During the war, you do not have a problem with figuring out your priorities. Things you treasure the most become very obvious. And they are not things at all. In my case, my family is my highest acquisition on this earth. My husband of 27+ years – Sasha, our two sons – Matt, 23, and Zhenya,13, our new daughter-in-law – Anya, 22, my parents, my mother-in-law, my brother Sasha, and his family.
It did not take us long to realize that Russia had started to destroy our country. The enemy sabotage groups were heard operating on the streets of our city, Kyiv. Russian air assault troops were landing at a military airport, 35 km away from Kyiv’s city center. The Russian army was pushing for Kyiv. The news of the days following was all about airstrikes, shelling, convoys of Russian tanks approaching Kyiv, and Russian aircraft in the sky above it.
Sasha and I had to make a tough decision and save our children. My husband had to stay behind in Kyiv due to his work duties, so I had to be the one driving into the unknown on the third day of the full-scale war in Ukraine. After saying “good-bye” to Sasha (and cherishing the hope we will meet again), we loaded our family car, and after an 8-hour drive with almost no stops on the road, and waiting in traffic among multitudes of cars – mostly driven by women and packed with children and elderly people, our kids and I found ourselves 350 km away from our home in a stranger’s 4-bedroom apartment with 7 other Kyivites. The trip would normally be 3-4 hours but took us twice that to drive because of traffic. People who left Kyiv within a week after we did, had to spend 20-24 hrs. to cover the same distance. To a degree, we were ‘lucky’ to arrive so quickly.
What we thought to be a ‘temporary shelter’ for the four of us proved to be our home for the next 72 days. The fact of four different families comprised of 10 adults and one teenager living under one roof for so many days still overwhelms me! With our emotional swings or minor issues within one family, we never had a negative moment between the families! Quite the opposite, we would support, cry or laugh together, cook a lot and then eat it! Pretty amazing! But this fact depicts the nature of Ukrainians. We are a peaceful nation and waging war is not in our nature!
Our younger son once asked me what was my scariest moment during the war. I started to recall together with him. When we were first exiting Kyiv, a really loud sound of two explosions coming one after another somewhere very nearby made me stop the car and wait. That was the scariest part for Zhenya, but not for me.
I can tell what scared our daughter-in-law the most, as she had to flee from the war for the second time in her life. Anya’s family had to leave their home in the Luhansk region 8 years ago when our insatiable neighbor gained his first foothold on Ukrainian land and the Russian shell fell in the backyard of Anya’s house. When we were yet trying to exit Kyiv, I had a choice to make – to get completely stuck in traffic(the four-lane highway was packed with cars for as far as you could see) or drive against the traffic along the oncoming lane. I chose the latter, and I wasn’t the only one doing that, thank God. The sounds of shooting and explosions began to be heard more often, and then a couple of miles down the road we saw an armored combat vehicle, which looked like a tank to us, driving right at us from afar. It was too far for us to tell if it was Ukrainian or Russian, yet I kept driving towards it hoping the road would make a saving turn left and let us avoid the clash. As we drove closer, we saw the combat vehicle was Ukrainian and was accompanied by armored paratroopers running at us along the side of the highway. The vehicle stopped to block our convoy from moving further and showed us to turn left (our salvation). When we took that side road, I could hear Anya’s quiet yet deep cry from the back of the car and her fair moan, ‘Why? Why me again?’ I had to keep driving, even though I realized that I might be driving towards the danger, the Ukrainian military tried to divert us from. I kept driving in the direction they were running from. Only upon our return home 72 days after that day, did I find out that several hours after we passed that location, one of the bridges was blown up, all the traffic was blocked there, and cars got rerouted. The ones that neglected the warning message and drove that road, got shot by the human invaders. Nevertheless, it was not the scariest moment for me personally. My toughest part was to realize I had to leave my husband in the center of bombing and shooting and possibly not be able to see him again.
These were just a few episodes from the early days of the war in Ukraine which are related to my immediate family. There are many more stories every Ukrainian is living through every day till now.
Yulia Yegorivna, the brave principal of the House of Joy orphanage refused to exit the town of Kahovka overtaken by the Russians from the first hours of the full-scale war, in search of food and medicine for the 49 little residents of the orphanage. When she realized the first day of the war happened to be the day of their weekly supplies’ delivery, which did not take place, the children were left with no food or meds. Yulia hopped in her family car, and together with her husband, drove to the nearest villages. They were stopped twice by armored Russian troops, interrogated, and threatened with guns, yet succeeded and brought the food needed. Yulia Yegorivna stands for many Ukrainians who are forced to live under the Russian occupation for almost 4 four months now.
This article written by Yulia Nikishenko, our Ukraine Administrator for 20+ years