Longing for the Anniversary Ukraine Will Celebrate, Not Just Mark

Documenting Ukraine

The first year of the Russo-Ukrainian War, the “big war,” was a year of illusions. Ukrainians hoped that the war would end soon and they could go back home; they longed for the life that they had had on 23 February 2022. More than six million people became refugees. Many didn’t properly unpack their belongings in their new places (if they had managed to take at least somethings with them while evacuating), waiting for the signal to return to Ukraine. While they were moving west, thousands of Ukrainian soldiers moved east to protect their homeland from the invasion from the north that brought atrocities, devastation, and the killing of both humans and nature on a massive scale. It brought rage, sorrow, a desire for revenge, and hope for justice.  

These illusions faded in the second year of the full-scale Russo-Ukrainian War. Wounded Ukraine keeps fighting for its very existence. Now, the country enters the third year of the big war, hearing assurances and promises yet harboring doubts that this year will be decisive. The only possible outcome for Ukrainians in this context is their victory—Russia’s defeat.

Ukraine is aching for certainty. Will military aid from its allies arrive on time? How long will that aid last? Should people stay, or should they leave after all? Will the next bomb or drone kill us today or tomorrow? This cocktail of existential threats infuses every day of this not-yet-ending war. 

The research project Documenting Ukraine was launched at the IWM in March 2022 to chronicle the Russo-Ukrainian War, capture the human experience of that war, and make it accessible and comprehensible to the broader world. This program aims to answer the question: what did life during the war look like? Academics, journalists, writers, photographers, artists, archivists, and public intellectuals are working in their fields, gathering pieces of the daily experience of life amid war. 

With deep regret, the Documenting Ukraine team also records numerous private anniversaries, like the death of Victoria Amelina, a Ukrainian writer and documenter of Russian war crimes who was killed during a missile attack in Kramatorsk on 27 June 2023. Other anniversaries are occasions to recall deaths; the destruction of cultural objects, schools, and residential buildings; and attacks on big peaceful cities and small villages.  

At the same time, often on the very same dates as these dark anniversaries, new Ukrainian films win awards in the most prestigious international competitions; exhibitions depicting the war are received with enthusiasm by the broader world, and the voices of Ukrainian singers, writers, and journalists telling the story of Ukraine’s resistance are being heard.

The story of life during this war is woven from different threads, and it may take decades before we see anything resembling a sketch of the whole picture.

Ukrainians count every day of the “big war,” and they long for the day that will become an anniversary they will celebrate—the day of Ukraine’s victory.

The Documenting Ukraine community has published and commented widely on the occasion of two years of full-scale war. Here is a selection of their work, which will continue to be updated: 

Sofia Andrukhovych: La fatigue de la guerre, par l’écrivaine ukrainienne Sofia Andrukhovych

Sasha Dovzhyk: In Ukraine, Culture is an Act of Resistance

Nataliya Gumenyuk: Restaurants bustle, new bookshops open, the air raid app goes off. This is our defiant reality in Kyiv

Kateryna Iakovlenko: A journalist in Ukraine reflects on daily life since Russia's invasion 2 years ago  

Iya Kiva and Oleksandr Mykhed: Rusland stjal min fantasi  

Serhii Korovayny: Serhij, der gestohlene Sohn

Andriy Lyubka: In the past 2 years of war, we have all died a little

Oleksandr Mykhed: Missile tubes, an unfunny joke, my wife’s band sweatshirt: in Ukraine, this is how we fund our fight for survival

Yevheniia Nesterovych: Co Się Z Nami Stało

Olena Stiazhkina: We Ukrainians Are Fighting to Be Free

Iryna TsilykParmi les artistes ukrainiens, une nouvelle «génération fusillée»

Iryna Tsilyk, Oleksandr Mykhed, Lyuba Yakimchuk: "Je ne sais plus inventer" : quatre écrivains ukrainiens racontent deux ans de guerre 

Darya Tsymbalyuk: The unlikely species entangled in Ukraine's resistance to Russia

Text by Kseniya Kharchenko, Documenting Ukraine Project Manager, Member of PEN Ukraine 

Photo by Mykhailo Palinchak