АвторAuthor: Iryna Semenova | Translation: Violeta Shenkariuk
6 August 2022
Halyna Halimonyk at the beginning of the war was in Odessa. Sensitive and emotional, she foresaw trouble in advance and acutely perceived the indifference of most people and authorities. I didn’t plan to leave, but the children… I had to. They were welcomed abroad, but they are just guests there. Why is it comfortable in safe Poland, but still yearns for home and why is the thought of returning to the south of Ukraine not pleasing? The journalist shared everything and even more with “Monologues of the War”.
Halyna says that before the start of the war, she could not sleep normally – so seriously she took the news about the start of the war. I understood that there will be no barbecues for the May holidays. In the early days, I was engaged in those things that the government had to organize: organization of the volunteer movement, collection of donations, and provision of food, medicine, and fuel.
I understand that the Odesa region will be definitely affected. Because this is the Black Sea, some kind of story that russia made up for itself. There was a premonition of tragedy.
When the war started, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t rest. 24/7 the brain was on. I compared my well-being with the well-being of other people and realized that I flew off the handle at my relatives, children, and others, I was unproductive, and I could not do anything normally. I had thrown away the media and started volunteering. All our agreements on the site were terminated with the beginning of the war. No money was spent on advertising or information services, and it was not known whether we would be able to support the media, pay salaries to people, or support our families. It was a tangle of questions in my head, the answers to which I did not know.
The final straw was that I went to a Defence Staff meeting and we had a conflict over the city’s lack of shelters to hide in during air raids. And I was angry with myself for not finding arguments, instead, they told me that I was hysterical and that I was aggravating the situation, scaring people. We republished intelligence. How to prepare an alarming suitcase. And there were a lot of comments that we are the yellow press, scaring people, irresponsible journalists who spread panic. It was very insulting, you have been working for 15 years, but you have not gained the trust and people do not take your words seriously. But, actually, we tried to figure it out ourselves. Many people, thanks to us, turned out to be more prepared than we prepared our own families. It turned out that I thought about everyone, and took care of them, but not about my family, which I should have taken care of in the first place.
All these situations in the complex became the reason why I returned home, packed my backpack, and decided to take care of at least my children. I didn’t put anything I should have. One tracksuit and one on me. First, I folded a big bag. Then I threw everything out of it and left a tracksuit, a sweater, toothpaste, and a brush. And I didn’t put anything else. Because I only planned to send the children to a safe place. I put together a little more things for the children, some underwear. And went to Lviv.
I have a friend living there, in Lviv, who was ready to accept me. It was impossible to buy tickets, it was the beginning of March, and we were traveling on this evacuation train. 15 people in one compartment. People were aggressive and scared. The wave swept us into a compartment with women from Odessa who said that it was western Ukraine that was to blame (even though they were going to hide there) and that they were going to Hungary because it was more sympathetic to the “russiаn peace”.
And I thought that it was precisely because of such people and their statements that all this was happening. The Last Judgment was this evacuation train, complete nervousness.
My friend is from Kharkiv, but has lived in Lviv for many years. And her two-room apartment became a transfer point for people traveling from Saltivka. There were up to 20 people there. It was a “glove”, this evacuation apartment. 200 people moved from Kharkiv through this apartment. What Kharkiv residents were telling us, we have just now seen in Odesa, when rockets are fired from morning to night, when there is no logic, when entire residential blocks are destroyed.
I was thinking of just taking the children out, not staying alone. But my friend Anastasia offered the number of her psychologist Marta Chumailo: “because you have a very bad psychological state.” Stasya kicked everyone out of the room, left me with the phone, and I talked to Marta for two hours, talking about all my emotional “swings”. I am an emotional person by nature and imagine a lot in advance, hyperbolize. And Marta told me a lot of smart things: “You are responsible for your children. Are they old enough to be left alone? Take a break, and then you will make a decision.”
A friend found a man who drove us to the border, where another friend was waiting. Social contacts are cool, because we waited even in the USA. As it is said, do good deeds, they will come back to you multiplied. We had a large selection of countries. I chose Poland because it is close to Ukraine. If I went to the USA or Great Britain, I would have to completely cut off the roots. Here is a language I understand well, and many people I know well.
Secondly, I would not be able to quickly return to Ukraine from some distant country, and in Poland there were personal contacts and people with whom I could leave my children. We arrived in a city called Gliwice, this is Silesia. I came here for the first time abroad six years ago. My friend from Mykolaiv lives here, we lived with her for a week and a half. I was looking for a house to rent, I had funds (I saved money for repairs, but I didn’t spend it, because I knew there could be a war), and this gave me the opportunity to live for a while. In the nearby city of Katowice, there is an editorial office of the newspaper “Wyborcza“, which was introduced to me 6 years ago and we became friends.. The editor showed empathy for me and offered me a job. I write about Ukrainians, the life of refugees, people’s adaptation, the situation in Ukraine. Once a month we agree on topics.
My move to Poland is a story about how important it is to have many strong social contacts. First of all, this is my colleague from the newspaper “Wyborcza“, Dariush Kortko. He did an incredible amount to make me feel good here. Because Ukrainians have a hard time with everything – renting housing, no one wants to rent for 2-3 months, they don’t really want those with children. They helped me as much as possible, they even connected the local priest to find a place to live. I only wanted to rent, not live with strangers. They also helped with all household items. I already have many Polish friends here – they invite me to Polish holidays and various cultural events. For most refugees, it is difficult to integrate because they do not know the language, first of all. Life in Poland is not as easy as many people think.
