Ekaterina Popova, Editor-In-Chief of ELLE.UA, based in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, 5am: I woke up to the sound of sirens. I ran to my parents’ and sister’s room and we gathered in the corridor of our apartment, near the load-bearing walls. We huddled there, exhausted, for an hour. Staying calm is a luxury now. Life has acquired a completely different meaning – it’s divided into ‘before the war’ and ‘after the war’. People often ask ‘what’s the meaning of life?’ I’ll tell you: it’s being in the arms of loved ones, having a peaceful sleep, enjoying a morning coffee and looking up to a clear and peaceful sky above your head.
My family and I left Kyiv on February 24, when Russia began its military invasion of Ukraine. I’ll never forget that day. Never did I think I’d wake up in my native Kyiv to the phrase: ‘Get up, Katya! The war has begun!’ My family and I chaotically packed essentials – laptops, medicines, food, warm clothes – thinking we wouldn’t be out of Kyiv for long. How wrong we were.
On the motorway out of the city, we drove right past a petrol station and were deafened by an explosion. Directly over our heads a Russian helicopter had dropped a bomb. I knew from that moment that the Russian forces were heading for Kyiv. We stayed with relatives in the Kiev region for two weeks, but soon realised that it too wasn’t a safe place. Last week, we made the decision to drive 13 hours to the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine. My colleagues helped my family find an apartment here. We’re one of hundreds of refugee families now based in Lviv.
Sonya Zabouga, Editor-In-Chief of ELLE Ukraine, based in Kyiv, 6am: I woke after a very sleepless night due to the air strikes. They’ve happened more frequently in the last week. Every time you hear an explosion, you’re terrified. You don’t know which building will be next. I’m currently sleeping on sofa pillows under blankets in the corridor of my apartment – it’s the safest place right now. I’ve come to learn that, in wartime, you need to find shelter behind as many walls as possible – the first will take the force of the explosion, the others will be destroyed. My windows are sealed with adhesive tape to protect them from the shock waves of an explosion.
Ekaterina Popova, 7am: I woke again to a stream of news notifications on my phone. I found out that Russia had launched a missile attack on my beloved Kyiv, destroying the Retroville shopping centre and killing eight people. I immediately started to cry. All I want is to return home when we win the war. I fall asleep and wake to this thought every day.
Anastasiia Bilous, Fashion Editor, based in Kyiv, 8am: Today was the 26th day of war in Ukraine. I could barely sleep last night. There was a strong explosion during the night – a rocket hit a shopping centre 20km from my house, killing eight people. Hours later I found out two of them were friends of my colleague. The news is unbearable. I managed to fall asleep around 3.30am, after taking a sleeping tablet. Every time I fall sleep I wish for morning to come as soon as possible. For the last month, I’ve been sleeping on a makeshift bed of sofa pillows on the bathroom floor in our family apartment in Kyiv. My parents sleep in the corridor. After I wake up, I read though the latest news about Kyiv on my phone and force myself to do some yoga to distract myself.
After having a shower I put on a black hoodie and black leggings – they’ve become my uniform these days – my favourite ring and heart pendant. I always make sure to spray some perfume on too, depending on my mood. When I gathered my belongings to move into my parents house on February 24, I packed some rather ridiculous things, like a Loewe belt and a brand new Isabel Marant jumper. But, I am a fashion editor!
Ekaterina Popova, 8am: I had a shower and ate breakfast with my mother. I’m so stressed, I don’t feel like eating most days. We’re able to buy food in markets and shops close by. We’re lucky Lviv has everything you need. The state is committed to ensuring Ukrainians can still get food, so no one is really panicking to stock up when you walk around the shops. I then spoke to my boyfriend on the phone. I miss him so much.
Sonya Zabouga: I messaged my friends. Every time we speak to each other we begin the conversation with ‘How are you?’ Those words have taken on a different meaning since the war began. You have to read between the lines because what we’re really asking each other is ‘Are you alive?’.
Ekaterina Popova, 10am: I had a virtual ELLE Ukraine meeting with my colleagues. We discussed our plans for the coming days and shared news stories. I agreed that I’d work on a feature, which would require me talking to representatives of Ukraine’s cultural department, walking around Lviv and taking photos of how people in Lviv are protecting the city’s most important monuments.
