It all started on the night of 24 February… My oldest daughter’s (Alyona) godfather gave us a call at dead of night and said he was taking her to our home, which is in the village of Plakhtyanka, from Kyiv because the war broke out… I had some plans to go to Kyiv on business in the morning. I needed to pick up some children’s clothes provided by ‘Caritas-Spes’ for the villagers and receive a document for social assistance re-registration. I was sure it was only panic and nothing would happen. But the war began at 4am. There was shelling everywhere, with the sky rumbling and the ground shaking. We quickly ran to the load-bearing wall in our house, sat down on the floor, and started waiting. All our family began praying for God’s Mercy shortly after. On the morning of 25 February, a battle was raging. Loud shells coming from Bucha made our house shake. I packed some stuff for a shelter and took it to the van. We don’t have a cellar in our house so I went to our neighbours and asked them where we could hide. There was no bomb shelter in the village, only somewhere around Makariv (Ed. an urban-type settlement in Kyiv Oblast). We decided to stay home and sleep next to the very same wall. We still had electricity, internet connection and other means of comms. I put on some cartoons for the kids really loudly so that they didn’t cry because of the noises. My younger children couldn’t stop crying because of stress and fear. I prayed to God to stop the war… The bridge near the car park was blown up. The access to Kyiv was cut. That day was the beginning of our real nightmares. Who could even think that our area was of any interest to anyone? There are no military facilities; the village is full of multi-child families, elderly women and men. Being in panic, my older daughter and I started to make Molotov cocktails. I also began baking bread for the territorial defence units. Our younger kids rolled up handmade bandages from bedsheets and pencils for the wounded. That was absurd but for real. We brought in some pitchforks, an axe, some Molotov cocktails, unleashed our dog, closed the doors and windows and started to wait what was next. We prayed for God’s Mercy all the time. The children fell asleep. The noises were coming closer. At 5am I woke up hearing terrible blasts. Some kids peed while sleeping but they were all still asleep, holding their hands in prayers the same way as they fell asleep the night before. It was still 26 February… Our grandma texted me on Viber, saying, ‘Sweetie, d’you understand who they are? What cocktails? They ran away into the woods, the ones who left their war machines on the roads, fleeing to save their lives! You need to find a safer place! Take care of yourselves! Be careful, my love! May Lord help ya’ll!’
27.02. An air-raid siren. Again. I could no longer bear hearing those blasts, with my hands shaking all the time and dropping things. We started to run out of food. I began to panic. We had a box of MIVINA instant noodles, a few packages of sausage and a tin of stewed meat. The enemy’s war machines, marked with the letter V, were in Makariv. Dozens of the enemy’s war machines were heading to Havronschyna, which is just in a five-minute walk from our village. They started to jam the comms. But we still had a chance to listen to the news because we had electricity. The kids refused to eat for three days straight. Who knew that their refusal would save our lives in the future? The ‘orcs’ began to wander around the nearby villages, suggesting ‘evacuation’. Dear Lord, if a man went out, they’d shoot him in his legs. We decided to run away to the director of the factory located in our village. He let us in, thanks goodness! We slept in the lab, which is on the ground floor, on the territory of the factory that produces rat poisons. We were given some pallets and water. A priest brought some candles to us. We took all the warm bedsheets from home with us. It was dark inside, but calm. We were safe.
Yes, we could hear blasts in the distance but we were not alone. 28.02. The electricity was out. The cell phone towers were blown up. The end… We could no longer know, hear or see anything. Our neighbours said the enemy was shelling chaotically, hitting the houses and hospitals. They used flame-throwers to fire up the homes. All the villagers got together at the building of the village council. We began living our lives right there and right at that time. Somebody brought children’s boarding games, somebody suggested some potatoes. There was one group of people ready for self-evacuation. The head of the council came and said, ‘Please summon up your patience. The battles are raging in all directions. We are trapped inside. We need to stay in here now’. I came back to the shelter. What could I tell my kids? We couldn’t walk out because there were snipers out there. The explosions were everywhere. We ate the MIVINA noodles, drank distilled water from the factory bottles. We had quite a lot of sucking sweets, which stopped us from eating because they contained lots of sugar. It was really cold. I was desperate for a hot tea, at least for a single sip! Alright then, maybe not tea, perhaps some hot water! I had a 2L thermos. We started the generator in the factory. I made some hot tea for my kids. ‘You only have 2 litres a day! So please save it up! Only in case of necessity!’ Everyone poured just a little bit of hot water and cover their thermoses with their blankets. The village was in panic. The first group of villagers set off but no one knew how the group was because there was no connection with them.
