A year in Ukraine: A mother's war diary

A Ukrainian mother who used to post video blogs about tourism now uses social media to share the realities of war

Olena Gnes is a young mother living in Ukraine.

This time last year she was a tour guide and used to conduct visits to Chernobyl and around her beloved home city of Kyiv.

Covid caused problems of course, but she went online, making videos for virtual tourists.

The whole family would get involved, showing people the best spots to take a dip in the summer, and where to go for lovely autumnal walks.

Last July she was pregnant with her third child, and looking forward to the future. Next year, she said, we’ll all go swimming together.

Even as Russian troops massed at the border, Olena stayed positive, and filmed Kyiv looking magical at Christmas.

"I don’t think that any bombs will be falling from the skies… so if you have plans to come to Ukraine, you should not cancel your trip," she said. She was so confident.

But after the lights and decorations came down, her videos changed.

Gone was the jolly music and the family days out.

Instead, she filmed herself taking her newborn baby out for a stroll while she looked for the best bomb shelter.

Credit: YouTube / What Is Ukraine

She captured her two other children casually remarking that at school that day they’d learnt what to do if a bomb was dropped or there was a nuclear attack.

Life became surreal.

She still didn’t quite believe what she doing as she packed nappies and torches - and Geiger counters to measure radiation - into an emergency bag.

But on the morning of the 24th February any doubt that Russia would attack was blown away.

Olena filmed as the family got out of bed and headed for the bomb shelter.

She filmed as her husband went off to fight leaving her children frightened and confused, and asking her why there has to be war.

She did her best to comfort them, but it’s a hard question to answer, when you’re wondering the same thing.

'Why do we need to go to war?' Olena's daughter cries after her father went off to fight

There were moments to cling to, such as when Ukraine won the Eurovision song contest.

But as the war grinds on, Olena says they have settled into a new normal – or what she calls an illusion of normal.

There is food in the supermarkets again in Kyiv and she takes the children out to the park. But from time to time there will be an air raid siren.

Olena says it’s like being a child and being afraid of a monster under the bed. She’s tired and says she feels a bit depressed. Olena could have stopped filming her videos when the bombs started falling.

But she kept her cameras rolling because she needs people to see what is happening to people in Ukraine. She wants the war she is living through to be documented.

The Russian invasion has turned a tour guide into a war diarist.

Olena told me she can’t bring herself to look back the happy videos of last year. But she has absolute faith that one day this will all be over, and that she will simply be a tour guide once again.

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