Our editors are constantly writing and publishing news about the diplomatic front on the website, as well as providing information to help citizens during wartime. We’re having to work quickly, but we ensure only to distribute verified facts from official sources. We recently launched the ELLE UA Telegram channel, which is where we share all of the most important information from the day. We all hope it won’t be long before we’re writing about Ukraine’s victory.
Sonya Zabouga: We chatted about our upcoming digital issue titled Hope today, which we have less than two weeks to create. It’s a special one for us as we’re publishing it in Ukrainian and English. It will explore wartime through the eyes of the magazine’s editors. We want to tell the world about the shock and fear we have, but also the incredible sense of patriotism and unity throughout our country.
Anastasiia Bilous, 10.30am: After roll call with my colleagues, I made breakfast for my family – our favourite dishes are avocado on toast or banana sugar-free pancakes. Cooking helps me to distract myself from the realities of life right now. Fortunately, we don’t have any problems buying groceries in Kyiv at the moment, so we can still cook our favourite dishes.
Sonya Zabouga, 12pm: I had an interview with a Swedish radio station, which was organised by ELLE Sweden. I’m so grateful to the international media for supporting Ukraine. When I speak to journalists around the world, I try to make it clear that what’s happening to our country isn’t a crisis – it’s a war. The city of Mariupol, in the east of Ukraine, has been 90% destroyed due to bombshells and air strikes. The civilians have been left without gas, heating, electricity and the Russian forces won’t let them evacuate. The Russian army considers Mariupol a pressure point for Ukraine’s President Zelensky and hope he’ll accept Putin’s ultimatum.
After the interview I popped to the post office, which is a two kilometre walk away. I had to pick up some medicine I’d ordered to a colleague’s house in Lviv. It’s a risk to walk to and from the post office. The streets are empty, but dangerous.
Ekaterina Popova, 1pm: I went for a walk around Liv’s old town to take some photos for my feature. There are so many refugees here now, all ranging in ages and professions. Everyone is keeping busy helping each other out, whether it’s through volunteering or helping refugees find housing. I speak to some restorers about the city’s statues. They tell me that any statues that can’t be dismantled are wrapped in a special cloth, guarded by protective screens, or covered in sandbags. Most of the statues withstood WWII and I’m sure they will continue to withstand this war, too.
Sonya Zabouga, 2pm: I arrived back home and received a message about an upcoming 35-hour curfew in Kyiv, starting on Monday at 8pm and lasting until Wednesday 7am.
Anastasiia Bilous: I went outside with my family this afternoon. A walk in the sunshine and fresh air is keeping me sane but, in Kyiv, the streets are unsafe, so we make sure to only go outside when we need to do something practical like buying food, medicine or helping the elderly. There’s a real sense of compassion in Kyiv right now. People are incredibly empathic with each other. During our walk, three explosions went off. A month into the conflict and these sounds are still so foreign toea me.
Ekaterina Popova: For the first time during the war, I met up with a friend, who works for a fashion brand in Kyiv. Like me, she escaped to Lviv with her family when war broke out. When we saw each other, we ran into each other’s arms and burst into tears, from happiness, weakness, despair and hope. We used to talk about where we’d go out at the weekend in Kyiv, but now we talk about how to survive, our families’ health and where our friends are in the world.
We walked around the city for an hour before going to a coffee shop. We chatted about the fashion industry in Ukraine and what might lie ahead for us. She told me about her company’s plans during wartime, and I spoke about how ELLE Ukraine is producing content. We then met up with friends of ours, fashion brand FINCH’s co-founders Ruslan Baginskiy and Petro Yasinsky.
Anastasiia Bilous, 4pm: After a couple of work calls I made dinner for my family. During the war I’ve become obsessed with sugary treats, which is unusual for me. Chocolate bars and black tea with sugar are my current vices. The glucose helps me cope with severe headaches and dizziness due to the stress. I hope to kick my sugar habit after the war!
