АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Anna Shliakhova
29 August 2022
Mariia Blakytna is a Jewish, who was born and raised in Odesa. She decided to flee the country to save her children’s lives after a missile hit an apartment building in Kyiv. Thanks to Jewish organizations, the woman left for Israel where she arranged her life “from the scratch”. She furnished an empty apartment, arranged a home-office, found a school and sports sections for children. She made everything possible to have the same schedule abroad as at home. She talked about evacuation and her life abroad in “Monologues of War”.
My name is Mariia. I am Jewish and was born in Odesa as well as my mother, grandmother and great grandmother did. I have two children. I work as a beautician. I am a make-up and eyebrow threading master. For 3 years I worked in a beauty salon. I had worked with photographers and videographers before.
I didn’t have any premonition of a full-scale war. We often discussed the possibility of it at work, but I didn’t believe in it until I heard explosions at 4 a.m. on February, 24. I worked on February 23. Filming was planned at 10 p.m. Due to technical problems, it was delayed and ended at 1 a.m. I was at home at 2 a.m. So I saw a live streaming of a speech given by fucken putin about the beginning of “the special operation”. Later I read the news that an emergency rule was imposed. And at 4 a.m. we heard explosions.
We weren’t ready for the war, because we didn’t think it would happen. Of course, we panicked. We ran shopping for food. The streets were empty, all the people were in stores. All the people I met looked confused. There were women in tears and men who didn’t know what to do. I lost my nerve on February 16 after a missile hit an apartment building in Kyiv. I realized that I couldn’t risk the lives of my children. From the first day, friends called me and asked me to flee. I graduated from a Jewish school; and 2 of my friends have been living in Israel for many years. They gave me contacts of the organization named “Hesed”. People from Odesa were evacuated by buses. When I called them, they didn’t know the exact date of the departure. Then they called me at 7 p.m. and said that I had to be at the railway station at 7 a.m.
Thanks to the Jewish organization, I left Odesa on February 27. I had 2 children and 3 backpacks with me. I didn’t have a suitcase or a big bag with me because I didn’t know how long it would take. I didn’t know how long it would take to cross the border. I didn’t know if my children could walk or I would have carried them. I wasn’t even sure if we would still be alive. I know I couldn’t take a lot of things. So, I took just lingerie, a few pairs of pants and T-shirts. The running shoes I wore were my only footwear. Children wore winter shoes and had a pair of shoes each. Farewell was the hardest part of it all. Saving our children was the only motivation for me, because they couldn’t decide for themselves. We talked with children trying to explain everything to them. But I will never forgive the russians that we had to say goodbye to my husband and the father of my children, all this touching palms through the glass.
I often joke about our “luxury-fleeing”, because everything was fine for us along the way. The bus took us to the border with Moldova, literally to the barrier. We crossed the border by foot. There already were a lot of cars, and queues lasted for 10-12 hours. Some people walked by foot, but not many.
We crossed the border in an hour and a half. That was pretty fast. All the time there tears were in my eyes. We realized that it was the war, but we didn’t know what to expect. But the volunteers on both sides of the border moved everyone’s heart. They offered food and drinks to everybody and gave sweets to kids. It was non-stop, the never-ending story. If I was afraid to leave children on their own in the queue, the volunteers brought me tea right there. After crossing the border, the volunteers gave us sim-cards and offered transfers. These volunteers were men and women in cars who offered us accommodation for free. The apotheosis of this activity was a large cauldron with hot stuffed cabbage. Being a woman, I knew exactly how much time it took. It touched my heart and I couldn’t help crying. I couldn’t understand how they organized all this in a few days. Someone was on the border all the time.
The representatives of the Jewish organization “Joint” met us later. We went by bus to Chisinau. Due to issues with documents, we had to take another bus to cross the border with Romania. So, we made a stop, changed the bus and went to Bucharest. We left Odesa at 7 a.m. on February 27 and we were already in Bucharest at 5 a.m. the next day. We left early enough so we haven’t ever heard air-raid signals in Odesa. An alert was a few days later. We heard explosions, but they were far enough from our home.
They found a hotel for us in Bucharest. Our bus was the second one from Odesa. The Jewish organizations helped people from all over Ukraine. I met people from Kharkiv, Mykolaiiv, Kruvuj Rih and other cities who had already spent a week in a cellar. They even looked different, because their experience was different. There were not so many representatives of that organization, though we helped with drug delivery and did other support. We spent 2 weeks in Bucharest waiting for consular processing before we could leave for Israel.
