• uk
  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Mariya Kamenska

    «Do not worry, everything is OK»: the message from her mother became the most terrifying memory for the Ukrainian writer living in Poland

    Ukrainians abroad

    АвторAuthor: Iryna Semenova | Translation:

    27 August 2022

    The writer Mariya Kamenska lives in Poland, in the city of Gdynia. For her, a full-scale war also began on February 24 with her mother’s text message. This message is still the most terrible memory of the war for her. The woman told  the “Monologues of the War” project about her mother’s evacuation from Gostomel, her worries and fears, as well as her own charitable exhibitions in support of Ukraine.

    Maria has been living in Poland for 7 years. She is engaged in creativity: writes prose and paintings. At first glance, a full-scale invasion of Russia into Ukraine should not affect it too much. But her mother lives in a village near Kyiv. On the morning of February 24, mum woke up her daughter with a text message.

    I woke up at six. I really wanted to go at dawn. I haven’t been to the beach for a long time since the morning. I woke up from a notification on the phone, which I put under my pillow (so as not to miss the dawn alarm) and read my mother’s message: “Don’t worry, we’re fine.” For me it meant only one thing, that the war had begun.  I immediately got into the news feed. The headlines and pictures from the BBC website are still in front of my eyes. And for some reason, that moment is the most terrible moment of the war. After all, what we talked about in December, what we were afraid of, has begun. But we still naively hoped to avoid it. I immediately got out of bed and started calling my mother. I saw the dawn already from the window, with the phone in my hands.

    My mother had a plan, just to sit out the war in the village with her friends who were to come from the left bank of Kyiv. The whole first day was in communication. It seemed to be endless. 10 hours of traffic jams and mom’s friends finally reached her house. Mom’s romantic notions of the war, in which they sit quietly at home, minding their own business, probably inspired by some scenes from «Gone with the Wind». These notions were shattered on the very first evening. The village where my mother lives is located near Gostomel, where the sounds of explosions and battles continued throughout the day. This was enough for my mother to make a decision and get into the car with her friends in the morning and drive to the side of Poland. The journey took 5 days.

    Mother has already returned to Kyiv

    Since then, she has stayed in Warsaw all the time. Also she went to Basel (Switzerland) for a few weeks to meet with my sister. However, she returned home already on May 20. Of course, I convinced her to stay in Poland. However, my mother had such arguments that could not be defeated: “If I stay here a little longer, I will not return at all. The connection to everything I have is diminishing. I’m getting used to living here. I stayed for two and a half months. That’s enough. It’s too long. Someone didn’t leave at all. Why should I stay then?»

    I went from Gdynia to visit her in Warsaw, to bring gifts for her and the dog (I always give him new toys). I probably asked her “Are you sure you’re going?” 150 times. And all 150 times she replied “Yes, I’m going home.” I was already getting into a taxi to go back to Gdynia, and I still asked “Maybe you will stay, maybe you will change your mind?” But her calm state also inspired me with confidence , that she is an adult, she knows what she is doing. She is going home.

    Several days “in the cave”

    In the first days, all I was doing was scrolling through the news feed and writing to everyone such as «How are you?». I closed myself in another room, my creative workshop, and almost did not come out. Now it was not a workshop, but a lonely cave. I wanted to hide from the world. I could not even be with my husband. Frozen and petrified. One of the first I wrote was a creative friend from Kharkiv. On this day, she had to go to the printing house in order to start realizing her dream – to publish a collection of poems. And I was constantly calling my mother and sister. While my mother was on the road, I couldn’t find a place for myself. “Masha, check if there are tanks on that track,” came a request from my mother. Later it became known that just a few hours after they had passed, tanks appeared on that road.

    Read also: “Instead of a flourishing, always full of life city, I drove through the catacombs,” a military servicewoman from Mariupol told how she survived in a surrounded city

    The first week, I kept in touch with my relatives in Russia, but then I simply couldn’t. One day, at the beginning of March, I stopped communicating with them. My aunt from the Rostov region started writing opposition articles a few years ago. But I could not forgive what happened back in 2014. At that time, they walked around with St. George ribbons and did not understand the Maidan at all.

    I painted Archangel Michael to protect Kyiv

    I couldn’t do anything for a long time. From what was familiar and favorite for me. I couldn’t do anything creative. But one day, when there was a high risk that the invaders would enter Kyiv, I wanted to draw Archangel Michael. I sat both day and night, saying prayers. I couldn’t write at all. Except for simple reflection posts on Facebook. But after Archangel Michael, painting went well. My Ukrainian Goddesses appeared. There are Tara, Saraswati, later Lakshmi and Durga. Symbolism of Hinduism combined with Ukrainian. This is how the idea of organizing a charity exhibition-sale of my works (paintings and photographs) in Gdynia was born. It turned out that this had not been done here before. So I was the first. It was strange and difficult, almost without support, media or whatever, but I managed. Then I organized one more.

    Returning to writing turned out to be much more difficult. Before the war, I used to write every day. There were periods when a new story, a new narrative was born in a day. And so many days in a row. During the 5 months of the war, I wrote only a few new texts (by texts I mean only fiction ones. Of course, there are more posts on Facebook) and a couple of poems. However, I found my way to continue. Fortunately, I had started a story back in the fall with a written plot and characters. So I decided that I would work on it. Edit, change and add. It is much easier for me. I can come up with dialogue or new scenes when there is already a clear line.

