22.02/2022
“On June 22 at four o’clock sharp Kyiv was bombed, and we were told the War has started…”
PHOTO COURTESY: LIUBOV LAVRENIUK
Said a famous soviet song, written in June 1941, about the invasion of the Soviet Union. Russians love dates and symbolism. On the 22nd of February 2022, they stepped on the territory of my country in Donetsk and Luhansk, which were occupied territories back then. And it has come… the day of the attack! The outskirts of Kyiv were among the first to be hit. It was about 5 a.m. on the 24th of February when rockets started exploding all over Ukraine. It also happened in the town of Brovary, which was very close to one of the biggest airports in the country and the capital of Ukraine, the town where I lived and where important military and infrastructure facilities were located. Earth started shaking from heavy explosions; sounds of shootings and shelling were clearly heard in the neighborhood. Russian troops invaded Ukraine near Kharkiv, Kherson, Chernihiv, and Sumy through Russia, Belarus, and the Russian-occupied Crimea. Long time before… I had a strange feeling that I had to get rid of everything I wouldn't be able to take care of and settle all remaining matters. There was a feeling that you want to get back to simple things, like your natural hair color or bare nails, and get rid of the stuff you don't wear or so many unnecessary things or relationships that don't let you breathe or else. It was such a stupid thing to think about, but it seemed so important back then. Just a feeling! A few weeks before, as I have an international affairs background, History is my passion, and because I am also a psychologist and love analyzing everything, I had been following the foreign officials on Twitter for some time before the invasion and was aware of even the date. It was strange, but during a moment like that, you don't really realize what kind of disaster is over you… It's just a feeling that there's nothing ahead of you and nothing really matters. A week before, I offered my husband to pack the bags and set off on a trip to safety, but like many others, he said it wouldn't happen, and if it did, we would have enough time to escape. I couldn't sleep at night, and there was a strict plan in my mind about how I was going to cross the bridge over the Dnipro river just in time to avoid the traffic jams, but I didn't even think of where we would go. And I couldn't even imagine that it was possible that rockets would hit my native town and cause that damage. Four days before the invasion, I had no doubt that we had to pack our stuff and forward it by mail to have enough room in the car for my dearest people and pets. But still, we couldn't believe it could happen at the moment like that, so we didn't leave then.
A few days before… Anyway, I persuaded my husband to take our dog to the village where my Mom lived, and every evening we checked that our car was refueled with diesel. We also arranged all the necessary documents and started packing our things. It was challenging to pack my own as it hurt so much, so I delayed and arranged for everybody else except for mine. My suitcase was the last to be packed. I was standing there in front of my wardrobe and couldn't take a thing. In the end, I just grabbed some of my favorites and forgot about everything else. There had been three sleepless nights before we had to leave our home. The last one was the most difficult, and five minutes before the attack, we had fallen asleep, as we were extremely exhausted. And there it came - the moment you exist before and after. In approximately half an hour, we woke up to the sound of explosions and crashing noise. The last news I had heard before I fell asleep was that there were loads of enemy troops along the border of my country. I woke up in a completely new world from the explosions on the outskirts of Kyiv. We realized what was going on just in a few minutes. Then, my phone started ringing. It was my friend, and she was whispering, "That's war, war has started! Let's do something… Are you leaving? Take us with you!" She lived nearby with a boyfriend and her son, who is also my godson. I felt completely confused and couldn't think clearly. So I asked her to give me a few minutes to think it over. I had a perfect plan to take my Mom from the village with us, and I persuaded her to pack her "anxious suitcase." But she refused to leave at the very last moment, and we had no time to think. We grabbed our cat, who had never been outside before, jumped into the car, and set off. My friend was waiting on the roadside. We picked them up and moved on. Everybody was quiet and didn't say a word. There was tension in the air, as nobody was aware of what would be happening next. I was thinking about my son, who was luckily far from me. We had just returned from Warsaw, where he studies, a few weeks before that day. I couldn't stop thinking of those few days we spent together. "Will I see him again? Will I ever return home?" I thought.
We passed the bridges in silence and saw vast queues of cars ahead of us. It was cramped at petrol stations, and we were passing by clusters of vehicles, the owners of which were trying to fill them with fuel. Some cars were simply left on the roadside, and hundreds or maybe thousands of people were going along the road. They were elderly carrying their bags, students holding their laptops, and little children hugging their favorite toys. Many had heavy rucksacks, suitcases on wheels - they decided to leave the city, and nobody knew for how long. A siren howled over the city again, and the rumble of explosions from the outskirts was heard. Everything was already different — long lines in shops and banks. But there was no panic, no hysteria. It was so quiet, but there was tension in the air. It all looked like the end of the world. It took us approximately eight hours to leave Kyiv because of traffic jams and crowds of people. It seemed that time and life stopped in that traffic jam. We decided to turn to a country road as there was a better chance to move on there. However, we were stuck as well. On the right, we could hear sounds of enemy helicopters trying to occupy the airport in Gostomel, where our Mriya was. Mriya means "dream," and it was the Ukrainian most famous transport plane, which could carry the bulkiest and heaviest loads all over the world. It was something to be proud of. Now it's gone! Planes flew over us, and we had no idea if they were ours or what was happening there. I just held my breath and tried not to think about it. I couldn't stop my tears; I couldn't stop crying all my way from home. Finally, after eight hours of tension, we were on our way. But where? Nobody knew. We didn't even think about it. Away from war! There was one more traffic jam where we were stuck near the city of Khmelnytskyi. We spent twelve hours in a car almost without moving ahead, having just a short sleep of approximately a few hours. At night, it felt like we were a target, as lights went off in all neighboring towns and the other cities we were passing by. And all that jam was lit like a Christmas tree in that darkness. In the afternoon of the next day, we were in the Carpathians at our friend's house and stayed there for one night.
