My name is Natalya Omelchuk, I was working in shelter until 24th of February. Well actually, I was working there also after 24th, but remotely. In the morning of 24th of February, when my husband woke me up, by phrase “Darling, the war started”. I woke up, went to collect water in the bath, drank coffee and realized that we had to evacuate the women. Because we had a responsibility for those who lived here, and at that time there were seven women and eight children living here.
“The shelter” is a shelter for women with children who have suffered from violence. We accepted both local women from our community and from all over the country. Our main advantage was that it was not necessary for us to have a recorded act of violence from the police. That means, that woman can call, explain, and we accepted her and then issued the documents. This is something that cannot be done in public shelters or crisis rooms. There must be everything through the police. But not every woman is ready to share all this through the police. Rather she came to us, escaped somehow, we met her. And during her 3-4 months of stay here, she lives here for free, we provide social services, help with the restoration of documents, legal assistance and psychological assistance. And so, over a period of time, a woman adapts and has the opportunity to start a new life or to continue in a new place what she used to do.
That is, this is such a big mission of this small house. The shelter is situated in the Bucha’s community. We cooperated very closely and are cooperating with the head of the local community. We cooperate with the social service. Before February 24, we already had agreements with the culture department about informational meetings in the villages of the community to tell about what such a house is, to tell about the fact that it is normal to talk about violence, to leave a rapist and a woman has a place where she will be accepted, helped and provided impetus to further new life.
On the 24th, at about 6:00 am I realized that it’s hardly possible that someone still sleeping, but close to 7:00 am I began to write and say that we need to evacuate women. I am the only one who lives not far among the whole team. Director lives in Kiev. Colleague, who is working now and that supposed to work on 24th of February, lives in Vyshgorod. Logistically she could not get here. At that time, we had 4 social workers. I could not work for certain reasons in the family. We agreed that I would pick up a girl who lives in Bucha, bring her here, pick up the girl from Kyiv, bring her to the train and they leave.
I started saying that we need to look for a place where we need to evacuate the women. That is, the war has started, we have to do something. How. how, how…We started writing to our colleagues in Lviv. And began to form lists of those who are ready to accept someone. Because there were already the first shellings. At 10:00 a.m., the first such communities in Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk already began to form. But we did not understand how to deliver this large number of women. We did not have a large transport at that time. That is, the transport that we had was like my and my husband’s car and the director’s car.
Natalya, director of the shelter, was not able to leave Kyiv. She went to the supermarket and bought water. She said “What can we do?” At least to buy products, because we need to cook them with something. Because they can’t buy. Buy fuel for the generator, because we had a generator. That is, to somehow provide the house with everything necessary.
But after lunch after the shift I saw the fight nearby. The fight for Gostomel airport. We were in Bucha near the residential complex Grand-Burzhe, that is, it is just opposite, across the field. My husband and I are leaving the supermarket, and we are surrounded by helicopters. There is a battle going on, it feels like it’s already here, on the street. And I understand that we need to change the strategy. WeI have women here and my colleague. We had to take them out quickly. Right here and right now.
I called the director. They cannot leave Kyiv in any way because of traffic. She tried to leave at 12:30, but Kyiv was blocked already at 9:00. And that’s why my husband drops me off in Worzel, I go home so as not to take up space in the car, we take things from the car and he starts taking women out of there. Actually, this decision that we made from the very beginning in the first half hour and his courage during the aerial battle for the airport, because he was driving through Gostomel, and the battle was over Gostomel. That is, he was driving and saw how they were circling in the sky and shelling the airport from the air, and at the same time landing troops.
If we hadn’t done it in the first hour, I don’t know how we would act further. Because already in the evening of the 24th, we would not have been able to get here in any way, in any way at all. Well, at that moment it was such an adrenaline rush. We took all the women to Bucha, Zhenya did. Without understanding where and what next. They were sheltered by another center. We spent the whole evening deciding what to do, because we understood that Bucha is just as dangerous. That is, we can’t stay, we have to go further.
