АвторAuthor: Olena Romanenko | Translation: Nataliia Zadorozhna
30 August 2022
Alina Vysotska is not just a woman with cerebral palsy, but also a director, poet and an experienced volunteer. She stayed in Kyiv for a month waiting for the end of the war, but was forced to leave. She told the “Monologues of the war” how she managed to escape from the war zone.
“On February 23, a friend from Kharkiv, who moved to New York a long time ago, called me and said that in America everyone is talking about the invasion of russia. She asked me how we are doing and how possible it is, according to my predictions.
We discussed this situation for a long time and due to the big time difference, I practically did not get a wink of sleep until the morning of February 24.
As soon as I fell asleep, I was woken up by a phone call, my daughter asked: Mom, are you alive? The war has started! Then a friend called me and told me to come to her place so I wouldn’t be alone. She had a salon, and a bathhouse in the basement. The first three days, which were the most difficult, she took me to this basement – bathhouse. On the fourth day, it became completely unbearable, sitting in a bunker without windows, constantly reading the news and doing nothing.
So, I decided to go back home. I lived in Kyiv, on the left bank of the river, on the first floor of a 12-storey building in an apartment with an extension that practically does not let in any sunlight.
I was met at the entrance by the residents of my house with children, who told me that for four days they had been constantly going down to the basement, where it was very damp, cold and dark. I invited them to come to my tambour so as not to injure the children.
Every day there were more and more children, so I decided to entertain them somehow. I also have a cellar in my apartment. We played detectives and pirates, rehearsed how to go down into dungeons and looked for treasure. The scariest thing was seeing the stress the children were under and not being able to help in any way.I was doing everything I could to somehow help them.
We lived this way until March 7, everyone hoped that the war would end soon. But then the neighbors started leaving with their children and I got scared.
My daughter, together with her children, lives in Obukhiv. Every day she sent me pictures of children hiding in the bathroom during air raids. On the night of March 7, I felt strong tremors from explosions that were not far away and decided that I had to leave the city. I was very scared and hid with my head under the blanket, hoping that they wouldn’t catch me that way. I didn’t act like that even when I was a child, but at that time I was completely defenseless.
I have been walking with a cane for many years, and I also have many concomitant diseases that often require emergency care. In the morning, a friend from America called me and said: “Alia, why are you sitting? Whoever comes there to defend or attack us, you will not escape far with your health. You create a lot of problems yourself.”
I realized that when I had another heart attack and the ambulance couldn’t get there. Neighbors saved me and then during the whole week they came to help me and asked about my condition. I understood that people are already having a hard time, and I decided not to add more anxiety by my presence.
I called my daughter and told her that we had to go. She answered me and said that she would follow me. However, back then she deceived me and was not going to leave the country, because she was very attached to her husband and children without a father refused to go anywhere. She simply wanted me to go to a safe place. Today, they still live in the Sumy region.
I decided to leave, but I had no idea where. But then I got a call from a friend from the organization “Inclusive practice”, which engaged in transporting families with children with disabilities from Ukraine to Georgia. I asked her if it would be possible to help me leave the country under their program.
A friend from Lviv found people from the Pinchuk Foundation who were involved in evacuating people with disabilities to western Ukraine. They found a car in which they took me to Lviv and a place to stay for a couple of days so that I could rest. We drove for a day and left on March 8.
At the checkpoints, the men from the territorial defense forces gave white tulips to all the women in honor of the International Women’s Day. It was very symbolic and tragic, as we were leaving and saying goodbye to Kyiv. Since it was only possible to get to Georgia by plane through Poland, I had to cross the border.
Thousands of people stood at the border. No photo will convey their feelings, helplessness, panic, fear of the unknown, that they felt at that moment. Since I lean on a cane, I always have to have one hand free, so all my things were packed into one small backpack. I was wearing a light jacket and a scarf that had been given to me in Lviv, and nothing else. Who would have thought that when you are going to leave your hometown under shelling, you can put all your valuable things in one small backpack: a photo of your daughter with grandchildren, a folder with documents, your favorite cup and a drawing.
I stood for several hours in line at the border in the bitter cold. Then I ended up in Poland, where I was informed that there would be no buses to Krakow today, and was welcomed to the distribution point.
There were huge tents with heat generators everywhere, volunteers cooked hot soups, served sandwiches, brewed tea and coffee to keep people warm. We charged our phones in the toilets. I spent 8 hours there and will never forget this day.
I received a call from old friends, with whom I shot the film, and offered to take me to Krakow and then to the airport. The way was very long, it took more than 6 hours. I couldn’t warm up all the way after crossing the border.
We landed in Kutaisi on March 12. The members of the “Inclusive practice” organization welcomed us, gave us food and helped to settle down. Local residents said that Georgians have not seen such cold weather as in March 2022 for over 40 years! Even nature rebelled!
For the first month of living in Georgia, we were freezing outside, warming up inside with the care and attention of people from the organization. I slept in my clothes for the whole month, because I was waiting for the air raid alarm. I was getting used to the silence and safe life very slowly. Georgians helped without interfering. No one asked unnecessary questions, they took care of our feelings, treated us and pleased us as much as they could.
We lived in a three-story building, similar to a hotel, there were many children with various diagnoses: cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, etc. For mothers with such children, Georgians have organized exciting leisure activities to keep them interested: various musical events, excursions, a dolphinarium, banana groves, the sea, simulators, and animation. I volunteered to prepare a national Ukrainian dish and treat everyone every Saturday.
There are a lot of kind people in Georgia. Volunteer centers, support services — all this has nothing to do with the government, it works on the enthusiasm of local residents. For Georgians, children are everything. If you have a child, you must love it! And children with disabilities are normal here, there are many of them here, they are everywhere, no one is ashamed of them, they are not limited in anything, parents do not leave the family if a child with disabilities is born.
We lived in that part of Georgia where it was unnecessary to explain who the aggressor was and why we were here. Everyone understood everything. Once, during an excursion to the waterfall, we passed a small wine shop. The owner asked where our company is from, we all answered together that we are from Ukraine! He invited us all to his place and treated us with honey, wine, khachapuri and supported us in every way. It was so nice to the point of tears. The program, according to which we were provided with housing and food, lasted from March to July 2022.
No matter how many things there are for a good vacation: the sea, mountains, people, but after that you always knew that you could return home. I understood from the very beginning that I was not at a resort.
I am very grateful to Georgia and all the people for everything they have done for me and for all of us. I arrived in a completely anxious state, but there I started to walk better and feel better.
I decided to go because I want to help my country. There is more I can do. I am not returning to Kyiv, I am going to the Lviv region, to the center for displaced people, which is managed by my friend. I will be able to help in the kitchen, I will be able to help people with documents, I will be able to support and be helpful. I want to be useful, otherwise I will not survive. I have many creative projects in my head, I want to organize and implement them in a calm environment.
I believe that this war, this whole situation was given to us, Ukrainians, to understand and accept our identity, to decide whose side we are on and who we are. We had to rethink a lot and very dramatically, starting with where your home is and what you are willing to do for your freedom. And we will definitely win.
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: Olena Romanenko | Translation: Nataliia Zadorozhna