(NEW YORK) — When one Ukrainian woman woke up and answered a frantic call from her mother on the morning of Feb. 24 — before the sun had even risen — she heard screams and tears on the other side of the line, telling her what she feared the most.
“My mom called me crying and screaming: ‘Run away right now to the bomb shelter, because the war has been started,'” she said.
The woman looked through her kitchen window and saw half the sky had already been overtaken by dust from explosions in the region. Since that day, when her life shifted drastically, she and other four women have been documenting video diaries of their journeys to safety as they escape the war.
“My country is at war right now,” one woman said. “We forgot what is sleep. We forgot what is food. We forgot what is normal life. We forgot what is work. We forgot what is not to shake with any noise outside. We now know what is death.”
In less than two weeks since the invasion started, more than 2 million Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with their lives packed in a few bags on the way to neighboring countries.
Out of the 2 million refugees, approximately 1 million are children — including 8-year-old Eva.
“On Feb. 24, I woke up to the sounds of sirens,” she said. “For five days, I haven’t slept in my bed. My dad does everything to keep me safe. None of this would have happened if the Russian president did not start the war.”
Poland has welcomed the highest number of refugees since Feb. 24, with over 1.2 million Ukrainians having crossed the border, according to the UNHCR. Others have fled to the nearby countries of Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova.
The agency also reported that almost 100,000 Ukrainian refugees have fled to Russia since the invasion began.
Some, though, have no other choice except to seek shelter as their cities are bombarded with Russian missiles. The sound of explosions, buildings falling and screams of fear have been a constant, they said.
A 19-year-old woman was forced to leave her flat in Kyiv to seek safer shelter amid the Russian shelling.
“Rockets, tanks, gunfire. It’s no longer nightmare. It’s my reality. The reality of all Ukrainians now,” she said. “We are strong nation and we will not give up. I would like to convey to the world we are at war now, and tomorrow, it can be with you. Let’s stop it together.”
Others have decided to join the fight to defend their country.
On the front lines of the war, some women are taking up arms and making Molotov cocktails.
When Russia began its invasion, the Ukraine State Border Guard Service announced that all men between the ages of 18-60 were banned from leaving the country and must instead join the troops.
Women make up close to 15% of Ukraine’s military personnel — over 30,000 soldiers — according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.
In one video diary, another woman said she has friends who have taken on the responsibility to defend their country against Russian troops. She said she is afraid of whether she will ever see her friends again.
“We just can’t close eyes and let the authoritative regime do anything they like,” she said.
“I have friends who are 90 years old, 20 years old, and they are now defending Kyiv. No one knows whether they will be alive and that’s horrible,” she said. “I can’t imagine how it can happen in the civilized world when everyone should obey international law.”
As of March 9, the U.N. has verified more than 1,400 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 516 deaths and 908 injuries, but says the real toll is much higher.
Fear continues to rage as the conflict escalates. The unity among the citizens of Ukraine, however, has been a source of motivation for many, according to one woman.
“We are scared. We’re really scared. But more than we are scared, we are motivated. We are motivated to defend our lands, to defend our country and to defend the ones who we love,” she said. “It is horrible [and] I would never wish for anyone to experience.”
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