АвторAuthor: Yuliya Osadcha | Translation: Diana Bevtsyk
23 July 2022
At the beginning of the war, journalist Tetyana Shevchenko was eight months pregnant. Together with her husband, they lived in the city of Yuzhne, Odesa region. The couple was renovating their new apartment and waiting for the birth of their baby. However, the war forced Tatiana to flee abroad. Read about the difficult journey to the Czech Republic, giving birth abroad and returning to Ukraine in “Monologues of the War”.
I got to Yuzhne two years ago, when the quarantine began. I moved from Cherkasy to Berdyansk, lived there for several months. Then I finally understood that I want to live near the sea. However, there were no opportunities for development in Berdyansk. This is a very “slow” city, people there are like sleepy flies. Then a friend invited me to Yuzhne to visit her. I came to see her for a week. After some time, she was offered a job in Yuzhnе. After much thought, I took the risk. I packed up all my things, sent them by mail and moved in with her. It was possible to find and rent an apartment within a month.
It was not difficult for me to move and start a new life. Later, I met a guy on a dating site who later became my husband. We started living together last year, in the spring.
Last year I bought an apartment and just in September 2021 I found out about pregnancy. We were planning our peaceful life and making repairs in the new apartment. We planned to move there in May before giving birth.
Everything was going to the point that we would expand, that we would move into a two-room apartment. During the next two years, we already dreamed of building a big house. However, it did not happen as expected and the war broke all our plans. Then, when the war started, we were in the full swing of renovations and we were just trying to get everything done before the baby was born.
When the war started, I was sleeping in bed and my husband’s sister Anna called him at seven in the morning and asked: “Kolya, are you packing?”. He was very surprised and asked, “Where are we going?” To which the sister replied that we have a war and their mother has already packed her bags for Lviv. By the way, my sister was on vacation with her husband in the Maldives, and because of the time difference, she found out about everything before us.
We did not hear any explosions, so we did not know about the beginning of the war and did not believe the words of the husband’s sister.
At that time I was eight months pregnant. I woke up and opened the joint work chat, where our manager wrote that everyone should stay at home today. My husband immediately got dressed and went to the store to buy water, and I stayed at home. When I looked out the window, I saw our Ukrainian tanks just driving through the streets.
At that moment I had a panic attack. Our city of Yuzhne is located on the seashore, that is, the sea can be seen from almost all the houses in the city. We lived on the tenth floor and our apartment was corner, with windows with a view on the sea. I became very scared, because I understood that we are in an increased risk zone. Then I called my husband and said that I was already packing my bags and we were going to the private cottage. I began to cry a lot and throw all the things I saw into the suitcase. Our country house is located five kilometers from Koblevo, in Kosary, on the Lyman.
“When I arrived at the villa, I heard explosions literally from all sides: from the Mykolaiv side and from the Odesa side. We had a very strong echo there. However, these explosions were so far from us that I had the illusion of safety”.
We have gas in the country house, you can heat all the rooms, there is also a shower, but it is located in the room of the bathhouse, which is not heated, and the toilet is outside. However, these conditions were more acceptable to me than living in Yuzhne in an apartment with amenities on the tenth floor.
On the third day of the war, we persuaded my husband’s parents to move in with us. So we were all together and it was calmer. When everyone is together, it’s more fun and, it seems, safer. It was definitely easier to go through everything morally together.
We stayed at the cottage for a week. We woke up five times every night, grabbed our phones and nervously read the news. We checked to see if there were any explosions near us, we went outside in the middle of the night and listened. We did not rest properly for a whole week. Our bodies and faces swelled from this, we were as if stung by bees.
When my husband’s parents moved to the country house, they immediately began to persuade me to go abroad. They emphasized that I am pregnant and it will be easier for me to leave now. They said I should think about my child and about the fact that the baby should not be born in bomb shelters. Their persuasion lasted for more than a week until the nuclear power plant in Energodar started burning. In the morning, when the racists attacked the Zaporizhzhya NPP, a fire broke out there, my husband woke me up and began to persuade me to leave as well.
