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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Olena Romanenko

    “My boyfriend and I were celebrating our engagement in Sri Lanka when the war started.” The story of a successful Kharkiv woman who remotely evacuated her daughter from shelling

    Ukrainians abroad

    АвторAuthor: Olena Romanenko | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk

    29 August 2022

    Olha Ostrykova is a yoga teacher, well-known far beyond Kharkiv. She was abroad when the war started, and her daughter stayed in Kharkiv with her grandmother. Olha exclusively told “Monologues of the War” how her daughter was living in the subway, then took the evacuation train to Lviv, and after that crossed the border to Poland. 

    In Kharkiv, I conducted group and individual yoga training, as well as held sports events with various specialists. As of March 2022, I had several fitness projects planned and groups scheduled until the end of the year. I was living an active life, raising my daughter and planning a summer wedding. My boyfriend proposed to me on New Year’s Eve, gave me an engagement ring and organized a trip to Sri Lanka to celebrate our engagement.

    On February 23, we were celebrating his birthday, drinking wine and making plans for the future. On the morning of February 24, we went to the kitchen of the villa, where we lived with our friends, and heard: “Guys, the war in Ukraine has begun!” I wondered if they meant the real war, with fighter jets, missiles and everything. I took it as a stupid joke!

    My daughter cried into the phone and asked me to save her

    In the first minutes, when I realized that the war was real, I thought: what a pity, now I won’t have a wedding. The next thought was: if they shoot, I probably won’t have a home anymore. The third thought: oh my God, my only daughter Varya, she must be rescued right now and nothing else matters!

    We decided to go to the airport immediately to get our tickets for the earliest flight. I called home, talked to my mom, she was very scared, then talked to my daughter – she was crying and begging me to save them! It was terrifying to realize that I was on the other side of the world and could not influence the situation in any way. I begged them to leave for Vinnytsia, as I found a place for them there, but they refused. It was very dangerous to go outside, there was constant shelling, constant reports of air raids.

    For two nights my mother and daughter slept in the subway hiding from shells, returning home in the afternoon to eat and change. I was calling them and screaming into the phone to get into the car and go to the railway station to take the evacuation train to Lviv. They seemed to agree, but they were very afraid that they wouldn’t even be able to leave the parking lot, because of constant shelling, and it was simply dangerous to drive through the city.

    I was on my way to the airport when I received a message that they were getting on a train at the railway station. The scariest hours in my life were when I was on a plane from Colombo to Istanbul, without the Internet, in the air, not knowing whether their train had left or remained in Kharkiv.

    The flight was through the Maldives, and when we landed, many Russian tourists boarded the plane. By some chance, a drunken Russian man in a t-shirt with a huge inscription “For Russia” took the seat next to me. I felt so disgusted next to him that I just moaned from the pain inside. He told me to behave more quietly. I couldn’t stand it and attacked him with my fists, I was hysterical, I was just desperate! Several people were pulling me away.

    A long way to mom

    On the plane, I demanded that they give me Wi-Fi, because I didn’t know where my daughter was, how she was, how that train was going… because there were alarms all over Ukraine. When I managed to get hold of the network, I found out that the Kharkiv-Lviv train went on a different route with a stop in Kyiv. On the way, the glass in my family’s compartment was broken, so they drove half the way without a window. Everything got wet, it was very cold, and Varvara got very sick on this trip.

    When my daughter got off the train in Lviv, I landed in Istanbul. My goal was to reach any border with Ukraine to take my child from there. From Istanbul, on the same day, we took a ticket to Prague, and from there to Krakow. I had no idea how and who would help my relatives get there. It was on February 28, when people were standing at the borders for several days.

    But a miracle happened! Before I boarded a plane to Krakow, a friend called me and said that she would drive my daughter and my mother to me. She was not even a friend, just an acquaintance who practiced yoga with me. She simply put my daughter in her car, together with her five children, and took her abroad. My boyfriend and I stood at the border with Poland for more than 8 hours, waiting for our daughter. It was the most anticipated meeting in my life. The worst was over.

    The scene at the border was scary. It was dark, raining, people walking with children wrapped in blankets, along with dogs and cats, women with empty eyes, completely defenseless, old people walking on without any destination. We decided to stay in Krakow for two weeks to be with our daughter, let her calm down and breathe.

    I was so grateful to the people who took my child out that I felt it was my duty to help others

    The friend who took my daughter across the Polish border left us her car and flew to another country. During those two weeks living in Krakow, I was coming to the border to help women with children. I simply got out of the car and met them, offered my help, said that I was going to Krakow, I could give them a ride. There were many people like me, my fiance did the same thing, he also transported those who crossed the border on foot. It was very cold, windy, there was a lot of panic and despair, so I was very glad that I could help in any way.

