АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Iryna Kovalenko
19 September 2022
Before the war, Skyste Rumyantseva lived in Zaporizhzhia and had a usual life. The beginning of the invasion of russia was a real shock for the women, so her husband decided that she would leave the city with their children. Skyste’s mother lived in Sweden, so when they were leaving, the woman knew only their final destination. In the “Monologues of the War” project, please read a story about crossing the border for fourteen hours, living in a house of a Polish family, working in Sweden, and volunteering.
My name is Skyste, I am 33 years old. Before the war, I lived in Zaporizhzhia. For the past few years, I worked in a pawnshop. I am married, and I have two children. It could be said that my life was settled because I had a stable job, and, in general, everything was fine.
I had no suspicion at all that a full-scale war could begin. Usually, I ignored any news that said otherwise. It did not occur to me that in the 21st century, such a situation could happen when a neighboring country invaded our territories. Obviously, I watched the news and various programs, but I treated it as if they just were showing off. I thought it was simply rising the bets on the part of rf (russian federation – translator’s note). What happened on February 24 was entirely unexpected for me.
I learned about the invasion’s beginning from a friend who called at around 6 in the morning. I always put my phone on silent, so she called my husband. And he worked in the Military Commissariat, and even he wasn’t fully prepared for such information on February 24. A friend called and woke us up with the phrase: “The war has begun!” And she hung up. I was literally paralyzed with fear. I couldn’t even move. My husband, of course, immediately got up and went to the Military Commissariat, and I was even afraid to approach the balcony. What scared me most was the unknown. Then I looked through the Internet, and, of course, all the news on social networks was filled with the fact that the war had begun. Slowly I began to understand how it happens because, in a woman’s head, the beginning of the war is associated with bombs flying over all cities simultaneously, and destruction immediately begins everywhere. Therefore, I read the news and waited for my husband. He explained to me more or less how it all happens that the enemy cannot immediately attack, roughly speaking, the center of the country. I was afraid primarily because of the children. In general, my condition was awful, I could not do anything because I was terrified. Therefore, my husband decided that I would leave the city with our children.
Apart from the two airstrikes near the airport, practically nothing happened through the first days in the city from the point of view of military tactics. People in the town tried to live on. People went through the streets, and some even went to work. But the tension was palpable, and it was noticeable that all the people were confused. It wasn’t yet clear what we should expect; no one was used to sirens yet. Everyone tried to find out some information from each other, especially from those who have acquaintances related to military service. But, in general, it feels like it didn’t happen to me. Everything I did was purely automatic. I went to the store and, for some reason, bought “Mivinas” (Ukrainian analog of instant noodles – translator’s note) and water. Something that surfaced in my memories from school years, things that should be done in case of emergencies. I also went to the pharmacy and bought sedatives. I spent the rest of the time watching the news and calling relatives.
My mother lives in Sweden, so when I was leaving, I only had a final destination to go to. I still didn’t know how I would leave, how this evacuation would go. I only knew that I had to take my children and leave. I also took my friend and her son with us. We went to the Zaporizhzhia railway station, but there were no tickets for any train at all. All tickets were already bought. I decided that we would go without them. I had only one thought: we’re going, that’s all! “How?” – was the second question, not the first. We saw the Lviv train, and I approached the conductor, who said there were no available seats. I replied, “I don’t care how I am going to ride – standing, sitting, or lying down .”She let us in and said that the administration told them to take everyone, regardless of the number of people. We drove very slowly, all day. Stopped many times. But they explained that this is because of figuring out a safer route. There were five of us sitting on one seat. At night, our children took turns sleeping on the third shelf, where blankets and bedding are usually placed. We left the plane in Ternopil because while we were driving, I read the information that there were volunteers who helped to get to the border. Therefore, thanks to them, we spent the night in Ternopil and left for the border the next morning. Roughly speaking, it took us two days to get there.
We were among the first to cross the border, at that time, everybody crossed it on foot. It was February 27. Ukrainian border guards were not yet ready for such a situation. There were still no volunteers, no tents on the way, nothing at all. That is why crossing the border was very difficult for us. We were crossing it for 14 hours. We stood in the forest; it was frosty and very cold. We were on a verse of hysteria. It was tough, morally and physically. No one could answer us anything – how long we would stand there and what to expect. The border guards waved their hands and said: “We really don’t know anything.” We will let you through when we are given the “green light” from the Polish side.”
Now, this mechanism is automated, but it all took a lot of time then. We are very grateful to the Polish people, who sent cars with hot tea, blankets, baby food, and diapers at that time. They helped us a lot. Otherwise, I do not know how we would have survived those 14 hours.
