My name is Jane. I am a photographer from Ukraine. The war caught up with me when I was in my village, Cherkas’kiy Tyshky, with my grandfather and grandmother. We were occupied instantly on February 24, 2022, at 6 a.m.
15 kilometers is the distance that separated our village, which is under occupation by Russian forces, and Kharkiv, which is held by Ukrainian troops.
My village, which is between Kharkiv and the Russian border, is still under occupation. I managed to escape, but I spent twenty days there, which I will describe in this weekly column.
I could walk 15 kilometers to reach Kharkiv, but it took me 5454 kilometers to come back to Ukraine. I went through five countries, with Russia among them, to get back to my homeland. I could have walked 15 kilometers before the full-scale invasion.
I remember how, on the first day of occupation, I packed my backpack and wanted to walk to Kharkiv. That was when you could still reach the city without being shot down. I put apples, mandarins, a laptop and a camera into my backpack and went on. It was a warm sunny day. People were outside, exchanging whispers, trying to understand what was going on. I think no one believed that war had begun that day. Everyone was nurturing an elusive idea that it was just a game, that everything was not real. We thought that we would wake up the next day and everything was going to be as it had been before.
I was walking down the side street, avoiding the central road with blockhouses. Snow was melting under the sun; small streams were running down the black soil. It was around noon. With the first column that had passed us at 6 a.m., it was a temporary lull. People had thought that everything was over, but it was an illusion. When I had almost left the village, I heard a noise coming from the road. Another column was coming. I went to look at it. That time it was the national guard of Russia. There were no Z’s on tanks, only a sign: “Rosgvardia”—the National Guard of Russia. The last hope that these were not Russian soldiers had gone, and we sank into despair.
The sound of explosions started to come from a circular road. The fight for Kharkiv had begun. I had nothing left then to come back home. I would walk 15 kilometers in four hours, and I would drive it in 15 minutes, but it was too late.