21 Days in Kharkiv


Cph - 13:00

     I’ve been travelling on the road for a while now. By car as a kid or by bus during my university years. I find it somehow soothing. Even though I am not loving it with a passion, I feel weird when I don’t do it.

I took the first bus to Berlin at 13:00 from Copenhagen central station. I had two seats for myself so I was comfortable. The trip lasted around 8 hours and was peaceful.

When I arrived in Berlin around 21:30 I decided to go find somewhere to eat that was not so far away from the bus station (since I had only 1h30 of wait until the next bus). Since I was in Germany I really wanted some kebab. So I found a Döner restaurant 2 streets from there and asked for a kebab box and a Fanta. I can say that it was the best kebab I’ve had in a while. After that I got to the shop next door and bought a litre of Fuze Tea for the road, then headed back to the station. I found the right platform and looked up to the sign above my head. At that moment, when I saw the final destination was Kyiv, I had a strong realization moment. I started to feel a little bit of panic deep inside and started to think “why am I doing this already? Life is so peaceful here, why am I risking this?”. But then I remembered how much effort, thoughts and money I have put into this trip, and how it is not the moment to go back. I have a strong reason to do this and I need to battle my fears. I can do this.

I’m starting to look at the people on my bus platform: Mostly women and maybe a few adolescents and two kids. Almost no men. I notice that I am getting a lot of looks from those people, which is totally normal, since I look like a complete foreigner and I only have a rather small backpack for such a long travel. People were very curious about my presence here, maybe they thought I was standing on the wrong platform or something. When the bus arrived, we had to show our passports to the driver. I got even more looks because I was one of the only two passengers with a red passport. Everyone had the Ukrainian blue passport, while I was from the EU. When checking my passport, the driver was confused because he had never seen one of these. He even asked me if it was indeed a passport. He then read the cover had a second of silence, like he was thinking "oh god, what the f*ck are you traveling over there??". He then calmly said "Ah, Danya?" (Denmark?), and I said yes. I could feel a certain complicity between the Ukrainian people on the platform. Like a certain mood of "we are strong, we will get there" while at the same time remaining serious, as a way to overcome the frustration of the current situation. I then got on the bus and reached my seat. I was sitting in the last row, between a Ukrainian woman and a foreign man, who I later learned was from Argentina, living in Aarhus and was visiting some friends.

The bus was completely full, all 90 seats. We started driving around 23:00 and the night felt endless. I didn’t have my usual two seats to stretch my legs and my back was hurting a lot. But I can do this, in 24h we arrive. My night could be summarised by a totally random sequence of sleeping, and being wide awake. In the middle of the night I felt that the lady on my right fell asleep on my shoulder, and scooched closer unconsciously because it was comfortable. Maybe it comforts her? I don’t know. But I thought that in those difficult times it is understandable, who knows what she has experienced. That made me realise that during this trip I am going to have to lose the sense of setting boundaries around myself. What I mean is : That 1 m radius I usually like to keep around myself? Forget about it. Just like a doctor, I have to bring down those individualist walls that are a staple in Danish culture, and not be afraid to be close to people. Unlike a doctor I know nothing of the body, but maybe I can soothe people's souls, just for a moment. Just by being nice.

Side note that I took but have no idea where to put : a bra is just a modern corset. I was thinking for at least 3h on how I was going to remove it, while sitting tight in a crowded bus, in the middle of the night.

The sun is up, and we are crossing Poland. It’s so beautiful. We drove past an incredible amount of churches, each one more pretty than the other. We’re not stopping much in rest areas, but I can manage. We arrived near the Polish town of Przemyśl, around 12 km from the Ukrainian border.

I already start to see a huge queue of trucks at the border that stretches over several kilometres. I hold my breath because I don't know what's going to happen. We stop. I imediately think of a pasport control, as I had the experience of it a few years ago in Germany, in the middle of the night. I prepare myself. So does Nicolàs, the Argentinian guy sitting next to me. The driver says something in Ukrainian and we are both confused, so we ask the lady on my right. She says "he told us we can go out and stretch our legs", both of us exhale.

I go out to let off steam a little, like many others, and I understand that there is a border shop nearby. I tell myself I'll go there in the meantime, since the queue of vehicles waiting for border control is quite long. I spend 5 minutes calculating the exchange rate between DKK and Polish zloty, and enter the shop. I quickly realised that the prices are extremely low. I allowed myself a Monster energy drink and two donuts for a total of 10kr (while one Monster only is 15kr minimum at føtex). Plus it's good donuts! Better than Lidl (f*ck Lidl).

I return to the bus and witness the frustration of a mother trying to convince her teenage daughter to go out and let off steam. She must be in highschool. I imagine that she was a high school student because in her book there were about twenty coloured bookmarks, like when you analyse a book. Also she looked quite young. When it was finally our turn to go through control, a lady from the Polish authorities asked for the passport of each one of the passengers, and took them with her out of the bus to check them. That took probably more than an hour, I don’t really know at this point. After she came back with the passports we drove maybe 20m, before we got stopped again. Second control, by Ukrainian authorities this time. Another lady officer asked for all of our passports again, but this time to stamp them (with date an hour of arrival etc). In total, the 4h of waiting at the border were difficult, but I managed to close an eye or two.

We finally crossed the border. When the driver announced it everybody in the bus applauded. We finally did it.

First stop was Lviv, where most of the people in the bus got out. Lviv is a very pretty city, but it seems quite crowded. Many people from the west of the country decided to settle here after the beggining of the war. What struck me at first is how green this country is. Trees and parks everywhere. We left Lviv and are heading towards Kyiv now. The countryside is magnificent. There are monuments to the homeland all over the place. Sometimes religious, or just with the colours of the flag (ribbons, symbols etc.). Either on the side of the roads, at the edge of the fields, in the farms and the villages.

