Sara Cincurova: My heart stays with the Babushkas who live on the frontlines

Sara Cincurova is a Slovak human rights journalist focusing on migration, human rights, humanitarian issues and women’s rights. Her work has been published in The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, HuffPost and The New Humanitarian, among others. She participated in the M100YEJ in 2021.
Twitter: Sara_Cincurova

Although I am not based in Ukraine full-time, I have been covering the war regularly since 2014, and covered February 24 events from Kharkiv. Being a freelancer, my life has been at risk on several occasions, especially while I was travelling alone. I deeply honour and value the work of my Ukrainian colleagues who report tirelessly and don’t always have the opportunity to take time to rest.
Since February 24, a lot has changed: in one year, I have documented the lives of those who fled, those who became IDPs, those who suffered war crimes, but also those who ended up being exploited in the EU.

I will never forget the people whom I interviewed and who since then lost their lives due to war. My heart stays with the Babushkas who live on the frontlines. I will never forget the numerous times people on the frontline gave me apples from their gardens and invited me in for a meal, despite the fact that many live in great poverty.
I encountered immense kindness and resilience everywhere I went. Since February and March 2022, I returned to Ukraine several times and each time, I was deeply moved by how strong and empathetic Ukrainian people are, even amid a brutal war. On November 15, I was driving from Kyiv to Kherson, when the debris of a destroyed missile fell only 700 meters away from me in a small town in central Ukraine. I felt the impact, I saw a huge amount of smoke, and witnessed the panic of people in the streets. I was alone and hid in a bomb shelter with other civilians as news about airstrikes across the country were filling the news. A woman sitting next to me in the shelter offered to accomodate me in her house at night, so that I don’t have to sleep in a bomb shelter or travel across the country alone as almost all the nearby regions were affected by power cuts. I will never forget how she accommodated me in her house, gave me a bowl of borsch and apple pie and told me that helping strangers in need is the most important thing.

Sara interviewing the Babushka. She is now dead, her house was completely destroyed in March 2022.

Two months later, in January 2023, I was reporting from a village near Zaporizhia that has been hit by a missile, and a Babushka invited me to her house to that I can meet her adult daughter with cerebral palsy. Both have been injured by the debris of the missile that hit their village, and the daughter was so terrified that even though she could not speak, she cannot stay alone in the house anymore. It was a painful story to hear, showing how this war affects the most vulnerable. Yet the Babushka insisted on giving me fruits from her garden so that I don’t leave with empty hands — despite the fact that her house had been entirely damaged by a missile.

Reporting in Ukraine has changed who I am and how I see the world around me. I will never forget the kindness of Ukrainian people even in the darkest of times.

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