Ekaterina Popova: I went to the shopping centre to pick up some food, but a loud siren went off during my trip. The doors of the building were closed and everyone inside was led to the underground car park for shelter. The crowd started to run – it was terrifying. We stood in the car park for an hour and a half before the siren stopped. In my mind, sirens now symbolise death. When you hear one, everything inside you breaks down in fear, and you have minutes to find safety. When we lived in Kyiv I’d run to the cellar for shelter, and now in Lviv we run to a car park underground, or into our apartment’s corridor. It’s hard to live like this. One second you might be talking to loved ones or be in the middle of work. The next you’re running for shelter. I’m just grateful to our army for their courage and for defending us, day and night.
Anastasiia Bilous, 6pm: I watched the sunset from my window. I dream of the war ending and Ukraine’s victory so that we will be able to resume our lives. But, I’m scared of how slow NATO is reacting to the war, and how long it’s dragging on for. Every day the Russian army is destroying our cities and brutally killing civilians and children.
Sonya Zabouga: As the sun was setting and night began to fall, I began cooking. People in Kyiv have been instructed by the state to dim the lights in the evenings, so not to alert the enemy, so I had to cook my meal very quickly. I then sat down to watch YouTube and the daily news briefings from Alexey Arestovich, President Zelensky’s adviser, but another siren went off so I had to move from the living room to the corridor to hide. The sound drives me crazy. I dream of a day when it stops.
Ekaterina Popova, 6pm: When I got home from the supermarket my mum began cooking her favourite borscht recipe – it’s my favourite Ukrainian dish. At the beginning of the war Evgen Klopotenko, who is a former MasterChef winner, started the #MakeBorschtNotWar campaign in Germany to help inform the world about what is happening in Ukraine and to encourage people to share borscht with others. The campaign invites people to post a photo of borscht with the hashtags #MakeBorschtNotWar and #standwithukraine.
Ekaterina Popova, 7pm: When I got home from the shopping centre I started working again: reviewing the site’s analytics, writing an article and answering emails. I’m constantly on my phone these days, and will work no matter where I am – even in a shelter. I’ve never worked so hard in my life but it’s become a kind of therapy for me. I immerse myself entirely in the process and feel like we’re making an important contribution to journalism – informing people of the truth. As journalists, words are our weapons.
Anastasiia Bilous, 8pm: There’s a curfew in Kyiv so I was unable to leave the house. I often try to keep myself busy with work, watching films, reading books and beauty rituals, but it’s not always possible. Sometimes I’m so scared of what’s happening and reading the news about the destruction taking place in cities across Ukraine and the deaths of innocent people, I have no energy to do anything.
Ekaterina Popova, 9pm: I read some pages from Notes of a Ukrainian Madman (Записки українського самашедшого). It’s the first novel by Ukrainian poet Lina Kostenko and it’s truly unique.
Anastasiia Bilous, 10pm: I chatted to my friends before going to bed. The only thing we talk about now is the war and what we hope our futures will look like. Every night we end the call with ‘good night’. In Ukraine, this simple phrase has a new meaning – it means ‘I hope you have a quiet and calm night’s sleep’. With all our hearts we believe Ukraine will win this war.
Ekaterina Popova: I spoke to my best friend in Kyiv and we chatted about what we saw that day in our respective cities. We ended the conversation telling each other how much we wanted to give each other a big hug soon. I then had a shower and read more news. I went to bed thinking of the day that I will wake up and hear the words ‘Katya, Ukraine has won! Pack your things, we’re going home’. There’s no more precious place than home.
Sonya Zabouga: I made up the sleeping area for the night in the corridor. Every evening I get into bed with anxious thoughts racing through my mind. Since February 24, those of us in Ukraine have been living in a space between despair and hope. But hope will always win. I have no plans to leave Kyiv – it’s home.
Help support Anastasiia Bilous, Ekaterina Popova, Sonya Zabouga and Ukranians by visiting their respective chosen charities of choice:
- The Good Will Foundation – Helps people find temporary housing in western Ukraine.
- Save Life – A charitable organisation providing Ukrainian troops with night optics, drones, thermal imagers and other equipment.
- The MASHA Foundation – A domestic violence charity raising money to provide humanitarian aid to women, children and the elderly.