100 days of war, 100 stories from Ukraine

(Al Jazeera)

On February 24, at 5:30am Moscow time (02:30 GMT) Russian state television channels were interrupted to broadcast an address by President Vladimir Putin announcing a “special military operation” in the Donbas region.

His impetus, to “demilitarise and denazify” Ukraine.

Russian forces infiltrated the northern, eastern and southern fronts of Ukraine with air, land and sea attacks. Explosions were heard in many cities about 5:00am local time (03:00 GMT). In the following 100 days, resounding air raid sirens, unforgiving shelling, months in darkness, and days on foot became the lived experiences of millions of people in Ukraine.

“Here we had our bed, our TV and wardrobe were there. I replaced the windows and doors - everything was brand new - underfloor heating. We were living a good life. The Russians did not need to save us. Absolutely not. They destroyed everything.”

by Victor Horenka

These are the words of Victor Horenka as he surveyed the destruction of his home in Kyiv. A home he spent 20 years making. The building has become a shell - there is no glass in the windows, the brickwork is charred and metal sinews hang from the ceiling.


Across Ukraine, the architecture is similarly scarred with marks of conflict. The war has so far killed at least 4,183 people, and more than 5,014 have been injured, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR). The real number is likely to be much higher.

More than 6.9 million* people have fled Ukraine during 100 days of war. In a war that has not discriminated between civilians and soldiers, the elderly and the young, the innocent and war aggressors, these are 100 stories from Ukraine.

*As of June 3, 2022

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Fathers have buried sons and mothers have given birth under a rain of shelling. The realities of the war in Ukraine have come in fast, while its consequences have permeated globally. Global food and fuel prices have risen, airspace over Ukraine has closed and Russia has faced unprecedented international sanctions. In the first 10 days of the conflict, more than 1.2 million people fled Ukraine for neighbouring countries.

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The southeastern port city of Mariupol has endured some of the most intense fighting during the war. Now under Russian control, a catalogue of egregious attacks - from the bombing of a maternity hospital on March 9 to an air raid on the Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre on March 16 - have devastated the city.

With a prewar population of 430,000, civilians in Mariupol have dealt with cuts to water and power supplies, while multiple attempts to create humanitarian corridors were thwarted by fighting earlier in the conflict. Images such as that of a heavily pregnant woman, bloodied at the hip, as she is carried on a stretcher from the ruins of Mariupol’s maternity hospital, have become emblematic of the war’s indiscriminate brutality; acts which have been described as war crimes by Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy.

The Kremlin views the port city of Mariupol as a bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. Aside from establishing a land corridor, the strategic relevance of Mariupol is also rooted in suppressing Ukraine’s economy. The port is a key export hub for Ukraine’s corn, coal and steel.

Azovstal steelworks plant, one of the largest metallurgical plants in Europe, has been at the centre of fighting in the past months. The complex was used as a shelter by Ukrainian forces and civilians. According to Ukrainian authorities, there were 1,000 civilians sheltering at the plant at one point. On April 21, Putin ordered Russian forces to seal off Ukrainian fighters inside the city. In a televised meeting with Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, Putin told Shoigu to block off the area so that “a fly cannot pass through”.

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On May 1, about 100 civilians were evacuated from the plant, after the United Nations and International Red Cross negotiated a deal to extract non-combatants from the site. Evacuated civilians were transported on buses out of Mariupol heading towards the city of Zaporizhzhia, 230km (140 miles) away. Natalia Usmanova, one of the first evacuees from the steel works plant, described her ordeal to Al Jazeera:

“I can't believe it. Two months of darkness. We did not see any sunlight. We were scared.

by Natalia Usmanova


On May 17, Ukrainian soldiers at the steel plant surrendered - 260 Ukrainian fighters were evacuated following the months-long siege. Many of the soldiers were wounded and taken to a Russian-controlled hospital in Novoazovsk. For many, Azovstal steelworks became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance against the Russian invasion.

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Like many other cities in Ukraine, residents in the capital Kyiv have grown used to the crescendo blares of air raid sirens, just as they have become accustomed to the explosions that follow.

In the first days of the war, people like Olga Balaban made the decision to leave the city as soon as possible. With her mother, 18-year-old brother and grandmother, she boarded the first train heading west. At the Polish border, the family met 30km (18.6-mile) queues. After two days of waiting, they made it to the front of the line. But, not everyone crossed the border.

The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine announced that all male citizens between 18 to 60 were banned from leaving the country. Olga’s brother was turned back.

“I could have done anything to keep him with me; I would have paid money, but what could I do? I do not think it is humane to call up all men to fight. Maybe some are sick or have mental health issues.”

by Olga Balaban

President Zelenskyy announced martial law in the country shortly after the invasion of Ukraine. Many of the men ordered to stay behind had never held a gun before war.



One week into the war, satellite imagery by Maxar showed a 64km (40-mile) column of armoured Russian vehicles heading towards Kyiv. The convoy came to a halt within days as a result of fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces. A month into its invasion of Ukraine, Russia announced it would reduce military activity near Kyiv. However, northwest of the city more insidious events unfolded.

A satellite image shows Russian ground forces northeast of Ivankiv heading in the direction of Kyiv, Ukraine, February 27, 2022. Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

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"He was shot in the ear."

Speaking about her nephew, Nataliya Aleksandrova, a resident in Bucha, told Al Jazeera:

“He was probably killed on March 8th. He was laying all this time in the basement. His body was found four days ago and we buried him. He was shot in the ear.”

by Nataliya Aleksandrova


In March, Bucha, a town northwest of Kyiv, became the scene of nefarious acts at the hands of Russian forces. On Yablunska Street, a long main road running through Bucha, satellite images appeared to show bodies lying on the street, some with their hands bound with rope.