I have friends in Israel. My father also lives here. I was able to make all the official documents. I had no problems with it. But I did have housing problems, because it was the great alia. Alia is a mass repatriation. And it was the next wave of alia. Of course, rental prices have gone up. In general, housing marketing here is different. We had been looking for an apartment for about a month, and all that time we lived with our friends Oleh and Julia, who did a favor for us. I joked: “I desperately want to leave you before we won’t be friends anymore”. Of course, they understood everything and helped us a lot. Israel has been under military rule since 1948. But even they were shocked by the cruelty of the war in Ukraine. My grandmother was a child of war. Her mother, her sister and she were evacuated to Kazakhstan in 1941. Listening to her story, I could never imagine I would have the same experience. I’ve never thought that my children and I would be forced to leave the house of my grandmother. In Israel apartments for rent are empty. There is nothing at all. There is no bed, no table, no chairs, not even an oven or washing machine. There are plain walls, a floor and a ceiling. But in a week I had all the furniture I needed! I bought part of it and others were given to us. About 70% of our furniture was given to us for free.
Being in Israel isn’t scary for me anymore. I’ve visited my friends here for 4 years in a row. One of my friends is in Belgium now. It’s difficult for her to live abroad. Going outside, she walks through strange streets, passes strange houses and sees strange people and no familiar faces. Mainly, women with kids left our country, but Ukrainian women are monsters! We aren’t afraid of working hard and sorting out problems. It was important for me to arrange everything as it was at home really fast. I knew I needed my things, but I had to leave them behind, because I took only three bags with lingerie and socks.
Beauty masters from Ukraine are very popular in Israel, because they have much better skills. Here everything is different. Clients like masters who were trained and worked in Ukraine. I went to IKEA and bought a small table, a mirror, a lamp, a bar-chair and arranged my working place at home. About 70% of masters work from home here. So it wasn’t a problem for me to work at home and not in a beauty salon as I used to. I have two children and they need my attention. So I’ve organized my work so I have enough time for them. Children go to school. They used to go to Jewish school in Ukraine. Many of the teachers were Jewish, who lived and worked in Odesa for many years. They also fled. I hadn’t even found an apartment yet, when they called me and insisted that I had to find a school for my children. They found a good school, where my children studied from April till June. We have plans to continue schooling here this year, because it appears that this war will not end quickly. But we believe that Ukraine will win, I do not even allow thoughts about other options. I didn’t really pay attention to Hebrew lessons in school, because I could have thought I would ever need it in Odesa. There is a word “savlanut” in Hebrew. It means patience. They say it should be the first to learn, because everything takes patience. It’s not the easy way, but it had to be done. It was really important for me to make my children feel comfortable trying to keep their schedule the same as they were at home. It’s really important for me that they can brush their teeth, dress themselves up and go to school in the morning.
My son played soccer professionally in Odesa. So, finding a soccer club for him was the most important issue to me. I was concerned not about a place to live for us, or a school for my children, or food, but about a football club! We live in Petah Tikva in the Central District of Israel near Tel Aviv. There is a local football club called “Maccabi Petah Tikva” and my son trains there now. I told them that we’re from Odesa and my son was a player of “Chernomorets”, and the coach heard about the club. We didn’t take a ball with us, but my son desperately wanted to play, though he made a ball out of his socks. He had only two pairs, but all the children played with my son’s “ball”.
In general, my core values are still the same, because the main one is life itself. The life of any human except russians, of course. So, I was glad to donate to Bayraktars. When I know the russists burn, I even sleep better. Now every Ukrainian has only one dream, and it is about our victory. First few weeks I desperately wanted home. Then I got accustomed to it, but I put a lot of effort into making the place homely. And it becomes home, if you put your bed, your table and your chair there, if you finally have a favorite cup there. It’s difficult to live without the feeling of home. I did my best trying to feel like home here. In Israel it was easier for me as for Jewish. It’s a familiar country and a familiar language. I know the streets I walk through and I see familiar faces. I think it’s a little bit easier for me than for other people. The first month I felt shame for my fleeing, but I reassured myself with a thought that children are the future of Ukraine and I had to save their lives.
Now it’s relatively quiet in Odesa. My brother, my husband and his parents are there. It seems to me that the calmness is just a bubble. Seeing pictures from Bucha, Irpin, Severodonetsk, Mariupol, I feel like half of Odesa was destroyed. It’s not like somewhere there in some city. It’s in Mariupol with a population of a half of a million. Odesa has a million of citizens. I feel like they have destroyed half of my native city. I don’t feel like it’s something distant. I feel like they’ve come to my home and have knocked on my door…
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: Anna Shliakhova