She posts about dancing lessons, hot air balloons and the kisses of the love of her life: until four months ago, Yulia Yamkova's Instagram feed was that of an ordinary young woman with big dreams. Now, between shooting videos and engagement posts, war pictures and appeals for a ceasefire are mixed in, because Yulia wants to return to a Ukraine without war.
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"At first I only took pictures to capture memories. Now I use my camera to advocate for something, to raise funds and bring people together, for Ukraine. My Insta account has become a kind of blog." On 24 February, in the early hours of the morning, Yulia Yamkova's life changed like millions of other Ukrainians'. A phone call from her father-in-law announced Russia's attack on her homeland, and moments later Yulia and her husband heard the first bombs. While the latter continues to live in Ukraine to help on the ground, Yulia fled to Luxembourg with her mother.
"My home has remained unscathed so far. My husband returned there because we didn't even have time to turn off the heating. He also got me my vyshyvanka, which is a traditional embroidered garment and very important for us women", says the 28-year-old. She misses the cosy mornings in their shared flat in Kyiv, the walks with her dog in the park, the visits to restaurants with her mother. "Our life was peaceful before the war and I loved it. Until two years ago, I didn't even speak Ukrainian full time, but mostly Russian. That has changed now, of course."
The smell of home
The now bombed-out Ukrainian capital has always been Yulia's home, as she grew up here with her parents, grandparents and grandpa's brother. "The Dnieper River, which flows through the city, has two banks. On the right side are the centre and the wealthier neighbourhoods. On the left are the suburbs, the not-so-wealthy areas. That's where I was born." While Yulia's childhood was not one of material prosperity, she never lacked for emotional one. "I have a big family and I still remember the smell when my grandmother was about to cook something delicious. My fondest memories are of the holidays, they were always wonderful celebrations!"
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