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The harrowing accounts of the atrocities which occurred in the commuter town have been denounced as war crimes that may amount to genocide, according to Ukrainian officials including President Zelenskyy. Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko told Al Jazeera:

“What happened here isn’t just a crime. It’s genocide. Millions of Ukrainians have suffered.”

by Vitali Klitschko

Russian forces claimed to have withdrawn from Bucha on March 30 and claimed that footage of bodies on either side of a road in Bucha were “staged” after Russian troops left the city. Maxar satellite imagery contradicted this claim, with images dated to two weeks before the Russians left the town.

Maxar satellite imagery also appeared to show large trenches dug behind a church in Bucha, while the town was still under Russian occupation.

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Al Jazeera correspondent Imran Khan recounted walking through the town, counting the dead bodies.

“On that day in the town of Bucha, I counted at least 10 dead bodies lying in the street,” wrote Khan. “One, possibly two, bodies in the van had been burned to a crisp. Bones jutted out of blackened skin and the bodies inside the van looked like they had melted into each other. We walked in silence. My cameraman shooting the grisly scenes and I making notes of where and what state the bodies were in.”



The United Nations 1949 Geneva Convention has been ratified by all member states of the UN. Under Article 147, the “wilful killing”, “torture or inhumane treatment” and “wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health” are considered war crimes. Hanna Herega, a resident in Bucha, witnessed a man being killed.

“He went to get some wood when all of a sudden they [Russians] started shooting. They hit him a bit above the heel, crushing the bone, and he fell down,” Herega told Al Jazeera.

“The shooter shouted: ‘Don’t scream or I will shoot!’ and they turned away. Then they shot off his left leg completely, with the boot. Then they shot him all over this side [on the chest]. And another shot went slightly below the temple. It was a controlled shot to the head,” she added.

Days after Russian forces left Bucha, Human Rights Watch (HRW) researchers worked in the town. They found extensive evidence indicating unlawful killings, torture, executions and forced disappearances. All of which point to war crimes.

Richard Weir, a crisis and conflict researcher at HRW, said: “Nearly every corner in Bucha is now a crime scene, and it felt like death was everywhere.

“The evidence indicates that Russian forces occupying Bucha showed contempt and disregard for civilian life and the most fundamental principles of the laws of war.”

APTOPIX Russia Ukraine War The Lost Son

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Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, has been the poster for the destruction wreaked on the country’s residential buildings and civilian infrastructure. The city, located in northeast Ukraine, is home to 1.5 million people and has been the front line of fighting on the eastern front.

In the first month of fighting, Kharkiv suffered intense bombardment as Russian troops made advances towards the city. However, in April, Russian forces were pushed back and some territory was reclaimed.


President Zelenskyy visited the city on May 29 - his first official visit outside of Kyiv since the start of the war. According to Oleg Synegubov, head of the Kharkiv regional military administration, Russian forces damaged 2,229 high-rise buildings, 225 of which were completely destroyed in the Kharkiv region. Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify this.


Despite a large number of Kharkiv’s 1.5 million residents leaving the city, some chose to stay behind. Maria Adveeva, a research director at the European Expert Association, wanted to document Russian attacks on the city. She told Al Jazeera: “I have so many memories here, there were cafés, bars and restaurants ... My friends were living in houses [on the street]. There’s no place they can come back to.”

On the doorstep of Kharkiv, fighting still continues in a region that has already suffered extensive damage. In a Telegram post, the Ukrainian president’s office stated: “We will restore, rebuild and bring back life. In Kharkiv and all other towns and villages where evil came.”

In other cities, from Kherson to Lviv, Chernihiv to Kramatorsk, the effect of war has also been evident. While cities in the east have borne the brunt of fighting, those in the west have not escaped Russian bombardment.

Natalia was displaced from the Luhansk region. She travelled to Lviv, a city in the west of Ukraine, to escape fighting on the eastern front, only to be met with unexpected shelling.

“Here we were getting back to normal, but this attack took us back home when the shells were landing around us and we saw neighbours on the ground,” she told Al Jazeera.

“It’s horrible to live it once again. We feel hopeless. Fatally doomed.”

According to the UN, more than 7.7 million people in Ukraine have been internally displaced, while more than 6.9 million have fled to international and neighbouring countries. This means just under one-third of Ukraine’s population have been forced to leave their home at some point during the conflict. The European Union has granted Ukrainians the right to stay and work for up to three years in the 27-member state area.

As of May 24, the UN estimates that 2.1 million Ukrainians have returned to Ukraine, with Ukraine’s border force saying that up to 30,000 people are crossing back into the state each day.

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Humanitarian corridors have been established during the war in order to evacuate civilians from areas of heavy fighting. However, the less able-bodied and those who refuse to leave are left behind.

In Kramatorsk, Gennady stood at his window.

“My five-year-old grandson and five-month-old granddaughter, fortunately, have left. Where are we supposed to go? We're retired, we're still here. Let everyone see it,” he says.

Holding back tears, he added: “My son-in-law just buried my daughter. If something happens to him, his children, my grandchildren won't have parents."

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When parents must bury their children, little seems logical about war. In 100 days, Ukraine’s hospitals, schools, churches, government quarters and residential buildings have been desecrated. Thousands have lost their lives and millions have no place to go back to. It will take years to be rebuilt, some like Oleksi Sereda, from Chernihiv, told Al Jazeera: “Now, I have nothing. The ceilings and floors are burnt. The most painful thing is all my memorable documents have burned. I didn't need them but I kept them as souvenirs. I'm a retired pilot and I kept all my pilot logs there.”

But, he still remained hopeful.

"Come back in two years - I will rebuild everything. We will have a barbecue together."

Source: Al Jazeera