АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Roman Klochko
22 May 2022
Escaping the flames of the Russian-Ukrainian war, millions of Ukrainians fled to European countries. These are mostly women with children. The war deprived many of them of everything but the thirst for life. The story of Nataliia Makhno from Kyiv is a story of the victory of self-belief over fear, determination – over doubts, and strength of spirit – over despair.
An article about me was published today in the Czech newspaper Novinky.cz. It is about how I have found myself in the Czech Republic and what I am doing now. My son and I moved to the Czech Republic one month and a half ago. It was a trip to nowhere. We settled 60 km from Prague. Lev has gone to school recently and I have been overtaken by my radio past. Now I work for Радіо Україна – Rádio Ukrajina, broadcast in Ukrainian, and help displaced people from Ukraine like myself to get the necessary information.
The whole family and I were on a business trip to Lviv and were about to return to Kyiv. That February morning I was awakened by messages in the Viber group for the residents of our house. Friends started calling me. I didn’t believe it, but it was very scary. And then we heard an air-raid siren.
At that time, we were renting a house from a Lviv woman. She gathered her large family with children and grandchildren, and two cars rushed to the border. She left us alone and said: “Well, somehow you will be here.”
We spent two more weeks in Lviv. Not a day passed by without an air alarm siren. We had to hide in the basement several times a day. And sometimes we went down there at night.
Did we follow the news? We slept with a smartphone and woke up with it!
It was some tenth day of the war when many women from my circle who had children started to move out abroad. I thought about that as well. Later, my husband said: “You know, take our son and go. Go while you can do it. Because nobody knows what the situation will be like tomorrow”.
We explained to our son why we were leaving our country. Because they can start firing at any moment. It would be easier for his dad to stay here alone as he had to think about his family. Also, he would understand that he had done his best to save us.
“By the way, when we left, the situation in Lviv was more or less calm, and two days later, the heavy bombing began. So we understood that all this was not in vain”.
For me, the most difficult moment was saying goodbye to my husband. You don’t know how long you go, if we see each other again, how everything ends…When you’re separated after so many years, it’s hard.
Why the Czech Republic? We lived there for three months six years ago. My husband had a business trip. When you go to a city where there are at least some acquaintances, where you can ask where to go, how to drive, where to stay, then it’s a little easier to perceive.
I found out where I would live a day or two before I left. My husband’s acquaintances helped us. They found for us a kind of dormitory with small rooms and a common kitchen. I knew that at least my son and I would have a place to spend the night.
These acquaintances met us near the Polish border. They had driven 700 km to pick us up and then drove back to Czechia. There were two of them to change each other at the wheel. I thank them very much because we are strangers to them.
I started looking for a job right away. When you have a job, you won’t need to beg. You can make a living for yourself. I browsed local offers where I could work. On the fifth day or so, I have already been washing the windows for about 100 crowns per hour. I remember that it was cold. I worked for 4 hours and thought:
“It was a fun experience, I do not regret it. But when you have two higher educations and a huge work experience, you need to look for something else.”
I have some strange wiring that allows me to survive in difficult conditions. The question is how I perceive the situation. You come to another country, without money and work, and you have a child. For me, it’s a challenge: “Oh, cool! I have not encountered this yet. I wonder how I will find a way out?” It’s like a game for me. And the more difficult the level, the more interesting it is. And when I deal with the situation, I have even more reasons to respect myself.
There are currently about 300,000 refugees from Ukraine in the Czech Republic. The Czechs support Ukrainians. If you are fleeing the war and decide to stay here, you will not be left alone in trouble. You can come to the main railway station, there are many volunteers who are willing to help (and that’s not the only place). Even if you do not know where to spend the night today, there is always a way out. The Czech Republic is with us.
According to my observations, refugees from Ukraine are tormented by feelings of guilt. I have it too. I’m safe. There is no bombing here, and the rest of the people are there. It makes you feel bad.
I have also noticed an interesting thing that is about me as well. The Czechs want to help from the bottom of their hearts, and if we are given minimal help, we accept it. However, if it comes to money, for example, I see that we, Ukrainians, feel like we are borrowing. We want to pay this debt but it isn’t always possible. I know Ukrainian women who, as a token of gratitude, help with the housework and take care of the garden. You think, “People, you’ve already done a lot for us, thank you.”
For example, 7 Ukrainian families live near me; these are mostly women with children. There is a girl among us who is used to coordinating the work of several dozen people in Ukraine. She is used to managing people but now she has to learn how to accept help from others. And it’s uncomfortable. You understand that it is wrong to think so, but you feel humiliated. Because who do they help? Weak. And you don’t want to feel that way.
“Although the situation is critical. Some people came here without money, naked, barefoot. Two pairs of socks, two pairs of shorts and that’s all”.
