АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Nataliia Zadorozhna
4 September 2022
What is it like to sleep in the subway with a two-year-old child in your arms? How to leave Kyiv on a train full of people with an 80-year-old grandmother who hardly walks on her own? What is it like to settle down in a foreign country? How to stop being afraid for your husband who is fighting on the front line? How to become useful for your country while being abroad? Yuliana Brahina, a 24-year-old woman from Kyiv, has known the answers to all these questions for a while now. More about her story in “Monologues of the war”.
Although we were mentally preparing for war, we were still in shock for a while when we heard the news. We didn’t know what to do. My husband and I live on the 20th floor near Zhuliany airport. We have a two-year-old daughter. My mother, grandmother and a cat live in the house next door. When the air raid alerts started, it became very scary.
“We started to collect our belongings. We realized that we had to run somewhere, but we did not know where. A day before the war broke out, we said that we should pack a suitcase, find out where the nearest bomb shelter is, but we never did that.”
So, we went to the subway. We called a taxi because my grandmother is 80 years old. She can’t walk well, and it was dangerous to stay at home. That’s why we stayed in the subway for a day.
“We understood that war was inevitable, but we did not know that it would begin in Kyiv. That in a few hours, russian military equipment will drive through Obolon District.”
It was really scary in the subway. During the day which we spent underground, the number of people there increased significantly. When we found out that military equipment was driving around Obolon District, we began to fear that some kind of terrorist attack might happen in the subway. And they can take people captive. That is why we decided that we had to save ourselves. On the second day of the war, we left for the west of Ukraine to Kolomyia.
It was very difficult. We left for Lviv by train. There were a lot of people. We carried bags, a child in our arms, an 80-year-old grandmother who can’t walk well, a carrier with a cat, and a baby carriage with us. I still remember the policeman who shouted at people and warned that he would shoot with a machine gun if they did not make a corridor for families with children.
“At some point, my husband got into the train with a child in his arms, and we were pushed away and left outside on the street. It was the scariest thing, because we understood that we could get lost on the platform.”
But we managed to get into the carriage. I don’t even remember how it all happened… How did our grandmother, who didn’t even leave the apartment, sit on a chair in the subway for a whole day? We even slept on the sleeping mats, but she refused to do the same. She said: “If I lay down, I will not get up.”
There was a similar situation in Lviv. We were getting ready to get on the train on one track, but it came on another. The whole crowd rushed to jump over the rails. We ran around the train and asked to open the door from the other side as well, because there were a lot of people, there was an air raid alert and we had a fear that we would be crushed in the crowd…
“We drove around 14 hours to Lviv. There were so many people that they were also sitting in the aisle. The road was difficult, but the most important thing for us was to evacuate.” People on the platform said that it was already the 3rd or 4th train they couldn’t get on, but for us it worked out from the first attempt.
We didn’t even know that we didn’t have to buy tickets. We arrived at the station, and there was a queue at the ticket office. The station was crowded and people complained that they stood in the line there for 4 hours. However, they did not know that it is possible to sit down without tickets, and no one checks them at all.
The father of our godmother lived in Kolomyia. He is a priest of the Catholic Church, and always provides help for people, so we knew that he would help us too. “People helped us settle down in Kolomyia and we immediately started volunteering. We went to weave nets and helped with conservation. My husband joined the local Territorial Defense Forces. He wanted to do it when we were in Kyiv, but we understood that we would not leave the city without him.
But when he was transferred to another unit 20 km from us, we made the decision to go further, because it was scary and dangerous in the west of the country as well. And there were talks about a nuclear attack… My husband insisted that I go with the child, and I took my mother, grandmother and cat along with me.
We knew that there were people in Kolomyia who would help, and going abroad was a risk. We started looking for information on the Internet. There is such a website “Shelter” where people from different countries offer accommodation. My godmother wrote that there is a house in Central Germany. Her friend went there and said there were places to stay.
So, we went to Poland. Our godmother’s father, a priest, helped us cross the border through the “green corridor” on a bus that was going to collect humanitarian aid. “It was impossible to do it on foot at that time – even the car queues were kilometers long, people were waiting there not for one day…”.
A bus that brought humanitarian aid from Germany was supposed to pick us up on the other side of the border. We stayed at the Polish McDonald’s near the border and waited 12 hours for the bus. In the evening, the bus took us to Central Germany, where we are now.
I was afraid that they wouldn’t take us and we would spend the night outside, because there were so many people that the volunteers just pitched tents on the street. It was very cold back then in February.
