Journalist tells her story of fleeing the war in Ukraine and making a home in Manchester

  • Article and report by Ukrainian journalist Maria Romanenko

At a glance, one could mistake it for a summer day. But it was 13 February, and I was out for my last run in Kyiv.

Having completed 12km and basking in the sunshine, I recorded a video subsequently shared on Twitter to show the world that life in Kyiv was continuing as normal. Within hours, the video racked up thousands of views, and people commented that I needed to leave before it was too late.

  • Maria's last run in Kyiv before she had to flee for her life

The threats about Russia’s 'imminent invasion' were already in full swing for several weeks. There was a logic behind those calls. I’m a Ukrainian journalist who has reported on Russia’s crimes in the Donbas and Crimea and who edited a magazine called "How We Will Get Crimea Back," which was handed out to top-level diplomats and representatives of 46 international partners of Ukraine. Russia reportedly has a kill list of Ukrainian journalists and activists whom it wants to target first.

And although this 'kill list' news seemed too extreme when they first emerged in February, the following two months proved them true when news about disappearing journalists came left, right, and centre.

Maria is a Ukrainian journalist who has reported on Russia’s crimes in the Donbas and Crimea.

One of these disappearing journalists was my former colleague Victoria Roschina who luckily reemerged from Russian captivity intact several days later.

But another former colleague of mine, Maks Levin, was violently murdered with two Russian firearm shots, according to the information from Ukraine’s Prosecutor’s Office. It still can’t sink in that someone I used to see nearly every day in the newsroom and worked with on a video report about surrogacy in Ukraine is no longer with us.

Seeing photographs from Maks’s funeral was gut-wrenching.

Maks Levin was killed by two Russian firearm shots, according to the information from Ukraine’s Prosecutor’s Office.

I never wanted to relocate to another country, and everyone who knows me will say that I love Ukraine.

But with Jez, the British partner of mine, there was no dilemma on whether to leave or stay in the first days of the full-scale war.

He was adamant he wanted to be back in the UK, and I didn’t want to be away from him. And so, on February 24, we embarked on a 40-hour escape journey to Poland - where after four nights and with a lot of help from Jez’s MP Andrew Gwynne and the journalists who reported on our story, we managed to get a visa waiver for me.

I had a UK visitor visa apparently granted to me in late February, but there was no way of finding out where that visa ended up, seeing that I applied from an application centre in Kyiv that was now shut.

Maria and her partner Jez Myers spent on a 40-hours escapes Ukraine to Poland.

In hindsight, it was probably the right decision to come to the UK now.

Having found safety and warm reception here - and now the legal right to work as a fiancée of a British resident - I can help Ukraine from afar by continuing to share information and by fundraising for Ukraine. My family and friends remain in Ukraine, however. And with the news of the Russian forces withdrawing from the Kyiv region, I can sleep a little better.

But I know that the battle for our freedom has not been won yet. Russia will continue using all means available to it to drive Ukraine to surrender, no matter the consequences.

With the cruelty we’ve observed from Bucha and Mariupol, we know that nothing is off Putin’s limits.

Maria read a poem at an event in Manchester for Ukraine.

We can’t let Russia off the hook, as after Ukraine wins, there will be billions worth of rebuilding costs for all the buildings and infrastructure lost.

And I also know that a lot of cultural artifacts and historical archives will have been destroyed, as one of Putin’s main goals has been to rewrite the centuries-old history of Ukraine.

But we will prevail, and with the continuing support from Ukraine’s western partners, we can prevent further Buchas and Mariupols.

Everyone can find a role to play in ending this horror by spreading awareness, asking local governments to do more, or donating money to trustworthy charities.