”The world is now witnessing the largest military escalation since World War II - Russia's war against Ukraine. Ukrainian army in extremely difficult conditions defends own land from the invader and stands as a barrier on the way to Europe.
At the same time, everyone has own history of war. For me, it consists of numerous stories, sometimes even episodes from the lives of people with whom fate brought together on these days - with someone for 5-10 minutes, with others - for several hours or longer. They are read in SMSs from friends, heard in telephone conversations and ordinary communication, long hours in evacuation queues, crowded Ukrainian evacuation trains and comfortable Polish and Swedish trains, felt in the most emotional moments. Therefore, they are united by sincerity and openness. These stories are intertwined with own thoughts, some help to find the answer by translating another person's experience into one`s life situation.
Tensions in society grew as Western intelligence warned of impending war. But I was convinced that this was just usual Russia’s escalation. The teachers and students who came to Dnipro Polytechnic on February 16 seemed to be quiet and even in high spirits. We gathered to meet with international leaders: former Polish President Oleksandr Kwasniewski and former Swedish Prime Minister Karl Bildt who came to support us under the growing threat.
On February 22 I shared my confidence in a telephone conversation with my university friend Tatiana, an energetic and tolerant lady, excellent in everything. She teaches English to computer school students. Tatiana, on the contrary, was very anxious and said that her students, practicing the English construction "I wish I were", all cited the example of "I wish that I didn't die". The next time I heard the same phrase was after February 24, when a familiar teen girl said with horror that she did not want to die.
The first days of the war were over, attacks on Kyiv had already begun, there were fires everywhere, and Kyivans – old and young, men, women and children – got united to defend their city. Seeing this dedication in the news is one thing, but it's quite different when your very close friend, a mother of three children, answers your "How are you?" question by writing in SMS: "We no longer react to sirens and explosions.... I am at home, children and I are tearing sheets for Molotov cocktails ..... tomorrow the neighbors will spin." The girls from Kyiv are fantastic, aren’t they?
Few days later migrations began, mostly internal relocations. Just a week ago, I spoke with a cheerful neighbor Elena who was confident that all war-talks are nothing but political games. About a week passed and gloomy Elena came in and said that she and the child would go. "To Poland or further to the West?" I asked. "No, you know, we will go to our house, on the border of Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk regions". She gave me the keys to her apartment, we hugged, she left.
Very soon we started meeting internally displaced people who were escaping from places badly affected by Russian aircraft and artillery. Our neighbours hosted a family from Kharkiv: parents and an 11-year-old boy, whom I was rising in the elevator with for half a minute. The child held the long-legged and shabby toy, and it was obvious that this, together with the furry cat that the mother was carrying, was a sign of home and comfort for the little one. These days, in general, there arose a completely different understanding of children's toys. While standing in line in Dnipro for the evacuation train, I noticed that here and there the toys were sticking out of tightly packed children's backpacks. My 16-year-old daughter Mariia also took three well-worn, fluffy beloved toys with her. They are a part of home and accustomed life for children – even for not very little.
In my family we decided that Mariia and I would go to the West. On March 6, after standing in line for 4 hours at the train station, we were able to take the train to Pyatikhatki. Of course, we wanted to go directly to Lviv, but the organizers at the station redirected part of the huge people flow to other trains, dispersing the huge Dnieper queue. Against the background of a heavy mood there happened some pleasant moments. In the queue we talked to two girls, and one of them turned out to be my student from the Faculty of Information Technology of our University, whose name was Kateryna. I was so glad that even after distance learning, the student and the teacher recognized each other. The girl did not know where to go next. She thought about European countries or even North America.
We lost each other with the girls at the next station. It was difficult to get into the wagon because of the large number of people. As my very close friend, who left for Poland with her two granddaughters the day before, warned: "you will meet a classic, familiar from movies, situation of boarding an evacuation train - with pushing, elbows, screams". The main task here is not to lose each other with the daughter. Done. The crowded train started off, and people continued to settle in. Everyone knew that we would get to Lviv. Suddenly at night there was a stop. The loudspeaker told it was Vinnitsa, the destination. After this it took us two more stretched in time transfers to get to Lviv.
