АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Kateryna Pavlova
30 September 2022
Kateryna Vlasova is from Donetsk. In 2014, the woman and her family were one of the last to leave the city. The family settled in Kyiv, although for the first few months Kateryna was afraid that the war could spread to the entire territory of Ukraine. This did not happen in 2014, but in 2022 the family had to flee war again. When the bridges in Kyiv started to block, Kateryna and her husband and son left for Chernivtsi. Kateryna decided to evacuate abroad after she found out that in Irpen the rashists (russian army) killed her friend’s family. The woman went to France by car, where she is now. Kateryna told the story of her departure and adaptation abroad to the “Monologues of the War” project.
My family consists of three people — me, my husband, and a child. We are from Donetsk. In 2014, we were forced to leave Donetsk and moved to Kyiv. We settled down in Kyiv during these 8 years and bought an apartment. I work as a travel agent; my husband also works in the tourism industry.
In 2014, we stayed in Donetsk until the last possible moment and left it in mid-June. We were among the last to leave. We worked until the last possible, we had our office in the city centre, on Artema Street. We were working in the tourism sphere and, including railway tickets sale. Many people were leaving, but we still had the resources to stay until the last moment, because we had access to these tickets. Sales were still on, so we stayed there. But there was a problem in taking the cash out of there. My mother lives 30 kilometres from Donetsk — in Dokuchayevsk, which was then controlled by Ukraine. There was still a bank there because in Donetsk they no longer worked and did not accept cash. Therefore, we transferred everything there, it was always at risk. Somehow, I did not believe that everything would happen as it did in Donbas. I was waiting that this situation would be resolved in some way. But, when I saw that a column of tanks was headed by Artema street, we packed all our stuff, loaded it into the car and went off.
We moved to my mother, to Dokuchaevsk, installed our computers there, and made a mini office. Employees from Donetsk also came there to work. And as long as the city remained under the control of Ukraine (now it is the territory of the “DNR”— Donetsk People’s Republic), it was possible to work and take cash to the bank. But, one day there was an explosion right next to us, they tried to blow up the bridge, which was 500 meters from our house. The whole house trembled from this explosion, and I realized that it was time to leave. So, we went to Kyiv, because one of our business branches was there. In general, we had 3 branches — in Kyiv, Donetsk and Luhansk.
When I moved to Kyiv, I was so frightened by what happened that for the first two months I was sure that this would continue, and the war would spread around the whole of Ukraine. Therefore, I was living with packed suitcases in Kyiv for some time. But, then I realized that the offensive of russia and its mercenaries stopped, and some borders were formed, which people began to cross. My parents stayed in Donetsk. The husband’s parents live in Crimea, so all territories where we have relatives remained outside the boundaries of Ukrainian authorities. My dad died in February, I couldn’t come to his funeral. For all these 8 years, I also did not visit Donetsk, because it was very risky. And I don’t want to go through such risks because I have a son. That’s why neither I nor my husband went to Donetsk during this time.
I work in the tourism sphere and before the full-scale military invasion, I saw how airlines leave the Ukrainian market, and how they block the sale of tickets. Of course, by analogy with Donetsk, I had a clear feeling that something bad will happen. This foreboding aroused around the beginning of December. I even asked my husband several times to go somewhere, at least for the holidays. But he refused and said that I was just getting myself worked up and overacting. So, after talking with many friends from Donetsk, I decided to stay in Kyiv. All my acquaintances from Donetsk stayed in Kyiv until the last moment. Moreover, Kyiv residents had a stronger tendency to panic then. I had a very bad feeling, but I tried to ignore it.
On the morning of February 24, I was woken up by my friend who told me that the war had begun. I looked out the window and saw that a lot of people were gathering things, packing stuff into cars, and leaving. I saw queues in front of the pharmacy, ATM, and supermarket. I also told my husband to buy some food. We knew that the war had begun, but we decided that we would not leave yet, and would stay in Kyiv. We will observe the situation, maybe it’s just intimidation and everything will stop quickly. Perhaps some negotiations will begin. Besides, I thought it was too late to run away. Moreover, the news reported that there are traffic jams on the roads, various events are happening, and tanks are moving along the roads somewhere. So, during the first days, we stayed in our apartment. I have a remote job; I work for a French company. The French continued to fly, so my work continued. The son and husband also stayed at home.
