A few days before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, my daughter Maria turned 13. We celebrated in a restaurant in the centre of Lviv. Everything was typical ― cake, balloons, gifts ― except that we, the parents, knew the war would start in a few days, and Maria didn’t. We thought that a child could be protected from war by simply isolating her from news about the threat, and then from shelling. In a few weeks, she and I left for France, to visit our close French friends.
In two months, Maria returned to Kyiv ― to a city that had been under siege and suffered from constant shelling. It was her conscious decision. In France, it became clear to both of us that geographical borders didn’t really save us from war ― only physically. In our heads, we lived through every shelling and murder. But from a distance we felt guilty for not being in Ukraine, close to our people.
An invaded country is a bad place for any person to live, and outright terrible for a teenager trying to find their way in the world. When everything seems to be against you, war destroys the last strongholds. But Maria leans on a few that cannot be ruined by rockets.
Firstly, she believes in victory. These are not just words: she has decided to be a doctor and to enrol in medical college to treat, protect and save people after Ukraine wins. Studying takes up almost all her time.
Secondly, she stays close to her loved ones ― who cannot and don’t want to leave Ukraine. The war breaks up families every day, and keeping hers together is more valuable than a peaceful life in a neighbouring country.
Finally, Maria simply lives at home. If you ask her about the happiest days of her life, she will say without hesitation: her sister’s birth a year and a half ago and the day she returned from peaceful France.
To understand her, you just have to once feel (and almost believe) that the place you grew up in has disappeared forever, and then walk back inside your bedroom.