There are absolutely magnificent, colourful, golden, shiny Orthodox churches. I have never seen one of those before. It looks so surreal and magical, when you contrast it with the simple nature that surrounds it. It’s almost like a mystical sanctuary or a magician's lair. Oh and there are so many storks! Building their big nests on the roofs.

The further we drive in the country, the fewer vehicles there are on the highway. We pass by the town of Zhytomyr. I see my first anti-tank hedgehogs (yes they are called hedgehogs), and what I think are abandoned barricades? I am not sure about that last one though. Small road bridges are partially destroyed. As it is a big corridor towards Kyiv, I believe it’s the remnants of a battle. Anyway, reality starts to hit for real now.

We arrive 30min late to Kyiv so I have to run to reach the central train station and catch my night train. I booked an overnight train departing at 22:55 from Kyiv to Kharkiv, which will take me 5-6h. I can’t wait to lay down. Fortunately, the train station is 2 steps away. It looks huge and intimidating. But I don't have time to panic, I have to catch my train. Besides that, the darkness doesn't help me. I see a soldier enter a large wooden door, thinking it's the entrance to the station. Another fairly young soldier politely explains to me that it is reserved for staff. I explain that I only speak English. He points me to the entrance to the station (which I stupidly missed) and I thank him. He was very friendly. When I enter the station I have to go through customs and have my bag scanned. Everything is going well. I easily find the right platform and manage to catch my train right on time. My bed is number 8 in a four-person room. I see that two big men are already settled in their bunk and I think to myself "well, as long as they don't close the door then it's fine I guess :)" I lay down in my bunk and I’m ready to rest.

But then comes a funny red-haired lady with glasses, who tries to explain to me, with the very little English she has, that I'm in the wrong carriage. I think she's funny because when she was trying to figure out how to explain something, she made funny faces and big arm movements. She also kept laughing because she was a bit embarrassed. I then head for the right carriage and settle into the right bed. This time it's a bedroom for two and I'm with a man in his 50s. I'm lucky because he speaks quite good English. We introduce ourselves and he tells me his name is Oleg and that he works in Kharkiv. He asks me where I come from, and if I am a journalist. I explain that I wish I was, but I'm a volunteer in a kitchen in Kharkiv. He tells me that it's "very good, very good" while giving me a thumbs up. He then tries to reassure me by telling me that Kharkiv is not as dangerous as earlier in the conflict. Since I didn't have any internet, he explained how to get from the station to my hostel on his phone. I know that said like that, it sounds fishy (I mean talking to a random man about how to reach my hostel), but he really seemed like a nice guy.

That's when a certain funny red-haired lady with glasses reappeared in my carriage, and offered me a mint herbal tea that she bought in the canteen carriage. She tells me that "I... uhh speak very bad euuuuh... English. English very bad…" and she blushes a little. Then I answered, "Well, I speak very bad Ukrainian!" and that made her laugh. Her kindness really surprised me. Her name is Marina. Oleg got jealous and shared one of his leftover chocolate waffles with me. I did not expect such hospitality. Well, maybe a little, but not in that way, and especially not in a train. It's probably because I'm a foreigner, but still. Until now, the feeling I had with the Ukrainians in my bus was more of curiosity by the look, rather than by the word, and even less by the act.

I put my PC under my pillow while I slept, and kept my banana bag on me with phone and passport in it. I knew I would be sleeping like a log. And I did. It felt amazing.

Day 1

     The sunrise while in the train felt so poetic, and soothing. We’re finally getting off the train in Kharkiv, and I recognize Marina. She was in the arms of a Ukrainian soldier who was waiting for her.

Oleg offered to take a taxi to my hostel because it is on his way to his workplace. At first I tell him I am okay with walking, and that I don’t wish to pay for a taxi. He insisted that he paid and said it would be safer for me as a newcomer. I am grateful for that.

Finally at the hostel, I can finally connect to the wifi, but I have to wait until 12:00 to check-in. So I just sit on a couch by the shared kitchen. That’s when two people in their 40s come and sit next to me to have breakfast. I’m relieved they speak English. At that moment I felt so exhausted by the trip that I didn't feel like talking much. They were talking about breakfast, and the lady (whose name is Simone) mentioned to the other guy that the word bread in danish is pronounced brød. I went “wait you speak danish???”. She then told me that she was German and that she learned some Danish words in the past. We ended up talking for about an hour or so about politics but also history and science. After that I decide that I need a shower, and that while I wait for check-in I’ll go visit the neighbourhood. I feel like western media loves to dramatise the current war. Building news articles in a way that we start believing that the Ukrainian territory is under constant attack 24/7 and that everything is destroyed and dangerous. You’ll find maybe one out of ten articles about the war actually being positive and mentioning the incredible reconstruction effort and the strength of the people. That’s why I didn’t know what to expect when visiting around. Always with my banana bag on me with phone, charger, papers and some money, I walked around and realised how beautiful this city really was. Trees at every street corner, magnificent parks, beautiful buildings and churches.

When I got back from my little journey it was past 12:00, so I was finally able to check in at the hotel. I’m sharing my room with three other ladies, Alina, Ala and Simone. Alina is a young woman around 28 years old and Ala is an older lady maybe in her 60s. Even though she had no English, Ala showed me how the system of the hostel works, where I should put my shoes in the entrance, and where I could find flip flops so I wouldn’t have to walk barefoot in the hostel. We talked with our hands, pointing at things or at each other. If I had a question too difficult to explain with signs (like "where do I wash my dirty clothes?"), I would use Google Translate and then she would show me. Alina has basic English so it’s easier to communicate. I then took the most amazing nap of the past three days and slept like a log. Always with my hip bag next to me. This guy is going to stick to me for a while. After a couple hours, in the afternoon, I got up and went for some groceries. I got myself some pasta, tomato sauce, ice tea, potatoes and a bag of chips, for a total of 40kr.

