АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Nataliia Zadorozhna
8 August 2022
Before the war broke out Yevheniia Grudnytska lived in Bila Tserkva with her two children. On February 24, the woman woke up to the bombing of the local aerodrome, located not far from her house. Initially, she did not plan to go abroad, she just wanted to find a safe place in Ukraine. However, everything changed after a conversation with her friend from Poland, who convinced Yevgenia to leave the country together with her children.
My name is Yevheniia, I am a mother of two children. The son is 12 years old, and the daughter is 10 years old. My son is a special child, he has autism and in recent years I have been a mother taking care of a child with disabilities. I have a medical education – I am a nurse and I worked in a children’s hospital. Then I had to be with my son. Before the war, we lived in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv region.
Going back to what happened before the 24th of February, I don’t even remember the news saying that there would be a full scale invasion. I missed this moment because I was mostly busy taking care of children, so I haven’t watched TV for a long time. That’s why I had no idea about the fact that the war might start.
I remembered February 23 very well. The day before, my children and I went shopping for spring clothes. It started to get warmer outside, we already started discussing some plans for spring, thinking about the purchases that still need to be made. In the evening we went to McDonald’s and had a good time there. When we got home, we went to bed as usual, and in the morning the war had already started.
The morning of February 24th was supposed to start as usual for us; the kids had to go to school. They were still sleeping, and I woke up from a loud rumble. At first, I didn’t understand what had happened, because even the window panes were shaking and thought it might be a firework. But when I looked at the clock, it was 4 a.m., so I understood that there could not be any fireworks at such time. Windows can’t shake like that from fireworks and the sound was not similar to it either. People who have heard the sound of an aerial bomb at least once in their life will not confuse it with anything.
I ran to the window and saw another blow struck. We live not far from a military airfield and russians attacked it on the first night of the war. I woke up from the first missile attack, and then I went to the window, heard the roar of the plane and the sound of an explosion behind it. Then I saw a glow because the airfield is located very close to our house, literally across the gardens. After the second blow, the children woke up and started asking what happened? And I still could not believe that the war broke out. It seemed that such a thing could not happen nowadays. I said to my daughter: ” The war has begun!”, but I couldn’t believe it myself. Then the bustle began, we had to think about where to run to shelter, because we live in a high-rise building and we were afraid that russians would also start to attack houses. I opened the local chat and everyone was asking what was going on? People were very frightened, but they had not yet written about the war. They thought that the Armed Forces of Ukraine were doing something at the airfield. Everything became clear only after putin announced the beginning of the war. Our airfield was attacked more than once, and then there were explosions. We were attacked not only from the air, but also from long-range artillery. They bombed gas stations, military units, and more than a dozen private sector houses.
We stayed in Bila Tserkva for about 2-3 days, and then we went away from the city to my sister-in-law, who lives in the Skvyra district in a remote village. We stayed there for another day or two, and all this time I stayed in touch with friends from Kryvyi Rih. They offered to go to them, because at that time it was very calm there, the town was not under attack. Also, our friends had a huge cellar there, so we thought that there would be a place to hide in case of something. I went there with two children, documents and three backpacks with clothes. A friend from Kryvyi Rih came to pick us up and we stayed there for about 10 days. At first, I did not plan to go abroad. I was thinking of finding some safe corner in Ukraine and waiting it out there. But, I have a friend in Poland who has been living there for about three years. We got to know her at the rehabilitation center, because she also has a son with autism. She lives in Gdańsk, and there is a center for children with disabilities, where her son studies. It is something like a specialized school. Since the beginning of the war, the principles of this center have been helping families with children who have disabilities. When we were in Kryvyi Rih, a friend of mine called me and said: “Take the kids and leave! The main thing is to cross the border, and here volunteers will meet you and help you with everything. Save the children, no one knows what will happen next! Maybe then you won’t have such an opportunity to leave the country with your children.” Of course, I hesitated, because it was scary to go alone with two children, especially since my son is a special child. But I thought that if something happens to them and I don’t take them out, then I won’t forgive myself. Especially since my son is very sensitive to all these sounds and was very frightened after air strikes. I thought that if they start bombing there in Kryvyi Rih and I have to hide in basements, then I just won’t be able to save my child.
Just then, evacuation trains were launched from Kryvyi Rih directly to the Polish city of Chelm. It was launched literally for a few days, and then they did not know if they would let it go or not. Then I told my friends that I would take my children and leave the country. Especially since I wasn’t going “to anywhere”, but to the people who were waiting for me.
We boarded the train, it was full of people. Five people were sitting on one shelf – mothers with small children, grandmothers… It was very hot in the carriage, there was nothing to breathe. The windows were closed, there were a lot of people. The train drove at night, on the way we stopped during air raid alerts. We drove for 26 hours until we crossed the border with Poland.
There I was already in touch with the people I was going to see. Ms. Kasia and Mr. Slavek are people who take care of the rehabilitation center for disabled people. Thanks to them, everyone already knew about us, that a family with two children was traveling, that one child was autistic and that someone had to pick us up from the border and help shelter or stay overnight. So, their acquaintances met us at the border, took us to their home, and we spent the night there. The next day, we were put on the train to Warsaw. There, I took the train to Gdansk with my children, where Slavek and Kasia met us.
They took us to a hostel near Gdańsk, where we could stay for a while. In a week Slavek and Kasia found us a place to stay in Gdańsk. We were hosted by a Polish family, but we live separately, we have a room, a kitchen and a shower room. So far we don’t pay anything, because the Polish government gave us the “+ 40 zlotys” program per person. And since I have a disabled child, the Pole who hosts us has the right to continue this program. I am very grateful to the Poles for such warm hospitality.
I was immediately offered a job at the PSONI centre for people with disabilities, and I am currently working here. I know women from our country have to do various works here such as cleaning houses, hotels, washing dishes and so on. And I look after children with disabilities, working on an equal footing with the Poles. So, I am glad that I can be of some use here. I am currently looking for a place to live that is closer to the rehabilitation centre where I work and where my child goes. So far, I have met very nice people in Poland, and their mentality is similar to ours. I work in a Polish institution with Poles, and in almost three months, I already speak Polish. Knowledge of English also helps a lot because many people in Poland know this language. When they hear that I can speak English, they find it strange. “How come you’re from Ukraine and speak English?” they wonder. The difficult thing is that in Poland, a lot of work with documents fell on my shoulders. I have to go everywhere, and ask people for help, to tell me where to go. It is also hard for me due to the fact that I have to be with my son all the time, to carry him with me everywhere I go..
It is also difficult to understand that my children have no one here but me. I’m afraid of what will happen to them next if something happens to me? I always think about our country, about what is happening there, when the war will end and will it be possible to return back home? My parents and brothers stayed in Ukraine and I worry about them. It is morally difficult.
When the war broke out, I realized that I could not plan anything. Now I can’t make plans for some long period of time, just glad that we will wake up safe and sound tomorrow. We used to live, we planned something, we went to bed happy on February 23, we thought about where we would go with our children, what we would buy… And in the morning we woke up in another reality. Even here in Poland, I don’t feel completely safe. To be honest, I’m afraid that the war may start here too and I’ll have to run away somewhere again.
Also, life became the most important value, although I had not even thought about it before. I used to think more about how to buy some things, meet someone and so on. However, now I am thinking about how to provide my family with enough money and want everyone to be safe and sound.
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: Nataliia Zadorozhna