Here we stayed at Valentina’s (a very good friend of our family) place. By that time, she had already sheltered her brother's family, who came from eastern Ukraine. In Valentina's house we spent a nice evening with her relatives and had some rest from the first part of our journey.
Early in the morning we went to the Lviv train station where we stood in a queue with a hope to go straight to a Polish city. 5 hours later the evacuation organizers announced the opportunity to take the train to the Ukrainian border checkpoint Shehyni. Mariia and I took a decision to accept the proposal in view of the prospective of a faster movement. In 2,5 hours, we were approaching the place of a border crossing. On seeing the queue from afar, first we rejoiced and then began looking for its end. We walked along a long human column. An awareness grew that all previous lines were just trifles. Thus, there began the longest in my life, 10-hour queue.
What saves in such situations? Communication does. We stood after young lady Lilia with two children who were from Kyiv. Lilia was cheerful, although the story of the bombing and the fact that she had to leave her eldest son in Kyiv impressed us. Dressed in a short coat, Lilia was constantly exercising to warm up, and this, along with her optimistic nature and humour, helped us hold on. We spoke to other people. The stories were amazing. Next to us there was a woman of about 70 from Zaporizhzhia with grandchildren aged 3 and 7. By that time, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant had already been attacked by Russians. The woman kept calm all the time, and in the conversation, she simply mentioned that her grandchildren should be saved. The children were joyful and began to show their talents: recited rhymes, sang songs, counted in English.
Even though most people had come through their troubles, the large human flow behaved quite restrainedly. Moreover, there were humourists, organizers, and interesting interlocutors. Among us there was a young woman who, in a very loud, cheerful, commanding voice, led the line, shouting "Left", "Right", "Snuggle to the side". It rose the spirit. The volunteers regulated the flow, sent women with small children to a separate, faster line. Thus, everyone moved step by step, and in the evening, we approached the customs control. Surreal situation was that people were allowed to cross the border not only with foreign passports, but also with ordinary internal documents like birth certificates or IDs.
At about 10 pm, Polish customs was left behind. And Polish tremendous aid engulfed us. Everything was organized at an incredible level. Numerous volunteers offered a variety of hot food, which was very desirable, because everyone was very cold and hungry. They competently provided information on how and where to go next, helped to carry things, gave warm clothes for children and adults, hygiene items, warm blankets, raincoats, and finally just calmed down. In our case, at a certain moment in a huge crowd Mariia felt lost and miserable. A Polish volunteer came up to her, treated her to chocolate – and what a miracle! – it worked. She is very influenced by a simple human word. ... It was not only the professional logistics of the overall process but also the cordiality of every Pole. I asked about the best way to get to Krakow, and another guy, having previously clarified this, said about the time of train departure, helped to bring our things to the tent. My daughter and I decided to rest in a camp. We woke up at dawn because the volunteer who learned about the Krakow direction called us. He remembered both the question and us and came to let us know about the changed schedule. Again, amazing responsibility and attention. We left the tent and saw that the queue had only increased since yesterday and joined the stream. And in half an hour we took a bus to Krakow. The transport logistics was impeccable.
Our next point was Swedish city of Gothenburg. So, on the same day we went to Krakow airport for plane tickets and were able to buy them only for the next day. We decided to go back to the train station where there was a necessary infrastructure to spend the night. Within a very short trip from the airport to the station we had an incredible acquaintance. At the time when most people were moving West from Ukraine, our compatriot, beautiful and intelligent girl Solomiya, a journalist student at Oxford University, was going to Ukraine. She was overwhelmed with the eagerness to tell the truth about the war, to realize herself, to be in the vortex of events. Tremendous Ukrainian girls! We talked. Then we wished good luck to each other and said goodbye.
