АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Anna Shliakhova
3 October 2022
Daria Kachanovska lives in Bobrytsia village near Kyiv. At the beginning of the war, she was in the early months of pregnancy and had to hide in a neighbour’s basement every night. Together with her husband she dared to leave for Uzhhorod. At the beginning of March her seasonal allergies worsened and she was forced to choose a country for evacuation according to its climate. Montenegro suits her. She went there on her own. The journey took 10 days and wasn’t seamless. She spent a little more than 100 days in Montenegro, volunteering. The woman told her story to the “Monologues of the War” project.
I’m from Kyiv. But, after my first child was born, we moved to the regions. I had my first education as a lawyer and my second one as a psychologist. I worked as a psychologist. Before the war, I conducted art therapy for children and consultations for adults. I am raising two children and expecting my third.
I hadn’t anticipated the full-scale invasion. I thought that all would have been solved by negotiations. I hadn’t thought it would happen like this, although a few days before the 24th of February the tension in the community was palpable. People around were often aggressive. It was a sign that something was coming. Still, neither I, nor my closest ones could believe that it could be the full-scale invasion.
We live 17km away from Kyiv in Bobrytsia village. From the first day, we clearly heard the hum of missiles that flew into Kyiv, Bucha and Irpin. Of course, it was scary to realize that the real war had begun. I didn’t panic, but my husband did. However, we quickly came to our senses and at 6am he was already on his way to Kyiv. He had to pay salaries to his people, took documents. I stayed at home with our children. I called my mom, who lives in Kyiv, to ask if she was going to stay in Kyiv. She was surprised: “Which war? There’s no alarm here. Everything is quiet”. Besides the news that I had to check constantly, I was packing our things as we didn’t have a grab-and-go bag. We weren’t going to leave, because it was impossible due to the traffic collapse. In general, we could have left for somewhere in West Ukraine somewhere, but we didn’t want to as I was in the early months of pregnancy and I didn’t feel good.
Even though we clearly heard the explosions, our village wasn’t hit at all. Our house was built on Canadian technology, and it was shaking during each explosion. It was so loud that I was afraid our windows would blow out. So, we took the next approach at that time: in the daytime we were at home and in the evening we went to our neighbour’s basement. We hid there for about a week. The residents of four houses were crammed into that basement, because not every house has one.
All the time before leaving, we had monitored the directions people fled. I asked my friend where they left for and by which roads. After our fellow villagers had gone to Uzhhorod and told us about their way there, the next day we followed their steps. Our neighbours promised us to find housing for us with the help of their friends. But they couldn’t as there already were a lot of people in Uzhhorod. Half was in Lviv, and the other half was here. In Uzhhorod we moved from place to place every two or three days, literally. Once we were walking through the city not even knowing where to stay. The prices for renting were out of this world. They could ask about $300-400 for a night. Walking through the Uzhhorod, I met my friends from Kyiv. We explained our situation to them and they helped us to find an apartment for two or three days. We moved in with strangers, thanks to our friends. These people told us: “You are such good people. Your husband is such a good cook. You can stay. We’ll live together!” But then I woke up on the 8th of March waiting for the greetings from my husband, instead, he told me that we had to pack our things again, because some relatives, who had miraculously fled, were to come to those people. And that’s how we were moving from place to place for about a month and couldn’t stay anywhere for a longer period of time. Then, thanks to constant monitoring, we managed to find housing.
At first, I didn’t consider going abroad, because I didn’t know what to do there, pregnant and with two children. I couldn’t leave my husband who was my only support in the first months of pregnancy, which were very hard for me. Anyway, I was forced to leave because of a severe allergy which started at the beginning of spring.
“As I started to choke, I had no other option except to flee. Doctors just shrugged their shoulders because I couldn’t take any medicine, being pregnant.”
I left very quickly, because I had several attacks so severe that I could only stay in a bathroom with the water turned on, while my husband looked for an apartment in Montenegro, as it was the closest place to the sea and the climate that suits me. I chose that country for the climate only because I always leave the country at this time. Montenegro isn’t in the EU, so they didn’t have any help and support for Ukrainian refugees. But I had no other option. So, I took the bags, my children and off we went. My husband stayed in Ukraine. He spent a few more weeks in Uzhhorod and then went back home, although it wasn’t safe yet.
I went to Chop and then by electric train to the customs house. When I arrived in Hungary, I saw the excellent work of volunteers. They pitched tents, handed out hot meals and toys for children. People could even stay for night if they had nowhere to go. There was also the option to go to Budapest or even to Germany by bus for free.
