In the early days of the war in Ukraine, 16-year-old Oleksandra began keeping a video diary. By turns frightened, determined and hopeful, the diary offers a glimpse into the war as seen through the eyes of a teenager from Zaporizhzhia — from the weeks living in bomb shelters to her current life as a refugee in Poland with her mother, Anna, her grandmother Olga and little sister, Katya.
In the first of her diary entries, Oleksandra looks tired as she stands in an underground parking lot, staring straight into the camera. "February 24," she says. "Every Ukrainian will probably remember this day forever. We jumped out of our beds to the words, 'Wake up! The war has started.' Some of us woke up to the sound of shootings and explosions. We [had] planned to spend that day as usual — at work, at school, at preschool, with friends — but it turned into a day of constant fear, staying in shelters, pain and the constant sound of alarm sirens."
"Why do children have to see this?," she wonders. "Do we really have to expect our deaths?"
More than 6.6 million people have been pushed out of Ukraine by the war. Here, a teenage refugee shares her story, in excerpts from her video diary:
As the diary continues, the viewer follows Oleksandra as she begins to learn Polish and adapts to life at a high school in Warsaw, not knowing if she will be there for weeks or months or years.
On May 4, her mother's birthday, Oleksandra, Anna and 5-year-old Katya (below) returned to the family apartment in Ukraine for a brief visit with Oleksandra and Katya's father, who stayed behind. "Katya thought she was dreaming when she saw her father," says Anna.
"This is our reality now," adds Oleksandra. "But what's important is that we are able to spend time together."
Back in Poland, Oleksandra dreams of the day it will be safe to return home for good. "They say that home is not the place, but the people," she says. "But still, home is the place where you feel most comfortable. It's very sad to find yourself here and to have your heart there. Since the war started, a lot of days and birthdays have passed. And every person who celebrates their birthday makes one main wish: A wish for peace. I hope that every next birthday will be without this wish. And we will forget all of this like a bad dream."
UNICEF is working in Ukraine and in neighboring countries to provide children forced out of their homes by war with the emergency support and services they need to survive the ongoing crisis. Your contribution will make a difference. Please donate today.
Top photo: The outbreak of the war forced 16-year-old Oleksandra and her family to flee their hometown of Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine. Her video diary, excerpted above, captures day-to-day life in wartime, moving from bomb shelters in Ukraine to a temporary apartment in Warsaw, Poland. She is learning Polish and adapting to life at her new high school — but longing to return to the life she led before the war. © UNICEF/UN0646100/Korta. Video edited by Tong Su for UNICEF USA