АвторAuthor: Iryna Semenova | Translation: Mariia Orletska
31 August 2022
Ukrainian Kateryna Kutsevol fled from Vyshhorod, near Kyiv, in the first days of the full-scale war. First to her native Cherkasy, then to Poland, and finally ended up in Germany. Read about the forced adventures of a woman due to the large-scale invasion of Russia on the territory of Ukraine in “Monologues of the War”.
Kateryna Kutsevol’s family found themselves under enemy fire in the very first days of the invasion, because they live in Vyshhorod, a small town near Kyiv, located right on the way of the invaders to the capital. A few days were enough for the woman to be unable to say a word due to stress, even when she was in the circle of the closest people.
The man said: no, he would not attack Ukraine, he would not dare. And here… on 24th of February , I woke up at half past five – I heard explosions. I started reading news on the Internet and realized that this war had started. I woke up my son, called my mother… We were in Vyshhorod at that moment, and my mother was in Cherkasy. I told her that we would get ready as we heard explosions. Mom said that they didn’t have anything in their town. I started cooking sandwiches, woke up my son: “We need to get ready, run away quickly.” I pulled out two alarming suitcases. We didn’t know anything, we started looking in the online chats, it turned out that there was no normal shelter nearby and we took the pillows out into the corridor. Helicopters flew by and it was very loud, as if right under the windows.
I hugged my son tightly. There was a strong feeling of helplessness: they wanted to kill you, but you can’t do anything. The son was 13 years old at that time.
The neighbors ran somewhere: it turned out that they had been sitting in the basement since the morning. My son and I also went down to the basement and waited until two o’clock in the morning for the man to finish his work and come down to us. We took blankets, we didn’t want to eat. We got to know our neighbors, even those whom we had never met before, and it turned out that they are nice people with whom we want to communicate.
We decided to go to our parents in Cherkasy at 6 in the morning. The Zhytomyr highway was already full of people like us, and here the neighbors stopped us and recommended not to go, because they saw Russians around our town. And on the 26th, another neighbor said: now or never. And we went.
We were driving through empty, sunny Kyiv, and it was very scary, because everyone was driving in the other direction. We were going to the center, and all the other way around – from there. The road was empty, so we drove quickly. Outside the city, a tractor was plowing a field, and I felt very comforted, as if someone assured me that everything would be fine.
At the Cherkasy dam, we were again caught by an air raid siren. We had to wait, and we stood for half an hour. And when we arrived in Cherkasy, we didn’t even go up to my parents’ apartment, we immediately went to the shelter and spent the first night in Cherkasy there.
At first, my mother thought that I was offended by something. And I simply could not speak the first day. It was so scary that I sat and was looking at one point.
That week that we lived with my parents, we went to the shelter, but my father did not go. Sometimes he even called us and said “let’s go back”. They were calmer about it. More fatalistic.
The decision to go abroad was almost spontaneous. My friend was driving from Kyiv in her own car and offered to take us with her because she was on her way. I didn’t want to go and was even glad that she had a car full of things and we didn’t get in there.
But my husband insisted that my son and I take the free evacuation train from Cherkasy to Lviv. He took us to the station, turned around and left. Cut down all the bridges. We couldn’t go back. Because of the curfew.
We waited for the evacuation train for about 4 hours. The entire platform was teeming with people with suitcases, cats and dogs. There were very few men, mostly foreigners. There were many children. The Territorial Defence Force passed by and kept repeating that women with children had to go forward, then women without children, and men in the third row. And I thought: “It’s good that my dad is not here, because he is old and not feeling well. And it would be scary if he stood in the third row.” When there was an air raid siren, the dispatcher announced that we should go to shelter, but no one went, because everyone was afraid of missing the train.
The train was closed for a long time, going back and forth, and when it opened, it turned out to be an ordinary suburban train with cold wooden benches. It was reminiscent of the Second World War. People were sad, children were crying, everyone was crowding these benches. And our light was burning until deep night came. We drove for 14 hours.
A woman sat nearby with a cat that cried all night and the children cried too. The train stopped at some stations. It was dark there, the lights were off, and at some stations someone shone a lantern inside the train. And it was thought that bombs could be dropped on us: both when the train was at stations and on the way..
It was very difficult to get out in Lviv, because the entire platform was full of people. We followed the crowd because I didn’t know where to go and just followed people. Next, I ran into a volunteer, and she advised me to get in line for the free bus, it was safer to travel by it. There was still a very long queue for the train, but I understood that it was another 4 hours, or maybe more, and I just couldn’t stand the cold. And the queue for the bus passed quickly.
The volunteer town near the station was very well organized: we were fed hot food, we were allowed to charge our phones, there were both pay toilets and bio-toilets: I was infinitely grateful to the volunteers. But you know, when they brought buckwheat with sausages and said that it was porridge only for women with children, I thought: how good it is that my husband was not with us, because they would not give him porridge… Then the Polish volunteers came and said that there was no need to stand any longer: they would take us to the border.
While we were driving for half an hour to the border, I spoke with Anna, a Pole who lived in Gdansk. When the war started, she could not sit at home and came here to be here all day and take people to the border.
We were taken to Rava Ruska and were met there by Ukrainians who wanted to feed us. It was limitless, to the point of tears, it was nice that our people came and tried to feed us with hot food. And they brought pancakes, and some soups, and persuaded us to eat as we had a very difficult road. But we didn’t want to eat anything… It was very cold on the border, there was strong wind. There were heating stations, but few people entered them, because there was a long line and everyone was afraid to miss it. Then cars arrived with volunteers who were taking people to the checkpoint. We stood for 5 hours until they let us into the territory of Poland.
