lisa pavlova’s
War at home
Intimate portrait of Russian-Ukrainian couples
Chapter 1
Nataly and Danylo

Danylo: on February 24th I watched Putin’s address, and felt like it was surrealistic madness, just darkness. I was so angry. How can he say all of this nonsense? I was born and raised in eastern region of Ukraine. I speak Russian my whole life with my family, my friends, everybody. No one ever infringed on Russian speaking people. To be honest with you, we actually made fun of Ukrainian-speaking kids, because mostly they were villagers. We watched the news and cried.

Nataly: I think my grandma understands everything, but it’s more complicated with my grandpa. Since my grandpa retired, he started watching the news on tv, and fell under the influence of the government propaganda. At first he even thought that Russia was doing the right thing, and it was important to show strength and attack first. But now he doesn’t think so anymore. Every time we speak, he sends Danya and his family in Ukraine his support. My uncle is worried he can be drafted but he says he would rather spend 10 years in jail for dodging the draft than fight in Ukraine.
  • Danylo, 28
    software engineer
    Born in Zaporizhzhia, east Ukraine, his immediate family still lives there. Moved to the US when he was 20. Zaporizhzhia is 30 miles from town of Enerhodar where Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is located.
  • Nataly, 31
    Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Moved to the US when she was 11. Lived in Massachusetts, and then moved to Hoboken.
Nataly: For me protesting was a meditation. Just walking around yelling something made me feel better. I understand that it probably didn’t change anything, but it made me feel like I’m doing something. The war hit me very hard too, I haven’t lived in Russia for many years, but when I’m asked who am I, I say I’m Russian.
Danylo: I have grandparents in Crimea who just don’t get it. They are very old and zombified by propaganda. They think Ukrainians bomb themselves. We didn’t cut contact with them, they are just senile. But I don’t talk with their children. I can’t forgive a 50-something year old for believing it.
Nataly: I know some people still travel to Russia, but I know I can get in troubles there. I have different last names in my documents, I’m married to a Ukrainian guy, we went protesting and donated money. I probably done enough for the 10 years sentence already.
Nataly: I went to Canada to help his sister when she fled. She stayed with my step sister. At the same time, my mom went to Europe to help his mom with her refugee paperwork. His mom was scared. She has never been outside of Ukraine and she doesn’t speak English. And Danylo haven’t seen his family for 8 years.
Danylo: I feel ashamed that I’m not there. I can protect myself, and I can fight. When it started I asked my friend to teach my how to shoot a gun. I wanted to go to at least convoy medical supplies or refugees. But right now, if I leave, I won’t be able to come back to the States. I wrote to my congressman and my senator to help me to speed up my paperwork. I wish I could leave without giving up on the life and family I built here.
Danylo: We planned to travel across North Russia, to see the nature sights. But I’m not going to Russia while Putin (or someone who supports this) is in power. It is a terrorist state, and I’m not going there.
Danylo: My family is back in Ukraine. They don’t want to leave and I understand them. I disagree but understand. My mom spent her whole life working on the house they live in. She is very handy, and made a gazebo, dug a pond, built the garden, the property is filled with her crafts. She can’t just leave it. And why should she?
Pictured: the Christmas tree decorations Danylo’s mom crafted.
Nataly: I don’t want to come back to Russia while this government is in power too. At the same time, I really want to see my grandparents again. I know they won’t come here, and I am not sure if my grandpa will be able to fly at all.
Danylo: My best friend is in the army. I didn’t expect him to join because he always was so kind. But when the war started he enlisted right away. It’s so strange that one day I can wake up and he won’t be here anymore. He just got an offer to work for a good company and had to start that week. Instead of an office job, he got a gun, lives in a hole in the ground, and covers himself with a trash bag in his sleep.

Pictured: a page from Danylo’s photo album. On the left page is him with his best friend who is serving in Ukrainian army at the moment as kids.
Nataly: Before the war, if someone mistakenly said Danylo was from Russia he didn’t correct them. It didn’t really matter.
Danylo: I didn’t care and it was easier for people to understand. But now it’s different. Not only because of the invasion, but because of their mindset. More and more I see that my people are more freedom-loving.
Chapter 2

