Woman holding dog telling her story caption '#ukrainevoicenotes' (l) Yellow background with caption '#ukrainevoicenotes' (c) Woman holding cloth up caption '#ukrainevoicenotes' (r)

@voicenotesfromukraine/TikTok @voicenotesfromukraine/TikTok

‘She survived World War II. I really hope she’ll survive World War III’: Viral TikToks show Ukrainians’ everyday war experiences

'The ground shakes. Houses shake. And we couldn’t sleep there.'


Claire Goforth


Posted on Apr 6, 2022   Updated on Apr 13, 2022, 1:16 pm CDT

They are artists, students, soldiers, community organizers, comedians, and mothers. Some are alone, others surrounded by families and pets. Most speak of loved ones in refugee camps around the world or hunkering down in war-torn cities and towns. A fortunate few have merely left their worldly possessions and former lives behind.

These Ukrainians’ wartime experiences are being documented by Project Brazen, a journalism content studio founded by a pair of Pulitzer Prize finalists. Ukraine Voice Notes is its nonprofit endeavor documenting average Ukrainians’ stories from the Russian invasion. In short videos posted on TikTok, interviewees cry, rage, and share hope and pride for their country and its people.

“Reporting from war zones often focuses on the headline-grabbing developments, but we wanted to find a way to elevate voices from everyday people whose lives have been completely upended in a matter of weeks,” Project Brazen co-founder Bradley Hope said in a press release.

Natalia, the mother of a young daughter, clutched the family dog as she spoke of abandoning their home in Kharkiv, a city in northeastern Ukraine that has been relentlessly attacked by Russian forces. PBS reports that Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, is now mostly empty because its residents have fled the war.

Natalia and her daughter are among the refugees. She said the train ride to Liev in western Ukraine was the first time they’d slept since the attacks began.

“The ground shakes. Houses shake. And we couldn’t sleep there. At all,” she said of the bombings.

“I never thought I would leave my home. Never…. I hope and believe I will come back. Certainly I will come back. Because I love my people,” she added, beginning to cry.


Natalia is from Kharkiv. She knew the war was coming, but never imagined she’d flee her home. She’s now seeking safety in Lviv with her daughter and dog, Nica. #ukrainevoicenotes #ukraine #ukrainewar #ukraine🇺🇦

♬ original sound – VoiceNotesfromUkraine

Natalia fell silent, staring into the distance as she gently rocked back and forth. “We will come back certainly,” she said finally, her voice thick with emotion.

Another Ukraine Voice Notes interviewee, 17-year-old Fedor, shared that he and his mother hid in a basement for two weeks in an occupied suburb of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. “We managed to get evacuated from there, through the green corridor,” he said, referring to humanitarian evacuation routes. Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of breaking agreed ceasefires by attacking civilian escape routes.

Fedor and his mother made it through and are en route to Germany, where he plans to pursue his dream of becoming a scientist to do something good for Ukraine. The war weighs heavily on his young mind. “I really love my country and I hope and I know it will win,” Fedor said.

Common consensus around the world is that Russia believed it would take over in a matter of days when it invaded Ukraine in late February. That assumption has been proven false. More than a month later, Ukraine’s fierce resistance has successfully pushed Russian forces out of some areas.

Ukrainians interviewed for the project share Fedor’s optimism about the war. “I have no doubt that Ukraine will win as we have such strong army, strong national spirit, our President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy is trying his best to make this victory happen as soon as possible,” Sonia, who was studying in Kharkiv before the war, told Ukraine Voice Notes.

The project launched on March 18. In a release, it said it reached hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of weeks. Its first TikTok has been viewed 200,000 times. In it, English teacher Valeria and her friend share that they fled with what worldly belongings they could carry and their pets—a rat and two guinea pigs, one named Dora the Explorer.


Valeria, an English teacher from Kiev, with her pets – a rat and two guinea pigs (one named Dora the Explorer) #UkraineVoiceNotes #Ukraine #ukrainewar

♬ original sound – VoiceNotesfromUkraine

Ukraine Voice Notes co-founders Hope and Tom Wright are working to gather more stories like Valeria’s to add to the roughly two dozen they’ve catalogued thus far. Ukraine Voice Notes has set up a GoFundMe to help with the costs of documenting Ukrainians’ stories from the war.

The devastation and casualties haunt those who escaped. IT specialist Dimitry thinks often of his grandmother whose handicap made it impossible for her to leave Irpin. “She survived World War II. I really hope she’ll survive World War III,” he said. “Frankly, I hope we all do.”

Student Sonia and her family fled when Russia attacked. Even as she researches schools in Europe and Canada to continue her studies, Sonia is preoccupied by thoughts of her grandmothers and dog trapped in the war zone, and all the others who are suffering back home.

“Every morning I wake up and start searching the news to see what happened during the last night and every time I just hope that all my friends and relatives are still safe because you cannot even predict what is going to happen in [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s head next.”

Like Sonia, Ukrainians interviewed for the project largely blame Putin for the war. “Fuck you Putin,” comedian Sasha said as he sat on a bed on the stage of the comedy club he’s turned into a makeshift refugee camp.

With their lives upended in what student Anne described as “before and after” the invasion, Ukrainians are using their time helping one another and the war effort. Lina worked as an interior designer before Russia invaded. Ukraine Voice Notes recorded Lina’s new work as an “exterior designer,” making camouflage netting for the troops.

Twenty-two-year-old Mykhaylo drives back and forth to the front carrying humanitarian aid and bringing vulnerable, desperate people back to safety in the west even though doing so puts him at great risk. Mykhaylo told Ukraine Voice Notes that his last trip to Kyiv left him with symptoms common among sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I developed a phobia for loud noises. Every time I hear them, my mind thinks these are bomb explosions,” he said.

Others interviewed for the project feed refugees, volunteer at transportation hubs, or take up arms to defend their country.

Mitri told Ukraine Voice Notes that he and his family fled their home in the early morning hours when Russia invaded. They had just an hour to get out. “You just wake up and realize your life will never be the same again,” he said.


Mitri is a CEO of an IT firm and now moonlights as a territorial defence guard protecting his village from saboteurs. He is an example of how every Ukrainian has joined in the fight against the Russian invasion. #ukrainevoicenotes #ukraine #territorialdefence #ukrainerussiawar

♬ original sound – VoiceNotesfromUkraine

Now he works nights at the IT firm where he’s the chief executive officer, coding and supporting clients.

During the day, Mitri dons camouflage and volunteers with the territorial defense guard protecting the village where he and his family are sheltering.

“The Russian army still comes, so we are trying to protect ourselves,” Mitri said.

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*First Published: Apr 6, 2022, 6:25 am CDT