At that railway station we waited for our train to take us to Budapest, for 6 hours. Volunteers met us there as well. They took people to the center, where it was possible to stay for 24 hours. People could eat, sleep and buy tickets there. It was something like a converted sport center. If people didn’t know where to go or they needed to spend a few days somewhere, a volunteer organization helped them. It wasn’t a government entity, people just helped Ukrainians. It was a big building with rooms, new beds and beddings. They fed us. We could wash there. The water wasn’t always hot, but anyway it was nice. There was even a free market in this centre. It was like a real store, but everything there was free, from clothes to hygiene items. People were allowed to stay there for five days. We were supposed to stay there for one night and then go further to Croatia by train. But, the children had a rotavirus infection as well as all the center. A lot of Roma from Uzhhorod had been there and had already left, but a rotavirus infection was left behind in memory. So we stopped in Budapest for four days.
Then, we got tickets to Croatia that cost us two or three euros per place. But we didn’t get there because half an hour before the border an inspector and volunteers came in asking where we were supposed to be going, if we had someone to meet us and a place to stay. I asked if there were any volunteers at the railway station. They replied that there was nothing at all, because the flow of people had ceased. So, we were forced to get off at that stop in some village. It was already 11pm. They promised to take us to a volunteer center and send us to Zagreb or even to Split in the morning.
So, I and a few more Ukrainian families got off the train at that stop. The journey to the centre took us about an hour. It also was a converted sports centre. It was hard that morning, because no-one knew English. We had to spend three days there. It took a whole day before they realized what we wanted. Then, there were no tickets to Zagreb because it was Easter. It was a nice place, but I was choking more and more due to the allergy. Finally, we managed to get bus tickets to Zagreb and then changed to the train. Traveling around Europe by train was free of charge; we only had to pay two euros for booking a place — that was all. That train would take us to Split. From there, we had to go by bus to Montenegro. But it was already late evening when we got there. It was a small station which had already been closed. We were standing on the street with one more woman and her daughter from Kharkiv. It was Easter eve, so not a soul was on the street. It was a real celebration: no-one worked. In the last five minutes of work time, we got tickets for the first bus to Montenegro, but, it was not until three days’ time. Then, we started to think about accomodation. To top it all off, a storm began. Trees were falling around our heads. It was dark, our phones were almost dead, and the station was locked. We were just outside of it. We started calling places where we could stay for a night. Police at the Zagreb railway station wanted to help us. They told us that they could find some place for us in seven hours, by the time we arrived in Split.
At first, we were calm as we had thought someone would meet us. But, when we arrived there, we found out they hadn’t found anything. Also, it was impossible to book something through the Internet, because it was the holiday and it was already too late.
In the end, I just stopped a patrol car that was passing the station. I showed them our passports, explained the situation. For almost forty minutes they tried to understand what we wanted. They called us crazy, but they found a place for us in Castela in a volunteer centre for climbers and took us there. We checked into this centre and were brought some food in the morning because everything was closed and we couldn’t buy anything. It was a beautiful remote place where we spent three days. Then we left for Montenegro, but we had to visit a doctor first. My son had a problem with his eyes, and people there were very helpful.
Then there was one more delay on the border with Montenegro, but finally, after ten days, we got there. Being pregnant, it wasn’t easy for me. And I had taken big bags with me. There was everything I needed for my work: some books, metaphor maps and so on. There were aroma oils for aromatherapy. It’s not easy to buy them. We spent a little more than 100 days in Montenegro. We settled there with other Ukrainians, worked and earned money.
I worked mostly as a volunteer helping Ukrainian children. Mostly, they were from Kharkiv. Also I worked with women there. It was a nice place, but many of them had survivor’s guilt for being safe and sound. Also, it was hard for them to be separated from their husbands. It was hard to find a job there. So we created an educational organization where women taught our children. Some people helped us to rent a place for it. Finally, there were 300 of us. We met outside in parks. The Ukrainian embassy also helped us.
When I felt better, I came back to Ukraine. Also, I had known that I would give birth only in Ukraine. Also I wanted to go by plane without numerous changes. I had to do it before the 35th week of pregnancy to be allowed to board a plane. Now, I’m in Ukraine near Kyiv waiting for my baby.
Before the war, like many of my friends, I thought that life in Europe was much better than in Ukraine. Now, I realize there is no simple answer. It’s not easy to live and work elsewhere. Of course, it’s hard to live in a country when you don’t know the language. There are so many problems in a way that one can’t predict. Many Ukrainians think that we have a great country. Many entities work smoothly. It’s not so bureaucratic here. We don’t feel free in Europe. And we like freedom. There are not so many restrictions for us in Ukraine. For example, women from Kharkiv were surprised by the absence of children’s playgrounds in small towns in Montenegro. There are football or basketball fields, but no children’s playgrounds.
Of course, I saw my capabilities in a new light. I’ve never thought I was capable of resolving such problems without my husband, money, language, friends or anything else. Definitely, I have come back to Ukraine a completely different person. Also, I can say that Montenegro is a pro-russian country. Russian TV channels work there. Many people think that we’ve messed tourism there. But, we can stand everything, especially when we’re together. I saw it with my own eyes.
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