Kateryna never takes pictures with comrades before going to the front line — it’s bad luck

Karina does not tell her mother she is going to the front. Iana uses social media to try and raise the morale at home.

On another day of war in eastern Ukraine, the three are resting with their unit in a village before another rotation.

They agree to talk about their lives on the front line of a war they were not expecting, which has lasted more than five months — and felt like years.

Kateryna Novakivska, 29, is deputy commander of a unit in the Donbas, an industrial region in eastern Ukraine where fighting is raging.

The 29-year-old comes from Vinnytsia in central Ukraine, and had just graduated from an army academy when the war broke out. Her role is to provide the troops with moral and psychological support.

After speaking about the “satisfactory” morale among soldiers and the justness of Ukraine’s cause, she talks more personally about life on the front.

“The hardest thing for them is losing comrades,” she said.

For Kateryna, it is being able to distance herself from the soldiers’ horrific stories.

“They talk more easily with me because there are a lot of things that they cannot tell their loved ones,” she said.

Their biggest fear is being left behind on the battlefield — dead or wounded.

She remembers one day, May 28, when 11 soldiers were killed and around 20 went missing. In the chaos of war, some troops disappear and nobody knows what has happened to them.

Kateryna’s own greatest fear is being kidnapped by Russian soldiers, though she said she has “planned for everything”.


‘Line zero’

Karina, a former textile worker of Tajik origin who signed up to the army in 2020 on a two-year contract, drives her armoured vehicle back and forth from the front line.

“When we are in position, it’s hard thinking about fellow soldiers, hoping that nobody will be killed or wounded, that you yourself will not come under attack,” said the young woman, who is also a mechanic.

Her husband is anxiously waiting for her at home — but she said “nobody tells me what to do”.

When Karina calls her mother, she said: “I don’t tell her I’m at line zero and she pretends to believe me”.

Karina has no illusions — she does not think the war will be over soon.

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