АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Iryna Kovalenko
31 July 2022
Ulyana Melnyk is fleeing the war for the second time. In 2014, the woman was caught by hostilities in Luhansk, and because of that, she moved to Kyiv. After 8 years, history repeated itself, the woman again was forced to flee, now from the capital. With her young children, at first, she lived at a strangers’ house in a village in Zhytomyr region and then decided to leave for Poland. About the two wars she survived, her escape from them, and life abroad, Ulyana told the “Monologues of The War” project.
I am Ulyana Melnyk and I am 37 years old. I was born in the city of Lysychansk, Luhansk region, I studied in Luhansk, where I stayed until 2014. I lived in Kyiv from 2014 to 2022. By education, I am a teacher of Ukrainian and English languages. I used to have many different jobs, in the last pre-war years, I was a private travel agent.
In 2014, the war caught me in Luhansk. Somehow, the city suddenly went crazy. I didn’t even understand how that happened, some referendums were started, and then it became dangerous even to be there in general. There was a border checkpoint near my house, and one morning, it was stormed by Chechens (soldiers from Chechnya, russian republic. However, since the full-scale russian aggression, these invaders are usually called kadyrivstsi or Kadyrov’s men – armed men under the control of the ramzan kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic, russia– translator’s note)
I remember it was the first time I faced the most deceitful propaganda of kremlin. As in their news, they said that it was the LNR (a fake republic created by Russia in 2014 on the occupied territory of the Luhansk region – translator’s note) shooting banderivtsi. (Banderivtsi -commonly used by russian propaganda term which is usually referred to supporters of the Stepan Bandera – translators note). In reality, it was only russian armed forces shooting at our, Luhansk, Ukrainian border guards.
For me, the events of 2014 and 2022 are not similar at all. Similar is the only one thing – my desire to escape danger and not to test fate.
In 2014, I just went to stay some time at a friend’s place in Kyiv. In 2022, I went with children and with the understanding that this is forever, given my past experience.
A few weeks before February 24, I did not have a feeling, I had the certainty that russia would attack. But everyone around me laughed at my words, no one believed it, so I tried to continue writing and hoped for the best. Just before the war, when everyone was already talking about the fact that something would happen, I registered a sole proprietorship and invested in construction in Gostomel… I really wanted to live a complete life, despite everything. It can be said that I only started to let go after 2014, and I allowed myself to take some brave steps and plan for the future.
I was worried through the days just before the war. Because at first, everybody said that it would start on February 22, then on the 23rd. Therefore, we were light sleepers all nights, and we had a premonition. On February 24, at four in the morning, I heard explosions. There were no doubts – I understood exactly what it was. But there was no understanding of what we should do. We talked in the group chat with friends all night until morning. And we ran through our apartment in circles in a vain desire to collect things. In fact, I took with me two different socks with holes and other junk. The brain somehow refused to think logically, and it seems that I did everything to ensure it was not forever. I was shaking so hard that everything was falling out of my hands. Panic. And it wasn’t clear at all how to fit the lives of four people (me, my husband, and two children) into a suitcase. When the morning came and dawned, it became a little easier. News, conversations with neighbors in the basement, silence…
I really wanted to leave before the war. I am a person who is terrified of war, and I am always ready to run away. But the problem was just the basic one – there was nowhere to go. We absolutely had no money to rent housing because, as I mentioned above, we invested a lot in construction and even were in debt. All my and my husband’s relatives and friends were in the East, where it was dangerous no less. And so, we stayed in Kyiv for two days until one of our acquaintances invited us to visit her relatives in a village in the Zhytomyr region.
We knew where we were going but didn’t know to whom. We lived in a house of complete strangers. Relatives of the relatives of friends. But I think of that family with such tenderness! They have two children, one of whom was not even six months old, but nevertheless, they took us in as if we were their relatives, fed and comforted us, and shared the last they had. Together we made plans for how we would survive when the war affected our region as well.
The drive to that village took almost a whole day. We went along the Zhytomyr highway that was completely jammed and so badly damaged just after we drove through it. Our children and we had to spend the night in the car, in the middle of the road, as all hotels were occupied. I was so bent from sitting in the car that I still couldn’t straighten up. In those days, I did not eat, drink, or even go to the toilet.
When something was blown up at the Zaporizhzhzhia NPP, it suddenly dawned on me that now every place in Ukraine is dangerous. And I am responsible for my children. At that time, airstrikes were happening in Zhytomyr Oblast too, and we again had to run into the basement with children at night. And I realized that I couldn’t do it anymore. The decision to leave Ukraine was a tough one for me. I wept every day, hugged my husband, and I even secretly thought it would be better for a shell to hit us than I ought to go to an unknown place alone with my children and without my husband.
I knew where I was going. Well, almost. My friends lived in Poland. And their friends told them they wanted to help Ukrainians, so they would give their apartment for free. So, on the one hand, it was easy for me because I had somewhere to go. But on the other hand, I didn’t know the living conditions, I didn’t know those people, and I didn’t have money for further life. Also, I have two children, 1 and 5 years.
It turned out the apartment is amazing and comfortable, the people who provided it are simply incredible! I have never received so much care and love from anyone in my life. We still live in this apartment, it is free of charge for now. My dad came here to help me with the children, so I was even able to start working. Social benefits for children are also very helpful.
The most challenging thing was to be completely alone with two of my children, without any chance to have some rest from them, get a job, or just sit in silence. Everything else was normal. I am learning the language with pleasure. I like local products. I’m delighted with public transport, which is comfortable for mothers with strollers. Comfort and safety.
I work for a Polish company that directs workers to different constructions in Europe. Not a romantic and favorite tourism, but I’m just happy to have a job. It is impossible to make any plans now. But I am more positive about selling our property in Ukraine and moving to Poland forever. At the same time, we still pay for our property in Gostomel and proceed with a design project there. No one knows what will happen next. I will be glad to come back to Ukraine when I am sure that it is safe there. But I understand that this definitely will not happen soon.
It seems life does not teach me anything because I dream about my own house again. Even after I lost it in Lysychansk, in Luhansk, and probably in Kyiv. While I vowed not to spend money on material things but to travel more instead. In general, nothing has changed fundamentally. Only panic attacks bother me more often, and I feel a huge necessity for the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist. But that’s all later, maybe someday…
After the victory, Ukraine will be barely alive. However, Ukraine definitely will be reborn. And I am sure, unfortunately, it would take dozens of years. But our children will have a chance to live in a gorgeous, safe Ukraine.
Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.
Why is it important to share this story?
If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.
АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Iryna Kovalenko
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