Here I write a lot about Ukrainians. Refugees are forced to change professions, because without knowing the language you can only apply for low-skilled work: cleaning the floor, removing construction waste, working in shifts at a factory. And then you need to know the language at least at a basic level. . As for me, I can combine work here and in my own media. I moved to a rented apartment and calmed down a bit. There are no sirens here, and people who are constantly pressuring you. We reformatted the main grant application: it was about ecology, but we made it about war. In addition, we received several more grants.
The children went to school, it is difficult for them, in Ukraine they studied well, here it is worse, because the language barrier has an effect. The niece was almost an excellent student, and in Poland she got much worse grades. When we arrived in March, the children studied remotely for a month until we decided where we would live. April, May, June – in 3 months, they have high scores only in French, because Polish children have only just started it. And with other subjects it is much more difficult due to the language barrier. But it was easy for them to communicate with children. The teachers were all very friendly and treated the children well. The children said that the atmosphere was very comfortable. When the parents were called to the school, I thought that something had happened, that they would complain about the children, and the teachers asked if we were all right, if there were no financial problems, because the children did not apply for food, and Ukrainian children have the opportunity to eat for free. But we live 5 minutes from the school, so the children took lunch boxes with them. Actually, they still need to be forced to eat, so they decided that there is no need to waste Polish products.
The children travel a lot with the class: during these months they went to Warsaw, they went on small excursions a lot, to parks, to go kayaking. Teachers bring the class together through activity. Physical education is very different. 4 days a week and as for special forces – they crawl, jump, climb ropes, and do a lot of activities – tennis, volleyball, handball. Each lesson is very busy. At first, the daughter turned her nose up, and the teacher threatened her with non-certification. So she came squeezed out like a lemon, but passed in 2 weeks everything she had to pass in 2 months.
Homework is not assigned here. But if you want good grades, you have to think about what you didn’t learn in class. There is no paper diary, but there is an electronic one, grades are sent, and threats are sent: where there are bad grades or something is not submitted. And this threat, highlighted in yellow, remains and disappears only after a few weeks, when good grades appear. A lot of additional free classes in pottery and theater arts. The school communicates with you, even if you don’t go to parent meetings, and you are aware of everything that is happening.
Life is the only, but significant difference. Everything is closed on Sunday, you can’t buy anything, you have to rest and so do the sellers. On weekdays, the day starts very early and ends early. A city of 160,000 people stops at 9 o’clock in the evening. At four o’clock in the evening, mostly all families are at home. A very significant difference, because in Odesa at nine o’clock life just begins.
There are no stray animals – neither dogs, nor cats. Everyone loves animals, but renting an apartment with an animal is impossible.
Actually, Poland has both pluses and minuses. For example, many things are better organized in our country – electronic systems, banking services, issues of communication with the authorities. Everything is happening very slowly here, documents are being prepared slowly. This rhythm of life is very much reflected in the Polish word “slowly”.
Everything is ambiguous with medical care. I know a story when a woman’s hand became swollen, she pulled a ligament. She had to wait several days to see a doctor. She was told to go for an X-ray – it was a few weeks, and then she had to go back to the doctor. Via video, the Ukrainian doctor gave her a diagnosis, prescribed an ointment that was sent from Ukraine, and the hand has already healed, but the time for an X-ray still hasn’t come.
Another case. A girl from Kharkiv, 26 years old, came, got sick at night, and was taken by ambulance. It turned out to be rectal cancer. She was examined, the disease was discovered, and chemotherapy was done free of charge. She says that if she were in Ukraine, she would have already sold the apartment, but here she receives free treatment.
That is, in medicine, some things are better developed in our country, and some – in Poland
Here, for example, there is no database of doctors, no forums. You can’t just go to the website and choose a doctor. This is how the Polish protect their privacy. I know a case when a Polish nurse made this list by hand for a woman, because she understood her situation.
Products and clothes are cheaper in Poland, so are household items, and services are cosmically expensive.
How have I changed in 5 months? I started thinking more about myself, started visiting a psychologist, focused more on important things and stopped thinking about others. I do what I can – and I don’t break my heart.
I recently went home on business. What did I notice upon returning to Ukraine? People became very aggressive. If some powerful system of psychological assistance is not activated, then we will bite and kill each other. I also became intolerant of things that I could tolerate before. For example, I wrote a statement against a local resident who clearly has an attachment to the “russiаn peace“, who threatened me about moving to Poland, and posted my photo. I wrote a statement and managed to get this statement accepted (for this I had to connect the union for the protection of journalists and the prosecutor’s office). A criminal case was opened. Before, I would try to somehow understand it, look for arguments, explanations. Now I have zero tolerance for potential collaborators.
Those who lived abroad appreciated Ukraine very much, but at the same time, they saw what civilized life is like. Many have stopped tolerating corruption. But many did not change from those who had pro-russian views. Odesa region is an open wound. When I return to Ukraine, most likely, I want to live in a more comfortable environment for myself. In which for the majority the value is the same as for me: Ukrainian Ukraine, without any compromises with the russian peace.
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: Violeta Shenkariuk