Every evening under Russian occupation, Inga covered the windows, strung a copper wire to her headphones, and ran around her house looking for radio signals.
Sometimes she was lucky and was able to pick up programming from Donbas.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service -- the only source of information accessible in the town of Kapytolivka near her hometown of Izyum, where she had fled with her husband following the invasion.
Inga says it was these snippets of outside information that gave her hope while Russian forces held Kapytolivka captive for seven months. Others in the town believed this was it, that the Russians would never leave. But for Inga, there were glimmers of hope during the occupation that Izyum and Kapytolivka, where her husband's mother lives, would be freed one day.
It's cold in Inga's Izyum apartment, but the air is filled with the aromas of baking – her hobby, she says, which she'd hoped to pursue further before the Russians came. Before our arrival, she's baked bread and fresh pampushky -- Ukrainian yeast buns -- that she's smearing with garlic.
Inga is still in a state of grateful shock that Izyum was liberated in September, just before her birthday.
"No one believed that the Ukrainian Army would come," she says. "Toward the end of the occupation, everyone thought Russia would remain. I was stubborn, though, and kept saying, 'No! We are Ukrainians. Ukraine will come, and the boys will liberate us.'
"I had faith in this right here," she adds, holding her hand to her heart.
During her first encounter with Russian troops after they entered the town on March 6, she says, the Russian soldiers expected residents to be grateful for their arrival.
"The first [soldiers] we met in the occupation were a bunch of pimple-faced boys at the checkpoints," she recalls. "And one said with eyes blazing: 'We have come to liberate you! You will have everything!' And he stands there, just 18 years old, full of conviction. And I told him, 'Sonny, I lived well and had everything. What could you possibly liberate me from?'"
The Russian forces behaved "typically" in Kapytolivka, Inga says. They ransacked houses looking for alcohol and hid armored vehicles and ammunition behind every building.
She also described them as "afraid" and says they largely hid from residents.
"How many times did we tell them: 'The field is there. Go ahead!' They answered: 'But they will kill us there.'"
One day, she says, the Russian soldiers wanted to position their guns on Inga's street.
"Everyone ran out with their children and chased them away. They fled to the field and camped there for two months, and shot from there," she says.
Inga and her mother-in-law both require medication, particularly painkillers. She had to overcome her pride, she says, and plead with the soldiers to give them medicine. Sometimes they obliged.
"I had to bow at checkpoints and ask for medicine," she says. "They gave me ibuprofen and diclofenac. Sometimes they humiliated me. And then I just felt nothing."
Signals Of Hope
The residents in the occupied villages had no access to information about what was going on in the rest of the country.
"I connected my headphones to an old phone to try to access FM radio, and I ran around the house looking for a signal, but there was none," she says. "Then I thought about how, in the old days, we would attach a copper wire to the radio or TV [for a better signal]. So I tied a copper wire to my headphones and started running around the house."
In one spot, she managed to receive a signal.
They were afraid to listen during the day as the Russians could burst into the house at any moment for an inspection. Inga hid the copper wire, kept the headphones separate, and had her mobile phone switched to airplane mode.
In the evenings, they covered the windows and listened to the one program they could find.
"At around 8 p.m., there was a program of Radio Donbas.Realities. We really liked listening to it because it presented the information clearly and in detail," Inga says. "Hearing good news on the radio gave us hope. We learned that Ukraine needs us, that they have not forgotten us.
"The Russians tried to convince us that Ukraine doesn't need us. But the radio refuted their fake news and encouraged us. During the occupation, the radio was the only source of information that reached people," she adds.
The residents also took daily stock of the artillery exchanges around them between Russian forces and the Ukrainian Army. From the village, she says, they could see rockets flying through the air and cheered when the Ukrainians managed to hit the Russians' position.
Closer to liberation, Inga says, they saw Ukrainian artillery hit Russian warehouses more frequently.
"When they detonated, the souls of the locals rejoiced," she recalls.
"We were watching from the yard and saw two rockets flying from the Russian air-defense system. And then two of our rockets flew under the Russians' [rockets] .... Then they hit the Russian air-defense station. That smoke was beautiful! We laughed at how [the Russians'] vaunted air-defense system 'worked.' And that's when we realized that our army must be close!" she says.
On September 9, a fellow resident told Inga that Ukrainian solders had been spotted in Izyum. She was warned to stay home until the town had been "cleansed" of Russians. But she couldn't sit still. On September 11, she rode her bicycle to Izyum to "see for herself."
Inga can hardly contain her joy as she recounts meeting her liberators.
"I was riding along and saw a column of Ukrainian pickup trucks with Ukrainian flags. I just felt numb, and my heart was pounding. I started shouting, 'Our guys are coming!' When I saw them get out of the trucks, I jumped off my bike and ran to shake their hands and say, 'Guys, we've been waiting for you for so long.' I was shaking all over. Imagine: We were waiting for this for seven months."
She moved back to her Izyum apartment. Miraculously, the traditional vyshyvanky -- Ukrainian embroidered shirts -- she'd purchased for herself and her husband just before the invasion still hung in her closet. The invaders either hadn't noticed them or chose to leave them.
On the day of liberation, Inga donned her shirt, an embroidered skirt, and a vinok -- a traditional flower head wreath -- to drive across town to share the good news of liberation with everyone she knew.