Tetyana Ogarkova: "The day of victory will come but it will not bring normality back"

On 24 February 2022, the lives of millions of Ukrainians were turned upside down. Now, when we say the word "victory", we expect that day to be the way things used to be. A normal day, a day of peace, a 23 February 2022 one might say.

But no. For us, there will never be another 23 February. There will never be another day the way things were before.

We have walked past the graves in the Izium forest in the region of Kharkiv. We have visited villages such as Kamianka or Dolyna, between Izium and Sloviansk, reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic film, where ten or so people live in the ruins of their homes with no water or electricity. We have looked into the eyes of the mother of Volodymyr Vakoulenko, a children's author, who was killed by the Russians in his village of Kapitolivka, near Izium. It took months for her to recover his body. We have seen the ruins of Sviatohirsk and jumped at the explosions in the liberated city of Kherson, which the Russians continued to bomb while we were inside the museum of art - the collections stolen by the occupants.

How can we possibly think we can return to 23 February with these images indelibly imprinted on our minds? "Here I wiped away my children's blood", an elderly woman told us pointing to the stairs in a private house in the village of Bezruky in Kharkiv. Her 8-year-old granddaughter and her 38-year-old daughter had been killed there by a Russian mine in the space of a second, one beautiful summer's day in 2022. The child was reading a book. She had good marks at school.

Victory? If, on 23 February 2022, we had been shown what was before us, as in a film, we would certainly have been stupified - paralysed with terror - and most probably unable to act. However, we have gone through this first year of war, day after day, constantly doubling our efforts. Civilians and military, men and women, children and adults. These are ordinary people who have shown they can achieve extraordinary things. Some have done so by signing up voluntarily. Others by paying their taxes and giving more every day to support the army. Others have devoted their free time to different voluntary activities, from weaving camouflage nets to making trench candles. Children have gone to school where classes are disrupted by air raid sirens, and young people have gone to university, despite power cuts.

Yet no-one knows what to expect. All we know is that we will continue to advance, all together, day after day, towards victory. Because we know all too well what will happen to us if we give up. The graves of Izium will be reproduced in Kyiv. The city of Lviv will be bombed like Kherson. Khmelnytskyi nuclear power station will be targeted the way Zaporizhzhia power station was. We know this - we have seen it and witnessed it.

And when we shut our eyes, we still see the faces of those who will never see victory. Iryna Tsvila, our friend from Brovary, who loved the roses in her garden, took up arms on 24 February and died two days later defending Kyiv. Mykola Rachok, my literature student, who loved cars and adventure novels, died fighting near Pokrovsk in July 2022. Roman Barvinok, the violonist, who played Vivaldi across from the Presidential Palace in spring 2020, died on the eastern front in August 2022. And so many others. Tens of thousands of others.

The day of victory will come and it will not be like 23 February. But what are we not prepared to do to bring it closer?