Opinion: Two years on from start of Ukraine invasion, optimism slowly waning for Ukrainians

OPINION: Two years on from the start of the Ukraine invasion, optimism is slowly waning for Ukrainians as the war drags on.  

When the war started Queen Elizabeth II was still alive, Jacinda Ardern was still Prime Minister, MIQ was still in place and Taylor Swift was still in the planning stages of her Era's tour.   

But for every one of the 730 days since then, Ukrainians have been fighting for their lives.  

"Has it gone quickly?" I asked a woman on the train to Kyiv. 

"It's been the longest two years of my life. I can barely remember any of it" she replied. Her brain protecting her from the missiles of her memory.  

The train was filled with women and children, braving a trip across the border from Poland to hug their husbands and fathers who've been fighting. Many of the children on board didn't look much older than the war. Their lives so far defined by missing dads and missing peace.  

The sirens still sound in Kyiv, but sandbags that once protected monuments around the city have disintegrated so much over time that they've now been removed; the statues are left to fend for themselves if a missile were to hit. It's not all that dissimilar to how the people here are feeling.  

The Ukrainians are still fighting and fighting hard, but the war is chipping away at the national unity. They are not giving up, but their defiance has given way to something more complicated.  

For the first time, when asking Ukrainians, "How will the war end?", the answer has not been a resounding, "total victory." Instead, some will reveal in hushed tones that perhaps a peace settlement is now the best option, although few believe Moscow can be trusted to abide by its promises. 

Those on the front line and those with loved ones in the trenches are growing quietly resentful towards those living comparatively normal lives in the West of the country. And of the six million people who have fled Ukraine, more and more are now accepting that they will likely never return to their homeland to live.  

On the train, we spoke to a 23-year-old who had fled to the Czech Republic. Returning for the anniversary to visit some of those she missed the most, she admitted she didn't know why her female school friends were still in the country, trying to fight the good fight. A comment that once would have been considered unpatriotic and cowardly, yet today she barely lowered her voice.  

There is a name also, on the lips of Ukrainians almost as much as "Putin" - and that is "Trump." People here are not just aware of the US election, they are actively worried about it, fearing the return of President Trump, would spell the end of US support.  

Already the global lifeline of aid and ammunition is strained. It's clear there will be no easy victory in Ukraine, international attention has turned to Gaza, domestic issues such as the cost of living crisis are distracting the focus of Western leaders and prioritising aid is all too often being confused with a moral obligation, rather than a matter of global security.  

I make a point to avoid comment sections online, but this week I couldn't resist a scroll through the Kiwi musings on a post about New Zealand's latest aid package for Ukraine.  

"Stop wasting our money on wars that have nothing to do with us." 

"How bout we mind our own business?" 

Cameraman Alex Parsons, the very talented (and very patient) second half of Newshub's Europe team, had to endure my reaction to every comment. I chose to burden him with my responses, instead of the X moderators.    

New Zealand, along with the rest of the world, need Ukraine to prevail. Global security depends on it. That is why our Defence Force continues to train Ukrainian civilians to be battle ready; why the charity Kiwi KARE continues to provide life saving aid to those most in need, and why the Government continues to pledge aid. Also, when innocent people are dying every day, you help. It is, the right thing to do.  

19-year-old Emilia Devoe told me in Kyiv, that she is optimistic for the future.  

"But if I think about it for a minute, I come to a more realistic state" she said.  

"It's not as good as I hoped it to be in the beginning, but I think the future will still be really good for Ukraine."  

A lot has changed in two years and this war has come at a great cost. But not all is lost. 

There is still hope.  

There is still so much to fight for.  

Lisette Reymer is Newshub's European Correspondent.