At the station, we were about to set to sleep, as two Poles approached us. A volunteer said that a Polish family was ready to take two Ukrainians home for a day or two. We gladly agreed and a few minutes later found ourselves in a Polish family consisting of mother, father and two girls, 3 and 1.5 years old. I was interested in how a beautiful and elegant young hostess took care of the children. Having a lot of experience in raising girls (in my big family there is exclusively girls' kingdom), I know that girls can be capricious. Our new little ones were very disciplined. We played with them, they acquainted us with new Polish words on children's toys. That’s what made us feel very comfortable, and it was a good rest before the next trip. Thank you, kind and caring Polish family!
The next morning at the airport we passed the control and flew to Gothenburg. From it we immediately went to the wonderful Swedish city of Trollhattan. It is an industrial place, but despite this, in any part of the city, except perhaps the centre, it seems that you are in the woods. Each small array of buildings - residential or industrial - is surrounded by untouched nature. And very clean air.
On the arrival we immediately established contact with Ukraine. From the first messages in Viber, I learned that our friend's 29-year-old daughter spent two weeks under fire in the basement in Bucha, then went upstairs, and found her car blown-up. The girl miraculously managed to escape on another vehicle. Later, the world learned about what was happening in this long-suffering town in Kyiv region, only then I realized how lucky Margarita was to flee.
A little later I talked to Valentina from Kyiv, a very good friend of ours. She is a courageous woman who was under bombing, but her voice sounded confident. She expressed her faith in Ukrainian armed forces and said that her family would remain in Kyiv under any circumstances. In the conversation, the lady mentioned about her distant relative from Melitopol. Before the war nothing could shake his faith in “Russian world”. When he saw with his own eyes how Russian soldiers were killing Ukrainian civilians, he changed his mind and started speaking Ukrainian. And there were other stories when one's experience of war changed the attitude to the "majestic" Russian world.
Here, in Sweden, from the late March we began meeting Ukrainians from northern part of my country. It mostly happened when we went to the migration centre to arrange our temporal residence status. Once on the way to Gothenburg we met a family from Irpin. Their house was bombed down. The big Elena`s family (consisting of her husband, mother, daughter, and granddaughter) had nothing to do but leave. They told us that they were trying to escape under fire, and unlike other people who were shot by Russians, they were lucky to go away and later broke to Poland. There they saw that the labour market was overloaded. Thus, Elena left her mother with her sister in Poland, and her family moved further North, to Sweden, with the intention of later going to Canada.
We had already stayed in Trollhätten for two weeks, when we got involved in volunteering. The local community was to meet the buses with evacuated Ukrainians from Zaporizhzhia, Chernihiv, Lysychansk, Dnipro etc. That’s when we had a chance to help our people to communicate with Swedish host families and solve organizational matters. Sometimes people wanted to share their stories. A woman from Lysychansk with two children, said that she had to leave her old mother in the city because the old lady didn’t want to go, while the enemy was advancing. Thus, she didn’t have a choice, as it was necessary to save children.
The situations when people had to leave someone back in Ukraine were rather frequent. We were most impressed by the story of Yana, a young woman from Chernihiv Region, who came to Sweden with her mother and 4-year-old daughter. Yana was on her last weeks of pregnancy. She told us that she had another seven-year-old girl left with her husband`s mother in Ukraine. A few days before the war, the girl had been sent to her grandmother's village, and soon a powerful air and artillery bombardment began. The house was destroyed. So, the three of them went themselves: Yana with her mother and daughter Yeva. It was not possible to do otherwise then.
At the time of our conversation, my daughter was talking to Yeva. The phrase of a little girl with big sad eyes that their village had been completely ruined would remain in my daughter's memory forever. I know that this is what we will remember and never forgive Russians.
I think that everyone has a lot of such stories from this war. My generation has not seen World War II. But I'm sure everyone remembers the stories of older people in families about those times. Now we have our own war experience, which we, our children, and grandchildren, will carry as a heavy burden for all our lives.”