24 Jan 2024

Life in Ukraine, 700 days on

From Nights, 10:17 pm on 24 January 2024
A woman is looking directly at the camera with illuminated by neon light

Iryna Zhygaliuk says her life like every other Ukrainian has been impacted by the war with Russia Photo: Iryna Zhygaliuk

It's been 700 days since Russian tanks and troops rolled over the border into neighbouring Ukraine.

While other geo-political events have taken the world's attention away from the conflict, for Ukrainians living in their homeland, it's still a daily reality.

Nights is joined by Kyiv resident Iryna Zhygalyuk to help us understand what life is like 700 days later.

Zhygalyuk said it became obvious early on in the conflict, it would be lengthy and "a war of attrition" so the only way she could cope with it was not to focus on how long it would last. 

She moved to the Czech republic for some time but after her dad who was almost 60 at the time volunteered to join the army along with her mother she made frequent trips back to the country to see him. 

She said it was hard to explain but the war seemed more of a reality when she was abroad. 

"When you're away you feel like you need to keep yourself updated every second and when you're here in Ukraine it just feel like it's your life and you've got other stuff to do or to take care of. So yes it's quite an odd effect that I've discovered during the war. The vicinity matters a lot in the way that you perceive the war."  

Coping with the strains of the war changes from day to day. 

Her dad has now left the army, however, if he receives bad news about the fate of some of his military colleagues at the frontline it affects her as well. 

She has been raising money for drones and other supplies to help the military. 

"Some days you go more practical and it keeps you quite sane, some days you get overwhelmed." 

Therapy was helping her to try and cope "in a healthy way", Zhygalyuk said.  

There wasn't a single generation in her family who had not experienced "some war or terrible atrocities", and she found that discouraging. 

While Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has constantly appealed to the rest of the world not to forget about the war, Zhygalyuk said it was hardly surprising the international community did not care as much as Ukraine's residents who were mostly directly impacted. 

She would prefer her government focus more on the domestic economy, the military structure and trying to be more independent. 

One of the reasons she wanted the war to end as quickly as possible was the need for fresh elections and possibly a new government, she said. 

Ukraine's president 'a paradoxical figure' 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers an end-of-year press conference in Kyiv on 19 December 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky's government needs to focus on the domestic economy and tackle problems such as corruption, Iryna Zhygalyuk says.  Photo: AFP

Zelensky was "a paradoxical figure", who had not done a good job in preparing Ukrainians for the possibility of war, she said. 

However, he had been "a huge influence" in the early days of the war and did "a lot of things right" as well as showing his mental toughness. 

"At the same time I don't think that his team is competent enough. I don't think they will be able to handle corruption well enough," she said, adding that when Ukraine became an independent state in 1991 it had to implement all the old Soviet laws. 

"It also meant that we had corruption ingrained into the government system and for the most part we still have the Soviet laws that sort of disbalance [sic] the system." 

This made it difficult to run a business in Ukraine and also discouraged international investment, she said. 

"So many legal issues that are are this post-Soviet heritage that we have."

No government had been able to fix the problems or had been efficient at introducing reforms, she said. 

 Zelensky also had not got "up to speed" in terms of being able to deal with the challenges. 

"It was hard even before the full-scale war but now that we need to remodel the entire economy because we don't have one, I mean we have new issues piled up on top of the old ones and the old ones were pretty bad too ..." 

She was not confident Zelensky had the skills to negotiate what was required for the country to rebuild.