АвторAuthor: Iryna Semenova | Translation: Nataliia Zadorozhna
21 August 2022
The ways to escape from war are difficult and unpredictable. The Didenchuk family left Kyiv for Western Ukraine, and later ended up in the Netherlands. It took four hours to leave Kyiv alone: the way to a safe zone was very difficult. Tetiana Didenchuk and her husband had just bought their own car and she did not feel very confident driving, her husband does not know how to drive at all. But it was necessary to take out two children from under the shelling. How they succeeded and how the most amazing dreams came true during the war, Tatiana told exclusively to “Monologues of the war”.
We did not believe that there would be a war. But we refueled the car, our “Fedichka” was ready (that’s how they affectionately call their car, — ed. note). We didn’t manage to collect our things, except for documents that we put in one place. However, we had a plan: I have relatives in Western Ukraine, and they invited me to visit, but this was a last resort.
I had an operation scheduled for February 26th. On February 24th I went to take the tests. My husband said that there were explosions somewhere, but I did not believe that they would bomb cities. I got up at 5 a.m., left the house at 6:30 a. m., but then there was an air raid alert, so I didn’t make it. It was very loud. People bent down, I heard this sound for the first time and it scared me. When I was going home, my parents, who live in russia, called me: they said that the war had broken out.
We told the children that nobody will go to school. My son Misha started running around the apartment, throwing his things into his backpack, underwear, socks, and kept repeating: “Let’s leave, let’s leave quickly.” On the other hand my daughter kept saying that “nothing happened.”
We went down to the basement, which turned out to be in awful condition. There was one exit and poor ventilation, so we couldn’t stay there. On the first day of the war, we were still in the city, thinking, and collecting things. I was in doubt because I was still a bad driver. I started driving in the fall when we bought a car. I drove a car only with an instructor, and my husband did not know how to drive. We were not prepared for such a long trip with children. And then the neighbours said they decided to leave the city, and suggested: they will be driving in front of us, and we behind them. The night before leaving, my husband and I took turns sleeping. We went down to the basement and spent two hours there. There were explosions outside, so we considered whether to leave the city or not because something could happen on the way. But on the morning of the 25th, we drove west to my relatives.
It took 17 hours to cover the distance of 480 kilometers. Four hours have passed since we left Kyiv. Natasha felt nauseous four times. We did not drive along the highway, but bypassed it, because there were heavy traffic jams. And we chose the Odesa track, not the Zhytomyr track. We drove over potholes at night; we couldn’t see anything, because our car was covered in dust up to the rearview mirror.
For a week, we lived with relatives in Western Ukraine. No sirens could be heard in the village, but there was an alarm every evening. And I decided that it will be better for the children if we go to the Netherlands to my brother.
We found a girl with her son who was also going to the Netherlands, we picked her up in Stryi and took turns driving the car. It was scary and very difficult for me to drive a car for two days.
At the border with Hungary, we were very lucky: we crossed the customs in 10 minutes. Everyone says that it’s impossible, but when we drove up, there was no one there, so in just ten minutes we were in Hungary. We traveled through Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany, spent the night near Prague, and two days later were in the Netherlands.
My understanding of reality was torn apart: there I saw beautiful views, a cozy atmosphere and lovely houses which looked like dollhouses. They have such nice gardens, courtyards, canals, green grass, everything is so peaceful and calm. And I look at it – while there are explosions, sirens, terrible news lines in my head … My brother has a 1.5 month old baby. We go to a park somewhere with the children, but all the time I thought: how can we sit here, when people are dying in Ukraine? The parents of my brother’s wife are in Kyiv. She went around sad, worried, and tried to take them out. Because of the stress, our hair and nails were falling out. I don’t even remember the first month very well. We ran around, drawing up documents. In the Netherlands, everything takes a long time. We arrived on March 6, and received refugee status at the end of the month. It took so long, probably, because a lot of emigrants arrived. And I was sure that we would go home in April-May!
We arrived in winter clothes, and the temperature there was 16-18 degrees. I walked in a winter jacket and boots, because I was sure that in a week or two or three we would go home and there is no sense to spend money on clothes. The first payment came after two months, and the Netherlands is a very expensive country.
My brother’s friends helped with the children’s things. Ukrainians living in the Netherlands almost immediately organized centers where people could come and take the needed things. Unfortunately, we didn’t find out about it right away, so when we arrived, there was almost nothing there. Many people who could not find a family to take them in lived in hotels. They kept in touch and found out information faster. And I joined these chats late. There were centers that fed and gave food to take away. There were also centers that taught Ukrainian children, but we found out about it about a month later.
