АвторAuthor: Inna Molchanova | Translation: Yuliia Demchuk
24 September 2022
Media journalist Tetian Ponomar evacuated from Cherkasy to Poland on the second attempt because the first time she couldn’t dare and canceled the trip an hour before departure. Tetiana’s conversation with the military journalist was crucial. Despite her own will and desire, she took her two children and set off, soon coming to England. Why the woman chose England to escape the war and how Polish people support Ukrainians, Tetiфna told “Monologues of the War” exclusively.
We left two weeks after full-scale war began. Decision to leave Ukraine was difficult for us. After February 24 I constantly thought about it: should we stay in Ukraine or not? The main problem was that, on the one hand, I understood that it was my country and my war, and I couldn’t leave it at such a moment. But on the other hand, I realized that I had two children to save because I was responsible for their lives.
So I already knew the date of departure and even the time but I couldn’t dare. That day, when we had to leave early in the morning, an hour before departure, I called my friend I was planning the trip with and said: “No, I can’t.” I can’t leave my country. I can’t just leave right now. That is when I finally decided that I would stay and come what may. But in the evening my good friend, a military journalist, called me to ask how I was doing. We talked for a long time. I told her that I was going to leave but changed my mind.
However, she convinced me of the opposite. Her main message was that: “Tania, you have two children, you are not a soldier, you won’t be able to volunteer and go to the hot spots, the only thing you can do is to save your children. So please, pack your things and leave the country, let our soldiers do their job. Don’t take somebody’s place, don’t claim food, water, fuel or other benefits of civilization because those who will defend our country locally will need them. That is when I understood my role in this war.
The road was very difficult. The main difficulty was uncertainty, because in two days I drove one and a half thousand kilometers almost without stopping. It was very difficult. I didn’t know where I was going, because at first there was one destination point, and then it turned out that they couldn’t receive us there. There was no room in the other direction either. It was physically and mentally difficult. At all checkpoints, I was allowed to pass calmly, because as soon as they stopped me and asked to show the documents, I started crying very hard. The soldiers handed over the documents and said: “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
In appearance, the children actually reacted to the war very calmly. They were lucky: they did not have time to get scared, because they saw a minimum of war. They were sitting in a bomb shelter and heard only air raid sirens. They did not see real bombings, hostilities. When we arrived in Poland, they had the feeling that it was a holiday trip. But then I had to explain to Vania and Polina that we couldn’t spend money on some entertainment, something delicious, because we didn’t have enough of it, and in fact we were running away from the war.
The children perceived the war in a different way. Later I realized how deeply all this went into their memory. We had already been in Poland for two months, they were playing, and my son began accurately duplicating the air raid siren messages that sounded on the TV: “Attention, air raid siren.” He started doing it so clearly and so unexpectedly that I realized how deep it was in them. They live in normal conditions, they have everything needed, but they feel it. It is simply difficult to imagine the changes in the psyche of a child who has seen war.
Those refugees who evacuated earlier received appreciable support and assistance at the border. And when we went abroad, we didn’t have such help. But I didn’t plan and didn’t want to emigrate, I had no such plans. And I didn’t want to be where I was. That was the most difficult for me.
It is also difficult because all this time you live in two parallel realities. One reality is a peaceful and calm life where you have water, gas, heat, food, clothes, that is, a minimum set of benefits. Another reality is there, in Ukraine, with bombings, with death. You open Facebook and see that the person you recently communicated and had fun with is already being buried. It’s hard to take even now.
Probably, this is the syndrome of the people who survived, saved themselves. This is also felt during a conversation with a friend from Kharkiv. I have water, light, but I can’t turn it on for you, bring water, this helplessness is hard, and also hatred of russians.
During our stay in Poland, the Polish people actually helped a lot. We arrived in Poland in the small town of Gliwice. Then we were just lucky and we met charming people who helped us a lot: both morally and materially. They provided everything we needed. I remember the first time I came to the refugee aid center, asking for help was very difficult for me. We didn’t run away from poverty, we had our normal level of stability and security in Ukraine. And here you have to ask for basic things.
In Poland, I was paid support for children, for myself, but I still started looking for a job almost immediately, only giving myself a few weeks to adapt. And here I was lucky again. Polish people helped and I found a job in my field. I will be grateful to those people I met after February 24 all my life. It’s just incredible.
There is an opinion in Ukraine that nobody needs us abroad. In fact, it’s not true. No one abandoned us to our fate. Especially since we, as people who were running away from the war and were in a complete stupor, didn’t need much.
I worked as a journalist at a local television company. Polish people were really very supportive: they sympathized and helped. I was always convinced that I had absolutely nothing to do abroad with my profession as a journalist. Because perfect knowledge of the language is mandatory. But the war destroyed our lives, and with it many stereotypes.
Working in a profession with a minimal set of words and the absence of Ukrainian layout on the keyboard is our reality. I wrote the text in Ukrainian and translated it into Polish in Google Translate, and the girls edited. I understood everything by ear, because the language is very similar, but speaking is more difficult. I had a disaster with grammar, sets of letters could practically not be put together into familiar words. I am extremely grateful for the support I received.
However, in reality, Polish people were also very worried about their country, because they knew that they could be next, and it was felt in the air. Then I decided to go further. Since I know English, and a visa to England could be opened for Ukrainians, I thought that it would be easier for me to adapt and settle in there, because I didn’t know Polish at all.
Do I plan to return to Ukraine? I can’t say whether I plan it or not, because it depends on many factors. It’s very simple. After February 24, I learned to live here and now. I don’t make long-term plans, not even medium-term ones. The maximum is some short-term plans, depending on the situation. I chose for myself what should happen to decide to come back to Ukraine. This will happen when the sky is opened for passenger planes to Ukraine.
The children are asking to come back and this has its own difficulties, because I can’t just pack and go. I just have to accept that this is the way it is now. It’s easier because we can talk to our loved ones at a distance through means of communication, via video calls. But I don’t need sympathy, because I feel better than people who are now in Kupiansk or in Nova Kakhovka.
Good news from Ukraine makes me glad the most. Those soldiers who raise Ukrainian flags in the de-occupied territories become darling and dear. Honor and praise to them! It’s such a pity that the price is so high. This is the pain and sorrow of our people.
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: Yuliia Demchuk