There was a large number of women and children. Electric trains were no longer running. I understand that they had to be put on the last train to Svyatoshino at two o’clock. Because that train has arrived. And then there would be less problems. But we spent the whole night deciding what to do. We agreed to transport them to Vasylkiv to our colleagues, but Vasylkiv was shelled at night. And we realized that we will not go to Vasylkiv either. We went to the state shelter in Irpin because there were already battles in Bucha on the morning of the 25th.
I still had the idea to return here, because some documents, laptop-type equipment remained here. And I tell them “Girls, give me the keys, I’m going to Irpin now and I’ll stop by the shelter”. And they tell me “No, you won’t go there anymore, the battle is already going on there”. Well, that’s it. No one left from there anymore from yesterday. Literally these couple of hours from the beginning of the battle for the airport, our village could leave. And even on the evening of the 24th, Russian military army began to enter the surrounding villages, because they were going through Ivankiv and very quickly ended up here. And they intended to go to Bucha and Irpin.
On the morning of the 25th, my husband and I quarreled over the car. He also had to go to work, because he is a technologist and he had to stop some process there. And the fact that I took his car saved his life, because at the moment when he was supposed to go there was a fight on the bridge near Gorenka, which is on the Warsaw highway near the OKKO gas station. That is, he would just get there. I learned about this already when I was driving around Buchi and transporting women further.
I was driving, there is already a street fight going on around me, and my task is to take the women further. I don’t know where I got the strength, courage, it was adrenaline, it was hatred, I’ll be honest. I was driving and I hated the Russians for the fact that for the second time in my life I see an empty city that was blooming yesterday. A city in which there were traffic jams yesterday, in which I shopped in the supermarket yesterday.
This is the second time I am leaving my city, to which I have just gotten used to. In 2014, I was forced to leave Luhansk Oblast because my city was occupied. In spring 2014. During the fighting, I left through Russia in August 2014, because there was no other way, I could not leave through Luhansk. That’s why we drove through Rostov for two days to Kyiv. And I remember my city, Krasnodon, today it is Sorokino, just empty, empty district center. When you walk like a shadow near the wall so that no one sees you.
I drive along Bucha, my car is full of women with children. Roughly speaking, I’m leaving, and there’s a fight on the next street. God, it was such hatred, and it saved me and gave me strength. When I was going home, I hid my phone so it wouldn’t be seen, because I know the area. And I drove through the bushes, through some yards. I get home, open the phone, and my husband is just in a panic, yelling at me. And I say “Why are you yelling at me?” He told me, “Did you see the battle in Irpin?” I say to him “Are you serious?”. I look at my phone and realize that I haven’t reached the battle by maybe 100 meters, turned into the bushes and drove through someone’s yard. That saved us. And actually the fact that we immediately took the women out of here and from Bucha.
After a couple of days, the evacuation took place and at the beginning of March they were all abroad. No one from our team was injured. Due to the fact that we used all the fuel, we did not have the opportunity to leave. We understood that we might not make it. We had some sort of minimal reserve, but we understood that under those conditions on 25th we would not reach. And on the 26th, it was not clear where to go. It was clear that we could not go to Borodyanka, because everything was blocked already there. It was clear that all the bridges were blown up and we would not get to Kyiv. It is not clear what is on the Zhytomyr highway.
But what oppressed me the most was that I had to run away again because of the Russians. Despite the fact that I had two small children I couldn’t run awa.. I had a sick mother at that time. She was 1.5 months after cancer surgery. She needed and needs treatment today. Well, that is, despite the fact that I should have already packed and taken everyone out on the morning of the 24th, I didn’t do it. I can’t fully explain why. But I was not ready. We lived under the occupation for a week.
The only thing that pleased me was that there was no one here. I was calm. All. Those for whom we were responsible and who could not provide for themselves, we helped them leave. A colleague who lived in Bucha, she also found herself in the occupation. They did not leave immediately, even though we offered it to them. Well, she also said “I don’t want, I just got used to it here and I don’t want to. We will be here”. But she left the first green corridor from the city council on March 10. She left with the child and stayed in Kyiv all the time.
We drove at our own peril and risk on March 8 through the occupied Vorzel, realizing that we could be shot. But I understood that it was impossible to continue. There was no gas. It is very difficult to survive in an apartment without gas, without water and without electricity. Even if we live on the first floor, even if the house next door has a well where we have been going to collect water all this time. The entire period while we lived in full occupation, from March 2 to March 8. But morally and emotionally we understood that we couldn’t stand it anymore.
