АвторAuthor: Inna Molchanova | Translation: Tamara Kalapa
21 May 2022
Rita Bakum, a resident of Cherkasy city, with her three-year-old son Liova was forced to leave Ukraine on the seventh day of a full-scale war. Two days of terrible road, several hours of queuing, several overcrowded trains, in which “was barely room to swing a cat”. The tense atmosphere of quarrels added to the difficulties. Many people were getting sick and gutted, so they called for medics. The woman recounted her journey to Germany through Lviv and Poland, as well as her long-awaited rescue and the living conditions of Ukrainians abroad.
We began our evacuation journey on March 2. We put all things in a backpack, so it was convenient for me to take my son in my arms. Well, good that we had not many things with us because there simply was no opportunity to get something out or settle ourselves. Except the wet wipes I did take out. I put the passports and other documents in the pocket of my jacket.
We took the car to the Taras Shevchenko railway station in the city of Smila, along with another family we knew. The trains to Lviv started running at 7 p.m.: just after the curfew time had begun. So one had to take care to get to the station earlier, or go with those who had a pass. There was a very long line at the Smila checkpoint, during which time we missed three trains. Then it turned out that one of them did not open the doors, because it was overcrowded, and the other two only had standing seats. At the station itself we saw a lot of people fleeing from the war. Mostly mothers with children, pregnant women and the elderly. All male under 18 and those with three or more children were also allowed to leave.
It took a while to get out of Smila. We were waiting for a train to come from Dnipro for a long time, then it was announced that it would be late for an indefinite period, and would not take anyone, because it was overcrowded. While we were waiting, the air-raid alarm was warning twice and we had to go down to the basement. And the alarm itself was located nearby, and there was a terrible rumble.
When we came out of the basement, we saw an electric train. All the people ran towards it. We could hear the shouts: “It’s to Lviv!”. We decided to try to get into, because we had already missed so many trains. There was only one thought: “To get in by any manner”. Finally, at half past nine in the evening, we went to Lviv in an electric train with the usual wooden benches. There were no places to sit down, although we walked through three wagons. Then some Romani people gave us a place: a woman sat on the floor in the aisle and slightly moved her child who was lying on a bench. So I was sitting with the baby the entire time. Yet many other people were swapping places: from sitting, then standing. That’s how we got there.
An ambulance was called to some station because a pregnant woman had started hemorrhaging. They wanted to take her to the hospital, but she refused because she had to go. As a result, the woman got a shot of medicine and we moved on. From time to time someone got sick and the medics were called again. We got to Lviv at 11 a.m. the next day.
When we got out of the train, we went straight down into the underpass. Several lines were forming there. Volunteers and patrolmen were coordinating people. There were three lines. One for the exit into the city, the second led to the trains to other cities in Ukraine, and the third, the largest one, was for the departure to Poland. That was the one we decided for too. Women with babies and children up to three years old were let through first. And since we were traveling with a family, where there was an older girl with her grandparents, we had to wait and let women with smaller children pass before us. I could have continued on my own with my son, but we stuck together and didn’t want to get lost.
We had to stood in line for three hours until Liova started crying. So then I went begging to let us cut in line. A policewoman agreed.
“Well, follow me,” she said.
As we walked, other disgruntled people started scolding us for being out of line, grabbing our hands, yelling. Somehow we fought them off, and at 2 p.m. we were put on the train to Poland.
There were babies in the wagon, and there were no seating places. To be on the safe side, they didn’t turn on the lights, nobody told us the time and place of arrival. The train went one way and then the other. We were standing on one leg, because there were bags in the aisle, the constant movement of people to the toilets. Once you sat down on the bag, you had to get up to let others pass. So Liova sat a little on the backpack in the aisle, I had to stand during the whole rail travel. And that’s where the Romani people helped us again. They entertained the baby as best they could. They offered to hold little ones, gave places.
The atmosphere in the wagon was terrifying. People were fainting, calling for paramedics. Constant arguments, fights, the heat, passengers stripped down to their shirts. Some asked to open the window so they wouldn’t suffocate; others, on the contrary, were afraid of catching a cold. In the blink of an eye I thought it couldn’t get any worse. But no, I was wrong. Liova pooped right in his pants. The way to the bathroom was blocked. There were strollers and people lying in the aisles. I had to get wet wipes and change the baby’s clothes on the spot. Finally, at half past eleven in the evening, we arrived at Chelm.
I should add that during this time we had not been eating or drinking anything, so that we didn’t need to go to the bathroom. Our lips were dry, we were exhausted.
Volunteers met us on the platform. They gave out soups, sandwiches and toys to the children. All was given to the need: baby carriages, blankets. They were settling people. If anyone got too tired and could not go further, they were taken for the night. Others were coordinated by destinations: they were taken to Warsaw, Prague. All this was free of charge.
We notified our acquaintances of our arrival point so that they could take us away. We were waiting for them at the train station until 3 a.m..
We were then taken to Lückenwalde, Germany. We got there the next day at 2 p.m. So we spent two days on the road. On the exact day we arrived, on March 4, there was a rally in support of Ukraine.
Lückenwalde is a small town not far from Berlin. The tallest houses are four stories high. We were lucky because we stayed at my sister’s place.
We registered and received passports as people in need of temporary protection. In Germany, this opportunity is granted for six months with the right to apply for extension. Poland grants the temporary protection for eighteen months with the right to extend it up to three years.
When we came to register at the center that registers foreigners, we were given number 14. One number was given for a group of five to eight people, so imagine how many people had already arrived. We registered to get health insurance, and we were given a check for social assistance. As for now, we’ve already received cash assistance twice. The first time it was 570 EUR, the second time it was 610 EUR. We have enough for food and basic necessities. In general, the Germans take Ukrainians to their temporary shelter with the possibility of finding separate housing later. However, Germany also pays for separate housing for Ukrainians. Poles, unlike Germany, do not pay for Ukrainians’ housing. If one of the locals shelters you, it’s fine, but otherwise you have to pay for housing in Poland. One-time social payment for an adult in Poland is 300 PLN, for children there is 500 PLN per month.
Now there is no free accommodation for Ukrainians in our town. They let them in only if they stay with relatives or acquaintances, but otherwise they are sent to other villages. There are no places left in kindergartens either, so I can’t go to work.
Later, Liova and I traveled to Berlin so that the child would understand that in trains one sits in a separate seat, not on the floor. In our local town, lately we’ve attended an Easter breakfast organized for Ukrainians by a company manufacturing car parts. The Ukrainians were fed, organized a tour of the plant, and talked to see what kind of help was needed. The needs varied. They asked for a tablet, a washing machine, a couch, linoleum, and other missing items.
If before I was looking for opportunities to stay in Germany, now I want to live in my native land, in my home. I want my son to communicate with his peers in his native language, because he does not understand German children. On February 20, Liova turned three years old. The war started four days later. He still has not had an opportunity to play with the presented toys, to sleep on a new crib in the form of the car. He wants to go home very much, he misses his relatives and his daddy. He says he is strong and ready to beat up anyone who breaks into our house with a war.
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: Inna Molchanova | Translation: Tamara Kalapa
“The constant whistling of shells overhead was no longer so frightening, but the night bombing of the city was really terrifying.” The story of a man from Chernihiv who lived through the siege of the city