A year ago Yulia Kyrpa, a lawyer in Kyiv, decided she had to leave Ukraine. Given the nature of her company’s work, Yulia’s law firm would be a target for Russia. They had been, among other things, the first law firm in Ukraine to refuse work for Russian clients after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 by Russia.

So, like so many others, Yulia left Ukraine. Her brother decided to stay to fight and her father chose to stay in Ukraine too. She had an exit route planned, so as Russia attacked the country, she left Kyiv, taking a north-westerly route out of the city while others fled west. They drove along the border with Belarus before reaching Lyiv and then crossing into Poland. There was relief then but also difficult  thoughts about when they would ever return.

A month later, Yulia talked to The Currency. Yulia would continue her work across Europe, spending time in Copenhagen with her young daughter who had left Ukraine in January 2022  to live with her father anticipating full-scale invasion into Ukraine. Three weeks in and the war hadn’t unfolded as many anticipated. Ukraine’s resistance stunned the world and most people were in awe of the spirit of the Ukrainian people.

Yulia Kyrpa and her brother who is part of Ukraine’s army

“When I was leaving, I thought that we had a very slim chance to come back home again. Now I’m very confident that Ukraine will win the war, and we will come back home soon,” Yulia told me three weeks after the invasion. She said she felt better and more hopeful then than she had been while leaving the country.

Over the past year, I talked on a number of occasions to Yulia. A competitive sailor, she visited Ireland in September for a sailing event. By that stage, she had already spent several weeks back in Kyiv and later that month, she returned to live there for good. Her daughter has remained in Copenhagen and once a month, Yulia embarks on a hazardous journey out of Kyiv to visit her. When we spoke last week, she was on a midterm break with her daughter in Europe.

On Monday, Yulia will return to Ukraine. She scheduled her return deliberately. She knows that what lies ahead in the coming months will be daunting.

“I planned this visit to my daughter so that I would be back in Kyiv just before the first anniversary of the full-scale invasion, with the understanding that things would develop in a difficult way from the first anniversary of the invasion on February 24. It feels ok because Ukraine is winning the war. If one year ago it was quite scary to be in Kyiv, which was under massive missile attacks, now I get used to this and I’m no longer scared. I just want the war to be over as soon as possible.”

Yulia returned to Kyiv for the first time in June for three weeks when there were several missile attacks on the city. She had returned again in August, Then, at the end of September, she went back to Kyiv for good.

The winter had been hard and while the world is still supportive and the West has provided military support, there has also been a weariness. “People get tired of war. It’s not interesting for the Europeans just to follow the war. It’s very easy to forget that Ukrainians are dying or that everyone else is in danger,” Yulia told me when we spoke last year.

The reality in Kyiv was different and brutal. Even without the death and destruction, there was a Ukrainian winter to survive, this time a winter while the country was at war. In December there were two 48-hour blackouts when it was hard to even make a phone call because mobile coverage was restricted by the networks during the blackout.

Her brother continues to fight in the Ukrainian army and Yulia saw him for the first time in nine months towards the end of last year.

For the people of Kyiv, there is the constant concern that they will be attacked.

“A couple of months ago the residential complex where I live was hit by a fragment of missile. I was at home at the time. It’s not easy even now, despite this residents in Kyiv have got used to this new way of living and this new reality.”

Whatever is to come, there is a feeling in Ukraine that Ukrainians will be ready for it. “In reality, Russia has already started a big invasion in the East. An even bigger invasion is expected in late February and early March because of the weather conditions and because Russia already has another wave of mobilisation,” Yulia says. 

On Wednesday, Britain’s defence secretary Ben Wallace said that “97 per cent” of the Russian army was already in Ukraine, and while some are sceptical of that figure, it points again to the reality that this will be another long year of war.

Yulia Kyrpa in Kyiv

“Ukraine at least tries to save lives and keep as many people as possible out of the front line, but Russia is a different country,” Yulia says. “Putin and the Russian armed forces have a different mentality. It feels like they don’t feel sorry for the people who die every day and they just put more people on the front line when they need to implement offensive exercises. That’s why it’s difficult because Russia still has a huge advantage over Ukraine in terms of the number of people and weapons and artillery.”

