draw attention to the terrible consequences and devastation caused by the war. Everyone, no matter who they are, is doing their best.

Can you tell me about your emotions during the photoshoot? Have you had any unexpected experiences?

My heart sank to my stomach when I saw the devastation with my own eyes. It is difficult to believe and accept. A destroyed Ukrainian house is the pain of everyone who lives in this country, not just one person. I wanted to scream and cry because I was in so much pain and desperation.

What is your attitude to the fact that the war is happening because of individual interests? 

Unfortunately, the primary motivation for any war is someone's personal interests and ambitions. In the modern world, resolving it in this manner is a sign of weakness. The cost of that weakness is exorbitant. Nothing will ever justify the destruction of millions of lives and the deaths of thousands of people.

What do you wish for your Ukrainian brothers and sisters?

I hope that this inner strength is sufficient to get us through this war without becoming disheartened and to keep the light shining on what lives in our souls. Also, I hope that every woman remembers to take care of herself as much as possible. On a plane, you first put an oxygen mask on yourself, then on those who sit next to you.


Taisiya

What was your daily routine like before the war?

I am a choreography instructor. I worked at the university for a year before the war began. I opened my own dance studio a month before the war. I majored in dance movement therapy. I no longer have a "before and after." There is a war going on right now. If we wake up tomorrow, that is great. Another day will come.

What do you do these days? What has changed the most? 

I decided to stay in Kyiv on the first day of the war because I wanted to be in the capital no matter what. I just sat down and thought to myself, "How can I be most helpful to a large number of people, how can I help?" I am a teacher, and I know how to get people organised. So, with the help of a few others from several buildings around, we were able to. We began doing everything we could to ensure that our Ukrainian military forces had military ammunition, medicines, and food. So that their moral character will be preserved and they will be able to protect us.

Can you describe your feelings after the first attack? Did you expect it or not? 

Nobody ever plans for war. I packed my belongings and went to fill the car after the first siren.

Why have you decided to stay in Kyiv

I left my bag at the end of the first day and made a firm decision to stay in Kyiv. The bag is still lying on the ground, but it has been unpacked. Here, I am the person who can help, but abroad, I will be the one who needs help.

How often do you feel fear and anger? 

There is almost no fear, but every day there is anger. It causes the entire body and all teeth to contract. I have considered purchasing a machine gun, but I do not know how to shoot. However, I assist the military, and they shoot for me.

What about your family? How does the war affect them? 

My family lives in Zaporizhzhia, where I was born. They also assist the military. Mom raises funds, prepares meals for the soldiers, and equips an entire section with bulletproof vests. She did not even send my younger sister abroad because she believed that children should understand what war is like. This option has my support.

What does Tenderness mean to you in general? How do you see the role of women in everyday life and how did the war change it? 

Tenderness is fragility, lightness, mood, as well as cunning and self-sufficiency. Tenderness is now a strength for me. Fortitude, support, and care for soldiers A woman in battle cannot be frail. Have you ever been to our Motherland? In the war, she is like a Ukrainian woman - tenacious.

It is claimed that women have a natural need to care for others. To some of them, the war provides no opportunity to protect the people they care about. Do you consider the women in your life to be "broken" or not?

Ukraine is an undefeated country with no "broken"women. In the village, a grandmother prepares poisonous pies for the Russian invaders, and a mother who has lost her child buries him. The wife who has lost her husband contacts the commander goes to identify his body and then continues to assist the military. It is all true; there are no made-up stories here. We are made of flesh and blood, but we can be iron on the inside when necessary. We have a big heart as well.

How can other people, other countries help you? 

Participate in protests and persuade your government to take action against Russia. Help our refugees. Inculcate in your children the idea that everyone is equal. That the girl who temporarily relocated from Ukraine is not a minor but is on par with her classmates.

Why did you agree to participate in this photoshoot? What impression does it leave on you?

I want to demonstrate that no matter what happens in our country, our spirit will not be "broken". We are each other's peaks. We are a country that spans Europe and pays a high price for it. Pays with the blood of infants, women, and warriors.

Our heroes never die; they are always present in our minds and hearts. We, on the other hand, will never give up!

Can you describe your feelings during the photoshoot? Have you experienced something surprising? 

It had been an emotional day... Even after witnessing all the horrors of war, we could not stop laughing. Homes that have been destroyed are the most heinous things. I will never forget finding children's shoes beneath the rubble of the walls.

What is your attitude to the fact that the war is happening because of individual interests? 

This is not a personal preference, but rather a decision made by the Russian people. They chose a tyrant and will continue to be ignorant. The empire has always had a king (Czar), and the king has always had slaves. In the twenty-first century, ignorance is a choice. Ukraine has taken a different path, and we will not deviate from it. "Not a step backwards," my soldiers say, and I will be with them until victory.

What do you wish for your Ukrainian brothers and sisters?

They can only do what they can from where they are. If you want, you can cry. Continue to live, work, raise children, and show the rest of the world what we, Ukrainians, are like.


Kirill

What was your daily routine like before the war? 

I taught hatha yoga.

What do you do these days? What has changed the most? 

Trying to be useful as a member of Ukraine's military forces.

Can you describe your feelings after the first attack? Did you expect it or not? 

Confusion and rage. I was expecting an attack on the Donbas, but not on Kyiv.

Why have you decided to stay in Kyiv

I see no reason to leave. Theoretically, the Russians could bomb or take any city.

How often do you feel fear and anger? 

Not often.

What about your family? How does the war affect them? 

I do not have any family. I am getting married after the war.

How can other people, other countries help you? 

Through the use of weapons and harsh sanctions.

Why did you agree to participate in this photoshoot? What impression does it leave on you?

The request comes from a volunteer girl who works with the army.

What is your attitude to the fact that the war is happening because of individual interests?

Ordinary people have already discovered what "Russian peace" entails, so there are no longer any divisions - the army, the people, the government, the volunteers - we are now one strong force.

What do you wish for your Ukrainian brothers and sisters?

Strength and faith in Victory.

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