When I got back to the hostel, a group of 3 soldiers were in the living room with some of the guests. I don’t know why my brain decided to panic for half a second, but I kept calm, just trying to figure out what was happening. I then realised that the soldiers were staying the night and just wanted to chat and have fun with us. I said hi to one of them who was the older one, and he made a very surprised face. He said in Ukrainian “Hey you’re a foreigner!!” (I had to wait for Simone's help to have that translation). I said that he was right and he asked me if I was American. For some reason I was going to get that a lot here during my journey. I explained that I was Danish and he said “That's a very long way from here!”, I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. I sat down on the couch of the living room and he took a stool and sat down next to me, while the other soldiers were looking and smiling. Some of them were around my age and were maybe a bit more shy and just gave some curious looks. But he was very charismatic and funny and the mood was very nice. The older soldier took out his phone and used Google Translate to ask me what was the reason for my stay in Kharkiv. I used my phone to tell him that I was going to volunteer in a humanitarian kitchen. He smiled and gave me a thumbs up “Very good! Very good!”. We all had a lot of laughs. I agree that the scene was comical : a big old funny soldier that speaks no English and barely knows how to use his phone, trying to chat with a discreet foreign girl who just arrived in Ukraine. After they left the hostel, I went to bed. What a long day.

Honorable mention

There is a guy in Kharkiv wo likes to walk his pet racoon on a leash.
The raccon's name is Whisky. He is important.

Bits of reality



     Physical overwork is something I feel I’ve never had to think about. I knew about people who experienced it and why. But I feel like most of the health problems I’ve had to endure were mostly psychological. I’ve swimmed in the waters of depression for an uncountable number of years, sometimes surfing on it, sometimes on a deep dive. But thankfully I’ve managed not to drown yet. Getting out of those waters and finally getting to dry myself off them has taken so much time and effort but I’m finally out of it. But healing that wound has had an unexpected consequence on my life. Being depressed is like being in some sort of coma. You spend hours alone, in the darkness of your own unhealed mind, not being able to do anything with yourself, all you can do is try to avoid the demons who try to bring you down. Energy has a lot of trouble staying in you and you almost feel braindead. Yet a part of you is still conscious of how ridiculous the whole situation is, and you hate yourself even more for not being able to get up and do anything. When I finally got away from that situation, I felt like I was capable of doing anything.
A burst of energy got me and I believed I was Superman. From walking and biking kilometers everyday to taking boxing classes to getting up at 4am to go jogging, I could not sit still anymore and wanted to do everything I could to spend as much energy as possible. Whenever I sat still at home or lied down for too long I would feel anxious and start overthinking. And I absolutely hated that.
On the 10th of June 2023, after a day at work in the festival I was volunteering at, I had to go to the hospital. My left arm stopped functioning and was incredibly tense. Doctors were very confused as to what was happening and ran tests on me for half of the night. The next day they explained to me that it was probably some sort of local epileptic reaction in my left arm and that it was most likely due to the aftermath of an accident I had more than 10 years ago. Anyway, they were very confused about the whole thing but I know myself and I know that I had overworked myself.
That night I felt like my body just shut down and that I had no energy left to give. It is something I didn’t know I could experience. It only happened to others. It is difficult to slow down when you’re in a frenzy but nowadays I try to sit down from time to time and just meditate. Burn some incense, listen to calm music or podcasts and stay calm. I’ve even started doing something I had sadly stopped doing for years now : writing (and sometimes even reading, it’s almost like I forgot that I could do that). It’s about taking it one day at a time, or even one hour at a time. Relearning how to enjoy the little things, and try not to drive on the fast lane 24/7. Sometimes it’s better to remain at cruising speed for a while.

Day 2

     Last night was special. It was the first time I experienced air raid sirens. In a real war situation I mean. All throughout my school years, on the first wednesday of May at 12:00, we would hear the air raid alarm tests all around Denmark. It always made us feel weird because war was so far away, But it made us understand, as kids, that the possibility of war in Europe was not inevitable. A decade later I hear sirens that tell me that there is an actual risk of shelling. I am somehow used to that sound, but I do realise the reality of it now.

Today is first day of work. Back in May, I contacted on Telegram a Charity Organisation called Pekelna Kuhnya (“Hell’s Kitchen”) in Kharkiv, to ask if they needed any help in the kitchen, and if it was ok that I join them. I would chat with who I later learned was Dasha, who's my age and who is in charge of the Telegram account. She explained exactly what their day to day tasks were and that they’ll be happy to have me. I also asked what the closest and safest accommodation was, so I could rent a room nearby. That’s how I found Central Hostel, where I am currently staying.

I’m very excited to meet the team at the organisation, and to start working. Around 10am I start walking from the hostel to the organisation headquarters, which is 3 streets away. It took no more than 10 mins. The kitchen is in a very quiet street with many beautiful trees. It is installed in an old video game café, in a building dating from the Imperial era. As I enter I meet Гнат (Hnat), who showed me around the building. The reception is well decorated with many different flags and many plants and flowers. There’s a coffee machine (which Гнат described as “the most important volunteer in the team”) and a kettle for tea. Everyday we get a box with some little cakes we can enjoy. The kitchen is installed in the main room with ovens and a kneading station for the bread. In the back there’s a station for cooking regular food like buckwheat, chicken or salads. A bit further away there’s a stairway leading to the backyard, where there’s a little camouflage net weaving station.

I offered to the team a little viking statue I bought back in Copenhagen, which they were very happy with.

I put my backpack in the changing room and got to work. The first task I’ve started working on is forming dough buns. It was the first time I had to do that and I didn’t think it would be that technical. There’s a special way to form the dough ball with your hands so it cooks perfectly in the oven. The buns we are making are traditional from Ukraine and taste amazing.

For lunch we’re allowed to take a plate of whatever the cooks decide to make for the day. So I had a bowl of broth soup with pasta, some buckwheat and some fish. In the afternoon, when the work was over, we started preparing for a birthday party. It was indeed the birthday of Egor, who started the whole organisation with his wife. I think it’s the perfect opportunity to meet people and also to experience Ukrainian popular culture. That evening felt very nice. Good food, drinks, music and laughs. These moments make you forget that there is even a war ongoing. I got to meet several people of my age group who were also here to help, even though many of the volunteers in Pekelna Kitchen are older, or sometimes even retired.

