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What Putin destroyed: Ukrainians share their last photos of normal life before Russian invasion

Business Insider US

Photos of life in Ukraine before the war broke out
  • Ukrainians sent Insider reporters their last 'normal' photos, taken just before the war broke out. 
  • The images show coffee dates, happy newborns, and beloved pets they left behind. 
  • They told Insider how distant their former lives now feel. 
  • For more stories visit www.BusinessInsider.co.za

Images of Ukraine are now of ruined cities, shell-shocked refugees, and burned-out tanks.

For 44 million Ukrainians, this 'new world' quickly erased the lives they had up until February 24, when they awoke to the nightmare of Russia's invasion of their homeland.

Only memories captured in the last photos of babies, plane journeys, beloved pets, and happy selfies remain of what their country, their daily lives, and their dreams once were.

Ukrainians, many now made refugees by Russia's invasion, shared poignant images of their final moments before the war broke out with Insider reporters.

Last supper

A Ukrainian family enjoys a pizza supper before the war broke out.

Niko from Kharkiv shared this photo of his family, enjoying one of life's great pleasures: pizza. 

"This is is the last photo before the war. In this photo, I'm on the left, my wife is on the left, in the middle is my brother, his wife, and two of his sons.

"We don't eat pizza anymore and don't sleep well either. We have been on the road for three weeks now and just found a place to live.

"Here we come to our senses: tired, nervous, stressed, no money, and very sad. We hide from every loud sound. But we are whole, and this is very pleasing."

A change of perspective

Sofia wrote "nothing really matters" in her calendar after a bad day on February 23. Now she admits she couldn't have been more wrong.
Sofia M. fled Mykolaiv with her mother earlier this month.

"On the 23 of February, I wrote this phrase in my calendar because when I came back from the institute I felt really sad, though I had no reason for being sad yet!" she said.

"Our lives have changed a lot after the evening this picture was taken.

"This quote says that 'nothing really matters,' but it appeared to be wrong. Many things actually matter – like knowing you and your family live in peace and quiet. The things I cared about before had no sense to me now. All the 'problems' disappeared. Now I see what is really important."

The last date

Nikita (right) and Kristina (left) at Kherson airport, the day before it was destroyed.

Nikita met his girlfriend Kristina, who studies art in Vienna, in Kyiv airport, On February 22. They are both 21-years-old.

The next day, they arrived at their hometown Kherson. They were very happy to reconnect and are having coffee.

On February 24, Kherson airport and bridges were destroyed, cutting them out from the outside world. 

War baby

Olesya lives in Kyiv with her baby, born 39 days before the war began.

These photos show Olesya from Kyiv with her baby girl. The photo was taken a week before the war started.

A little over two months old, the newborn has lived nearly half her life as a war baby.

An artist who had to abandon her art

Xenija Curly worked as a concert photographer and artist in Kyiv.

Xenija Curly was a concert photographer and artist living in Kyiv. Now, her life is just "one backpack and a cat," she told Insider. 

"Before the war, my home was a studio, I'm an artist and a concert photographer, and I had to leave it all. I took my film cameras with me, but I couldn't take any art supplies. 

"I am still trying to get any news from my city, but it is not promising. Russians loot homes and leave behind mines." 

I don't know how, when, or what I will come back to if I will. I have questioned myself lately about it. Coming back to a place you left with fire in a sky and bombing sounds won't be easy. I won't ever feel safe there.

The thought of something that could happen at any moment will haunt me. I already let go of all the stuff I had. I mean material stuff. It's most likely gone. No one can really update me on my apartment because it's too dangerous."

Cafe culture

From Oleksii Rozanov, 28, showing his old life in Dnipro.

Oleksii Rozanov shared these photos with Insider, showing his routine, which — like many — revolves around the cafe.

The image on the left "reminds me about the days when I could meet with friends for dinner, and we could chat about plans for future vacations, discuss stuff like cars, movies, games, and stories from our lives. It also reminds me about romantic evenings with wine and pizza and how simple things were before the war," he said.

Rozanov said the photo of the coffee cup "represents calmness and my daily ritual of drinking coffee at my favorite place in Dnipro. It also means coziness for me because when I look at it, I remember how I felt safe and calm during rainy weather and knowing that tomorrow there will be a peaceful day and clear sky."

When I get home, my safe space will be waiting for me where I can relax with a book or a movie. The soft and sweet taste on my lips also reminds me about childhood and how calm it was."

A drink with friends, in a building that is now destroyed

A selfie of Igor with a friend in a mall in Kherson. It has since burned to the ground.
 Igor, aged 20, said, "these are photos from the pub which was located in the now-burned down mall," in Russian-occupied Kherson.

Igor told Insider's Erin Snodgrass and Havovi Cooper, that food warehouses in the southern city are nearly depleted and looters are beaten in the street. He also described how he found a dead body in the street, lying next to a Russian tank.

Last flight to Kyiv

One of the last commercial planes to land in Kyiv, and Maria and her boyfriend had to leave the country a day later.
Maria Romanenko sent these photos to Insider, showing her flight back home to Kyiv. One day later, they had to flee the country.

"My boyfriend Jez and I have just landed in Kyiv from Gdansk on the morning of February 23. What we didn't know is that this would turn out to be one of the last few flights that were allowed to land in Ukraine.

"Upon our landing, Ukraine announced a state of emergency and, a couple of hours later, there were reports that something heavy would be happening in Kyiv overnight. Jez and I packed our bags and went to my Dad's place for the night — some 27 km away from central Kyiv, where I rent an apartment. The next morning, my boyfriend woke me up at 7 am to tell me that Russia had started an all-out war against Ukraine.

"He's British and was desperate to get out of Ukraine as soon as possible, so I followed him: first toward the west of Ukraine and then into Poland. Crossing the border took us 40 hours altogether. Now we're in the U.K. together and are safe, but my family and friends remain in Ukraine." 

Streetlife

Antonovycha Street in Kyiv.
Valentyn Desiatnyk recalled his street in Kyiv. Once bustling, it's now desolate. 

"That's Monday the 21st of February, my native street in Kyiv. Antonovycha str. This street used to have hard traffic during peak hours. This boulevard was always full of people with dogs. Right now, there are two or three cars parked in the whole 500m. In the evening, there are no street lights," he said. 

Ukraine's capital was once home to almost three million people. It is now deserted. Many have fled Putin's invasion or are spending much of their lives hiding out in bunkers to escape Russian shelling.

 

Planning for war

Kyiv restaurant owner Sorina Seitveliiev took this photo of an article about 'what to do in case of war' published in a local newspaper.
This image shows how Sorina Seitveliiev, a Ukrainian restaurant owner from Kyiv who fled to Turkey, described how she tried to deal with the reality that war was imminent.

"The week before, we were actually preparing for war. Once I heard that special trains were bringing Russian soldiers to the border with Ukraine, we got really scared. We sent the kids to Turkey, and I took this photo in Privatbank on Khreshiatik Street, thinking we should also put it in our restaurant.

"We discussed with the restaurant managers what should be done. But we did it all half-heartedly. We couldn't believe something like this could ever happen."

Goodbye friend

Terry Bass shared a photo of his dog, Carmela.
Terry Bass, an American chef who had cooked for Ukrainian soldiers and said he saw Russian forces 'shooting at homes and hospitals' in Odesa, sent Insider this photo of his dog. 

"This is my dog Carmela in our apartment in Odessa. I had no choice but to leave her with friends in the war zone and flee myself."

He told Insider this shot was taken just hours before the first explosions hit the city.

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