Just over five months ago, on 24 February, the lives of millions of people in Ukraine were suddenly transformed.

Russia had invaded the country and called it "a special military operation".

Normal lives were upended and people were torn over whether to leave their homes or not.

Journalists who were used to working on longform features, social issues and entertainment stories became war correspondents and editors overnight.

When the website Babel.ua was founded in 2018 it resembled an online magazine.

But when the war broke out, everything immediately changed for the Kyiv-based collaborative of independent journalists.

Babel editor Anton Semyzhenko said: "We understood that our work is needed as never before, because people really need information. It's crucial for their survival since the war broke, the full-scale war.

"Everything has changed because people needed to see where the air raids are, where the Russian forces are, how much resources they have, what's going to be the next source of danger and how can you make yourself safer."

Their readership has never been bigger, he said.

Babel editor Anton Semyzhenko

As a relatively young collaborative, Babel was blooming, and advertising was going well. That revenue collapsed when the war started. Now the company is more reliant on grants and reader donations.

Mr Semyzhenko is Head of the English version of the website. He hoped it would reach a bigger audience and boost reader donations, as people in Ukraine "were not getting richer" and had other financial priorities "like donating to the army".

He has high praise for the dedication of journalists in Ukraine right now.

"They are brave. They forget how to sleep. They forget how to eat," Mr Semyzhenko said.

Before the invasion, Mr Semyzhenko was a reporter travelling the country, but he switched to an editing role to help collate more information for the live updates more effectively.

Originally from Kherson, which is currently occupied by Russian forces, he is now based in Kyiv so he has not experienced the attacks or counter attacks being carried out in his home region.

The remains of a destroyed shopping centre in Kherson

However, he can describe what it was like when Russia was advancing on the capital.

"I've heard it when I was in Kyiv in the first days of the war. It was definitely heard by everyone. But I didn't see fights," he said.

Mr Semyzhenko helped his relatives to escape Kyiv while it was under threat of Russian occupation at the start of the invasion. They went to a small village near the Romanian border with a view of the Carpathian mountains from the back yard.

"It was a tiny village with wooden houses, with unpaved roads and horses. But the cellular connection was good enough to stream videos to make everything that was needed," he said.

Mr Semyzhenko decided that with fewer air sirens and interruptions and a good internet connection, he was able to work better there than if he stayed in Kyiv.

Ukrainian servicemen ride on tanks on 25 February

He worked around the clock, seven days a week, with no distinction between night and day, and was gratefully fed by his relatives, whom he stayed with until mid-April.

"I just remember nothing, almost nothing from this time. And it's common for most Ukrainians not to remember the spring, firstly because of stress, and secondly because of the constant work," he explained.

"It was like a huge anthill trying to survive, trying to defend themselves.

"At first, we didn't think that the war would last for months, but then, when we realised that this is a long story, we understood that it's better to have a more sustainable schedule."

In those early days, in a worrying scenario, Babel's social media manager, who lives outside Kyiv, found herself under Russian occupation.

Babel's office

Her village was captured quite quickly, so she lived in a basement with no electricity and constant shelling for two weeks.

Once a day, she tried to escape to the yard to get a mobile signal to text or call her colleagues and let them know she was safe.

She fled to the Czech Republic, before returning to Kyiv, where once settled, she shared her experiences with her colleagues on a podcast.

"So, we all knew many more details about how the Russians behaved and how it was for her. Luckily she survived, because many, many people from her village didn't," Mr Semyzhenko said.

From the first day of the war, a bar in one of Kyiv's central districts became the editorial office for the Babel team. Mr Semyzhenko revealed that the bar's basement is classified as bunker by international standards, as the building was formerly owned by a western embassy.

Staff members said when shelling and explosions were nearby, they only became aware when some paint fell from the ceiling due to the explosions. They were able to continue working underground.

Babel employees in their bunker office

It was here that the company's chief editor moved in with his dog. There was a room full of mattresses and around 16 people slept there.

While there was no market for cocktails, the bar staff and journalists made hundreds of food rations for the Territorial Defense Forces, typically mashed potatoes with chicken thighs.

Like Mr Semyzhenko, another Babel editor, Yuliana Skibitska, is from a region directly affected by the war.

Zaporizhzhia is partially occupied by Russian troops and some of the villages where she spent during her childhood have been destroyed.

Ms Skibitska has been living in Kyiv for almost ten years, but her whole family remains in Zaporizhzhia.

This is not her first experience of war. In 2014, when she was 22 years old, Ms Skibitska went to the Luhansk region, where war had just started.

"At that time, part of the region was already freed from Russian and separatist troops. And in the other part, fierce battles were going on," she said.

Yuliana Skibitska is an editor at Babel

Despite having previously worked on the frontline, Ms Skibitska explained that she would be reluctant to go back.

"I have experience in such work, but the situation now is very different from 2014. I'm not sure that they won't kill me," she said.

Ms Skibitska said it was only when she was working on an article about captured areas in the Kyiv region, including Bucha, Irpin and Borodyanka, that she realised how great the danger was, and the cost paid by Ukrainian troops to stop the Russian offensive.

A war veteran who defended Bucha in February has been through the entire war in the east since 2014, but said he had never witnessed anything like what happened in the Kyiv region.

"They hit with all the shells, it was a hail of fire. I thought: if I show my hand, it will be cut off," Volodymyr Shcherbinin told her.


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In the reclaimed villages in the Chernihiv region, Ms Skibitska helped dismantle houses destroyed by shelling.

"A local woman told me how a drunk Russian soldier threatened to shoot them all," Ms Skibitska said.

"Others told how in the village of Yagidne, Russian soldiers forced all residents to live in basements for almost three weeks.

"A local man said they did it so locals wouldn't interfere with looting. His friend was killed by the Russians because he shouted 'Glory to Ukraine' when he saw tanks in the village."

Covering the war 24/7 can take an emotional toll on the team. For management, the safety of their staff is the priority over anything else. And if anyone needs time away from the notebook, they are encouraged to take a break.

Correspondent Kamila Hrabchuck said it was particularly intense in February and March, when she was trying to keep up to date with everything that was happening.

Correspondent Kamila Hrabchuck

But she now feels the intensity when she works in eastern Ukraine, where active fighting and widespread shelling continues.

Ms Hrabchuck has been reporting on stories of life and death in Donetsk, Luhansk, Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv regions, and previously in the Kyiv region.

"Where it is more dangerous, adrenaline helps. But when I find myself in relative peace for a few days, in Kyiv or in Dnipro, it becomes more difficult emotionally," Ms Hrabchuck said.

"I want to cry for a long time, because before that, I restrained myself for a long time. I also feel that after such business trips, I become more aggressive and nervous.

"But a few days of restful sleep and pleasant time - and I'm back to normal," she explained.

A damaged school in the Kharkiv region

Since Russian forces retreated from Kyiv, the team is working from its editorial offices again.

But despite the return of a sense of normality in the capital, editor Anton Semyzhenko is constantly aware through his work of what's happening on the frontline, so he always remains cautious.

"One or two air raid alarms a day is like child's play. Yes, rockets still fall so you can't feel fully safe, you always have to be aware of some kind of attack. I'll always know where the nearest shelters are when I go to a café," he said.

"Even recently, when I went to the cinema, it was in a basement. But if it wasn't, I would have researched local shelters in order to feel safe.

"But still, I was in a cinema and able to have a rest, watch a film and be away from the shellings."