We went to “Yasna Polyana” to our relatives, it’s a country cooperative outside Vorzel. We have a small cheese factory built there. My husband is a biotechnologist and cheesemaking was his hobby, which later became our small business and family affair. When he built the cheese factory, he built a stove there, on which our relatives, to whom we came, cooked food. It was enough for us to live there for one day. Because actually Russians were in that dacha cooperative. It was scary. And it was not comfortable morally.
The Russians knew we were there, they came to us. They came to our uncle, because he also has a generator. They collected water in his house. They inspected everything. But that was the first rotation, they were more or less adequate. Not to say that they were friends, but they talked and left. Just military in a good sense. We left on March 9, on March 10 there was a rotation. And as my aunt says, “I was so happy that you left on the 9th.”
On March 10, they came, they waved pistols here, climbed everywhere. „I am not sure that you and Zhenya would have survived”, said my aunt. Well, she and her husband stayed. They gave their savings. Russians took the car from uncle. He traded his car for his sheep. He had sheep in a pen and he gave the sheep in exchange for his car being returned to him. He washed the car for a week because it was painted. Well, that is, they survived it. The house is fine. But it’s emotionally difficult.
We left on the 9th of March through Nemishaevo. We left in a large private convoy through Nemeshaevo and Kozintsi. It was the last green corridor. About 100 cars altogether left that day. And next day, on 10th of March they did not allow the next cars to leave. We were in the last column that left that region. No one left there anymore after that. And there were still quite a lot of people. Those who remained. Those who postponed until tomorrow, the next day they could no longer do it, they were simply not allowed. We left not in the direction of Kyiv, but in the direction of Zhytomyr. We reached the Zhytomyr highway and along it we drove to Zhytomyr for a bit and turned back to Prosyliv.
We were stopped by the Russians. The road was full of cars, those who were trying to leave. We were standing on the road above and below on the highway they transported military equipment. One of their tanks caught on something somewhere there, he was standing there and he was “looking” at us like that. By the muzzle of the tank. We look, and he scans like this with his muzzle over a column of cars. And you don’t know. Ok, we were not shot in Vorzel. We were not shot until we reached the column through the field and Nemishaevo. And here we are standing in an open field. There, like 500 meters to that tank, no more. And we don’t know if they will let us out or not. We stood there for more than two hours. There was a fight behind us, further along the track. We watched it. That’s all.
Then they allowed us to go ahead. That military column that arrived, shot back and drove back. And they let us go. No one checked us. Of course, we have previously removed all the excess. We understood that if we were stopped, we could be searched. But at that moment they really used us as a live shield. They fired and let us go, realizing that there would be no response, because a large number of people were going.
We were driving in this gray zone. Everything was burning around, burning warehouses above the highway, crushed cars that tried to leave. Cars that tried to drive themselves a couple of days ago were shot. Damaged military equipment, broken bridges. You are trying to leave this road (zigzagging). After about 20 kilometers we saw the Ukrainian military forces. We cried…
At that time, we did not know what happened to the house, to the shelter. There was no connection here. With no one at all. Not with the neighbors, no way. We tried to find out somehow. People from this village were traveling with us in the convoy. But they said “The whole street is shot.” Because they shot there non-stop for two days. First the Russians, and then ours started shooting back and we don’t know what happened to those houses. But understanding that we saved everyone who was here, it was very gratifying.
When we left, we stayed with some relatives for one day, then went to my husband’s parents. They live in the Khmelnytskyi region. But all the same, there is a military airdrome nearby and there are constant sirens, and there is also a certain danger there. And from there, on March 14, I went to Poland with my children, because psychologically it is very difficult to live where there are constant sirens.
We didn’t communicate at all for about a week. And our friends, knowing where we live, they couldn’t reach us. My messenger was completely blocked. “How are you? What’s going on with you? Where are you?” When we left for Khmelnytskyi, I already had access to the Internet and I had the opportunity to at least talk about what is happening, who is where. And I wrote to my friend in Poland. She said “Come, I will help you with the apartment.” So when I left for Poland, an apartment was already waiting for me and a small community of our Ukrainian women, who also left there. Most of us left for the second time. She is also from Donetsk. In 2014, she moved to Lviv. From Lviv to Poland.