    In volunteering, it is important to find yourself

    Like most, having moved away from the horror of the first few days, I was engaged in volunteering. The most emotionally difficult part was answering the requests of familiar and unfamiliar people. Sometimes there were dozens of requests for help online from the very morning. Like «a boy in Lublin, he urgently needs to be taken to the hospital, he has cancer.» In such cases, I gave up. Yes, I live in Poland and I don’t know anyone from Lublin. Then I wrote to my friends in Krakow, maybe they have friends in Lublin or maybe they know something about the hospitals or foundations that help with this. I was looking for publications where it was written about hospitals or medical care for Ukrainians in Poland.

    Sometimes it worked. They are looking for medicine, and I just read a post about their delivery. They want to leave Vinnytsia and at the same time I saw the contacts of the person who is taking them out. But there were times when I couldn’t find an answer. It also happened that while helping one, I forgot about the other. It was exhausting. After all, it seemed that I was helpless. There were requests like snow in January and I was alone. But when it was possible to close at least one, even the smallest request, it gave inspiration and strength. At least one person got his answer.

    Once I even went to the dissection of a humanitarian woman. To switch from mental to physical work. But I realized that I can do something else. Then I organized a charity exhibition and sent 500 euros to the «Come Back Alive» fund, which I collected in a few days by selling photos and watercolors with Gods.

    Ukrainian women in paintings

    Ukrainian women in paintings in the Ukrainian Svitlytsia in Gdynia

    In addition to being a source of financial aid, exhibitions were also a space for communication. The second exhibition was visited by many Ukrainians whom I knew before the war and who ended up in Poland precisely because of it. My watercolor teacher from Kyiv, my reader, whom we met in October at the presentation of my book, and people I met at my first job in Poland. 

    Master classes as therapy for compatriots

    The war prompted me to go to work, to my first job in Poland. I have a very active friend, it was with her that we sorted humanitarian help. In March she got a job at the Gdynia Museum. Svitlytsia was opened there for Ukrainians. In Poland, «Svitlytsia» is something like the hours of an extended day at school. After classes, children go to Svitlytsia to do lessons there or to be creative. In the end, Svitlytsia turned out to be something much bigger for Ukrainians. Like a space for free creativity and communication in Ukrainian.

    Ira once said: “Imagine, I wanted to volunteer. But I even get paid for engaging in creativity.” I nodded with the thought that it was not bad. One morning I thought mentally, if I am offered creative work, I will accept it. And after lunch, I came to see how Ira was doing in Svitlytsia. Ira reported that she had an interview for another job and asked: “If I leave, will you agree to replace me here?” Of course, I made an agreement with the Universe.

    By the time I started working, conditions had changed somewhat. At the beginning, there were many centers in Poland where mothers and children lived. Social organizations brought children from these centers to classes in Svitlytsia. But later people were resettled and the cells were disbanded. No one else brought children. So they had to be looked for. And at the same time, it was necessary to invent and hold new interesting master classes.

    I posted a publication about Svitlytsia in the group “Ukrainians in Gdynia”. Several families came from the group at once. Then more and more. On record days, 30 to 40 people visited Svitlytsia. There were 5-7 families who came constantly every working day of Svitlytsia. Both mothers and children created. There are also those who came from other cities. There is a family from Gdańsk that exclusively attends drawing workshops. Three times I involved teachers from Ukraine in painting master classes. Even my watercolor teacher and an artist from Odessa came.

    Master class on drawing

    Drawing master class in Svitlytsia

    The number of visitors increased greatly from May to July, which surprised my colleagues. One of them once asked: “What are you doing when you have so many people?”. I honestly admitted that I don’t know.

    As for master classes, you never know what will «turn out”. Once I was offered to make paper garlands. I thought to myself, what a fool, it will be like that. But what masterpieces our talented people have created! And once we wove with our fingers from thick laces. It was also liked by many. However, painting and clay modeling classes are still the most popular on request.

    T-shirt with the heart of Ukraine

    With Ukraine in the heart

    In general, whatever you suggest, our people will create miracles. Ukrainians are very talented. And my colleagues are also shocked by this. Almost every time, the management visits us, looks at what we are doing and leaves with delight. They are wondering how we can make a peony of incredible beauty from corrugated paper.

    In addition to creativity, communication is important to people. Many children have found good friends in Svitlytsia. Now they celebrate birthdays and go to the beach together. Even those who have already left, fondly remember our Svitlytsia and its friendly home atmosphere. Because of which the majority come again and again.

    80% of the refugees will return to Ukraine

    In my opinion, 80 percent of Ukrainians will return to Ukraine. Only those who were lucky enough to get to Poland with their husbands are ready to stay. So there is a woman with two children, whose husband was at sea when the war started. And they met with him already in Gdynia. She says: «My children never heard any alarms and my husband was on a flight. I’m not sure I’ll be so lucky again. I’m not ready to go back yet». Others are waiting to go home. They miss their husbands and children miss their parents. You can often hear children talking about daddies. In the first week of August, several families left. They will be sorely missed. Although it is clear that Svitlytsia is something temporary, I am attached to each person with my heart and soul, I worry about them and wish only the best.

    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:

    Ukrainians abroad

      Розкажи свою історію

      Ваша історія — особлива. Нехай світ її почує!

        Tell your story

        Your story is special. Let the world hear her!