Olga and Sergey

Olga: February 24th we woke up from a phone call. It was from my daughter from New York. She found out what happened. My friends from Odessa texted. They woke up from the explosions at 5 a.m., packed up the kids and left towards Moldova border at 7. We live 16 miles from Odessa. The first day, Sergey was constantly watching the news. I couldn’t stay in the house. I went to the seashore and saw a burning ship and the column of smoke.
Olga: I met Sergey on the morning of October Revolution Day parade. My father, he was in the military, put me on a bus with his officers. Half way through, the bus stopped and a lieutenant came in. He was so handsome in his dress uniform! Oh and the way he wore his cap! Show me a thousand people and I would recognize him only by the way he wore his cap. We got married 3 months after.
  • Sergey, 68
    Was born in Kiev, Ukraine. Travelled a lot throughout his life and eventually retired in Odessa. Had to flee after Russia attacked Ukraine it in 2022.
  • Olga, 66
    Was born in Tbilisi, Georgia to a Russian family. Later moved to Kiev with her husband. Had to flee after Russia attacked Ukraine it in 2022.
Olga: I called my uncle who lives in Russia and told him that we were under fire. His wife heard me and said it was staged. I never yelled so much in my entire life. I broke my voice. I was so sick from it. The shells can fall on your head and no one cares, even your closest family. Later he messaged me that he was very happy that "Ukrainian fascist regime" will fall.
Olga: I don’t care what is going to happen to Russia. I do not care if it’s going to fall to pieces or not. For me, now, Russia is just a place I had nice memories in. War always takes something from you. From me it took the opportunity to go see my parents graves.
Olga: Our son was near Kiev towards the direction Russia was attacking from. He sent us a video of military helicopters flying over our house there. Fleeing meant leaving him behind. He’s an adult, but still, how could I leave him? When we decided we had to go he said it made it easier for him.

Pictured: Olga showing the video that her son recorded on the first day of the war. You can hear his voice saying, "One helicopter was shot down already, and another one is shooting", and then a frantic female voice telling someone on the phone "there are explosions here!"
Olga: Now people receive the information about shootings and know when it’s dangerous, but in the beginning we didn’t know anything. We have two buildings on our property and Serezha said we will sleep in the outbuilding, because it’s protected by the main house from the seaside and it’s dug deep in the ground.
Olga: I had a small suitcase packed with documents and valuables. We were leaving in the middle of winter and had no idea for how long. My daughter promised to give me some of her clothes so I packed only Sergey’s things. We closed the shutters, killed the water, and I emptied the fridge.
Pictured: these three suitcases are the only things Olga and Sergey could bring with them when they left Ukraine.
Olga: We set out towards Moldova on February 28th. The border is 30 miles away, but it took us around 8 hours to get there with traffic. Everything looked straight out of a World War II documentary.
Then we drove into Romania. Every morning, we got back in the car and kept driving. From Romania we drove to Hungary and then Slovakia. We saw High Tatra Mountains covered in snow and reminisced how we went there skiing a long time ago. Then there was Poland. We spent the night there and flew to New York.
Olga: I think women are more tenacious than men. My husband suffers more than me. He used to always know what to do. But this situation kicked the legs from under him.
Pictured: After arriving to New York, Olga made a tattoo with the tryzub, the coat of arms of Ukraine.
Olga [showing me her phone’s photo library]: Look at the dates. February 16th, I planted primroses. February 18th, I baked buns. February 20th, I planted more flowers. February 23rd, we had a barbecue. And here’s February 24th, the helicopters. And then — our house, all boarded up.
Lisa: Do you miss it?
Olga: Miss? It doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Chapter 3

Anastasiya and Gregory

Grigory: But things are so similar in Russia and Ukraine! It’s hard to explain to people that we are from different countries because everything is so similar. For example, our schools have same architecture, they are build in a shape of "П", or the residential buildings, our khrushchevkas*.
Lisa: My heart just ached, I had the same in Moscow.
Anastasiya: When we talk about our childhoods, it turns out we played the same games, watched the same movies, had the same interests.

