The February invasion of a larger and more powerfully equipped Russian army accelerated changes already underway within Ukraine’s military in its eight-year battle against Russian separatist proxies.
“On February 24, everything changed,” said Ms Chornohuz, who, at 27, fought for a decade for a democratic Ukraine with a European perspective.
Before being a warrior, she was an activist. In 2013, when the Euromaidan protests broke out, she was a literature student in the capital, Kyiv, who joined the revolution to oust Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian president.
A struggle for Ukraine’s future was underway, with the Kremlin backing pro-Russian forces inside the country that opposed greater integration with the West. Young activists like Ms. Chornohuz have embarked on promoting the Ukrainian language as the cornerstone of a national identity free from Moscow’s influence.
“I was one of those Ukrainians who understood long before 2014 that Russia would attack us one day,” she said, describing growing up in a Ukrainian-speaking family and reading books by Ukrainian dissidents killed during the Great Terror years ago. 1930.
Alarmed at losing a sphere of influence and a buffer zone, Russia quickly annexed Crimea and began backing separatists in the Donbass region. In April 2014, as Ukrainians began to form voluntary vigilante groups to defend themselves against armed separatists, Ms Chornohuz wanted to join them but became a mother.
“I gave birth to him the very day the war officially started,” she said, explaining how raising her daughter initially prevented her from taking a more active role in the war.
“I knew that our country and our nation had been smothered for centuries in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union,” she said. “I felt I had to participate in this fight for my nation’s survival in the same way my people did a century ago.”