When we had already crossed the border, I, of course, looked for someone I knew in Poland to help us to have some rest for at least a few days because we were so tired. I had a distant acquaintance in Warsaw. When crossing the border, I asked how we could get to Warsaw. I was advised to drive to the nearest big city and go further from it. When we got to such a big city, we got out of the bus and saw that there was literally a crowd of Poles standing there. They stood with signs and offered to take us wherever we needed. A man was standing there, whom we acquainted later, his name is Julian. He lives in Warsaw, has a big car, and agreed to take us there. While driving, it turned out that the friend we were planning to stay with had a one-room apartment, and there were five of us. Julian offered his help, saying that many people now offer their homes to help refugees. He helped us find a family that hosted us for three days. We needed to sleep, bathe, and eat normally. They also helped us with ferry tickets to Sweden.
At that time, the refugees had not yet gone to Sweden, and there was no mechanism for how it should happen. Therefore, they called the port of Gdynia and explained the situation that two mothers with three children needed to get to Sweden. And Sweden, at that time, agreed to issue free tickets to Ukrainians. We also traveled around Poland by train for free. Thus, the trip to Sweden cost us completely free of charge. The Poles helped us with everything – with clothes and food, they even tried to give us some money. Also, the family that hosted us in Poland said that if we change our minds and want to stay, they are ready to make repairs on the second floor of their house.
I’m in Poland again, but I’m returning to Sweden in a week. We stayed there for a month, had a little rest from all this, and the question of working arose. After all, it is mentally challenging when you constantly monitor the news. Swedes, let’s say, usually think for a long time, they are all slow and in no hurry. If Poland very quickly thought out how to hire people and draw up documents, Sweden took a long time in this regard. So there was no opportunity to go to work, besides, we lived in the forest. And there is no transport to get to the city, you can leave only by car. And, after three months, we decided to go to work in Poland. We stayed here for 2.5 months, and now we have to return to Sweden because the children must go to school. Everything has already been arranged there, and children are enrolled in the local school where they studied before summer. This is a regular local school where they teach in Swedish. Before entering it, the children received a month’s training in an international class, where children from Ukraine and other countries were taught the basics of the Swedish language. This is not a problem for children because they quickly master everything. Especially any language, if they are in its environment. I hope the situation with finding a job in Sweden will be more manageable now. But, no matter where I am, I still really want to go home. I have always considered myself a rather “flexible” person who can adapt to circumstances. Still, this situation turned out to be very difficult for me. For the first two months, I didn’t even want to think that I would be here for a long time. So far, all my relatives and friends from Ukraine with whom I communicate say one thing: “Stay there!”. They say it’s too early to come back. At the end of July, I went to Zaporizhzhia for a week. Fortunately, there was nothing but sirens at the time. But this tension and the feeling that you are constantly waiting for something are complicated. I can’t say who is in a more difficult situation – those who left or stayed. Apparently, it is difficult for everyone in their own way. Those who left lost their everyday lives, and those who stayed have been in constant tension for six months.
When I left, many people in Zaporizhzhia had questions about how to evacuate, and many were afraid to do so. They needed a scheme – how and where to go. At that time, I consulted many people and, roughly speaking, “guided” them during the evacuation, telling them step by step which city they needed to reach. It was hard enough because I was always in it, and I was worried if everything would work out for all the people. In addition, I was searching for an opportunity to order helmets, bulletproof vests, and everything needed at that time for people from Zaporizhzhia who were going to war or joining the Territorial Defense. The problem was that all countries were ready to pay money to Ukraine. Still, when the issue of address delivery appears, a problem arises when you want to help specific people. For example, Europeans say they want to send money to Ukraine. Where this amount of money goes and how it is spent, we do not know precisely how this process takes place. So there were problems with address delivery. Therefore, first, I had to find suppliers who were willing to sell. It was also not easy because everything had to be official through the Red Cross, and it took a very long time, a month or two. Official documents were needed, stating that some military unit really needed such a quantity. Accordingly, I found people willing to sell me body armor, and then I tried to find who could deliver. First, a driver who would take them to the border with Poland was needed, and then another who would take them to Zaporizhzhia. Therefore, somehow everything happened so this help could reach its destination. But as a result, it turned out that the quality of foreign body armor was far behind compared to Ukrainian ones.
With the beginning of this war, I realized that it is not necessary to live thinking of tomorrow and postpone everything for later. Also, when things that filled my life were taken away from me, the question arose before me: “Who am I anyway? And what am I? What can I fill my life with if the usual things are taken away?” I was against this, and I probably lived entirely on the news for the first three months. But time kept bringing me back to this question. There was neither my usual job nor a husband, only you. At that time, life stopped for me, and now I am learning how to fill it again. In fact, I envy girls who took some courses and mastered several professions. For example, nails, eyelashes, sugaring, and so on. I’ve been thinking that it’s very relevant now when you can work anywhere in the world and be tied only to your chair at the workplace. We are really getting to the point where it is time to prevent ourselves from the usual schedule – come to work, stay for 10 hours, get paid, and go home. It is necessary to try to reach those professions that are not tied to a specific place.
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: Iryna Kovalenko