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“We want to be free”: video diary of a Ukrainian refugee

A young Ukrainian documents her journey to safety.

By Phil Clarke Hill and Hugh Smiley

Margareeta is a 23-year-old musician from Kyiv, Ukraine. Like millions of others, she fled the city soon after Russian forces began their invasion. 

While making her long journey to safety, she recorded a video diary for the New Statesman documenting her experiences.

The night before the invasion began, Margareeta says she was with friends, “drinking and singing Ukrainian songs from the Orange Revolution”. Although they were talking about the war, “we couldn’t expect that it would happen just that morning”.

After watching Vladimir Putin’s declaration of war live on YouTube, she heard explosions. Margareeta packed a bag so she could be “ready to leave at any moment”. After spending the first nights sleeping in a bomb shelter, she started to panic. “I couldn’t do anything useful,” she says.

Making the difficult decision to leave behind several family members and friends, Margareeta first made her way to the relative safety of Lviv. From there, she and some family members made their way to the border where they queued for eight or nine hours in near-freezing temperatures, before crossing into Poland and continuing on to Warsaw.

Her grandparents stayed behind to care for other elderly relatives. They are of the generation of Ukrainians who lived under Soviet rule and survived the man-made Holodomor famine of 1933.

“It’s insane that my grandmother lived through Holodomor and World War II – and now she has to go through this.”

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Like many who have fled the conflict, Margareeta hopes to return: “I love Kyiv with all of my heart and I’m just waiting for a possibility to rebuild it.”

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