A group of people stand in the rubble of Mariupol Drama Theatre.

Ten years of Russian occupation in Ukraine: Lives disrupted by war

Four members of staff from Amnesty International give their perspective on the impact Russia’s occupation of Ukraine has had on their lives, and how they feel Ukraine has changed since the full-scale invasion.


Before the events of spring 2014, Anna lived in Donetsk, having recently graduated, Anna hoped to pursue a career as a language teacher.

“We have lots of spring holidays and”, she recalls that times. “We generally spent them with our relatives in Kramatorsk and nearby villages. That year, however, they told us not to come. ‘We can hear sounds of fighting, there are check points everywhere, food supplies are interrupted,’ they told us. At that moment, it seemed unbelievable, as life in Donetsk was going on as usual.”

“I haven’t been in Kramatorsk since the full-scale invasion, but I do occasionally come to Kyiv, and every time I admire that it is as beautiful and lively as it used to be and; my loved ones still live there. But you can still see that life if far from normal there: constant air raid alerts, power cuts, scarcity of certain products”

“When I left Donetsk, I thought it was only for 3 months, and everything would be over. But it’s been 10 years since I left home in Donetsk and 2 years since I left my home in Kyiv”.


Julia, from Luhansk, which is another city in the east of Ukraine that fell victim of Russia’s invasion, was getting her second degree in political science, preparing for her exams in 2014. Just like Anna, she had to leave home in the summer.

“I never expected that something like that could happen in our city. [One the Russian forces arrived] the city felt increasingly more dangerous. Tanks, artillery, trucks, and soldiers started to pass through the city. We tried not to leave the apartment without a good reason. I remember we went to the store; we saw tanks passing along the streets with Russian flags on them and Russian military personnel. All in uniform, with weapons.”

“We hesitated to leave. But one day we saw that separatists installed a weapon near our building and started shooting. That is when we decided to leave for Popasna. Now, after the full-scale invasion Popasna is under occupation and about 96 percent of the buildings have been destroyed.

“Sometimes I come across pictures of the ruined town in social media. I think what changed for me now is that now I really miss the feeling of control and security. Now I know that anything can happen.”


Daryna, who is from a small town near Kyiv, was fifteen when the Russian invasion and occupation started.

“My school was right near the presidential administration, and we were witnessing all the events of the Maidan revolution right through our windows.”

“When the occupation of Crimea started, as well as hostilities in the east, it didn’t affect me much; I didn’t have any relatives or friends there. I didn’t understand what exactly was happening, but I knew that it was something bad.”

“In summer 2014, I started noticing some changes in my neighbourhood. There were more cars with Luhansk and Donetsk plates, more new people. It was much later I found out that my town was one of the centres for displaced people to move in.”

“I joined Amnesty International in 2019 when I was 21. As a citizen of Ukraine, I feel terribly guilty that I didn’t do enough to support people who lost their homes because of Russia’s invasion back in 2014.”

I think now, after I am also displaced, I understand that as Ukrainians we want solidarity from the world and we want people to empathize with us, but I also remember how we ourselves weren’t able to provide necessary support to our compatriots. So, I realize how difficult it can be to understand what is really happening if it happens far away and doesn’t affect you directly.” 


Patrick came to eastern Ukraine in 2016, two years after the war in eastern Ukraine started, with a humanitarian organization that was working on demining.

“When I came to Kramatorsk, the active hostilities had calmed down, and despite its proximity to the front line, Kramatorsk seemed like a peaceful city. There was still this traumatic experience and memory floating in the air. Working in demining, however, I could see every day the scars that Russian invasion was leaving on the land and on people’s lives.

“I didn’t believe that a full-scale invasion was possible. I also knew that Ukraine in 2022 was a very different country than in 2014, much stronger and more united.”

“Less than a year after that I joined Amnesty International as a Ukraine-focused researcher. I hope I my work will make justice for victims of Russia’s aggression at least a bit more achievable.”

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