• Номер запису / Number of record: 335-14-02
  • Автор(-ка) / Author: Olena
  • Дата запису / Date of record: June 20, 2023
  • Регіон / Region: Donetsk region

We’re sitting in the park: such a lovely company of girls in dresses with cups of coffee and a crowd of noisy children aged 2 to 7. The prefect Instagram shot. But come a bit closer.

We’re listening to Tanya telling the story of how she left already-occupied Luhansk in 2014. We’re talking about our pain, our memories, our dreams and hopes. Refugees. We’re refugees.
A year and a half has passed and I still can’t get it into my head. Today, June 20, on the International Day of the Refugee, I suggested that people share their stories with our subscribers. So let me give you an example, although it’s not exactly simple.

Let me start with the fact that I never planned to live abroad. We wanted to «live well at home» and simply travel the world. At night, my husband and I would sit on the balcony, watch the stars and talk about how important it was to live near the graves of our ancestors. We renovated our apartment and planned on Yaroslav’s education in Mykolayiv.

On February 20, 2022, I flew to Krakow with two backpacks. About the fact that a war was coming, we had begun talking some time in January. Of course, my first reaction was denial. It was not just because my husband was in the military, but we all could read Telegram and see hundreds of russian soldiers at our borders, but our brains, the brains of normal-thinking individuals, refused to believe that it could be «as bad as that.»

I shook my head, stamped my feet and told my husband: «Don't spoil my weekend,» but then I began to believe it. I began to freak out. I wanted to be prepared but didn’t know how.

The point is that I was always the wife of a soldier. My husband joined the armed forces in 2014 and I understood perfectly well who the enemy was. When I allowed myself to believe in a full-scale invasion, I had no illusions that civilians would not be bombed or that russians would not rape and murder. I knew that if I fell under occupation, I was finished. I and my wonderful son.

As I write this, I can feel the orphans running across my skin. It’s way too awful.

I knew that I had to leave the first day, the first hour, as soon as it began. Somehow I felt sure that communication would disappear immediately. I discussed what to do with my parents: I take the child, the cat, a backpack with things, and get out to their place on the electric scooter. (Really? I was planning to do that?) And we will get away. I drove twice with my father to learn to steer the Moskvych. I would drive all the way to Poland in first gear, sure thing.

I went through our documents. I packed and repacked our emergency backpack with warm clothing. Then I understood that if my parents were flying away on their vacation February 20−27 while I stayed here, this plan was much too risky. A week before their trip, I got the Pfizer vaccine (Poland wasn’t accepting those with Coronavac and this was important then), and bought tickets.

On February 19, my husband and I were sitting in the kitchen in the evening and talking about our lives. I was crying. I was so scared. Part of me didn’t believe that anything would happen. Part of me already knew that, yes, there was going to be a war.

On February 25th, my husband’s two-year contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine was up. On February 25th, he was supposed to pack up his things, come home and wait for me to come back from Krakow on February 27th.
On February 24th, calls from my husband woke me up in a rented apartment in Krakow
«I'm off to my unit. It’s started.»

It started. It started. It started. It started. It started.

I never wanted to live abroad, but more than a year has passed.

It seemed that things would end quickly, that it MUST end quickly, that the world would see this and say STOP, that russia would be scared of sanctions and choke on its own bile, and we would go back home.

We did not rent the apartment although in fact, we had a great advantage over those who were just grabbing their things, fled, stood in traffic jams and died on the way to evacuation. We did not rent the apartment because «First+second month is too long, I won’t be here that long.»

For three months, we live in my brother’s studio apartment (Tato calculated that the room was 12 sq m). There was a small bathtub and that’s all, no balcony. Tato, Mama, me, my brother, Yaroslav and my cat—she was brought to me in March. Somehow Olya and Yan also stayed overnight with us, on a mattress under the table.

Those first weeks, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Volunteered at a warehouse, volunteered in the waiting room of the main train station, wove camouflage nets a little. I set up «Ukrainian Women in Krakow.» Lived for the news. Hung out at the food tent on Krakowska. Wore nothing but second-hand clothing (thanks!).

Somehow, we had nowhere to sleep, so we and Olya and the kids went to Germany for a few days because we had somewhere there. But that’s another story (as is the story about Olya).

Being a refugee was never easy. But we are refugees and Yaroslav has not heard a single explosion to this day. In Poland, I got to know some wonderful people, Poles and Ukrainians. I intend to be grateful to this country for the rest of my life. And to hate russia for the rest of my life. The fact that we ended up in Poland before the war was the luckiest event in my life. But I still don’t know whether that was luck or my anxiety. We will go back home.

Olena, Krakow

Translated by Lidia Wolanskyj