How many of us have moved from Donetsk to Kharkiv because it is not far away. Moved from Donetsk to Irpin. From Donetsk, we moved to Gostomel, Bucha, Vorzel, because they are like that… On one hand, we were more prepared. On the other hand, it was even more painful that for the second time, because of someone, you were forced to throw away everything you did, everything you worked for, everything you invested. As of February 24th, we had several projects planned. We received funding for training for women. We received financing for the purchase of sewing equipment. We looked for opportunities. Now we already have a workshop on the site of the shelter. Because we understood that women need work while they are there. I have invested a lot of my time into this. And now I am forced to leave it.
For me, in the moment here and now, it hurts me a lot, because on the one hand I see the opportunity to stay here and continue this business, and on the other hand I see the danger for children, a psychologically unstable situation, air alerts. I understand that I will not be able to send my children to kindergarten, because it is dangerous, because it is an educational institution. It is not clear what the winter will be like and how it will be with heating, gas, and electricity. Will I be able, taking all this into account, to survive this winter without psychological, emotional and physical losses? Because no matter how much we postpone our emotional experiences for a long time, it will still take a toll on our physical health very unexpectedly, very painfully and very expensively.
Now we are here in this community, but we have to decide if we stay or leave again to Poland. They are waiting for us there, we can return there. We came back to solve some problems, but this inner desire is emotional, it prevails over rationality. Rationally, I understand that it is better to go. But by feeling, because of these losses, it is very painful to leave it all here. And I’m currently on a conditional farewell tour, well, not quite a farewell. I say goodbye to my projects, realizing that when I come back here, in a year or two, it will be a completely different project. There will be other people here, it will no longer be my own project. Yes, I gave it a start, that’s how I helped, that’s how I worked here. And I’m proud of it. I am grateful for the experience I got here and for the opportunity to do something. But after returning here, I don’t know if I will continue to work here in two years, for example. Maybe I’ll be somewhere else.
I hope that the war will end in 2023. I really hope to come back in a year. I can’t plan for more. I realized that I am not emotionally or psychologically ready to plan life abroad for, for example, 5 years. I promised myself for a year. Not more. This is the maximum period of time for which I am ready to leave the country, work, maybe launch some project there, but no more. I am not ready to exchange Ukraine for any European country. They are wonderful, I am grateful that they accept us. I am grateful for the fact that we were allowed to do many things on the same level as Polish citizens. I also take my child to kindergarten, I also receive medical services. I can work. But I’m not ready to stay there.
My husband joined the “Carpathian Sich” volunteer battalion in May. He is now in the East. It is very difficult emotionally. Being here, I’m much closer to him, but we still can’t see each other. Because he has no opportunity to leave even for a few days, and it is far away. Maybe he will have a vacation in the fall and he will come to Lviv, and I will come. I am ready to drive another 1,000 kilometers to see him for 5 days. This makes it difficult. Of course, it is easier for him when we are abroad. At least he doesn’t worry about us. And he understands that we are safe. It is very important for him.
For me it’s very hard. It is difficult for me to explain to the children why even now, when we arrived, we did not come to our home where we lived. And we came to my aunt. Why is there no dad. Where is he? Why is dad always at work? I explain to them that dad is at work, he protects us. My eldest child, Bohdan, will be 5 years old in a week. And the younger one will be 3 years old in a month. Bohdan asks. Bohdan remembers absolutely everything. The elder remembers where we lived, what happened. When we drove past the broken MegaMarket store, where we went to the children’s room on the second floor, he said “Mom, there was a ball pool right there. And where are we going to go now?” “Mom, we used to live here. Mom, we were here. Mom, we were here”.
He remembers everything absolutely clearly. We were not here for six months, but he remembers all the roads, he knows where everything is, he is happy that he returned home. And I look at him, and I have to take him again to a place where he is safe, but not comfortable. And I can see it. He is not comfortable because he does not understand the language. Although he already understands. And he speaks some phrases in Polish. Because he was used to them and they were explained to him. But I can see how happy he is here. That is, he identifies himself with the place here. Not there, in Poland. But I understand that it is more useful for us to be in Poland this year.
