After surviving World War II, Maria Nikolaevna lived a busy and fulfilling life, raising two children, working as an engineer in the Soviet aerospace industry and cultivating a beautiful garden at the family home in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
Maria Nikolaevna talks with the family cat, Kisiau, inside a basement in northern Saltivka, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 22, 2022.
As she grew old and her husband, Vasilii Emelianovich, died, her horizons narrowed to the confines of her second-floor apartment, the view from the window of children playing on the swings and visits from her daughter who lived nearby.
Maria Nikolaevna sits inside a basement in northern Saltivka, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 23, 2022.
When war returned this year and bombs struck her building after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Maria's world shrank further – to the confines of a basement across the city.
Maria Nikolaevna walks with the help of her daughter in front of protective sandbags in northern Saltivka, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 23, 2022.
She gets her only glimpse of natural light by sitting in a doorway at the foot of stairs that run up to the street outside.
Maria Nikolaevna walks with the help of her daughter towards the only glimpse of natural light, which comes from a doorway at the foot of some stairs that run up to the street outside, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 22, 2022.
Kharkiv – Ukraine's second-largest city, in the northeast close to the Russian border – resisted a Russian assault that reached its outskirts in the first two months of the invasion, but has endured almost daily shelling in the past month after a period of relative calm.
A man walks past a destroyed building next to Maria Nikolaevna’s house after a military strike, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 23, 2022.
"She has forgotten what the city looks like, she is confused and does not know where to go, what to do, how to lie down, how to sleep, how to hide," her daughter Natalya, 58, told Reuters.
Maria Nikolaevna talks with Kisiau, the family cat, held up by her daughter Natalya inside the basement in northern Saltivka, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 26, 2022.
"She does not hear well so we have to write things down. It was very difficult - still is difficult – but we have found a way."
Natalya holds the family cat Kisiau as they go downstairs, past graffiti that reads "Lord, help us," to the basement where she lives in northern Saltivka, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 24, 2022.
Natalya's home was in one of the most heavily bombarded areas of Kharkiv and she believed her mother would be safer staying in her own residential suburb 8 miles (13 kilometers) away.
Natalya shows a photo to her husband Fedor in the basement she has lived in with her mother and husband since the beginning of the war, in northern Saltivka, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 22, 2022.
One night though, a neighbor called to say there had been an explosion next to Maria's apartment and power had been cut. She managed to get through to her mother who was in tears as she tried to dress herself in her pitch-black flat.
Maria Nikolaevna gestures next to her makeshift bedroom inside the basement in northern Saltivka, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 26, 2022.
Natalya’s husband Fedor found a taxi driver willing to cross the besieged city to retrieve Maria and the few belongings they could grab.
Maria Nikolaevna, 92, sits on a chair facing the only glimpse of natural light in the basement she has been living in since the beginning of the war, in northern Saltivka, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 22, 2022.
War is not new to Maria. As a girl, her family was forced to house a German officer during the occupation of Ukraine in World War II. The man she would marry fought in that war.
A letter of gratitude regarding the Soviet victory in the war with Japan, written to Vasilii Emelianovich, the late husband of Maria Nikolaevna, is displayed inside a basement in northern Saltivka, Ukraine, July 23, 2022.
Maria and her husband hailed from the same village in the Poltava region but met after the war in nearby Kharkiv where they attended night school, shared a desk and fell in love.
Fedor holds a photo of his wife Natalya as a baby with her parents Maria Nikolaevna and her late father Vasilii Emelianovich, in northern Saltivka, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 23, 2022.
Maria then worked as an engineer in Kharkiv's state-owned FED factory that made aerospace parts.
"Because she is a person of the Soviet era and she worked like a Soviet person, she received the maximum amount of money, as an engineer," her daughter said.
Maria Nikolaevna arranges the medals awarded to her late husband Vasilii Emelianovich in northern Saltivka, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 26, 2022.
The couple married, had a son and a daughter, and bought an apartment with a garden and a motorbike. "They left the hard times behind," Natalya recalled.
Maria Nikolaevna speaks to her granddaughter Masha, who lives in New York, on a phone held by Maria's daughter Natalya in northern Saltivka, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 23, 2022.
Today, as her memory fades, Maria occupies her time reading dog-eared magazines and reordering her husband's medals, among the few things Fedor rescued as she fled her home.
Maria Nikolaevna reads a magazine in front of a makeshift bedroom inside a basement, where she has lived with her daughter and son-in-law since the beginning of the war, in northern Saltivka, one of the most damaged residential areas of Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 22, 2022.