Living abroad is not for everyone. Everything is foreign; people speak in an unfamiliar language and nobody waits for you, even if they support you. Refugee women are not cowards, to be honest. They ended up here not because of good things. It’s scary to leave everything and go in an unknown direction. When it is unclear what happens next. And you do not know when you will see your family again. All of our refugees want to come back.
Until February 24, I, with two higher educations and experience in television and radio, was doing my favorite thing – teaching people public speaking, public speaking, working in front of the camera. My school “MegaOrator” had customers from different countries.
It so happened that when I came here the Ukrainian radio was being launched. The Embassy of Ukraine in the Czech Republic dealt with this issue. Money was allocated for the project. When I saw this vacancy, I decided to go for a job interview immediately. But the village where we settled is 60 km from Prague. I called an acquaintance, Ukrainian, who has lived here for 15 years, explained the situation and asked her to pick me up and assist me as a translator. Because this is my chance. And she took time off, took me there, and in one week or one week and a half a team was already staffed. They hurried to launch the project. So my intuition did not disappoint me.
The Czech language became a test for me here. My main leadership is Czech, so we speak sign language, Russian, Ukrainian, English, and Polish, which I remember a little. They laugh at us from the side. But what I will say is this: if people want to understand each other, they do it.
“I am very happy to return to my native environment – to work for the Ukrainian-speaking Радіо Україна in Prague and to be part of the friendly team of another Czech radio station – World Radio”.
My goal is to support Ukrainians who, like me, find themselves in this situation. I want to help them cope with stress, and get useful information on how to survive here, and with whom to communicate. How to place a child in a local school? Or we talked to Ukrainian scientists about where to look for a job in the Czech Republic.
I have recently talked to Ukrainians who have opened a bistro in the Czech Republic. This is another example of the fact that refugees are not temporizers. People who left Ukraine have a desire and vast business experience. And such people can open a Ukrainian bistro even in Antarctica.
Such informational assistance will be useful for everyone. It is important for people to know how to settle in the country, how to get on their feet and earn money in order to support Ukraine and not to be a burden to someone, hoping for social assistance.
“Thank God, I have already found new friends in the Czech Republic. In these difficult times, when you are like a tree with uprooted roots, it is like a balm for a wound. I want to say a huge “thank you” to the Czechs who sheltered us and helped us both in word and deed”.
I try to think of this period of my life as a business trip. I’m waiting for this horror to end. I believe in our victory. I call my family every day to find out if they are alive and well. Whenever I hear the news about explosions in Kyiv I think of our cozy apartment. Will it survive? Russian bombs have already deprived several of my friends of their dwellings. At one point, you have been torn away from your home, family, friends, and favorite work. I dream to return to my land, to hug my husband, mother, father, and relatives who stayed in Ukraine.
A lot has changed in my life. And I’m changing myself.
I’ve noticed that I don’t like to watch my memories on Facebook from different years anymore. Previously, it was interesting to see: what was I like a year, 5 or 7 years ago? What did I dream about? What did I do?
Now, it is hard to look at. I’m not sure I can return to all this.
“I have only recently stopped being afraid of planes in the sky. But some sounds are still stressful and I still sleep poorly at night. My body can not relax and tries 24/7 to be in the high alert mode”.
What struck me most about the war? That I was not ready for it. I read the information, and I guessed that it could happen, but I was not ready. It’s scary when the air alarm siren sounds. On the 13th day, you don’t react like that anymore, but you feel your legs wobbly. You feel completely helpless.
We all experience these terrible events differently, but one way or another “covers” everyone. Although with different strength, in different ways, and at different times.
For example, I was only recently “caught up”: for the first time in two months of war I was able to shed tears. Before that, I held on and it seemed to me that I had everything under control. It seemed…
In fact, nothing terrible happened. I hurried to work and my village has a very bad bus connection. I didn’t catch my bus and the next one was to arrive one hour later. I sit at the bus stop and cry. I understand everything, but my psyche gave up… I cried for the first time. It wasn’t enough to let it go, but I felt a bit better.
War is like a scar on a body that will remain with all of us. Some people have light scars that are barely noticeable, others – have deep and ugly ones. Nevertheless, this scar will remain with everyone and it will be impossible to be hiden anymore.
Yesterday, colleagues from Ukraine congratulated me on the Day of the Psychologist (I am a psychologist by second education), and I thought about how much work psychologists would have in the near future.
Honestly, the mood is not festive, but it is so important to find at least little reasons to be happy. Daily.
Because they allow you to have some resources.
And when you have some resources, the difficult tasks become easy, and the path to victory is shorter.
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 Hyliuk | Translation: Roman Klochko