Bohdan talks about war all the time. It traumatized him a lot. We lived in Poland for almost six months. And he still asks, “Mom, is this the basement? We will hide there from the war? Mom, what’s that sound? We need to ran.” A thunderstorm, they heard a thunderstorm, they immediately ran to hide in the bathroom. Well, to put it bluntly, we lived in a war zone for about two weeks, this had a strong impact on him. And I understand that we need to move him to a quiet environment.
My children were used to living without restrictions. We went to museums, we visited many places, we went everywhere. All this cannot be done at one time. You can’t play, you can’t go outside. “Mom, I want to go to the playground.” I dress them on for 10 minutes, it’s March, it’s cold, they have to be well worn. We reach the stairs, the fight begins, I grab them and run back home to the bathroom to hide. It’s also stressful. And every day for two weeks. At most, we reached the playground, they took out their shovels and machines, played and walked for a maximum of 10-15 minutes, and we ran back, because the battle was about to begin.
It had a big impact on them. You can’t turn on the light. I covered their bunk bed completely with blankets, hung a small flashlight inside and they played there. To give them at least a little space to play. We made them a kind of house so that they could play, so that they could somehow entertain themselves there. You can’t do otherwise. “Is there light?” That is, there is light, there is no war. That is, he has the association “Hooray, there is light here, there is no war.” That is, he already associates it with himself and he understands it. “And I was scared.” At some point he was silent. He was silent for the first month and his emotions came out for a long time. They screamed, they fought, they threw tantrums, they cried. It was a very hard period, it was April and I thought I would lose my mind there.
The little one rolled back. He was 2.5 years old. We were just moving away from diapers. He just started asking for potty. And we are in diapers again. Only now, after six months, he started to switch to panties. I mean it affects the child’s development. He stopped talking. He has a 3-year-old crisis now starting, which is compounded by the fact that we are not at home, that dad, whom he adores, is not near.
They went to kindergarten in Poland in the same group, although they do not match in age. But the director said, “The little one won’t be able to stand it. Either you send only Bohdan to the older group. Or you send both of them to the younger group, because the little one needs a point of support and security”. He found Bohdan and he did not leave him for a single step. It’s better now.
The reactions of people in Poland are different. There are people who help as much as possible and understand the danger. There are people who, as of now, do not like us very much, because we have taken places in kindergartens, we have taken places in schools, we are taking jobs now. Inflation, the interest rate on loans and mortgages has risen. There is this anger.
But what really surprised me was that for the majority of Poles, the war is somewhere far away. I say to them, “Do you understand that you also need to be ready?”. They look at me and say “No, Ukraine will win.” And I say “What if we doesn’t win?”. They told me “Oh no! Ukraine will win!”. I tell them “It’s very good that you believe in us. But you are next.” My colleague, with whom I worked there for three months, signed up for their local territorial defense. They are expanding the army, increasing it to 400,000. She has already signed up, reread what needs to be done. Because I told her simple things that are important to know in order to save life. I say “What are you going to do? Just imagine”. We work in a children’s center and, let’s say, Russia decided to attack Lithuania and Poland after all. We live in Suwalki. It’s the first risk zone. Well, the first ones. I tell her “You understand, what are you going to do? You have a group of 25 children and you see a Russian helicopter there, what are you going to do?” And she looks at me so scared. I say “Where will you hide them? What will you personally do? How quickly will you gather? Where are your documents?”. Well, those things that we didn’t talk about here.
I understand that I moved from Vorzel to Suwalki, so I hide not so much. But I had someone to go to. And at that moment I was emotionally and psychologically exhausted to look for something else in another region. So we think now that we will live there for a year, and if we do not return to Ukraine, in the worst case scenario, I will look for another place to live in Poland. Or maybe I won’t. I can’t guess that far.