He emphasized the events that occurred during the Chernobyl tragedy. When the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, pregnant women were either aborted, or women gave birth to disabled children or even worse, dead children. After these words, I finally agreed to leave.
We left in two cars: my husband’s stepfather and his brother took me and my mother-in-law in their car. They planned to take us to the border. Also, our friends followed us. An elderly woman was driving her daughter and two grandchildren abroad in a jeep.
When we left Odesa, there were long queues at roadblocks, every car was checked very carefully. Therefore, we decided to go with this elderly woman and let my stepfather go, because the curfew was only a few hours away. We decided that our women’s team will handle everything by itself.
First, we had to go to the Reni checkpoint, and there, on foot, with my mother-in-law, get on the ferry that transported people to Romania. Our fellow travelers had to wait in line by car because they were not going to leave it in Ukraine. In Romania, volunteers had to transfer us to a plane to the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague. That is, our evacuation was supposed to take one day. We learned everything ahead of time from friends who evacuated a few days earlier by this route. But on the way to the Reni checkpoint, relatives of fellow travelers called us and said that the road through which we will travel is being shelled at this very moment.
They advised not to take risks and go to the Palanka checkpoint, and there was a huge queue of many kilometers. The border itself was not even visible. We waited from morning to evening, then one border guard told us that we could go without queuing. We rejoiced and did as he said up to the checkpoint itself. There, another border guard told us that it is necessary to return to the very end of the line, that we will not be let through so easily and that it is not fair. Instead, he advised us to cross another checkpoint – “Basarabeasca-Serpnyovo”, it was necessary to drive another 170 kilometers to reach it, and it was already 10 pm outside.
On the way to that checkpoint, our car broke down. It was night and there was a curfew, we stopped on both sides of the road in some villages, the panel in the car began to knock out “check”. It turned out that we had a problem with antifreeze, it just spilled out somewhere.
At that moment, we saw a group of men. I was scared in earnest, because I had a lot of the most terrible thoughts in my head. I even thought that the occupiers got here as well. The elderly woman who drove us was not one of the timid. She got out of the car and approached strangers to ask for help. It turned out that these were our Territorial Defense soldiers. After some time, they brought us a bottle of water to pour into the car. It was the only possible option in the middle of the night to somehow resuscitate our journey and not sleep right on the side of the road. We had a hard time getting to the border, the road was very broken, and in total darkness. I didn’t sleep for a minute, because I had to control the road and talk to our driver so that it wasn’t so difficult for her to drive and she didn’t suddenly fall asleep.
There was a small line at this border when we arrived, but it was not moving at all. We stayed there from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. Again, the driver and I did not sleep a wink. After all, if the line was moving, it was important that no car entered in front of you.
It was very hard here, very cold, our legs were already very swollen from sitting. We couldn’t understand why we weren’t moving, and then we saw a border guard walking in the opposite lane and swearing a lot.
Men of the draft age tried to cross the border, despite the ban. Every second person tried to give a bribe, so the border guards waited for the military commissariat. Then at the border, agendas were presented to those who tried to bribe the employees of the checkpoint.
We didn’t have the strength anymore, I didn’t sleep for two days. The woman who was driving us went to the border guards and started crying and saying that children and pregnant are in the car. She lied that I was about to give birth, that I was already 9 months and could do it right in line. The border guards took pity and let us pass in front of all the cars. They marched on foot so that people waiting in line would not riot.
At the Moldovan border, we were interrogated for a very long time, mostly my husband’s mother, because she is a citizen of Belarus.
They were interested in why she was crossing the border with Moldova, why she was not going to Belarus. My mother-in-law is an opponent of the Lukashenko regime and she has not visited her homeland for many years. In other words, the way there is closed to her in the coming years, as well as to all her relatives. Although she has a permanent residence permit, border guards still carefully check and examine her. Having a Belarusian passport was a very big obstacle on our way.