Yulia says she will now stay in Kyiv, something her daughter understands, despite only being eight. “She knows why I must be there.” 

Her law firm continues to work representing clients who are trying to recover losses caused by Russian invasion while Yulia works on helping Ukraine receive financial aid from international financial institutions.

So Yulia stays in Kyiv and travels to Europe  once a month when she can to visit her daughter. During those travels she feels more vulnerable.

“I would say Kyiv is the most protected city. It’s the biggest target for Russia but the most defended city in the country. In Kyiv, I still feel relatively safe. When I travel by train I don’t feel as safe as I feel in Kyiv. Other parts of Ukraine are not so well protected as they do not have advanced air defence systems which Kyiv has already received from the West. Potentially the risk increases every time I leave Kyiv, as other parts of Ukraine are less targeted but their air defence systems are not so well developed.”

For Yulia, this risk is worth it to see her daughter and to return to Kyiv to work in her law firm. “I am prepared to live in Ukraine and fight for the victory as long as it takes. It’s important that I can still travel and see my daughter.  She, being just eight years old, knows why I must live in Ukraine now, to make an impact, as well as to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces, my brother, my colleagues and my clients on the ground. All Ukrainians need to stay united now and work every day to bring the victory closer.”

For most Ukrainians, this objective remains clear while the rest of the world becomes more concerned with local difficulties.

Yulia Kyrpa at a recent conference in Kyiv

During her visit to Ireland, Yulia saw friends of hers who had fled and is appreciative of the support given by this country.

“Ireland provided huge assistance and supported Ukraine hugely. It was the first country that provided visa-free regime for Ukrainians to support Ukrainian refugees. Some of my closest friends from Kyiv are still in Ireland and they are very grateful for the support they have received, but of course all of them want to return back to Ukraine when the situation allows.”

Yulia during her visit to Ireland where she competed at the SB20 World Championships in Dun Laoghaire

For those in Ireland who now complain, Yulia has a simple message. “I would say that dictatorships existing in the world create a joint problem for the entire democratic world. If we don’t stop dictators now, they will start global wars later on. That is why it is so important to keep this war within the borders of Ukraine, to stop Putin in Ukraine so he doesn’t dare to invade further and create more difficulties for the European Union and NATO. 

“It is a difficult thing to say that the war should be kept within the borders of Ukraine, because I live in Ukraine, and Ukraine is my home, my closest friends and family are in Ukraine but this is really crucial for global security. Other countries should not think that this is not their problem, but a local Ukrainian problem. In the global world where everything is connected, evil is a joint problem for everyone and it should be eliminated.”

The war will only end, Yulia believes, with a negotiated settlement. 

“I think the war will still be going on in 2023, I don’t foresee any end of the war in 2023. What does it mean, the end of the war? Even when Ukraine liberates all of its territory it still will not be the end of the war. If Russia keeps firing missiles at Ukraine, there still will be ongoing war, just without Russian troops on the ground. That’s why even if there’s complete liberation of our territory, I think this war will end through negotiations, that’s the only way to end the war. For Ukraine, it’s important to have good and fair terms to sign any ceasefire deal and to have international guarantees. Proper ones, not the ones we had in the Budapest Memorandum.”

What that settlement would be remains the sticking point and it is the reason for the war continuing in 2023.

“The population of Ukraine does not want to end this war now if we have to give away some of our territories,” Yulia says. “Because this means we will leave our people behind, now living in the occupied territories.  We cannot do that. If we give away some of our occupied territories Russia would want more in the future. That’s why it’s not a solution. It’s really terrible that so many people die every day but unfortunately there is no exit out of this situation, except for creating Ukrainian dominance in the war and eventually ending the war through a ceasefire deal on the terms favourable for Ukraine. Giving away our territories now would only create difficulties for the next generation.”

So Yulia insists that her generation will bear the hardship instead. A year ago, she left Ukraine unsure when she would be able to return. Now she says she will never leave. Why, I ask her.

“The short answer is because Ukraine is my home and this is the place I want to live until the end of time, regardless of what is waiting ahead. Ukraine is where I belong and this is my home. Apart from my daughter, everything I have is in Ukraine.”