On February 18, I attended the presentation of the book about teenagers in Eastern Ukraine. About the beginning of the war in general. And about how the first refugees from the occupied territories moved. I was invited as a guest. As a person who already went through this in 2014, I already experienced it. I experienced it as a teacher, on the one hand. As a simple citizen of Ukraine. As a young woman. And we talked about it. In 2014, I was 27 years old. I was young. I had no family. It certainly makes it easier. Absolutely. This year I saw a huge problem in the safety of children. That is, I was not primarily thinking about myself. First of all, I understand that I have to think about children. They are small, they cannot make decisions. Their lives and safety depend on my personal decision. It imposes a lot of responsibility.
And when in February they started saying, “Why didn’t we listen to the displaced before? Tell us what to put in the emergency suitcase? Tell us everything,” it upset me a lot, I cried, I was emotionally at that moment… They asked me the question “What are you doing now? Have you packed your things?” I say “I collected the documents. Everything else is not so important. You may not have time to pick it all up, even if you have it collected.” I understand that we will have to go. But this is all a 75-liter backpack stuffed with everything in a row, so it is important if you are ready to survive in the conditions of military operations in the city.. But we cannot be fully prepared for this. And they were not psychologically ready. They were not ready to accept this information.
At that meeting there was a guy who was a teenager at that moment, actually as the prototype of the hero of the book. He is currently studying at the University in Kyiv. We smiled at each other, and we understood that most of them still don’t understand us. But people were amazed. People cried. People were finally able to hear the pain that we were hiding, because we are the type of “separatists” and it is somehow our fault. For several years I struggled with the idea that I was a separatist and because of me the war started and because of me now our men are dying there in the East. I say “I’m not a separatist, come on”. Maybe it’s enough to oppress us just because I was born on that territory. I had no chance to resist. And now… That is, you considered us enemies for 8 years, you didn’t rent us apartments, you didn’t hire us, but hired us on such terrible terms, like “You’ll accept anyway, because you have no choice.” You despised us. And now “And tell us how you experienced it. How you overcame this?” Hello again. Thank God, we have already survived it, digested it, spit it out, exhaled and built a new life for ourselves in 8 years.
In the first years after the occupation of Luhansk, there was still some hope that we could return, then it faded. Then the conflict was conditionally frozen. I didn’t know what had to happen for us to return to these territories. Well, I accepted that’s it, I won’t go back there again, we had children, we started our own business, Zhenya created a cheese factory. I think it’s good, at least we have the opportunity to go home for the holidays or just to visit. I have already accepted this and I have already accepted this Buchan community as my place of life. I liked it here. I can’t say that I was very excited. If we talk about logistics, about morning traffic jams. Strange buildings. We fought against all this. We spoke. We wrote a program for the budget for our shelter. I started activities here. I had already put down roots and I liked it here. And I was torn from there again. This is the second time and it hurts even more. Because you have just taken root again and you have to run away from here again.
I know people who are running away now for the third time. Who fled from Georgia or from some other conflicts. And then from Donbas and now from Kyiv region or again from Luhansk region, which is now captured. My friends are from Crimea. She is a Crimean Tatar. She says “I hate Russia”. She was born in Uzbekistan. In 1990-1991, they returned to Crimea, bought their house, built a house. All her life, she just suffers from them all her life. In 2014, they were forced to leave there. And now she and her three children are forced to leave for Europe. The same. And I understand that it is hatred… I don’t know if it has a limit someday or if it will be somewhere. But I will not perceive them, the Russians, at all as friends.. I will not be ready to sit down and talk with them somewhere, I will not be ready to take part in events where Russians will be, I will not be able to.
I spoke about this in 2019. We were at one event in Italy, on training. There was a girl from Armenia and some guys from Azerbaijan. I looked at them and said, “This is exactly the kind of relationship Russians will have with Ukrainians. We will not be able to be close. Absolutely.” I speak personally for myself. I’m not ready to be somewhere in the event with Russians, to talk with them about something. No. And now it is even more.
The hatred was real in the beginning. And it controlled, and it closed our eyes. And somehow it blocked some security centers there. And we did something and drove. Now it’s just an understanding, a completely different state. I understand that the lives of three people depend on me, on my decisions. These are my two young children and my mother, who went through an illness. She walks, she looks healthy from the outside, but I understand that she needs support and care from my side. She cannot work, endure any physical exertion for a long time. She cannot even be with children for a long time.