It was the first time we stopped, had a meal, talked to someone who was our friend and had a night of sleep. Our poor cat was so scared that it hid behind the fireplace, and we had to disassemble it and take the cat out of there, as it was too hot for the poor thing. We had nowhere to go, and at that moment, I realized I had to find a place to live. I went outside. Beautiful mountains were surrounding us, but there was no time to admire, and I called my friend who lived in the furthest town from my home. When I asked her to help me find shelter or a flat to rent, she immediately asked me to come and stay with them. They were a family of four: my friend, Liana, her husband, and two sons. That was a new chapter of our journey. So, I had my new temporary home. I had everything I needed. My friend turned on the heating on the second floor; we had a room, bed, and meals. One more family was supposed to arrive and get shelter at my friend's the next day. Oh Gosh, what a wonderful host she is! An incredible family of extraordinarily hardworking and warmhearted young people, winemakers. First two weeks, I couldn't stop thinking of my Mom and dog, who stayed there under everyday shelling. She spent three weeks in the cellar going outside only for a while to feed the dogs and take a breath. Her story is another one! She survived rocket shelling, bombings, tank battles, and more. There was no mobile connection, internet, or even electricity sometimes. So, she called once a day, and it was driving me crazy. I felt a need to be busy, so I started to weave nets for the military. After a while, as there was a need to treat me by doing something meaningful, we arranged a first aid course. I am a tutor but didn't feel enough energy to talk to my students, so I decided to join the Red Cross as a volunteer. Usually, I had a late shift that lasted five hours. Incredible people came across me on the way. People who had left their routine lives, classes, and families to help those stuck on the border and didn't lose hope of fleeing the war. The place where I worked was called Luzhanka. They were people from Kharkiv, the city on fire after heavy shelling. And women who were driving their cars cramped with children and the elderly. It was easy to recognize them, as they all looked quite similar, pale and thin, almost shadows. They all repeated the same words "Kharkiv is such a beautiful city, such a beautiful city… Forty blocks of flats are on fire!" They were traveling for a few days and didn't want to eat anything except for just some tea.
A family from Kharkiv.
Two elderly women: a mother, a daughter, and a man. They were in a green van. The older woman was seriously ill and needed to be examined, and some treatment was necessary. We found a doctor, a local young girl, who brought the medicine herself. The doctor spoke Ukrainian, but the sick woman didn't understand her, as she spoke Russian. Many people in Kharkiv spoke Russian. She looked terrified. The health care worker asked her the name and age to examine the memory and the patient's condition, but the woman couldn't say for sure. Her pressure was tested, and she got good care. After all this, tears appeared in her eyes, and she said, "Girls, I will speak only Ukrainian from now on, I promise." The doctor and I looked at each other, and we could not hold back our tears. A man from Odessa. He came up to me one night and asked where the border was. I pointed at the bar. It was surprising to hear a question like that. When I took a brief look at him, I saw a handsome young boy with shoulder-length hair wearing a light jacket with a broken zipper and no hat - and it was a cold February, but it seemed as if he didn't feel any of that. He was also holding a small rucksack. "What is your name?" I asked. He told me his name was Nikita, his elder brother was drafted into the army, and his parents were in Germany. I offered him some tea, a sandwich, and a blanket as he couldn't remember when he had last eaten. He was walking as all the trains were cramped. He repeated the exact words again and again "I am so ashamed!" I offered to sit by the fire as it was freezing cold, and he told me he didn't want to leave; he wanted to go to the army, similar to his brother. ​​I told him that it was God's will for our people to travel around the world because their mission was to survive and carry our culture and save our DNA for future generations. He asked if he could stay there for a while and didn't leave for quite some time. There were so many other stories that I could write forever. ​​Meanwhile, the enemy approached Kyiv and tried to break through the defense. All cities of Ukraine came under constant fire. Russian troops approached and stood 15 kilometers from my hometown. The beautiful city of Mariupol in the south of my country was wiped off the surface of the Earth. Thousands were deported or killed, and mothers were separated from their children. The dead were buried in mass graves. It seemed that this could not be a reality. Sirens sounded in every town in Ukraine along with tears every night. And then it was spring. I started tutoring again. I had my friends' support; we arranged my Mom's way to safety; there was a long and challenging way for my dog to get to us. But that's another story to be told. I had my new office arranged by my friends in the room I was staying in. Every evening we gathered, watched the news, and lived our wonderful family life. I told them the stories of my students fleeing war and stories from Luzhanka; my husband helped in the vineyards. My friend volunteered as well, and many men were drafted into the army every day. Two months passed, and I realized it was time to go home. This situation could not last forever, and hopefully, the enemy was driven away from the capital and my hometown. Although there was still the danger of rocket shelling, it was time for me to go back to reality. The way home was long. Terrible damage, ruined houses, broken military equipment, and destroyed roads. In Kyiv, there wasn't any fuel, or there was a lack of it. Prices were extremely high for the food. But it was our home, and we had to cope with all this somehow. It is our new life, and it's just about to begin.

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