When the sun got down, we decided with Simone to head back to the hostel together. We have to be inside before 23:00, since there’s a curfew in place and the street lights get turned off. The curfew is one hour earlier here than to the west of the country, since we are closer to the Russian border. Kharkiv Oblast (the region we’re in) is the third one to get the most air raid alerts (https://alerts.in.ua/en).

Day 3

     Today I met someone that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Someone who is not quite tall but who smiles a lot. Genya is a 6y old little boy whose mum decided to help in the kitchen today. Genya was a little shy at first when meeting me, but I tried to be nice to him by offering him a high-five and complimenting his Among Us t-shirt while I was making bread. After that I sat down with him on the sofa because he wanted to show me his toys. He had a couple Lego bricks and some dinosaur figurines. We built a little hut together out of Legos. He then took a blue Lego brick, put it together with a yellow one, showed me and pointed at himself to say “This is my flag”. Since he didn’t have any white bricks, I looked up a Danish flag online and did the same, he nodded. I then told him I’ll be back, because I gotta go help kneading the dough. I felt bad because I saw him roaming around among the working adults, and looked bored.

Later in the day, we got a donation delivery of a large number of yoghurt pots, that we’ll be distributing to people. I helped carry the boxes from the van to the storage room, with Luda and Svetlana. Little Genya also decided to help, but instead of carrying 6 packs at a time, he carried 2 little packs. He was motivated to help and did so at his own rhythm. I wanted to thank him in a way that’ll make him happy. I remembered a big toy store on the way to my hotel, so I decided to head there and find something I could afford. I was so concentrated on the way there that I didn’t see a tiny step on the sidewalk, and managed to go street-diving. I scratched both of my elbows and the palm of my hand, which started to bleed. A couple pedestrians asked if everything was alright, but I smiled and said “I’m ok I’m ok :)”. As my hand didn’t stop bleeding I entered a nearby coffee shop to ask if they had any plasters. I can’t speak Ukrainian and I don’t have internet so I just went to the counter, said “Hi”, showed my wound and went "help :)". The waitress immediately understood and told me to sanitise it, while she looked for a plaster. I thanked them very much, and continued my way to the toy shop. My first thought was to buy Genya a pack of Legos, but it is almost as expensive here than in Copenhagen, which didn’t surprise me. But then I found the cutest little blue elephant plushie and decided to choose him. I paid and was on my way back to the organisation. I offered the gift, which made Genya very happy. He said “Спасибо!” (Spasiba). His mother also was very happy, hugged me, and insisted I take a picture with her son. Everyone in the kitchen hugged me and thanked me, which surprised me a lot.

In the evening, when the work was done, Simone and I went to hang out and visit the city a bit. I wanted to show her Shevchenko Park, which is absolutely magnificent. On the way there we walked past a huge empty plaza, the style that is typical to the Soviet era. Something I noticed that was different from Copenhagen, is how much we can see the sky.

The streets here are very broad, and the buildings often don’t exceed 5 stories. The presence of the sky is refreshing in my opinion. Also a big difference : the number of trees everywhere. Because there is a continental climate here, summers can get very hot. So tall trees help maintain shadow and so a cool temperature inside the buildings and on the street. In Copenhagen you would find such tall trees either in parks or in large avenues (like Frederiksberg Allé). With Simone we stopped at a food market and got a piece of traditional Georgian salty pie with cheese called хачапурі (khachapuri).

When we finally reached the park, we took a couple pictures. The park is wonderful, and there are surprisingly many people. Families are enjoying the nice weather and children play in the playgrounds. Again here, we almost forget that there’s active conflict 40km from here. We found a nice bar in the park and grabbed some drinks. When the waitress gave us the menus, Simone looked it through and asked why one specific cocktail was named Good Russian. She answered “Well… First of all it’s cold… And it’s a special mix of ingredients.” (In reference to the Special Operation). I love how Ukrainians use humour as a strength in this hard situation. While we were having our drinks, the air raid sirens started to ring. Everybody in the park (including us) remained calm, though there was a special atmosphere. Like a mix of attentiveness and composure. Then things went back to normal. We walked back to the hotel when the sun got down and went to sleep.

Bits of reality


Addiction to newscasts

     Modern society has made it almost impossible to live under a rock. Even purposefully. We always have to know what’s happening at any given time at any given moment. I’ve tried not watching news channels for some months and god it felt so relieving. I could finally think of what was in front of me in life and take care of my little business in all tranquillity. Following the news is interesting, but automatically brings anxiety. On the one hand we feel like we’re learning so much about life and the world, that we’re becoming so much stronger mentally, but on the other hand you start to hate everybody and everything and you realise what shitty mess humanity has dug itself into.

News media have this talent (if not magical power) to hook you to a story like it was the latest episode of your favourite series. You must absolutely know the latest about that building that exploded in Paris or about that f*cking idiot submersible that vanished (sorry for my language I really f*cking hate that story. Hundreds sunk in the mediterranean just a week before that and from what I heard, no millions of dollars of ressources were used to find those missing people). Anyways, news is cool and all but it weighs so much on your brain and sometimes that effort is unnecessary. 🙂

Day 4

     At Pekelna we have a donation box, where we put all kinds of things to give to people in exchange for a little donation. You can find from funny stickers, to cute little notebooks, to shrapnel pieces or empty ammo casing found on the battlefield. I gave a little money and decided to take two ammo casing, one of them being riddled with holes.

I helped with the bread in the morning, as usual. Then I got to the backyard and helped weave camouflage nets with Simone and an old lady in her 80s.