*khrushchevka is a type of low-cost, concrete-paneled or brick three- to five-storied apartment building which was developed in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, during the time Nikita Khrushchev directed the Soviet government.
Gregory: Most of my relatives live in Russia. My grandpa is a patriot, and he is zombified by the television. He thinks that NATO and the States use Ukraine to attack Russia and that Russia needs to defend itself. I keep telling him that defense is when you're being shot, and not when you are the one sending missiles. But he doesn't understand it. We barely talk.
  • Anastasiya, 27
    special education teacher
    Born in Odessa, Ukraine, moved to Ternopil when she was 4. Moved to the US when she was 16, and never came back since.
  • Gregory, 34
    pulmonology and allergy technician
    Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, his mother is Russian, and his father is from Crimea.
    Moved to the US when he was 18.
Gregory: I can’t just say, "hey guys, let’s not talk about it". Especially when a person knows someone who was killed. I understand it. They want to speak out. They want to say something nasty about Russia. But most of people around us understand the difference between the Russian government and the Russian people.
Anastasiya: There’s a difference between Russians and Putinists. This is what we believe.
Anastasiya: My family is in the US except for my father's family. Thank God everyone is safe and healthy. But we are very worried and nervous, especially my dad. When everything just started, he was ready to go [to Ukraine]. My mom said that if we were living in Ukraine, he would have joined the army. Some of his friends died in 2014 when everything started.
Gregory: He is a patriot, but he treats me well.
Anastasiya: Yes, he loves Grisha. We are so lucky our families love each other.
Anastasiya: On Feb 24th, I woke up and checked my phone, and I saw the news. I was horrified, shocked, and I started crying. I didn't understand, and the more I read, the more scared I got. The first few weeks I lived in horror. I woke up from nightmares. I prayed all the time.
Anastasiya: Grisha's mom gave us a photo session as a gift. It was after 2014. It was the peak of the [2014] conflict. We decided to pose with flags. He is with the Russian flag, I am with the Ukrainian flag, and we are holding hands.
Anastasiya: I’m from Odessa and we spoke Russian at home when I was a kid. My mom speaks Ukrainian, but not well. In the first few weeks [of the war], she stopped speaking Russian. I got so mad at her and didn't talk to her for a few days. I didn’t understand what she wanted to prove by it and to whom. I was very worried that the war was going to affect us and our family.
Anastasiya: I’m afraid Russia and Ukraine will hate each other for many more years in the future. It scares me. When we have children with Grisha, how will we explained it to them? Explain that their parents home countries hate each other? And how can we be together in the middle of this?
Pictured: an art on Anastasiya and Gregory’s apartment wall. birch tree is one of the main symbols of Russia.
Anastasiya: We don’t watch the news all the time anymore. It can drive you mad. Constantly thinking about it is impossible. I’m so happy our parents gave us the opportunity to live in the States. If we were living there in Ukraine, it would be different of course. When you have to hide in a basement, you can’t not follow the news.
Grigory: We got married in Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and we still have the candles.
Anastasiya: The icons we used for the ceremony are from Russia. His mom brought them from Saint Petersburg.
Anastasiya: I really want it to end, to stop. I hope that the people from Russia, who support it, will realize what’s going on and will apologize to my people. And I hope my people will be able to forgive. And then we will be able to unite again, like many years ago. We have to believe and hope for the best.
Chapter 4

Marta and Vlad

Marta: I don’t think Russians and Ukrainians are brotherly people. I’m from Western Ukraine, a very patriotic region where people follow old traditions. When the traditions are erased, people lose the attachment to their country and to their culture. I have lived in the States for 12 years already, but I still consider myself a Ukrainian. I still follow the rituals I remember from my childhood. The ones that my grandmothers showed me.
Vlad: Russia changed before my eyes. At first it seemed like it was changing for the better. Things got cooler and prettier. And then it just cut off. I first felt it in 2012. And in 2013 I knew it was going to be very bad. People used to critique the government for not doing anything. Who knew we would wish it would do nothing? I wish Putin and Medvedev would have just kept playing badminton and that’s it.
  • Marta, 31
    co-owner and founder of wedding ceremony production company
    Born in Ternopil, Western Ukraine, has some Polish roots. Her great grandparents died in Holodomor. Marta first started speaking Russian only when she moved to the US at the age of 19.

    *The Holodomor (the Terror-Famine or the Great Famine) is a man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine from 1932 to 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians.

  • Vlad, 32
    co-owner and founder of wedding ceremony production company
    Was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia. His parents are from Syktyvkar, Komi Republic. Moved to the US in 2014 with a political asylum visa.
Marta: I was cleaning the kitchen, randomly listening to Putin’s favorite band. Vlad walked in and I noticed he didn’t look like himself. He asked me if I knew already. I didn’t. Russia attacked Ukraine. We didn’t believe Russia would attack. We thought military forces on the border were just for show. And then all of a sudden, it happened.
Marta: Next day we had a wedding. I was panicking, but I had to smile and play my role. It’s not the couples fault my country was invaded. And to be honest, back then, work really helped. It was the only time when I didn’t think about what’s going on. I just switched off and did my job.
Marta: First 6 month of the war, Vlad didn't speak to his mom. In the first few days, he sent her some harsh messages and she didn't react well. She said it was all nothing, and all Ukrainians are nazis, and refuges gonna go to Russia again, and Russia doesn’t need this war. And Vlad just blacklisted her. Then she messaged me back to ask how we were doing. When emotions subsided, I asked Vlad to call her. We just don’t discuss the war anymore.
Marta: I try to explain to Vlad what Ukrainians feel. How people, who maybe weren’t patriotic before the war, feel this sense of belonging now. But he doesn’t understand, he doesn’t feel Russian, he doesn’t feel the importance of his roots.
Vlad: Russia used to be just a collection of tribes. Maybe I don’t feel the importance of my ancestry because I’m in fact someone that was born somewhere, then moved, then raised somewhere else.
Marta: Ukraine was occupied so many times in the past. Deep inside, every Ukrainian has a feeling that we need to fight for what is ours. When your country has never been occupied, you don’t know this feeling. You don’t feel like you need to protect and to prove your identity and authenticity when someone from the outside tries to force their traditions, their principles and their language upon you.
This project in ongoing.
If you know any mixed Russian-Ukrainian couples (or if it’s you!), please send me an email to

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