Before Russia’s war on Ukraine began a year ago, Olena Gnes was a YouTube vlogger and tour guide in Kyiv.
For Gnes, her passion was helping people from around the world discover Ukraine.
Then, on Feb. 24, 2022, Russia launched its assault on Ukraine and Gnes rushed into a makeshift bomb shelter with her three children, the youngest just four months old.
In the meantime, Gnes’s husband signed up to volunteer with the Territorial Defence Forces to help defend their country.
As thousands of people fled Ukraine, Gnes stayed to inform the world about what was happening. She started speaking to media from the bomb shelter. Her first interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live was in March, just 11 days into the war.
With the first anniversary of the Russian invasion looming, Gnes was interviewed again by Rosemary Barton Live — this time, Gnes was speaking from the U.S., where her family relocated in November.
“Back then, the situation was very intense,” Gnes, 36, said Sunday, recalling the early days of the war. “The Russian tanks were moving towards my home. The bombs were falling on my home and it was very shocking.”
Gnes spent most of her time in the shelter, only heading back to her apartment quickly to shower or get food for her children. On some days, she wasn’t sure if they would survive the night.
How the war impacted her children
Gnes and her family are now safe in the U.S., staying with a host family in Georgia. She said several factors contributed to her decision to leave Ukraine in November.
“My husband was demobilized, and my children, their mental health was really bad. By September, I saw how much they were traumatized by the war.”
WATCH | Olena Gnes speaks in March 2022 about her husband as she and their children were in a Ukraine bomb shelter:
Gnes said her children — Katya, 8, Taras, 6 and Daryna, 1 — are in therapy and still afraid of loud noises.
She said the children make bomb shelters under their beds because they don’t trust that the war is really over and it will never happen in the U.S.
“They lost their trust in humanity.”
Helping Ukrainians survive the winter
In recent weeks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the United Nations Security Council to act against Russia over airstrikes on civilian infrastructure that plunged Ukrainian cities into darkness and cold.
Even while living in the U.S., Gnes is trying to help those who remain in Ukraine. She’s an ambassador for the United Nations Foundation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which launched a campaign to purchase generators, rechargeable lights and power stations to help Ukrainians survive the winter.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “was weaponizing winter. He was hitting critical infrastructure. He wanted to attack my country to be in full darkness and just to be frozen to death,” according to Gnes.
As the one-year anniversary of Russia’s war on Ukraine approaches, Gnes remains hopeful about the future of her country.
“I am determined. I still believe that Ukraine will win,” she said. But she also wonders how much more time will pass before that may happen.