There is always a discussion on how exactly to weave those nets, because everyone wants it to be as perfect as possible, in order to protect the soldiers on the frontline. Everyone at the organisation is motivated to do incredible work because of how much it means to them to help those in need. And that is for Ukrainian people or from other countries. We’ve got people from the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, and now Denmark, all here to do their best to help. After work I went to the mall with Rawan, an Egyptian girl from my dorm, to have dinner. The mall was a bit crowded, but not too much. What struck me was how big and modern the mall was. Almost bigger than Fisketorvet. Sadly I didn’t have time to visit the shops this time. I went home and rested.

On my way back I noticed a curious drawing of a flower on the sidewalk, with written beside it "You will not forget these flowers". That was actually a shelling impact, whose explosion left a sun-like pattern carved into the concrete.

There are several of these flowers all around Kharkiv, with different messages. As a souvenir.

Day 5

     To the right of the reception there’s a small kitchen for the staff, with a microwave and a sink to wash dishes. On the walls are frames with letters of thanks from the different groups the organisation has helped. From clinics to military factions, everyone has sent their thanks.

About a week ago, the kitchen’s stand mixer broke down. So we have to find a way to mix and knead the dough without its help. We’re now using a drill machine and a bucket to mix the ingredients, and then knead the dough by hand. It looks funny but it’s the best and fastest way we can get the work done.

I made friends with the three cats in the backyard. The neighbours have built them little houses, and feed them everyday. One of them is very young and has horrible mats in her fur, and everytime I touched them it hurt her. So I took the matter in my own hands and cut the bigger mats with my little scissors. The cat understood that I was helping her and gave me little head bumps right after to say thanks.

After work, we went with Simone and our two new friends (Alan from the US and Paul from Canada) to a Thai restaurant near the mall. The food was very nice, and we had a lot of fun. Alan is a retired firefighter and is looking forward to having permanent residence here in Ukraine. Paul is also retired and has been in Ukraine for a few weeks now to help. Since the maximum visit period in Ukraine is 90 days in a row, they all have to find a way to renew their stay permit, one way or another.

The temperature tonight was incredibly warm. We all had trouble sleeping in the dorm room. Around 4 am I went to the balcony to sit down. Because the streetlights were turned off, you could see all the stars. The street was pitch black. I don’t imagine walking there alone, it must be terrifying. I can barely see the McDonald’s on the other side of the street. It was bombed earlier in the war, then renovated, but remained closed.

Day 6

     Today I took a day off work, to rest and visit the city. I woke up around 11 and made a potato tortilla with ketchup. I decided to go to the mall to check the shops. Since I’ve only brought 3 t-shirts in my backpack and keep wearing them over and over again, I thought I should find a cute little top to wear. H&M and Zara are sadly closed because of the war. The mall has installed a sort of board on the main entrance to Zara, where people can write nice messages.

Many appreciation words and drawings were made using pens or sometimes even spray paint in many beautiful colours. It’s like people wanted to say “goodbye for now”. I went to New Yorker but didn’t find anything to my taste so I found another shop called House and got a little dark blue t-shirt.

After that I decided to visit the animal rescue, about a 30 min walk from the hostel. I met a nice 24y old volunteer named Daniel who explained to me how their clinic works, and that they have received a huge amount of abandoned new cats and dogs since the war began. We got to go on a walk with sweet little 11y old Laya who is mixed breed and who limps a little. She’s like a happy little grandma! Laya loves hugs, pets on her head and belly rubs!

Day 7

     Today there was a power outage at the organisation. That sadly meant that we were not able to make any bread or food for the day. And no power meant no wifi, so I couldn’t work on my blog from there. I do like the general mood in Pekelna and I wish I could just sit there and work. Since I’m only staying three weeks, I thought it unnecessary to buy a Ukrainian sim card, like many other foreign volunteers did, who were staying several months.

Гнат had to design a certificate of completion for a drone-flying course. I wanted to help since I study design so we sat at Bro Bar not far from Pekelna to check it out together. I quickly realised that my help wasn’t really needed since what Гнат had designed look amazing! He had to make a copy with the name of each person who completed the course and then print them.

We ended up talking about design and graphic work we did in the past, and I told him he should try to become a graphic designer because he really has an eye for that type of work. The ads and business cards he made looked incredible and is really another level to what we do in school.

During that time it was pouring rain outside, like rivers down the street. We still decided to run to the next burger shop to have dinner. I still can’t believe the prices. 30kr for a menu that would have cost 75kr in Copenhagen, while still having good quality.

Day 8

     Gleb (my partner at the time) told me I should try Квас, a traditional drink from Eastern Europe. It’s a fermented cereal-based alcohol-free beverage. I was very confused about the taste at first and it took me a whole minute to figure out what it reminded me of. It’s bittersweet and kinda tastes like Yerba Mate but with an aftertaste of beer? Very curious but very good actually.

For lunch we went to get some take-away kebab with Гнат and his brother Mарк (Mark) and enjoyed them in a nearby park. I then got back to the hostel, rested and worked on the blog.

In the evening Anastasia told me she was going to a small outdoor concert with her friends not far from here. I asked if I could join them, just to enjoy the music. It was a charity event that was cast live on youtube in order to collect donations for the Ukrainian military. The band consisted of three funny guys wearing cool black sunglasses. They kinda reminded me of bands you would find on MTV in the early 2000s (yes I do remember this time).
They asked us to have a minute of silence for the soldiers currently protecting us and allowing us to have fun tonight, all while staying safe.

Then started the music. It was one of Anastasia’s favourite bands and played a mix of rap and electronic. I really enjoyed it. The mood was incredible. Music, lights and people dancing. A typical summer event. At the end of the concert, we managed to raise around 1.5M hryvnias (around 37 000€) that will be sent to the army.

Day 9

     Nothing really happened today. Such is life. Sometimes days are just… empty. I went to Pekelna to say hi to the people who were there, then got back to the hostel and took a nap. I didn’t do much apart from that. Around 23:00 I sat down at the coffee table we have in the dorm room to watch some Youtube.

