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  • Writer's pictureNataliya Gumenyuk

I helped one man in this picture escape the horrors of Kharkiv.

The other man? I may never know.


Leonid Andriyovych, 72, in a Kharkiv basement, March 2022. Photograph: Nataliya Gumenyuk

It had only been three weeks since the invasion, but it felt as if the war had lasted a lifetime. We were exhausted and overwhelmed. By mid-March, the city of Kharkiv, situated 25 miles from the Russian border, looked unreachable from Kyiv, where I live. Ukrainians were adjusting to this new life. Under the constant shelling, hotels and shops were not able to offer any kind of normal service. We were not sure whether petrol stations were open. Yet the second-biggest city in Ukraine, where around 2 million people were living, was too important to stay away from. I had close friends who could host me. So I went.


It was my friends who had said, in the early hours of the morning of 24 February, that “Kharkiv is being bombed”, confirming our worst fears. I had visited them in January, before the war, reporting on the mood in the city, and visited their newly bought apartment on the top floor of an old house in the centre. Kharkiv was the first place in Ukraine to have its city centre shelled. It was heartbreaking in March to see part of that street destroyed by rockets, though their house survived.


I travelled from Kyiv with a photographer friend; we had worked together during the 2014 Maidan revolution. He later got a job at a major lifestyle magazine, but after the Russian invasion he returned to frontline work. The third person in our crew was a Polish TV correspondent whom I had met while reporting the aftermath of the siege of Aleppo in Syria in 2016. I have covered foreign conflicts before, but the fact that this one was taking place in my home country still makes me uncomfortable.


Read the full story in the Guardian here.

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