• For Ukrainian schoolchildren of the 2000s, 9 May meant visits to the local parade, where they handed flowers to war veterans, who marched down the main street. The kids wore a small black and orange-striped St. George ribbon ― a symbol of “The Victory over Nazism”.

    Last year, when Russians occupied part of the Kharkiv region, a villager volunteered to work with the occupiers, while wearing the ribbon of Saint George. When Ukrainian forces liberated the village, the local residents turned on him, and this once-important symbol. He was then detained by police.

    How did this change happen?

    On 9 May in 2010, Russia renewed the lease on its Russian naval base in Ukraine’s Crimea region, and a full-scale military parade with Soviet symbols took place in Kyiv.

    In 2014, the Russo-Ukrainian war began. People sympathetic to Russia started wearing the St. George ribbon. A year later, Ukraine adopted decommunisation laws, which banned Soviet symbols, alongside Nazi imagery. The main holiday became the 8 May as the day for remembrance and reconciliation, and a red poppy became its symbol. Ukraine stopped holding military parades in May ― and Russia started organising them in the occupied territories. Russian President Vladimir Putin even visited such a parade in Sevastopol, Crimea, in 2014.

    Despite this state policy, 80% of Ukrainians still considered 9 May an important day. But that was before Russia invaded further. The full-scale invasion changed this attitude: now only 15% of Ukrainians have this view.

    A year ago, Ukrainians were leaving large cities, concerned that Russia may use nuclear weapons on its Victory Day of 9 May.

    Now, people in Ukraine are discussing whether they’ll sleep at all, as Russian attacks are especially intense.

    In the past, the only explosions we heard on these days were fireworks. Today it is missiles. There is no atmosphere of celebration, only the feeling of danger ― and the need for truth.

    Tamara, 34, has a delicate frame, an elegant face and a bright smile. She is always happy to have her picture taken, loves talking to her six-year-old son about different car brands, and collects vintage Ukrainian clothes and accessories. She still wears a wedding ring, despite recently becoming a widow, like thousands of other Ukrainian women after a year of full-scale war.

    Her husband Oleksiy Yanin was a world champion in Thai boxing ― and a soldier with the Azov regiment since 2014. Azov defended the frontline in some of the most intense moments of the war so far, and last April its soldiers were surrounded by the Russian Army in Mariupol. Oleksiy died there.

    Tamara had a hard time coping with his death. She didn’t even kiss him goodbye at the train station on the morning of 24 February, when she last saw him. “Everything I do now is for you, about you, in the name of your memory,” she writes in messages to Oleksiy, which he will never read. Her gratitude and pride have become stronger than pain. Caring for others is what gives her strength now.

    A month after Oleksiy’s death, she began to take care of the families of other dead Azov soldiers. Tamara met them in chat rooms where relatives were discussing how to identify bodies and bury their remains. Many of these women used to live in the now-occupied territories, so they lost not only their husbands or sons, but also their home, belongings and their livelihoods. Tamara began collecting clothes, food, medicine, hygiene products and books for women and children displaced by war, and helps them find jobs and a place to stay. In a room she uses as a location for goods and aid, the walls are covered with widows’ phone numbers.

    “I just love all of them, unconditionally. I understand them like no one else. And this is how I thank their husbands,” says Tamara. She has stepped out of her role as a traditional wife and a mother of a son on maternity leave, and has become a “collective mother”, supporting women united by grief and loss.