Mother of a teenage girl
Creative director of Cheil Ukraine
We did not take the war seriously. We did not check shelters, did not pack suitcases, did not collect food. We could not believe that Kyiv could be attacked with ballistic missiles. I attended a friend’s party one day before it started.
In Russia, 23rd February was Red Army Day, a popular holiday from the Soviet Union times when men were called ‘the Motherland’s guards’, and women gave them presents like socks or cheap perfume. In the evening I read on the BBC news that Americans predicted a Russian attack within 48 hours. I packed stuff as if for a short trip: one pair of jeans, socks, lingerie, a sweater, a power bank, two tuna cans, chocolate, a piece of bread, some Ukrainian money, and the documents. I felt nervous.
24th February, 5:40 AM. I received a telephone call from my sister. She said that it was the sound of an explosion, and her house was shaken. I saw on TV that Kharkiv and some Ukrainian cities including Kyiv were being bombed. I saw that the TV tower in Kharkiv was on fire. We decided to leave Kyiv. I woke up my daughter. We left our home with a suitcase and a cat. I had a surreal feeling that day. I did not believe it was happening. I felt like I was in a bad dream or a computer game.
We went to the village, 40 kilometers from Kyiv by car. We wanted to be out of the city and to wait for a couple of days and see what was going on. The night was scary. We heard the regular sounds of airplanes in the sky. The next day we realized that we were very close to the military airport Vasylkiv. This airport was bombed with missiles on the first day of escalation. We slept being prepared to run to the shelter. I remember the heavy sounds of military planes flying very close to us. I woke up in the night and read in the BBC news that the big Russian airplane IL with soldiers on it had been downed by Ukrainian forces. We were scared that Russians would send missiles here again. In the morning, we left for Western Ukraine. On the same day, the oil base in Vasylkiv was blown up.
We reached the Western Ukrainian city Ternopil and stayed with one Ukrainian family in their house. Even here, far from Kyiv, people were scared. The news from Kyiv and Kharkiv, as well as from Gastomil, Bucha, Irpin (towns on the North of Kyiv, close to the Belorussian border) was horrifying. Kyiv was constantly being bombed. People slept in shelters. In a couple of days, the fights started. There were tanks, missiles destroying houses, soldiers, bandits of all kinds in every district of Kyiv. The building were burning. The flashes from explosions were everywhere. There were killed people on the streets.
I bought bus tickets and we went to Warsaw with my daughter and a cat. We were lucky to reach Poland quickly and were welcomed by our friends. The next day I received information that almost half a million Ukrainians crossed the Western border in less than a week. I had a constant feeling that it was not real, it was a nightmare.
In Poland, I was afraid of all the sounds that reminded me of the airplane noises. I could not believe that there were smiling people, going shopping and listening to music.
My biggest impression now is that Kyiv people do not complain. They sleep in the shelters in shortage of food and rest, they are tortured by bombings and explosions, but they write on social media that Ukraine will win and Putin has already lost. And it makes me cry because I understand that they are trapped in a horrible situation with an uncertain ending. Many of them consciously do not leave Kyiv. They stay, even if they have little children. Now I know who the real heroes of our time are.
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Slava Denys is president of ADCE Ukraine