For a while I was part of a support group, online. And we talked about some things that are difficult and important for us. It was such an outlet of emotions. I am now waiting for support groups for wives of military guys to start. Because until the moment when Zhenya went to the army, he and I talked a lot, we argued. Now I can’t even talk to him properly. Because sometimes he doesn’t get in touch for a day, two, or three. And it is very hard. Emotionally, physically, and psychologically. It is very depressing. This group should start practicing this week. It is organised by the Ukrainian Veterans Fund, as I remember. So it was free for me. In addition, I filled out an application in the “Active Community” organization. They provided three free consultations with a psychologist or a coach. And I talked. I understand that it is necessary.
I did not do this in 2014, because it seemed to me that I was completely calm, that I would overcome. But then it caught up with me during maternity leave, in 2017. When I stopped running from my problems and found myself at home with a child in my arms, it covered me very much, and it was worse than if I had worked through these issues in 2014-2015. That’s why I started searching for some opportunities immediately. When I finally came to Poland, I saw that I felt badly, I saw that I would not be able to stand it, I felt it. Sometimes I was just lying. So I took the children to kindergarten, came home, went to bed, lay down until two o’clock, got up, went and took the children from kindergarten. It was a very “productive” day. It is important. This is very, very important. It is sometimes difficult even to admit to yourself, to find a specialist and come to him. For example, my mother is already talking about it, but she still does not have the strength to go to a specialist, although I have already found one for her. But I can’t force her, she has to come to it herself.
Out of the circle of people in Poland with whom I am now, I think 50% will definitely return. 50% who are not sure. Well, roughly speaking, I think that somewhere around 25% will definitely stay there. They integrate. They understand that they are not ready to return to Ukraine, because they are already tired of running away, they are running for the second time.They have nowhere to return, their houses were destroyed. They don’t have the strength for it anymore. Some even have, but understand that they are not ready to run away again. They are ready to build their lives there in Poland, where we live. Part hesitates, because again, there is no exact understanding for how many years we will stay there. How far to plan. Some remain because of children, because of education, because of certain moments. It is actually a very complicated process. Some people just froze in anticipation that everything is about to end and we will return.
To sum things up, in short, this is my story:
I am Natalya. Until 2014, I lived in Luhansk region. During the Russian aggression, my city was occupied in April-May 2014. And I was forced to leave, because I absolutely did not support the idea of a referendum and separation from Ukraine. We waited for the Ukrainian army to come and there will be a peaceful life again. Unfortunately, this did not happen. And during the fighting for Luhansk and Novosvitlivka, my mother and I left there through the city of Krasnodon, which is now Sorokino.
We moved to Kyiv. A close friend who lives there helped us find an apartment. Unfortunately, we could not rent an apartment by ourselves. We rented an apartment through a third person, due to the fact that we were immigrants from the occupied territories. Unfortunately. Not everyone was like that. I met my husband already in Kyiv. We got married a year later. Later, we had our firstborn, Bohdan, who is 5 years old today. The man started working on his business. I helped him start the cheese factory. It was our common family business.
Unfortunately, in March 2022, I was again forced to leave my home. It was rented, but we almost bought a house in the last two months before the start of the invasion. On February 22, I went to the bank and took the documents for the mortgage. We had to sign a few documents and the house would be ours. Unfortunately, that did not happen. I was again forced to run from the war, from the “liberators” as they call themselves.
I am forced to build my life again from the beginning, but this time in another country, with different conditions. Because in 2014, I was alone and next to me was an adult mother who had the opportunity to work. And we lived, worked, and rented an apartment together.
Today I have two small children, and a husband who went to defend the country. I am very proud of him, but it is very difficult and painful for me to think about it and… expect victory. Bohdan asks me every evening “Mom, have we won yet?”. I say “Not yet”. He sighs and says “Okay. We’re waiting.” …“ Why are you crying?”
Interview taken by Mircea Sorin Albutiu
Facilitator: Eugene Shimansky
Translation: Evghenia Jane Rozbitska
Photo credit: Mircea Sorin Albuțiu
August 2022, Ukraine