To News and Stories
In wartime Stories

“I believe in this country and the people around me.” Stories of people who have been fighting for Ukraine for ten years

The Revolution of Dignity (also known as Euromaidan or simply Maidan), the temporary Russian occupation of Crimea and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the full-scale invasion — Ukrainians have lived through all these events in the last ten years. But the cohesion, faith, and unity of the people from 2014 remains unwavering to this day. In February 2024, society continues to fight for the country. Everyone is conducting their own struggle in the area where they consider themselves most useful.

This article is about the people who dedicate their lives to the country and the struggle for peace; those who volunteer, fight, help, and devote themselves to Ukraine.

Lesia Lytvynova

volunteer, sapper, and founder of the charity foundation “Svoi”

Photo: Liubov Movlianova / Lesia Lytvynova’s Facebook page

Until 2013, Lesia worked as a film director, making documentaries. In September 2013, she found out she was pregnant with her fourth child and decided to take a break, stay home and look after her family. It lasted until the start of Euromaidan (the protests began on November 21, 2013, in response to the decision of the Ukrainian government to opt out of signing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement — ed.)

“Then it became clear that it was either now or there would be no country at all. In February 2014, it seemed that we would not make it, but we survived. We are still stubborn because we won at the end of February; nobody expected that people would stand to the end. They were not afraid, and it was unexpected,” says Lesia Lytvynova.

After Russia occupied Crimea and invaded the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the spring of 2014, she founded the charity foundation “Svoi” to help internally displaced people from the east of Ukraine.

“When the war broke out after Maidan (Russia occupied Crimea and started hostilities in the east of Ukraine — ed.), it was impossible to do nothing. I had a newborn baby. I couldn’t go to the front, so I started helping internally displaced people,” she recalls.

There were problems with logistics, housing, and a lack of medical care and medicines.

“The contacts and acquaintances we made on the Maidan helped us. We learned to trust and rely on each other. It all started with a few people and humanitarian aid at home. Later, we found a bigger place and registered the foundation,” says Lytvynova.

Photo: Liubov Movlianova / Lesia Lytvynova’s Facebook page

The concept of our foundation changed quickly, adapting to the population’s needs and operational efficiency. The team changed its focus as the need to help displaced people became less urgent.

“We continued to help those who had fled and had serious illnesses. Thus, we developed a new area — adult oncology and palliative care (an approach that improves the lives of patients with terminal illnesses — ed.), particularly respiratory support,” says Lesia Lytvynova.

Since 2020, she has been immersed in the problems of those affected by COVID-19. The foundation provided oxygen concentrators for free to those who could not be admitted to local hospitals.

On February 24, 2022, when the full-scale Russian invasion began, Lesia relocated her five children and parents from Kyiv to a safe place. On February 25, her husband and she volunteered for the Armed Forces.

Photo from Lesia Lytvynova’s Facebook page
Photo from Lesia Lytvynova’s Facebook page

Her youngest child was a year and a half old at the time. The woman recalls that the most challenging part of her service was not seeing her children.

“At that time, war, weapons, and self-improvement as a fighter came first. Then, there were attempts to do at least something remotely with the foundation, which continued to operate without me. My family and children were at the forefront of everything because nothing is more important,” she says.

In May 2023, she and her husband were injured near Bakhmut. Lesia Lytvynova returned to her children for a while.

“I had many opportunities to leave the country over the past ten years. I could have lived somewhere far away and enjoyed a quiet life, but someone has already ensured peace and stability there.

I am more interested in building a country here than in leaving and using what someone else has built. I believe in this country and the potential of the people I live with,” says volunteer Lesia Lytvynova.

Ivan Hrozovskyi, codename “Hroza”

a soldier of the Carpathian Sich group, 206th Territorial Defence Battalion, with a degree in history

Photo from personal archive

Ivan was born in the Ivano-Frankivsk region in the west of Ukraine. In 2012, he enrolled at the Vasyl Stefanyk Precarpathian National University, Faculty of History. On November 22, 2013, as a second-year student, he participated in protests in Ivano-Frankivsk for the first time. On November 26, Ivan joined the Revolution of Dignity on the Maidan in Kyiv.  