“The Poles were very nice to us, they even brought toys for children. Ordinary people approached us and offered to stay overnight at their place”. That’s how we ended up in Germany. My husband was sent to the east of the country. He fought for 40 days there, near the Izium-Sloviansk highway.
We became the second family that came to this village. There were many local residents who wanted to help us. We were hosted by a family who has two adult children. They gave us a separate house where they used to live. We don’t pay rent, and when we offer, they don’t accept money from us and say: “You are our guests and our friends. So, when we come to Ukraine, you will thank us with a hospitalty.”
We had a full refrigerator of food, and the hosts prepared food for us. They knew that we had a small child and they were prepared for it: they immediately gave the child all the necessary things, toys, diapers. We were invited to family celebrations. They asked about our hobbies, how they can organize our leisure time, and provided us with psychological support.
“I always think, would I be able to accept strangers like that? They treat us like family members and basically gave us everything we needed.” It is very uncomfortable for us, so we try to help them physically in the household.
I didn’t know German at all, and my mother taught it a long time ago at school. At first it was very difficult, because the village is remote, located in the mountains and few people know English. But we started learning German, a local woman gives us lessons, so we already speak and can understand each other.
At first we spoke with the help of a translator. People here speak a dialect which differs from classical German, so they tried to speak to us slowly, in literary language, so that we would remember the words. We no longer use a translator and understand not only simple vocabulary, but even more.
Due to the fact that my child does not go to kindergarten (they promised to find a place in November). At first I worked remotely at my old job, but now I have completely devoted myself to volunteering. “I have been a volunteer since 2014 and have a lot of connections with volunteers and those who voluntarily went to the front in 2014. Now everything is back.”
My husband was fighting at a war, so I collected a lot of parcels for his battalion. Funds were collected for binoculars and a thermal imager. The last fundraiser was for artillerymen – a night vision device, which costs 140 thousand hryvnias. I am collecting funds through social media and I am already being consulted on where and what is better to buy, because I have contacts of suppliers. Apparently, volunteering is time-consuming.
When we first arrived in the German village, I said that there was a need for humanitarian aid, so the local residents gathered a humanitarian aid twice, and then volunteers took it to Ukraine. The woman also helped other Ukrainians who were looking for shelter there.
My husband has been with me for 2 weeks there in Germany. Due to the deterioration of his health, he was sent to the hospital, treated and declared unfit for military service. “He needs to recover his health. But I think that’s the best possible scenario, considering where he was.” It happened that my husband did not get in touch for 4-5 days: either it was very dangerous and no one called their wives, or someone called once for several days, and we have a group on Viber, where everyone shared information. And it was the most awaited news that he was alive, that everything was fine.
“In order to call us, they had to go somewhere up there, and a missile could hit there at any moment. There were very strong shellings with prohibited cluster shells and chemical bombs…”.
Our soldiers spent most of their time in trenches and basements, and it still didn’t always save them. There were both the 300th and 200th battalions… And it was very scary and difficult to survive, but now we are together and that is the most valuable thing.
My husband and I are currently thinking about what to do next. I have a dream. Since we were involved in sales in Ukraine, we want to officially register as private entrepreneurs in Germany and help Ukrainian productions to enter the European market. It will help small and medium businesses. “So far, this is at the stage of an idea, but we have already begun to implement it little by little. And that’s what I would like to do there – to be useful to the Ukrainian economy.”
We want to return to Ukraine, because we miss our country. However, we have decided not to return as long as the war continues. We have all been through a lot of stress, especially our daughter. When we went to Germany, she really wanted to go back. Then when she realized that dad was not around, she had a hard time being separated from him. She also had quite a long period of adaptation. But now she feels safe there and that is the most important thing for me. A few days before the war broke out, we went to Odesa. The trip was dangerous, because we understood that the war could start from the sea.
These are the last happy memories from a past life. It was a patriotic trip. We went to the Ukrainian march, listened to Ukrainian songs, talked about Ukraine and the war. We went to a film by Oleh Sentsov (on February 17, 2022, the film “Rhino” directed by Oleh Sentsov was released in Ukrainian cinemas, – editor’s note).
“This trip helped me mentally prepare for the war and we then came to the conclusion that there will be a war. Otherwise, Ukraine will not become truly independent from russia.” Only the complete destruction of russia can lead to victory, to the independence we seek for our Motherland and our children.
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: Nataliia Zadorozhna