After that, the Polish border guard came and asked how many children there were. We were joking, why they were counting our children. But, they just brought yogurts and chocolates, it was also very heartwarming.
Then they asked us if there was someone waiting for us or if we were going anywhere. No one was waiting for me, so I was transferred to another bus. There was warmth and soft seats. Because the bus that was standing at the border was full of cargo, cold, but the driver didn’t turn off the engine for 5 hours so that we could somehow warm up.
And already when we were driving through the territory of Poland, my son said: “Can you imagine, there are not and will be no sirens here…” – and it was so strange that we were driving through a peaceful country…
We were put in the school premises. There were mattresses and folding beds. All the time, they announced where the transport was going to different countries and you could decide where you were going. However, the volunteers themselves warned that they cannot verify all the information and do not guarantee that you would not be taken into some kind of slavery…
While I was in this camp for two nights, I wrote a post on Facebook, asked my friends for help, maybe someone could tell me where to go. I was offered Ireland. But there I met a mother who knew volunteers in Germany, and thanks to this acquaintance I ended up there.
We went to Bochum, near the border with Holland, because the volunteers promised that they would settle us there. We were accommodated by two families in one apartment: a German previously lived in it, who moved to live with a neighbor in order to free this apartment for us!
And all this help and support from the Germans is incredibly sincere and heartfelt. I talk to many Ukrainian women here and everyone is impressed with this help. The Germans help us, sympathize and oppose Putin and the Russians who attacked us. I see that there are Russians here, I can hear it when they swear (they are very loud here too), but I have not come across an aggressive attitude here. Instead, I heard a lot about this from other Ukrainian women.
All refugees of working age here are registered in the local Job center (it’s like our employment center). I visit German language courses and while I study, I can find a mini-Job, a job for a couple of hours. A lot of Germans here know English and luckily I know English and that helps me a lot.
I try to look for a job, but I don’t have much time, because most of the day – 6 hours – is taken up by courses. And what remains is spent on various bureaucratic things – getting a letter, translating it, taking it away, and if you don’t know the language, it’s difficult.
The same information must be submitted to different authorities, and this is so strange, because we are used to documentation in electronic form. Ukrainian children were given assistants at school There is also a rule that all children have to go to school.
The son studied online in a Ukrainian school until May, and then applied to a German school. In May, he got a place there: he submitted the documents, passed the interview of the school inspector and just waited for the decision. But it was longer than a month.
Here he studied for the whole of June and the beginning of July. The beginning of classes starts not on the first of September, but on 10th of August. Children have only 1.5 months of vacation. All our children are sent to integration classes: children attend part of the lessons with German children, and for two lessons all children from the 5th to the 11th grade are gathered for German language classes.
It was also very interesting and pleasant that on the very first day, the Ukrainian children were assigned assistants, students from their class, who helped them get used to it.
My son really likes to communicate and loves the team as the two months that he spent at home, his studies were online from 9 to 5 at the computer. Therefore, he is more comfortable at school, he integrates well, but he wants to return to Ukraine, study there and enter the university.
I don’t make any plans. I am trying to understand for myself what this war is for us, and what specific lesson I can learn for myself. And I came to the conclusion that I should enjoy today. I don’t know when the war will end. It hurts me a lot that I cannot return to Ukraine. But I’m trying to get the most out of today.
I talked about it with my husband. We wanted to come on vacation. But a bomb just fell on Lukyanivka, and we live not far away, and I decided not to take my child on vacation to a place where bombs fall and sirens sound all the time. My husband supports me in this, and that is why we are here. Our house in Vyshhorod survived. My husband first lived with my parents and then returned home.
At first, the Germans brought both money and products. Now there is no such thing, but we do receive financial assistance. Those Germans with whom we communicate read the news and do not support the leadership of their country in the fact that they buy gas from Russia and do not give Ukraine money and weapons in the amount that we need. But our Ukrainians, who can work, all work so as not to bother people, not to live in hotels or in families. Although the Germans say that everything is ok, don’t leave.
The volunteer group that we have in Bochum helps a lot, at least informatively and practically. Of course, the activity of volunteers has decreased, but I wouldn’t say that people are tired of the war or of Ukrainians, it’s just that everyone has their own work. We must also be active, we must not wait for help, but also do something.
At the beginning of the war, we gathered as a women’s group of photographers and began to put our photos on the auction. In this way, we managed to earn money and send it to those who need it in these difficult times. We reported on our fees and expenses on Facebook. I was lucky to get into this team. Now we have suspended this work for a certain time because we had to deal with domestic issues, but I think we will resume it.
I am also very grateful to the volunteers who collect money, and I can transfer some funds to them. You see, when the Germans came and gave us money, it was so unusual. Because we are used to making money. And later there was a situation when they collected money for a lady whose house was bombed, she was left without a home and without a son. And I was very grateful to this lady for what she took. Because I also accepted help, although sometimes it was a shame to take it.
I go to protests, I help translate into English – I go with our Ukrainians to the store, to the doctor, although I myself need the help of a translator, because only English is not enough here.
We share clothes, things, meet, listen to each other, support and help each other. Because we miss home, no one planned to move and live like this. It is psychologically difficult when you have been ripped out like that – with the roots…
All losses change us. The war has already changed the attitude of all of us towards our homeland. When looking and comparing from a distance, almost all Ukrainian women, when they saw Europe as it really is, realized that Ukraine is the best country in Europe.
I think we will all love our home more after these events. Because this respect appeared and continues to grow when we look at our volunteers, the military. And because of this, we will build a better country for our children and value our independence more. I think that this respect for one’s own people should bring Ukraine to a higher cultural and later economic level.
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: Iryna Semenova | Translation: Mariia Orletska