Olesya Bida: As if each day could be the last

Olesya Bida was an editor at the independent Ukrainian medium hromadske.ua, founded in 2014 during the Maidan Revolution. She was a participant of M100YEJ in 2016.
Twitter: @OlesyaBida

That night I couldn’t get sleep. It was nearly 5 a.m. when I heard strange and very loud sounds. Now when the war has been going on for almost a year, it’s a normal thing to wake up not from the alarm clock but from the sounds of the missile attack.

That night was different and I really couldn’t realize what had happened. In a minute my husband Dmytro switched on a video with Putin’s speech. We’ve understood that the full-scale war has started.

My husband immediately ran to check if our basement was already open. He also tried to take some cash from the ATM but it was useless. Everywhere on the streets were a lot of people, all packing their bags into the cars and trying to leave the city.

From the first minutes of that morning, I started working. There was no time for panic or any thoughts. It was important to give our audience from the whole country verified information and to be in touch with people. Our team Hromadske.ua updated a news feed on the website every minute. Notwithstanding, I’m a journalist and author of reportages and features I also wrote news as it was the most important thing at that moment.

In some hours my dad came to take me and our dog to our hometown in the center of Ukraine. There I stayed for 2 months. I didn’t do anything except do my work. My team, as well as I, worked day and night, and we didn’t have feelings of fatigue or exhaustion. Some subjects of my features were already in occupation, in blockaded Mariupol, on a frontline but they agreed to talk with me even at night, to tell me about the situation in their cities. It was important to show whole the world that in our country civilians are dying because of the war that Russia has started on our territory. It isn’t a conflict or invasion as it used to think. It is a real war.

In the middle of April when Ukrainian militaries had liberated the Kyiv region, I decided to go back home. It was very strange to live in an empty city which used to be always crowded. As well it was strange to go to sleep in a corridor when the air alarm started at night.

From that time I started to work in a field. I’ve focused my work on documenting war crimes that were committed by Russian militaries. I had interviews with people who were tortured by Russians, with people who were deported by Russians, with people who were in Russian captivity, and with people who lived under occupation but still were trying to help the Ukrainian army. After some cases human rights defenders, representatives of international organizations, and our Ukrainian officials asked me for contacts of my subjects. They wanted to join their testimonies to claims that were prepared for International Criminal Court.

In the middle of summer, I got an opportunity to have a short retreat abroad. It was the first time since the start of the war that I leave the country. And it was the first time when I wanted to go back home so much. In Germany, where I stayed for a week I understood how far the whole world was from the reality where all Ukrainians and I used to live.

We don’t have doubts that all Russians are responsible for the war, or that there are no “good Russians” who are protesting against the war. But still, my Ukrainian colleagues and I had an opportunity to be a part of a discussion with German journalists. They were trying to convince us that we need to have a dialogue with Russians. In their mind, only in this way, the war could end. It is still difficult for me to describe my emotions after this discussion. I was frustrated and confused. Moreover, some hours before the discussion we found out that Russians had blown up a place where Ukrainian prisoners of war were. Some of them died and Russians didn’t let to visit this place even international organizations.

Nevertheless, I went back home and continue to tell the world stories about people who are living in a war. In October Russians started to attack our electricity infrastructure and it become more difficult to work without electricity and an internet connection. But still, we have found ways, to tell the truth about this war. Almost every media team in Ukraine now has its diesel generator and keeps going working even during electricity cuts.

At the end of the previous year, I decided to resign from media where have worked for 5 years. The war has taught me to live like every day could be the last of my life, not to be afraid to change everything, and that the most effective weapon is truth.

In some weeks I will join another team and going to do more for the Ukrainian win.