During times of war, sometimes the simplest of words—”I love you” or “I miss you”—can mean so much. 2022 TIME100 member Sevgil Musaieva knows this better than most. She paid tribute to these simple messages in an emotional toast at the TIME100 Gala in New York City on Wednesday.

Musaieva, who leads a group of Ukrainian journalists reporting on the frontlines of war in their home country, spoke about the dangers of sending reporters in areas under active attack, sharing her experience as editor in chief of Kyiv-based independent news site Ukrainska Pravda when a designer went missing for 10 days.

“We didn’t even know if he was alive,” she said. “It is difficult to imagine this in 21st century—when we think about life on Mars and MetaUniverse. But this is the reality my country lives in after February 24.”

Fortunately, the designer was safe. His first message: “We escaped the occupation. I’m OK . I will be able to work again starting tomorrow morning.”

It was short and direct. But for the first time in two weeks of war, Musaieva said these simple words made her cry from happiness.

“After this horrible attack on Ukraine, journalism in my country—is essentially nothing more than the search for such words,” she said. “The most important words about our struggle and our grief.”

Musaieva also shared a story about a woman living under Russian occupation for a month in a small Ukrainian town on the Russian border, whose most difficult challenge was not surviving without food, but being out of touch with the news. “I know dozens of stories of people in the occupied territories breaking into communication or the internet and writing to their families, realizing that these may be the last words they will ever say to them.”

Returning after two years on pause, the TIME100 Gala is TIME’s annual celebration of the TIME100 list of the world’s most influential people, released this year on May 23. The Gala brings together icons, leaders, change-makers, and celebrities from across industries and nations for one lively evening of meaningful dialogue and celebration. This year’s Gala features live performances from Miranda Lambert and Mary J. Blige, two honorees on the 2022 TIME100 list. Further attendees from this year’s list include actors Andrew Garfield, Ariana DeBose, and Amanda Seyfried, musicians Jazmine Sullivan, Jon Batiste, and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, athlete Eileen Gu, director Taika Waititi, and legal activist Chase Strangio,

TIME is teaming up with ABC to bring viewers inside the exclusive TIME100 Gala for the first time with a special television event. TIME100: The World’s Most Influential People airs Sunday, June 12 at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC, featuring host Simu Liu, director Quinta Brunson, Ukrainian journalist Sevgil Musaieva, and more.

Read the full transcript of Musaieva’s toast at the TIME100 Gala:

Read the full transcript of Musaieva’s toast at the TIME100 Gala:

Read the full transcript of Musaieva’s toast at the TIME100 Gala:

Read the full transcript of Musaieva’s toast at the TIME100 Gala:

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Nik Popli at nik.popli@time.com.