“I remember January 22 the most: when I arrived in Kyiv and found out about the first victims, heard the noise of police shields, and felt tremors in my hands and knees. That was the first time I participated in the clashes on Hrushevskyi Street (the street in Kyiv where the protests took place — ed.) During the protests on February 18-22 (in those final days of the revolution, more than 100 people were killed on Maidan — ed.), I was not in Kyiv.”

I felt guilty for a long time about that, so when the hostilities started in the Donetsk region, I did not hesitate,” Ivan Hrozovskyi recalls.

The man went to war for the first time in July 2014, when he was 19. He joined the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps and was sent to a military training ground, where he spent about a month getting trained. 

“I didn’t hesitate for long. I did what I thought was right. I called the hotline of one of the volunteer units, and they asked me if my parents knew where I was going. I lied and said they did. At the time, many young people made up fake stories for their parents about where they were going for the summer. I told mine that I was going to military training,” he says.

Near the village of Pisky, 2014.
Photo from personal archive
Near Shyrokyne, 2017.
Photo from personal archive

At first, Ivan was assigned to guard checkpoints in the Donetsk region, and later, he was sent to the village of Pisky in the same region. At the beginning of October 2014, he returned to study in Ivano-Frankivsk.

“I found like-minded people among the university students, and we set up an NGO for military training. I had experience of military exercises and combat,” says the soldier.

After 2014, he had two more rotations to the front: in the winter and summer of 2017 in Shyrokyne near Mariupol in the Donetsk region.

“After a short break, I went back to work. I took up sports, cut down on alcohol, and quickly adapted to civilian life. Hard work is a great cure for the stress left over from the war,” says Ivan Hrozovskyi.

Working for the NGO was essential to his life, and he had to constantly balance it with his personal relationships.

“There were situations where I had to sacrifice time with my family when there were important things to do in the organisation. Sometimes, it was the other way around because the constant work led to burnout. It was hard, but I tried to keep up with everything I could,” says the soldier.

On February 21, 2022, a few days before the full-scale war, when Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised the independence of the so-called “LPR” and “DPR” (February 21, 2022 — ed.), Ivan and his brothers-in-arms lived in his apartment with their military equipment ready.

“I was told about the beginning of the [full-scale] war at 6:00 am on the morning of February 24, 2022. Since then, life has been split into before and after. We drove towards Kyiv (the journey lasted three days) and joined the territorial defence of Kyiv, where I serve to this day,” says Hroza.

Photo from personal archive

He performed combat missions in the village of Horenka, near Hostomel in the Kyiv region. After the de-occupation of the Kyiv region, the unit was transferred to the Kherson region. After it was partially liberated, the 206th Defence Battalion was sent to the Kharkiv region and to the Bakhmut district from there.

Ivan emphasises that his motivation to be in Ukraine and fight for the country has not changed since 2014.

“There is an enemy who wants to kill me, and there is me who wants to protect myself. Everything is clear. The lowest point in my motivation was in 2017, when I was at the front, thinking that my presence in the war did not solve anything. But later, the skills I acquired during the ATO proved useful during the full-scale invasion,” he says.

Currently, Ivan’s biggest motivator is confidence in his chosen path. He is a junior lieutenant and a deputy battery commander for moral and psychological support.

“No matter how hard it is physically and psychologically, I hope nothing will turn me off this path. I am an officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. I will not leave my brothers,” says Hroza.

Yuliia Krasilnykova

volunteer, executive director of the “Vostok SOS” foundation

Photo from personal archive

Yuliia is from Shakhtarske in the Luhansk region. After starting her studies, she moved to Luhansk in the east of Ukraine. There, she worked for human rights organisations and organised educational and cultural events for the youth.

On November 22, 2013, she was in Kyiv, where she witnessed the Euromaidan protests for the first time. After returning to Luhansk, she participated in local demonstrations that also started in late November. However, she also kept travelling to Kyiv to attend the Maidan occasionally.

“In December 2013, we started gathering every day in a small group near the Shevchenko monument in Luhansk, playing Ukrainian music and holding thematic discussions. Then we started experimenting with different formats to make the demonstration more visible,” recalls Krasilnykova.

At the end of December, for the first time, physical force was used against the protesters when they planned to show the film on a big screen, and some of the participants were beaten and doused with brilliant green. The screening did not take place. 