Eventually, I found a weekend school — a Ukrainian school that had been established before the war. They opened a branch in the city where we settled and I went there to work as a volunteer. I also helped create a Telegram channel with job vacancies for Ukrainians who left the country. I worked there for 2-3 months.
Natasha was accepted to a Dutch school for children from 4 to 6 years old. Children who do not know the language are taken to school up to the age of 6, because they play more there. But after 6, children go to the only language school in the whole city, where they first learn the language, and then go to a regular school. Natasha started studying there in April. And Misha was not accepted at first, he went to this language school in May. Before that, he studied online at a Ukrainian school.
In the Netherlands, maternity leave is only 3 months, from 3 months children go to kindergarten. However, the kindergarten is open only 3 days a week, but you can pick up your child at any time. The kindergarten is very good and expensive, but the school is free.
Natasha is in her last year of kindergarten, she has to go to school in the fall. She can read, write, and count double-digit numbers in Ukrainian. When we came to the Dutch school and I filled out the questionnaire, it said: “In your opinion, what is your child’s level of development? – and you choose the answer from among “bad”, “good”, “excellent”. I chose “good”. Then we filled in further, and there was a question “Does your child recognize letters in native language?”. I said: “She’s already reading!” And the teacher responded: “She’s great, children there don’t start learning how to read until they’re 7!”.
They have such a school – the most important thing is that the child is happy. They have no fear of being punished for any mistakes.
Misha’s teacher says it is difficult because there are different approaches to teaching. This is noticeable: when our children are given some free task, they do not know what to do, they sit and are afraid to make a mistake. Because we have a penalty for making a mistake. But they don’t have that: “Let’s do it another way.”
On the other hand, compared to our education, children here are “on the loose”, and this is one of the factors for parents to return home, because they are afraid that the children will fall far behind in education. It was very difficult for children, after 4 months, they started to deal with the consequences of the stress. It stopped being perceived as a vacation.
Medicine there is very unusual for us. You simply cannot get to the doctor here. Natasha had a temperature of 40 for the whole week. We called the doctor, and there they asked: “Is it going astray? Everything is fine, continue to bring down the temperature.” The child is shaking, her teeth are chattering, but they do not look, do not listen.
She had chickenpox, there is a three-month-old baby nearby, and we are told: if it does not bother you much, apply calendula. When children have a runny nose or cough – everyone goes to school there. When someone has chickenpox, parties are arranged so that everyone is reinfected.
When I made an appointment with the doctor myself, he gave me a referral to a specialist and this visit will be in a month.
But children and people are really healthy here, because they all ride bicycles and do a lot of sports on the playgrounds. And the cyclist is the main figure on the road here. Everyone has bicycle lanes, parking lots, and bicycles everywhere.
I have lost my job. The day before, I just finished the technical specialist course. I invested a lot of money, time, and hopes there, and it turned out that it was all for nothing. Many girls got a job there in a hotel, on handouts, in stores, even those who know English well.
Maybe it’s easier for those who have already decided to stay. But there are also many problems here, the country is small, overpopulated, there is no housing even for Dutch people. And we are in a state of limbo: when should we return — in the fall, in the winter? What shall I do? Should I look for a job or not? We even tried to make an agreement: “this month we will try not to think about it.” But it does not work out.
We are treated well there. Under the janitor, they put a note “Welcome to Harlem” and that we can contact when needed with a phone number and address.
When it turned out that the children had to go to different schools at different times, one Dutch mother offered to drive my child to school and pick her up.
People in the Netherlands are very friendly, relaxed and always smile and say hello when you make eye contact. They know how to enjoy life.
They work a lot and hard, but they have a work/life balance. They work only until 17:00. As an example: you cannot take the teacher’s phone, all questions should be asked in the chat.
And here is another world: our parents came from russia to the Netherlands. Their cards do not work anywhere, except in russia, they receive a pension only there, because they have lived there for 40 years. The father shared his feelings about life in russia: it seems to them that they are sitting on a bus, there are drunk people nearby, the bus is rushing into the abyss, and the driver has gone crazy.
For the last 10 years, I dreamed of going to Paris with my husband. But when I found myself here, I realized that such an opportunity might not exist anymore.
And I took a risk and went to Paris alone for two days.
It was like stepping into another life. Because I was without children for the first time in 5 months. Only then did I realize how hard it is when you have to think about someone every minute of every day, and it’s 24/7.
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: Nataliia Zadorozhna