Shelling began at 4am as Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and left millions fearing for their lives on Thursday. ‘I woke up from explosions,’ wrote one teenager on Twitter as she joined thousands of other civilians voicing their experience of the conflict zone with the world online.
‘I hear how rockets land. I’m scared,’ she continued, with her identity hidden to minimise risk. ‘Every little sound makes me scared as f*ck,’ echoed a second girl. ‘Checking news since 6am, have never been so stressed and scared in my life.’ ‘My mother woke me up with the words “the war has started”’ said a third.
As panic on the ground spread, airports were closed or targeted for attack. ‘Typing with shaking hands right now…This is our airport now,’ a woman told her followers as she filmed a terminal with billowing black smoke escaping from its roof. ‘They are bombing my town,’ added another bluntly.
‘In Ukraine, there is explosions mainly in military units, but also at the airports,’ wrote another conflict victim, whose bio detailed she was a Taylor Swift fan. ‘They are shelling border guards; military equipment is coming from Russia in cities. There are already wounded and dead. It’s not just the military, there are women and children who have been hit.’
Amid the turmoil, many began to feel frustration that Western countries were making jokes about the conflict while their future was uncertain: ‘I live in Ukraine,’ one civilian wrote to the world. ‘There is shelling, martial law has been imposed. Russia is attacking everywhere. People start to panic, some are trying to leave the city. Queues at gas stations/stores/ATMs.’
‘I am in a bomb shelter at my school with my family. We have everything we need, but we don’t know how much will be sitting here. Russian troops continue to attack and have already occupied some Ukrainian cities,’ the girl typed from her hideout.
In a narrative dismally reminiscent of those left behind in the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, some women heartbreakingly began to beg for help from other nations online. ‘Please don’t leave us alone,’ one wrote. ‘Russian armada is attacking all fronts. I tried not to cry but the pressure is so hard I failed.’
‘Kyiv now,’ wrote journalist Olga Tokariuk from the battle zone alongside a deserted, grey view of the city in the aftermath of an explosion. ‘Russians will never be forgiven for this,’ she continued. ‘The last time similar scenes were witnessed in the Ukrainian capital was during the attack of Nazi Germany in WWII.’
But unlike in the last world war, we’re watching scenes of conflict, violence and terror play out on social media. On TikTok, it’s strange and uncomfortable as videos of tanks rolling over borders and people fleeing with a single bag or the clothes on their back to their nearest train station pop up on the For You Page sandwiched between beauty hacks and outfit inspo.
As with media propaganda in previous conflicts, it begs the question: who allowed footage from the Russian frontline to be shared and why? From the Ukrainian side, users have flocked to show support for conflict victims and have urged them to keep as safe as possible as they hide in shelters or attempt to flee the invasion to Slovakia or Poland.
For many onlookers, they’re simply sad and astounded that Europe is at war in 2022. ‘We spent 80 years shouting “never forget” and buying poppies,’ one commenter wrote. ‘Only to have men in power circle back and repeat the same mistakes.’