“The next day, we held a screening at the doorstep of the regional administration. They attacked us there, too. They threw smoke bombs at us and tried to pour water on our equipment. It was one of the first tense demonstrations,” says Krasilnykova.

In the spring of 2014, Russia temporarily occupied Luhansk. On May 5, Yuliia launched an initiative to support local activists, and this is how Luhansk SOS was created. At first, they launched a hotline and a page for people who had been beaten at pro-Ukrainian rallies. When the situation got worse, the team moved to Kyiv.

“We started collecting humanitarian aid for the displaced people and opened a hotline to inform people about possible ways to leave the war zone. That’s how the foundation was born,” Yuliia recalls.

It was hard to get used to a new life in Kyiv because of the forced displacement from her native region. Constant activity and work at the foundation helped Krasilnykova to cope. 

“My life over the past ten years has been a Phoenix that has burned out a million times, risen, and kept going round and round. It is important for me to stay in this story, help people who have suffered, and be useful to my home region. I don’t see my life outside of this work,” says the volunteer.

At the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Yuliia and her team set up a hotline for internally displaced persons and began to purchase aid for the frontline areas. Her experience in 2014 helped her, so she did not perceive the events of February as sharply as her friends who were not forcibly displaced. 

“We (the foundation — ed.) have returned to where we started in 2014. In addition to the hotline, humanitarian aid, and limited regional assistance, we started working across the country. We also launched a new direction — evacuation of people with limited mobility from the frontline areas,” says Yuliia.

Although she received offers to move abroad in 2014 and 2022, she has never wanted to leave Ukraine.

“It’s important for me to be in this country. I love it. I love all the people here. Despite everything that happened to me, I definitely don’t want to go anywhere. It’s hard for me not to do something for my home region and for the people who have suffered,” says Yuliia Krasilnykova.

Bohdan Brych

veteran, public figure, and activist

Photo from Bohdan Brych’s Facebook page

Bohdan Brych was born in Ternopil, where he has lived most of his life. In 2000, he started doing business and working abroad. He had lived in the UK for two years before returning to Ukraine.

“In 2012, when Viktor Yanukovych was President of Ukraine, I thought about leaving the country because I didn’t believe in that government. I didn’t want to do anything in Ukraine. In 2013, when the Euromaidan began, I stayed in Kyiv until the end of the Revolution of Dignity,” says Bohdan Brych.

Photo from Bohdan Brych’s Facebook page

On February 18, 2014, he got injured during clashes with Berkut (the special police unit that beat the protesters — ed.), but he stayed on Maidan with a bandage on his head until February 22.

“Later, I got worse. I was taken to Ternopil and immediately admitted to intensive care. A bullet wound fractured my skull. I still have some shrapnel left inside,” the man recalls.

Since then, Bohdan has been involved in social activities. He created the Maidan Ternopil NGO with like-minded people from Euromaidan to fight corruption, dishonesty, and illegal construction.

In 2015, the people of the village of Hai-Shevchenkivskyi near Ternopil asked him to become the head of the village. He agreed and began his political career, combining it with activism until 2020.

“I wanted to promote the values and things we stood for on Maidan. I began to implement them,” recalls Bohdan Brych.

When the full-scale Russian invasion began, he immediately joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces, along with friends he had known since childhood. Together, they went through the Revolution of Dignity, and in 2022, they fought in the same brigade, serving in the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions.

“On February 25, 2022, we went to the military enlistment office with friends. There were five of us. We grew up together. We know each other. That is why it was easier to go through any difficulties,” he says.

Photo from Bohdan Brych’s Facebook page

Bohdan spent more than a year in the east of Ukraine. Later, he got injured and returned to civilian life. He continued to participate in public activities, including working for NGO Maidan. The organisation changed its focus to help the army

“Today, all my hopes are tied to victory, so I need to work constantly not only on the battlefield but also in the rear. We must be active and defend what we are fighting for,” says Bohdan Brych.

Despite his experience of living abroad, the man never wanted to stay there. He wants to live his life in his country.

“I have a great faith in Ukraine. I was born here, and I don’t see myself in any other country. We must restore and develop Ukraine, our homeland,” Bohdan Brych says.

Written by Kateryna Vovk
Translated by Taisiia Blinova