Day 10


     As I’m writing this I just heard my first shell explosions. One hit 5 min ago and one just now. Kharkiv is currently under air raid. The sirens were ringing just before in the region, and stopped right when the first blast happened. The sound reminded me of a firework at first but then the explosion hit. It was loud but it still sounded far away. No windows were shattered on our street, so it wasn’t close by. The Pekelna Telegram chat is active, everyone is asking if everyone is ok. We still don’t know if the missiles hit the ground or were intercepted by the military. With a knotted stomach I continue to watch youtube like I was just before, and I chat with my roommates, who all got woken up by the explosions.

I’m checking the official air raid map and 20 mins later the Kharkiv zone is not in the shelling zone anymore, and most of the country is clear.

Around 10:00 we went to the kitchen with Simone to film a tutorial video about how to correctly weave nets. Many people use different weaving techniques, and Simone would like to suggest one good technique that we could all follow. We filmed some bits and are going to edit them together on my computer.

At 13:00 we went for some Döner for lunch . Then Simone went back to the organisation and I got back to the hostel since I needed to lay down due to lady-specific monthly custom (if you know, you know).

Last night’s shelling hit a hangar and an empty building. There were no casualties. A small fire broke out and was quickly taken care of by the firefighters.

In the evening Simone came back from the organisation and we decided to go for something to drink. We went to a nearby bar that I went with Гнат the other day called Bro Bar and got a cider with some fries and calamari rings. Simone got a beer and a salad. There was a good mood, old American rock songs and a Guns N Roses concert playing on the Tv in the corner. The bar closed at 21 (since the curfew is at 23), so we got home to have a good night's sleep.

Day 11

     I did not have a good night’s sleep. Around 23:00 I started having very bad leg cramps. I don’t remember experiencing them with so much pain. I often used to have leg cramps as a kid but this was different. My knees, chins and ankles were so painful and I couldn’t sit still. I took some paracetamol and wore warm pants. One hour later the pain finally stopped. I still couldn’t sleep so I watched Youtube on my computer and enjoyed some Kвас for most of the night.

I went to the organisation around 10am to say hi to everyone, and to see if I could help with anything. Since the power was still unavailable, the kitchen had to remain closed. The ladies who are normally in charge of cooking took advantage of the situation to make a deep cleaning of the kitchen. The problem with the power is sadly not internal. The electrical cables that provide electricity are out of order, and are situated under the road nearby. It’s something that can’t be fixed right away.

We went to a nearby coffee shop with Simone to work on our tutorial video. Now that we had all the necessary footage, we only had to edit it. I grabbed a matcha latte and we started working on Premiere Pro. Simone came up with the good ideas and I applied them on the technical level. I got a very nice french toast for lunch. After a good hour’s work we got back to Pekelna. I added some music to the final video and was ready to send it to the team.

I was starving for dinner so I suggested to Simone we go to Bro-Bar for some burgers. Something that may seem weird to some people is that I love messy food. It’s my guilty pleasure. I don’t know why but there is something about big juicy burgers, huge fajitas or just some classic Döner that makes me happy. I can’t explain it but something about eating with your hands just hits… different.

Гнат was nearby so I suggested he joined us at the bar. Right after Egor and Luda joined us too. They are the couple who started the organisation at the beginning of the war last year. They are the sweetest people I’ve met. They really take their work at heart and want to achieve the best result possible, for the people and for their country. Patriotism is obviously very present in the organisation. The ladies like to wear t-shirts with the Ukrainian trident or wear the flag colours, and the guys have blue and yellow bracelets on their wrists and the flag on their backpacks. Though it’s not my country, I still support this amazing culture and the cause of the people by also wearing the flag on my backpack and putting stickers on my computer.

Day 12

     I arrived at work around 9:30 and started helping with net weaving. I had a big headache so I was not really in the mood to socialise. I decided to go shopping at the mall because I needed some t-shirts. I’ve been wearing the same 2 t-shirts and pair of jeans for the past 12 days and even though I got to wash them I felt like I needed to update my outfit. I first got a pair of black shorts and pine-green sweatpants at New Yorker. While I was looking for t-shirts the air raid sirens rang outside of the mall. Whenever that happens the mall has the obligation to close and everyone has to leave until further notice. Everyone got out calmly, no stress. The situation still annoyed me because I just wanted to be done with my errands, go home and rest. I walked back to the hostel and to a 2h nap. When I woke up I gave the mall another chance. I walked back to it and got a t-shirt, 2 tank-tops and a cute skirt from House. Total : 300kr. I thought of getting new shoes since it’s cheaper here but I won’t have any space to bring them back to Copenhagen.

I spent most of my night watching youtube, playing Rocket League (yes I brought my Xbox controller) and getting bitten by mosquitoes while eating Chocolate Cherry cookies.

Day 13

     This morning I’m sitting at the Makers coffee shop on the other side of the street where Bro-Bar is. I got an iced coffee and started working on the blog. The café is pretty modern, in a arty style. Many young people come here to work and get lunch. I get some looks here and there cuz I look foreign and I’m the only one speaking English to the waitress. I’m getting used to it so it’s ok. There aren’t many foreigners travelling to Ukraine these days (for obvious reasons).
I’ve sat there to work on my computer a couple times, just like I’m doing today. Most people who sit there are young people, students, and sometimes what you could call “hipsters” in the West. But sometimes you see soldiers enjoying a coffee, sometimes alone but often with their girlfriend. They look like they’ve been looking forward to enjoying a day off. Sometimes keeping their uniform on, sometimes recessed as civilians. Sometimes both (camo t-shirt and summer shorts).
From what I have heard, soldiers and officers only receive information about when they can have their day off only at the last minute. Which makes it very difficult for them and their families to organise some quality time together.