We arrived in Moldova very quickly, we were stopped by the police once because we had tinted front windows. Due to this, they wanted to impose a fine of a thousand hryvnias. They have already drawn up a report, but we committed rape, that we are refugees and no one does that. They could have just warned us to remove the tint. These policemen just wanted a bribe. We were also stopped by other policemen to ask if we needed help, they wanted to help us in every way possible. When we crossed the border, we didn’t have an Internet connection and the policemen even handed out their mobile Internet so that we could use the navigator. They advised where and which way is better to go.
When we crossed the border, we got to the hotel, spent the night there and set off again. We drove through the mountains along the serpentine. Our car boiled again in the middle of the field.
The nearest settlement was many kilometers away. It was Sunday, we understood that in Europe it is a day off and absolutely nothing works. I had the idea of simply stopping the cars passing us.
I managed to catch the police and explain in broken English that we need a service station. They looked at our car and told us to follow them very slowly, because the breakdown was serious. They accommodated us in a center for refugees. They said that we will spend the night and on Monday we will have the car repaired and we will go on.
They took us to a center for Ukrainian refugees. There were translators and volunteers who met us , settled in and arranged for a service station. The doctor examined me. We were allocated a separate room. It used to be a huge cultural and artistic center. There was a shower in the basement, we had clean toilets on the floor, there were also rooms with clothes and a humanitarian. There was plenty of hot food, it was constantly replenished. You could come at any time, you would be fed and housed. There was also a huge hall, where at a distance of 30 centimeters there were orthopedic covered mattresses. If there was a need, they were even allowed to take bedding and towels with them. Everything was new. Other people had the opportunity to spend no more than two days. However, at the refugee center, the doctor advised me not to go any further. We were on the road for three days in a sitting position without normal sleep. Therefore, there were two options: to go further by train or to fly by plane.
Our fellow travelers , a grandmother with her daughter and two grandchildren spent two days in the center while their car was being repaired. My mother-in-law and I had to stay longer.
When the police took us to the center, a young woman, a mother of two children, fell and broke her leg. It was a fierce winter in Romania, our center was located not far from a mountain range. It was cold and frosty there. That woman was taken away in an ambulance and doctors made her a cast for two months. We were shocked, because this also automatically greatly complicated our way forward.
My husband’s sister found a free hotel for these people ,100 kilometers from Prague. Therefore, our path could be shared in the future. However, we were forced to separate.
When our fellow travelers arrived at this hotel, they were met and accommodated. There were only thirty people there: women and children. This hotel was run by a Czech. He had an employee , Ukrainian Mykhailo, who was put in charge of our immigrants. Mykhailo, using the trust of the hotel owner, forced women to work. He forced to make repairs in another hotel. It was not a request, but an order. It was literally slavery. After all, the work of these women was not paid. They had to work for Mykhailo, because they were scared of getting dumped out of the hotel. The unscrupulous Ukrainian behaved very cruelly, raged and intimidated women. Then Natalya, who broke her leg, quietly called us from the toilet and told us about labor slavery. He threatened that if they tell anyone, they will not live there anymore, they will be left naked in a foreign country on the street. My husband’s sister got him fired from there. He noted that he absolutely doesn’t care about Ukraine, because he has long been a citizen of the country in which he currently resides.
Meanwhile, volunteers bought us plane tickets. We drove for three hours to the airport, which is located in Bucharest. They found a driver who took us there. We had about an hour to check in. However, upon checking the available documents, the airport employees informed us that my husband’s mother cannot travel further, because she does not have a biometric passport and it is not suitable for flights. Despite this fact, we knew for sure that I needed to fly.
During my pregnancy I was already in the hospital twice. Our relatives, to whom we were going, started contacting the airport staff so that they would contact the embassy and it would grant permission for the flight. It was a terrible situation…I cried, and my mother-in-law constantly read prayers and turned to icons. I perfectly understood that it would be very difficult for her to be alone in a foreign country with a Belarusian passport and not knowing the language at all.
