АвторAuthor: Olena Romanenko | Translation: Violeta Shenkariuk
15 August 2022
Natalia Svitlychna, a radio presenter from Kharkiv, left the shelling in Kharkiv with her husband, two daughters, a nanny and a dog. The family traveled through five countries and started life 4,000 kilometers from their hometown. She told about her adventures in the “Monologues of the War” project.
Before the start of the full-scale invasion, Natalia Svitlychna from Kharkiv had everything a woman needed for happiness. She is a well-known TV and radio presenter, an organizer of many projects and charity events, the head of a media holding for the promotion of radio stations, a beautiful mother and a beloved wife.
“When we left Kharkiv, I covered the eyes of my twin girls with my palms so that they would not see how destroyed their beloved city was.”
On February 22, we returned from Belgorod, where my sister lives. I remember how, over a family dinner, we discussed rumors that russia might attack Ukraine, and both did not believe that this was possible, and convinced each other that it was a conflict only at the political level. We planned a joint vacation and joked a lot.
Early in the morning of February 24, we woke up to loud explosions and everyone ran to the window. We live on the eighth floor. Sirens were heard everywhere, we saw smoke in the distance, a fire was burning somewhere. We were very scared, I immediately started calling all my friends asking how they were and if everyone heard what we were.
It turned out that some friends had already left the city and were heading to the west of Ukraine, others were urgently packing their suitcases, others did not believe what was happening, and the fourth reproached us that they had warned us earlier that the war would happen.
I left some things in the bag and my husband, two daughters, and the nanny who was spending the night with us went down to the underground parking lot of our house. By that time there were already many of our neighbors there, about 100 people in total: children, babies, elderly people, disabled people, animals… Everyone was overcome with horror and panic, people were crying, some had panic attacks, we heard explosions from everywhere.
The parking lot is similar to a bomb shelter only in that both are underground, but the parking lot does not have good ventilation, it is very cold there, damp, not enough air and light. But there was no other way out and we stayed there.
Everyone put on several jackets, pants and warm shoes. There was nowhere to cook, periodically I went up to our apartment to bake bread, because it suddenly disappeared in stores. I took my daughters to bathe them and we ran back by the sound of sirens without even drying our hair in the cold room. We all took turns sleeping in our car, five of us with a nanny. The girls tried to sleep, we slept sitting up. And so for five days.
Every day the situation in the city became more and more dangerous, our area was constantly bombed, people died, houses and schools were destroyed, but we still believed that all this would end quickly and we would be able to return home.
Even a few days after the start of the war, I could not believe what was happening.
On the morning of February 29, a rocket flew near our house, the shock wave knocked out the armored gate in the underground parking lot where we were located, as well as all the panes in the windows of our house. The children cried and trembled with fear. Today we decided to leave the country.
Together with our neighbors, we decided to leave in a convoy of six cars, because the military told us that it would be safer that way.
After loading all the things into the car, we started to leave, but after driving 20 meters our car stopped. The battery died, and since our car is a hybrid, there was simply nowhere to charge or buy it. I was in despair, realizing that we would not be able to leave anywhere.
And suddenly a man whom I have known for two days gives me the keys to his BMW jeep and says: Go, save the children, this is my second car, I am taking my family to another one. I was so moved that I just burst into tears and kissed his hands. For me, it was one of the most vulnerable male actions in life.
The journey from Kharkiv to Lviv took four days. Military vehicles were driving on the roads, roadblocks were everywhere, there were many accidents and the sounds of explosions were constantly heard. Friends left us the keys to their apartment in Lviv, where we planned to “sit out” for a few weeks and then return to our home.
I have had a very developed intuition since childhood, I trust it and I am rarely wrong. After a few days of living in Lviv, I told my husband that we should go abroad, that I feel that victory will be ours, but the war will be difficult and long. He fully supported me.
My husband is a well-known doctor in Kharkiv, who spent 30 years saving people’s lives and recently celebrated his 60th birthday. We tried for many years to have children, but I had six miscarriages. The Lord gave us twins when I was 41 years old. I had fought so long for the opportunity to become a mother that now I simply could not afford to leave my children in danger.
We took our children’s nanny with us from Kharkiv, who has long since become a member of our family. Her son has been living in Spain, on the island of Majorca, for many years. He called us and insisted that we come to him, said that he would help with registration, documents and registration with the Red Cross.
We agreed and on March 1st we left for Poland, then to Germany, through France and later to Barcelona, from where we took a ferry to Majorca. It was the longest journey of our lives, we spent eight days in the car and drove 4000 km. On March 9, we arrived in Majorca, where we were accommodated in a hotel through the Red Cross.
Majorca is a small island, they were ready to accept only 350 Ukrainians, but according to the Spaniards themselves, more than 1,500 people came to them. There were problems with resettlement, we had to wait for a free room, and we waited… Our family was allocated one tiny single room and one slightly larger triple room.
That’s all, for almost five months, my husband and I have been living in different rooms of a two-star hotel, exchanging our comfortable apartment of 150 square meters for the safety of our children. But we were far from the war and therefore happy. The girls went to school and were very well received by the teachers and the class.
Since Majorca does not provide any financial support to Ukrainians, providing only housing and food, I began to search for a job and urgently learn the language. In fact, it is very difficult to find a job in Majorca, especially without knowing the language, and because almost all work is seasonal. But I was lucky, thanks to a good level of English, I was invited to work as a waitress.
I have been working in an Italian restaurant for 11 hours a day for two months. I will not show my bloody socks in the first two weeks of work. It passed, I got used to it, I picked up the pace, I told myself that I had a mission to “survive at all costs” (laughs, ed.).
Of course, Ukrainians are paid two times less than Italians for the same position, but as long as you learn a language, you don’t have to count on another. My husband, for example, was offered to wash yachts at +40C. Yes, right at the employment agency, my 61-year-old doctor husband, who worked for many years as the head of a hospital department, was offered to wash yachts. He agreed.
In Ukraine, we had a good income, everything was stable, clear and predictable, but here we have nothing and we are starting to live anew, not shying away from any work, so that the children are happy.
How are our children? I think they think they are just on a long vacation at sea and so be it. They saw the war and I want their memory to erase it.
When I am asked about my plans for the future and whether we are going to return to Kharkiv, I have nothing to answer. Both our apartments in the city were damaged, the children’s school was destroyed. There is no more business.
I am a native of Kharkiv and I love my city, my country, but the safety of children is more important to me than nostalgia.
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: Olena Romanenko | Translation: Violeta Shenkariuk