Journalist reflects on mental effects of the Ukraine & Russian conflict


Ukrainian people camp out and sleep in a subway station in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo provided by Yana Lyushnevskaya

Vada Hepner, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Loud and chilling sirens went off in the distance every night for the few weeks that Yana Lyushnevskaya spent in Ukraine during the conflict with Russia.  

The sound of these sirens remains with her in her head as a reminder of the conflict between Russia and her home country, Ukraine as she stays safe in Warshaw, Poland.  

Lyushnevskaya is a journalist who worked and lived in Kyiv, Ukraine until March 16, when she finally fled the country. She studied for a year at CSU Bakersfield, through an international program in 2008. She also worked on The Runner staff during her one year at CSUB.  

Lyushnevskaya lived through the invasion of Crimea, Ukraine in 2014 with her parents and is once again experiencing a Russian invasion. 

Since the start of the conflict, Lyushnevskaya has been through quite a journey alone. With her parents safe in Crimea and her being single with no children, Lyushnevskaya fled the country alone. She started off by spending the first five nights in the basement of a music school in Kyiv that was set up as a bomb shelter.  

“That shelter was actually fairly good. You can tell the school administration had been planning. There was water. There was a toilet. There were chairs,” Lyushnevskaya said during a Zoom interview.

A photo of a bomb shelter in the basement of a music school in Kyiv, Ukraine.
A photo of a bomb shelter in the basement of a music school in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Photo provided by Yana Lyushnevskaya

She did stay in this shelter with one of her close friends, because she was afraid of being alone during that time.  

After five nights, when things started to get worse in Kyiv, she knew she had to get away from the capital and find somewhere safer.  

Lyushnevskaya was given the opportunity to leave with an international organization that was getting its staff, along with some others, out of major conflict zones. She ended up parting with her friend and traveling to Lviv, Ukraine with the international organization, because it was a major destination for other people trying to leave the country.   

“It’s close to the Polish border and it hasn’t really seen that much bombardment. There haven’t been any attacks here, but we do still hear air raid sirens pretty often,” she said.  

After some time in Lviv, things started to get worse and Lyushnevskaya’s employer wanted her even farther from the conflict, so they brought her to Warshaw, Poland and bought her a hotel room for as long as she needs. Lyushnevskaya didn’t name her employer in fear of getting in trouble.   

“It’s the most terrifying sound in the world. Seriously, it’s chilling. I’ve been in Poland for several days now but my brain still kind of hears them,” she said, “A maid was vacuuming the room next to mine and the vacuum cleaner sounded like a siren and I had to tell myself, ‘Calm down, you’re not there anymore’.”

Yana Lyushnevskaya
Yana Lyushnevskaya
Photo provided by Yana Lyushnevskaya

Even though Lyushnevskaya is safe in Poland, the trauma follows her and presents itself in her everyday life.  

“There’s a train that goes by near my hotel and it makes these sounds that sound like gunfire,” Lyushnevskaya said.  One of the shopping centers in Kyiv, where Lyushnevskaya attended her godson’s birthday party just a few months ago, was attacked and completely destroyed.  

As a journalist, Lyushnevskaya had to write a news story about it. While researching and writing about this attack, Yana learned some devastating news.  

“I learned that someone I know was injured in that attack. Finding out about that is difficult enough, but then having to write stories in an impartial and objective journalist type of way is even more difficult,” Lyushnevskaya says dejectedly.  

Lyushnevskaya reports on the Ukraine invasion completely remotely from her hotel room in Poland.  

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia has left Lyushnevskaya with issues of trust and feelings of unease.  

Lyushnevskaya said, “With Putin and Russia in power, I would never be able to feel safe.”