Kyiv railway station on March 1 was absolutely packed. Everyone listened out for when there would be trains heading West.
Our train is announced and the crowd rushes madly towards it. There are soldiers with machine guns on the platform. Parents lose sight of a boy, and scream in panic. The soldiers are looking for a child who, covering his head with hands, falls to the ground crying. I stubbornly go to the third car, with our tickets gripped in my hand. But the tickets don’t help, we just have to push through to the nearest door of the train. At that door, a fight starts, as the soldiers with their guns, resisting with all their might, don’t allow any men to get on board.
«Only women, children, and the elderly,» the soldiers shout.
I show them my youngest daughter and the soldiers hold back the crowd, allowing us to pass. Our older daughters follow us. I call out for them not to separate our family and to let the teenagers get on the train. The soldiers help, putting the girls into the carriage that is already packed. Maria and Sasha jump in last. I manage to put two of my daughters on the top bunk of the compartment. My eldest daughter and I stand freezing in the area between the carriages.
But finally, we’re off. Instead of taking the usual 6 hours from Kyiv to Lviv, the train takes 9 hours. We have to wait for the bombing of Zhytomyr to end; this city is halfway to our destination. At midnight, Lviv is full of refugees. Volunteers hand out hot food, and offer tea and coffee. I have the address of friends in whose house we can spend the night. But there’s a curfew. Our friends can’t pick us up in their car.
There’s already no room even to stand, let alone sit down at Lviv railway station. I hope for some miracle from the volunteers. And a miracle happens. A volunteer who is already dead on his feet after a day of helping refugees at the railway station takes us in his car which has volunteer insignia on it to the central, medieval part of the city.
We knock on our friends' window. There were already 4 people in their two-room apartment, which is more than 600 years old. Everyone was huddled together, but they gave us a whole room. We drink tea, eat jam sandwiches, and fall asleep, some on the bed, some on the mattresses, which are spread out on the floor.
Lviv is full of refugees; this is no place to stop for a long time. We hear the same air-raid sirens, there’s the same chance of being bombed or hit by missile strikes. The brave residents of the city of the Lion, men and women, are working 24/7. They volunteer, they arrange help: accommodation, food, transport across the border. Lviv is a transit city.
By evening it’s become quite clear that we need to leave our native country. I am writing to Geert that we are accepting his offer to come to the Netherlands. He organises a route for us by way of free trains: Warsaw-Berlin-Amsterdam.
Somehow, at that time decisions are made in an instant. My elder daughter cries and protests again when I tell her where we’re going. I hug all four of them. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I will take my daughters «to peace».