Day 14

     Today I started the day by visiting the kitchen. The power was still out so there wasn’t much to do. So I got back to the coffee shop to work on my computer and write the blog.
In the afternoon I was invited by Гнат to play Ping Pong with Марк at his work. He works in the coffee shop near a tennis club in the Central Park. I walked for 45 min to reach the park, since I didn’t want to take the metro. I am uncomfortable with public transport in a city I am unfamiliar with, because I tend to get lost. I also prefer to walk in general.
Central Park is absolutely gorgeous. Not like anything you see in Denmark. It’s green, lush, and colourful. There are installations for children and a small amusement park. It’s not allowed to walk on the grass and the whole park is well maintained. I crossed the park and reached the tennis court complex to meet the guys. We played for an hour or two, then the park had to close at 21. Since it was getting dark and I felt uncomfortable walking back home alone, Гнат accepted that I stayed over, since he lives next to the park with Марк and their American friend Franklin.

Day 15

     After working at the coffee shop again, I went to the mall. After 15 min we all had to go out because of the sirens. I didn’t want to wait for an hour in 35C heat so I just went back to the hostel.
Nothing really happened today, since the kitchen is still closed. We went to Bro Bar to get some burgers for dinner with Simone, Alan and Paul.

Day 16

     Today at the kitchen we received a donation of some big beautiful sunflowers. I am not sure who offered them, but they are now decorating the lobby of the organisation. As if it wasn’t poetic enough, someone used one of the empty missile casing we had around as a vase.
Гнат asked me if I could help with making some more stickers for the organisation, so I made some designs on Illustrator. I used their official vector logo as well as their motto, which is “With every bun we get closer to victory”. Something that I find amazing with Pekelna is how much effort is put into marketing and communication. The social media platforms are incredibly active, with pictures and videos every single day. A very well made graphical profile, logos, fonts etc. Not to mention the stickers, patches and coasters. Very talented people offer their abilities and all of that without getting paid. This conflict has awakened a very powerful motivational drive into people, that makes them feel capable of achieving literally anything in order to reach victory. War brings the worst out of people, but sadly also the best. There is a quote I found in an article by the CEU:

"Historians and anthropologists have long argued about the utility of war and its effect on how human societies organize themselves… War has the unintended effect of producing larger political groupings that help with human progress".


Day 17

     I had to help with making video interviews in the kitchen today. I chose to interview Paul, who is from Ontario and who is retired. He was a chemical engineer back in the day and wanted to come and help here in Ukraine. After having edited the video on Premiere Pro, I sent it to Luda, who posted it on the Instagram account of the organisation. Luda decided to film me so that she could also have an interview with me.

Bits of reality


Enfant de l'Europe

     The school I grew up in in Copenhagen is a French international school that is a member of the AEFE (Agency for French Education Abroad). The education system is the same as in France but we still have a lot of discussions about our place in the international sphere as students. The majority of the people who decided to put their kids in that specific school were expats and coming from many different countries. The discussion about travelling and future careers abroad was always on the table, either in class or during breaks. As it was a French school in Denmark, the importance of the EU was always brought up in our education and we grew to love it and almost consider it as the holy grail. The only thing that guaranteed peace and prosperity and the one thing we ought to work towards in the future. It might sound scary when put like that but that’s how we grew up. We felt like we were one french-speaking community among many others in the world.

Something that is very special with our school is that we unintentionally created our own spoken language among students. Just like Frenglish or Denglish, we mixed up French and Danish, with a twist of teenager slang. We would use French verbs and conjugate them the Danish way. For example, in order to say "We should have edited the video earlier" we would say "Vi skulle have monteret videoen før" because monter is the french word for video editing. Or the classic "melpak" , which is a frenchified version of “madpakke”, lunchbox. I realised a few years ago how unique this way of speaking is, since only people from this specific school speak it.

I think that this is how I developed a certain sense of European justice today and an attachement for European culture as a whole. And probably why my brain decided to plan a last minute trip to the Russian border to bake bread.

Day 18

     Today the power was finally fixed. It's sad that whenever a problem like this occurs it's because of infrastructural problems, and that takes days if not weeks to fix. Next to the coffee machine, Luda added an A4 paper on the wall with written :

Ukrainian morning routine
Ukrainians who didn’t flee the country don’t have time to be scared of the war. They use that energy to remain strong and fight. Whenever something happens like shelling or destruction, you will see people being angry and cursing the opponents. It shows with people I met but also on the Telegram channels. On the Kharkiv Live channel there is 24h info on safety in the region, when air raids happen and when they stop, if anything was hit and where. Every single time a post is made about an alert, thousands of people would react with cursing emojis 🤬 .

Something funny is that since all the posts are made in Ukrainian and I can’t understand anything, the reactions help me rate if it’s about something positive or not. Then I can choose if it's worth it to spend time translating the messages (because there are dozens every single day).

After work we met with Гнат to hang out in the city centre. We tried some cherry wine typical from Lviv. A street artist played Ukrainian songs on his guitar next to where we were sitting, which gave an incredible mood. We almost couldn’t hear the air raid sirens.

Day 19

     Pretty empty day, nothing really happened today. I stayed in the hostel and rested. Sometimes when on a long trip we tend to think that every single day has to be meaningful and filled with activities. Well today was not meaningful. Just chilling on my PC and drinking Kвас.

Day 20

     We drove with Alan (from the US) and Гнат to deliver a package somewhere, and had a fun time discussing. We were talking about foreigners like us who volunteer in Ukraine and Alan said something that really stuck with me: “Every person who decides to travel here to help is broken inside”. I do agree with that. People who come here are searching for some sort of deeper meaning in their life, something that will make them feel better about their existence.

From the stories I’ve heard from other volunteers, everyone has a certain reason to be here. Some want to escape from a life of "Metro Boulot Dodo" like they say in France (commute, work, sleep), and want a life full of adventures. Others don’t want to stay home and spend their retirement between 4 walls and do nothing. And some others like me just can’t sit still for 2 months in a 30m² and want to use my energy towards something that actually matters. This + the fact that I feel like my life has been meaningless until now and I haven’t achieved anything big yet. I think the only medal I’m worthy of having until now says “Has managed to survive till 23 years old”. Oh and I did Royal Run back in May and actually got a medal, that was cool.