We received a flight refusal from the embassy. The airline did not take the mother-in-law on board. That is, she needed to apply for a visa. You can get a visa only in Kyiv. There was no talk of any Kyiv, because at that time there were hostilities there. And we have already completed such a difficult path. In general, this is all absurd.
I cried my eyes out like never before. After all, I considered myself a traitor for leaving her. But I had no way out, I had to think about my future child. I understood: if I stay and start looking for other ways to get to Prague, I can harm the baby.
“I got on the plane and flew. I fell asleep the whole way because I cried a lot and my nerves were just on the edge”.
My mother-in-law found volunteers to take her to the train station. It was March 9. She was informed that the nearest train to Prague is on the 13th.
At that time, my husband was getting into the car and was also going to go to the Czech Republic. It was very important to me that he was with me during the birth. I wanted him to be the first to see our newborn baby. Therefore, before leaving, I took a promise from him to definitely come. Although at first , he didn’t want to come , he wanted to help in the city in every way and volunteer. However, common sense prevailed and Mykola realized that he also wanted to be alive, healthy and to see , to hold our son in his arms. Therefore, the husband and father-in-law also left. So they decided that the mother-in-law would return to the border with Ukraine, and my husband and father-in-law would take her there and they would all come to Prague together.
Then it was very difficult for her, she cried a lot at the train station and called her Belarusian citizenship cursed. She considers Ukraine her country, she is a true Ukrainian patriot.
A volunteer suddenly approached her and informed that there is a carriage that needs to be added to the freight train and that there is one free seat. They were able to take her there. This train was heading to Hungary. It suited us, because our men were going to the Czech Republic through this country and could take her away.
The men arrived and waited all day for their mother’s train to arrive. The delay was colossal. Finally, they still met in Hungary. Everyone came to Prague together. On March 11, our family was together.
It was very important for me that the people around me were safe. The only thing I was worried about was the fact that my relatives: mother, father, brother, grandparents and everyone else remained in Cherkasy. I didn’t know how safe it was to be there. I was persuading them to come to us. I took the word of my friend with two children that in case of danger, she takes my mother and brother and her family and they all together go to us. I don’t know where they all lived, but at that moment I wasn’t worried about it.
Life in the Czech Republic was very difficult for me. Because there was a feeling of guilt that I was safe. I could not relax or walk through the city. I just sat in mourning for several days and was very worried that I had left home. I was even angry at my mother-in-law, who was able to switch immediately: go shopping, drink coffee and enjoy life. Although I understand her. She did not see her daughter for a long time, her children were safe , together with her and she was able to breathe. What I couldn’t do.
We were paid money in the Czech Republic. 200 euros per person and my husband’s sister was paid three thousand crowns for each person for sheltering us. It was compensation for utility services. The support of the Czechs was enormous: everywhere there were Ukrainian flags, caricatures of Putin and the Russian embassy was smashed.
During the month in Prague, I recovered a little. We visited doctors, I was registered, passed numerous tests and I did not know how the birth would go.
I understood that it would be very difficult for me because of the language barrier. All my efforts to learn even a little of the language were in vain. I opened books, websites and applications in Czech several times a day. It didn’t help much.
With a thumping heart, I waited for the childbirth. Also, during my stay in the Czech Republic, I was offered a job – to become an editor of the “War Monologues” project. I understood that I could be useful, so I volunteered for the first time.
My first official working day coincided with my expected date of delivery. I had to give birth on the third of May. Everyone who knows me wasn’t even surprised. I just can’t sit still, can’t sit without work.
I gave birth to a baby on the sixth of May. Childbirth was very difficult. In Europe, they are trying to ensure that all processes take place as naturally as possible. In Ukraine after my water broke, they would simply inject me with oxytocin and thereby speed up childbirth. Everything is different in the Czech Republic. They do not speed up anything, but observe and give the baby a chance to be born independently, in a completely natural birth. They don’t really care how tired mommy is, I haven’t slept for a day. I just didn’t have the strength. I was in the maternity ward for four days.