We stayed in Kyiv until the moment when they started shooting in Bucha and Irpin. We have many friends in Bucha and Irpin, including people from Donetsk, who told us what was happening there as eyewitnesses. We talked almost every day. I understood that terrible things are happening there and that it is not so far from us. When I saw that they started to block the bridges, I told my husband that we had to leave. Because if they block the last bridge, we can get stuck. That’s why on March 3, we packed our things and drove to Western Ukraine.
There was also another woman from Bucha with us because I announced that I was leaving and offered help if anyone needed it. My friend asked me to pick up her mother, who moved from Bucha to Kyiv. So, we also picked her up on the way. We were driving towards Chernivtsi because thanks to friends I found a hotel room there. I had this hotel contact because I am a tour manager. I called the hostess of this hotel and asked if there were available rooms. She confirmed that she would be able to provide us with a room for three people. So, as soon as we sat down and drove off, we knew there was a place for us. We stayed in Chernivtsi until March 8. The day before, on March 7, my friend’s family — two children and a woman – were killed in Irpin. I understood that the situation is very serious. In addition, at night I noticed that something afar was glowing. And I realized that our hotel is located right under the Chernivtsi airport.
My husband found a friend who could provide us with an apartment in France. He told us that we can come and live there for free. My husband insisted that my son and I need to go. So, I took the child, also took the cat and the dog, and went by car to France. Since the borders were crowded, I decided to take a detour, through places where there would be fewer queues. I drove through Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Austria, and Germany. The road took 10 days, taking into account the fact that on the way I stopped at friends’ house to rest for 2-3 nights. In general, I drove 3 thousand kilometres. We were greeted very nicely at the borders, several times I could barely hold myself back from crying. We were helped in different ways; flowers were present to women. My dog is vaccinated and has a passport, but the cat is already an old pet and has never travelled anywhere. She (the cat) does not have any vaccines. However, no one paid any attention to this, and they let us through without any problems at all. At the borders, they tried to do everything very quickly. Apart from the Hungarians. The Hungarians held us inlined on for a very long time, but this was because many Ukrainians had problems with their documents. They tried to record it. And if we had all the documents in order, they just looked at them and immediately let us pass.
I came to my friends in France, in the city of Amiens, which is 120 kilometres from Paris. My friends helped me to register at the local prefecture to get a long-term residence permit. I registered, as a refugee I was assigned financial benefits, and for 4 months I lived with friends. At the same time, I left a request that I am looking for help with placement. And after 4 months they found me an apartment. France helped me to rent it, almost completely paying for it. This is an ordinary apartment, only in an area that is a bit further from the centre. And the state pays for this apartment. I continue to work in the Ukrainian branch of a French company. Since I speak French perfectly, adaptation was easier, and I had no problems getting along with people. I easily integrated into French society. Moreover, I have French friends. Therefore, I feel comfortable here and I don’t feel alone.
The French insisted that my son must go to college, so he can integrate into school life. Therefore, we could not attend the Ukrainian school virtually, because classes were held during the same hours. But I wanted my son to finish the 8th grade, so he then had to finish the Ukrainian school externally. Now the son is studying at a local college and at the same time at a Ukrainian school, so as not to lose the base when we return. He will finish the 9th grade in a Ukrainian school as well. He will also attend a school here because in France it is impossible not to study, these are the rules. Of course, we plan to return to Ukraine, because our apartment is there, where our husband is waiting for us. Therefore, we are waiting for victory!
Since many of my relatives are located on the russian side, and the other part is on the Ukrainian side, I felt some uncertainty. And now we do not communicate with many relatives who are on the russian side. This is probably a familiar situation for many. Now I have a clear understanding that it is impossible to take a neutral side. You need to realize whose side you are on and what you are fighting for. This understanding came to me starting in February. However, I had it before, but there we difficulties because I had many friends from that side (Russian), so in some ways, I was trying to be loyal. But I had to make a choice and stop being friends with those with whom we have different views.
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: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Kateryna Pavlova
Up to 80% of us will come out of this war without significant trauma, which would break us forever. A psychologist from Cherkasy told about the evacuation from Kyiv to Prague and adaptation in a new country