Though the common ground we all have is that we are driven by a strong sense of justice that took us all the way here in Kharkiv at this specific time. And perhaps we don’t relate to society as much as we could, and find ourselves different than other people.
For my part, I want my kid (if I ever decide to produce one) to be proud of their mother and to not be afraid to experience things. I have no legacy at the moment (my net worth is 1500kr) but whenever I’ll have one I want it to be meaningful.

One of the difficult things for me here is to find shops. Since I forgot to practice my cyrillic before coming here and Ukrainian is so far away from any languages I speak, I find it difficult to find specific stores with items I’m looking for. I was searching for stores that sell patches so I could put some on my backpack and had trouble finding any alone. Гнат helped me find military shops where they had a lot of patches.

Some of them were official and should only be worn by the military, and some of them were more comical. I got a couple funny ones and one specific to the city of Kharkiv. I also got green military gloves that I can use when I'm biking.

In the evening we enjoyed the city, got some pizza for dinner and then some more cherry wine in a Stepan Bandera-themed bar called БАНДЕР ШТАБ (Bander HQ). But then time flew by too quickly and we were still outside when curfew hour almost struck. The closest spot we could reach before 23:00 was the kitchen, so we ended up camping there for the night.

On our way there I saw my first real destroyed buildings. Most of the city centre was reconstructed so I didn’t encounter destruction so often. I can also say that I wasn’t looking for it. I don’t call myself a war tourist and I don’t wish to. My mission here is to work and help people to the best of my abilities. Some foreigners I’ve met here (not necessarily volunteers) look forward to seeing all the disaster and pain caused by the Russian military, and that's why they're in Kharkiv in the first place. This is a free world where everyone should have the freedom to do whatever they wish to as long as it’s not hurtful to others. But I personally believe that war tourism with no goal to help in any way is disrespectful to the locals, who may have lost something or someone in the war. Imagine having the house you’ve been working on for years destroyed by a shell, your only son drafted and the constant threat of landmines in your landfield, just to have some guy taking pictures and posting them on Twitter just for clout. This is only my opinion on the matter (and God am I opinionated), so it doesn’t really matter. At least they buy stuff here and contribute to the economy? I guess???

Day 21

     Today is my last day in Kharkiv. I’m feeling a bit sad, because it’s already over. I fell in love with this city and its people and I want to come back eventually.
I helped a last time with the bread and spent some quality time with the team.
In the evening we grabbed drinks at Bro Bar with Franklin, Alan, Luda, Egor and Гнат to say goodbye to Simone and me (since we were going on the same train to Kyiv that night).

At 21:00, when Bro Bar was closing, we got on a taxi with Franklin, Simone and Гнат to the train station.

Exhausted (and maybe a little light-headed), Гнат and I sat down in a corner and started listening to music on our phones and singing out loud. From Ke$ha to Katty Perry to Toto Cutugno, we vibed to songs we knew from our childhood. Some soldiers next to us even nodded to the rhythm when we sang L’Italiano.


     We took the overnight train with Simone from Kharkiv to Kyiv Central Station for 7 hours and arrived around 6am the next day. The view on the Dnipro River was so beautiful.

We grabbed a coffee and sat in the waiting hall to ait for our next commute. Kyiv Central Station is peaceful. There are a lot of soldiers travelling, either to go home, or to return to the frontline. Some of them have huge fire arms among their luggage.

Simone has used all of her 90 days of legal stay in Ukraine so she has to stay out of the border for some time before she can get back. She decided to go visit a friend in Kraków. That’s when we had to go our separate ways. Simone lives in Kiel, Germany, which is a 4h train ride from Copenhagen. So it’s most likely that we’ll see each other again. My bus departed from Kyiv at 8:30.

I was sitting next to a Ukrainian lady who lives and works in Odense, and who speaks better Danish than English (since she is taking classes). We chatted a little bit in Danish.

Near the city of Ternopil, I noticed a huge black cloud in the sky. Almost like a storm, but with the shape of a feather. My heart felt heavy for a second as I immediately understood that there was a shell. I didn’t have any internet connection so I had no way of verifying if it was recent, if there was still risk at this point in time, or where the explosion happened. The mood in the bus immediately changed. As I mentioned before in the blog, there was no fear, but anger. Women sighed and looked annoyed, and children were curious. Later on I read online that it was an oil depot that was bombed last night and that it was still currently burning. There were no casualties. Thank God.

When we finally reached the border with Poland, the bus driver spoke into the interphone and announced that due to the tremendous line of passenger buses, we would have to expect a minimum of 10h wait for passport control. Thank God we were near a gas station that selled warm food and had bathrooms. The shop was filled with people during all the waiting time, and the cashiers were put under a lot of pressure.

I spent time napping in the bus, getting snacks and walking around the parking lot. We waited a total of 16h.

Reaching Berlin seemed like a very quick trip. For dinner I went back to the same Döner restaurant. I planned to stay 4h here to visit a little bit but because of the long waiting time at the border, I missed my second bus and had to get a new ticket for Copenhagen. One hour later I got into a bus to Hamburg, then into a bus to Copenhagen.

I arrived around 9:20 in the morning the next day.


In the first two days of being back in Copenhagen something strange happened. I had what you could call auditory hallucinations. Which is not negative or anything but just funny. Any loud sound coming from the street like road work or trains would unconsciously make my brain go “Oh there’s an air raid siren now” or “Did we just get shelled?” or even “That’s an air defence plane flying over us”. When the reality is I live in a student campus in the-middle-of-nowhere-Sjælland and there is no risk of all that happening. When that happens I don’t feel anxious or anything, I just maybe twitch for a split second. I already miss life over there and can’t wait to travel back to see my friends and continue to help. I am committed to helping as best I can while being abroad, by working online.

Слава Україні