Medicine is very different from ours. Children’s medicine is too protocol-driven, they do it as the book says. Because of that it was difficult. They prescribed food for the baby to which a terrible allergy began, so we changed it. I started consulting with Ukrainian doctors via Viber. I simply did not trust the Czech doctors, because they considered the terrible rash to be an insignificant sweat.
The decision to return home was forced. We really wanted to go back. We knew that it was calm and safe in Cherkasy. We wanted to return to Ukraine, but not to go to Odesa. That’s why we went to my mother in Cherkasy.
My husband’s parents returned to Ukraine a month before us, at the beginning of June. The mother-in-law was constantly interrogated. Even at the entrance to Ukraine, she was recorded on video, she shared her contacts, she confirmed in every way that she could enter Ukraine.
We were supposed to return with the woman with whom we went to the Czech Republic. We delayed it to the last one. However, at the most crucial moment, her car broke down again. We decided to return in our own way. We had three transfers on the way to Odessa. We are with a month-old baby in our arms , there are a lot of things and a stroller. We bought a sleeping car with three shelves on one side and a sofa on the other. This is a three-seater coupe. For our comfort we bought all these three places.
Trains in Prague are very different from ours. We traveled by private carrier, it was gorgeous and very clean. They brought us free breakfasts and a menu where you can even order sushi and pizza. The car has perfect high-speed internet. We got to Košice, where we had to change to a bus. And when you get on the bus, you see a lot of our people. It seems that you are not yet in Ukraine, but thanks to the people, you are already there. There were 70 seats in the bus, and three times as many people entered. The driver took people to standing places, despite the prohibition to do so.
We returned from Košice to Uzhhorod by bus. All the people quarreled, because many were without tickets and towered over others. We bought tickets for three seats – for me, my husband and for a child’s car seat, so that the baby could also travel comfortably. A woman was standing over my husband and she was sitting her child next to him. Therefore, Mykola gave up his seat to her. For some time the man drove sitting on the floor, at the next stop the driver gathered more people to stand, then my husband took the car seat in his arms and sat next to me. We were riding in a bus very tightly .
“When we reached the border, the customs officials said that everyone standing must get out. Because the driver will be fined and his license will be taken away. People began to quarrel and panic. There was no crossing on foot at this border”.
The people who were standing also paid for a ticket to Uzhhorod. The driver said that he could only bring their luggage to Uzhhorod. And people had to get into cars that also crossed the border.
After the people left, the Slovaks let us through without any problems. But we were stuck at the Ukrainian border.
My husband has a Belarusian passport and a permanent residence permit in Ukraine and even it did not save him from long checks and interrogations.
We started to delay the bus, so we decided to get off , so people wouldn’t be late for their transfers. I took out our many bags and left at the border. It was burning.
I didn’t even have a place to feed my baby who was constantly crying. This is actually a field. Ukrainian border guards told to feed in a terrible toilet. In general, in the incredible heat, we were kept at the border for two hours.
In general, our life in the Czech Republic was very comfortable. We lived in the forest in a wonderful private house with beautiful nature. There were created the most comfortable conditions for us. But it was very difficult morally. I don’t even know if I want to visit my husband’s relatives in the coming year. It is very difficult in a foreign country. I wanted my child and me to be examined by our doctors. If we knew that Cherkasy would be calm, we would be better stay here. There is also a private house in Cherkasy, where my mother lives. Everything is native.
Now I have an inner calm but I have worked for this peace. However, after giving birth, I started working with a psychologist and it really helped me and I needed it.
We will not be in Cherkasy for a long time, until the end of summer at most. In the future, we will return to Odesa. Despite everything. There is our home, there is our life and our work. I believe that everything will be fine.
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: Yuliya Osadcha | Translation: Diana Bevtsyk