The first person who tried to persuade Yana Muravinets to leave her home near the Ukrainian front lines was a young woman who was five months pregnant.
She didn’t want to abandon her cows, her calf, or her dog. She told Ms Muravinets that she had invested energy and money in building her house near the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, and that she was afraid of losing it.
“I said, ‘None of this is necessary if you’re dead here,'” said Mrs. Muravinets.
Since the start of the war, Ms Muravinets, a 27-year-old photographer and videographer from the region, has taken on a new volunteer job with the Red Cross: encouraging people to evacuate. In phone calls, conversations at the door, public speeches in village squares, sometimes even under fire, she has tried to convince Ukrainians that leaving everything behind is the only sure way to survive.
Convincing people to give up everything they’ve built in their lives is one of the many bleak jobs the war has created, and another challenge authorities have faced. While the city of Mykolaiv managed to push back Russian attacks early in the war, strikes have ravaged the city and the region, causing widespread death and destruction. Many residents have left, but hundreds of thousands are still there, and the mayor’s office has urged people to leave.
Ms Muravinets, who has spent thousands of hours advocating for evacuation in recent months, said she was unprepared for the task. She was having panic attacks, she said, but she felt she had to keep going.
Understanding the war between Russia and Ukraine better
“The war does not end and people continue to endanger themselves,” she said in a Zoom call from Mykolaiv that had to be cut short due to shelling. “If I can convince one person to leave, that’s all right.”
Boris Shchabelkyi, an evacuation coordinator for people with disabilities who works with Ms Muravinets, described her as a tireless worker, gentle with the people she has to evacuate and “always in a good mood” with her colleagues.
With the Red Cross, she helped evacuate more than 2,500 people, she said, but many stayed or returned a few days after they left. It took a month and a half to convince the pregnant young woman to flee, and she did not leave until after her house’s windows were broken twice, Ms Muravinets said.
“Especially when it’s safe, people are fine with it and they live in an illusion,” she said. “They decide not to leave until rockets hit their house.”
Two years before the war, Mrs. Muravinets for Lactalis, a French dairy with a factory in the area, and visited farming villages to check milk quality.
Now that many country roads have become dangerous, she has reached remote villages, avoiding fires by using shortcuts learned in her previous job. But now she has to convince dairy farmers to give up their livelihood.
“It’s all life for them,” she said. “They say, ‘How can I leave my cows behind? How can I leave my cows behind?’”
Before the war, she said a cow could cost as much as $1,000. Now people take them to slaughterhouses to get meat for a fraction of that.
Ms Muravinets said some farmers who agreed to evacuate left the corrals open so the animals wouldn’t starve, and cows, bulls and ducks now roamed the village streets in search of food and water.
“The people who had money, opportunities and cars have already left,” Ms Muravinets said. But others, who lived in bunkers for months, told her they were ready to die there because they refused to leave.
She said she stayed for the same reason.
“The people who are left are the ones who are ready to sacrifice their lives.”
Valeriya Safronova contributed reporting from New York.