    Since the beginning of the war, I was restless, I desperately wanted to return to Ukraine, to my hometown Kharkiv. Later we moved to Wrocław, because I thought I would be more comfortable if I changed the surroundings.

    We did not ask for shelter anywhere, nor for payments or registrations. Despite the fact that my work and my fiance’s business was put on hold, we rented an apartment and paid for everything ourselves. I found myself abroad with my man, so I felt I had no moral right to ask for free shelter, because I knew that there were thousands of women who left their homes alone with their children and they needed help more than I did. The only thing I took advantage of was eating one “volunteer” sandwich on the border with Poland while I was waiting for my daughter (editor’s note: she said, laughing).

    Rescue of a beloved cat

    In Wroclaw, I resumed online yoga training. During one of the classes, I saw messages in the chat room of our house in Kharkiv that a missile hit it. People reported that the house was partially destroyed, the walls remained, but inside almost everything caved in, there were no doors, no windows, only a frame.

    My cat, who grew up with me and whom my whole family loved very much, was there. I knew that most likely he died. I told my mother about it, she didn’t even want to hear such a thing and was convinced that the cat was alive. She said that she had a feeling. On the morning of the second day, we got a call from a neighbor who survived in her apartment and got out from under the rubble. She said that she could really hear a cat meowing from our destroyed apartment! I laughed through my tears! I posted an ad on my Instagram with a request to find volunteers or rescuers who can save this old lady and our cat.

    Read also: “His message started with the words ‘I’m still alive.” The story of a woman soldier who died in Mariupol

    At that time, Kharkiv was heavily bombed, every day, several times a day. I understood that no one would want to put themselves in danger because of a cat and an old lady. I thought it was pointless, and almost accepted the fact that I would never see him again.

    The next day, an acquaintance called me and said: Olya, I’m near your house, tell me where to go, I’ll take the cat. I heard explosions on the phone, I told her to “forget it, go away, don’t do anything, you are in danger!” But she didn’t listen. She went in, saved the old lady, found the cat that was covered with fragments of walls and took him to her place outside the city. Then my mother took the cat to us…

    We could not live in Montenegro because of Russian tourists 

    The war continued, my city and my country were being destroyed, and I couldn’t get a grip of myself. I felt mentally exhausted, I had no strength for anything. I decided that the sea would help me and suggested we go to Montenegro. We got into the car and drove 2,000 km, rented an apartment there and tried to distract ourselves.

    We lived in a new place for one and a half months and took my boyfriend’s parents there, who had been living under shelling in Kharkiv for three months. We wanted them to be able to rest and sleep soundly through the night without being woken up by air alarms.

    Sunday meeting in Poland

    Olha on a sunday support Ukraine meeting in Poland

    In Montenegro it became extremely uncomfortable as the summer season began. A lot of Russians came, they behaved rudely, aggressively, and had a negative attitude towards us. It was then that my husband and I decided to switch completely to the Ukrainian language so that they would not understand us and to show our distinction. My daughter was dead set against communicating with Russian children, and spoke in English so that they could not understand her. There was no support from the locals, for them there was no war in Ukraine, they simply earned money by hosting tourists near the sea.

    After returning to Ukraine, I felt alive again

    Every day, living abroad, I dreamed of returning to Ukraine. I wanted to come back to Kyiv, I knew that it was practically safe there, as several friends returned and told me how things were going there. But I understood that for my boyfriend it was a “one way ticket” and that he would not be able to go back abroad due to martial law. That’s why I wanted us to make such a decision together.

    He did not agree immediately, because he had been waiting for a job offer for almost four months. He had a good business, but with the war, unfortunately, he lost it. And then we were informed that there is a wonderful place for him in Kyiv. We thought that it was fate and started packing.

    The family in Kyiv

    Olha and her daughter Varvara, happy and cheerful, in Kyiv

    In Kyiv, I realized that I was alive again, that I was breathing freely and sleeping peacefully. We have many friends here, everything is familiar here, it’s almost like home, although I’m aware that my home isn’t there anymore. Here, in Ukraine, you appreciate every new day, every morning, every cup of coffee and every smile of a fellow citizen.

    Kharkiv has changed a lot, it is just trying to survive

    After returning to Ukraine, I came to Kharkiv twice to pick up things from my apartment and my parents’ apartment. My Kharkiv, always noisy and crowded, is just trying to survive now. There are practically no people on the streets. Universities and schools are destroyed, hospitals are closed, it is painful to look at. So far, I cannot see my life in Kharkiv. I can’t imagine walking again with my daughter in my favorite park, which is now disfigured by shell craters. Now we have nowhere to return, our city continues to be shelled every day.

    We continue to live in Kyiv. For the month of us living here I have never heard an explosion, only air alarms. We work, my daughter goes to camp and dances. We are happy to have returned to Ukraine. Life in the capital is raging and we are staying here for the safety of all of us.

    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: Olena Romanenko | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk

    Ukrainians abroad

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