03.03. A baby girl was born in the doctor’s surgery while the enemy was shelling. I ran home to pick up some clothes for the baby. The war kills, but the baby is born. Great news. We’re such a nation, you see: we’re scared at first, but then we don’t care. And when we don’t care, everyone around gets scared of us. The guys gathered and formed our own territorial defence unit. They cut down trees onto the roads, made Molotov cocktails, set up some traps and arranged for a few sentries at the top of the factory tower. 03.03. Evening. The machine gun burst was nearby, somewhere in the woods. Alyonka was quietly reading the book ‘Flowers for Algernon’ to the kids. The kids fell asleep, but I burst into tears. 04.03. Alyonka found a ‘Love is…’ bubble gum pic under her mobile phone case. ‘Love is when someone protects you’, said she, smiling. Then we went to the kids. God loves us. He cares of us. We are alive. A part from the group managed to flee. So did some of our villagers. But no one knew that. They notified us when they finally managed to flee. A few people managed to get some connection from the tower. We spent five days without heating, warm meals… The nervous breakdown was now closer. It continued from March 5 till 8… I decided to go home with the kids, at least for an hour, to get them washed and feed them with warm meals. We went out, coming down to our house from the hill… Two bullets flew over my head. We got down but kept on moving towards our house. As we turned into our front yard, a blast went off, the fence fell down and we ran into the house. The kids hid under the stove to get warm while I started to make soup as fast as I could. I was scared but I kept going to our chickens, our dog and poured them as much food as possible so that they could have it for a few days. I collected all the eggs, the kids quickly had their dinner. I packed the leftovers in a bedsheet and we ran back to the shelter. We learnt that the priest tried to get the column out but it came under fire. A mother and her two children were in one of the cars. The mother got shot in her arm, one of the kids in the belly and the other one in the arm, too. I still don’t know how they are now. No one wanted to flee the village. Our kindergarten was shelled, with a big blast going off and lots of debris around after. There were wounded people again. Our shelter was housing more and more families at that time. God, help us, please!
09. 03. All the villagers started to assemble. We counted all the drivers and prepared the cars to set off. Our van tank was full of diesel, but the clutch was broken. We asked some drivers to let us in but no one could promise us that. They all said to come at 4am and ask if someone could agree to let at least one kid into a van. Feeling determined, I ran to my neighbour, asked him to take my house and car keys, handed him all the money I had and begged him to look after my house. He said, ‘No one will let you in. There are six of you! They don’t wanna let even one person in’. I said to him, ‘I prayed to God. They will let us in. If not, that’ll be God’s will. God rescues!’ I ran to my kids, put all the toys and some of the bedsheets into the van and said to them, ‘We’re gonna sleep in our clothes, cannot promise you anything but we’ll be trying to ask them to let us into the column’. Later that evening, I ran to the cell phone tower to call our godfather because he was the only one to have the Vodafone carrier, which was still on. I said to him, ‘Lyonia, we’re gonna try to get out of here. Pray for us!’ That was it, with the silence around and another night on our knees. Morning, 4am, a backpack with documents and we were running through the column, crying out, ‘Let one kid into each van, please!’ Everybody closed their windows and said with a pity, ‘No room left’. The last car in the column, a boy gets out, his uncle and aunt refused to go, they gave him their car and he was placed at the back of the column. He saw me and the kids being frightened and pale, with the older daughter crying. He asked me, ‘Where are you going?’. I said to him, ‘Wherever you can! We’re from Kyiv, but there’s a battle there. They say Zhytomyr is the only way out?’. ‘Well, I’m not heading to Zhytomyr. If Kyiv, then you can jump in, there’s room for 4 people, I’m going alone…’ Done. I quietly prayed for God’s Mercy. There was silence around. On the road to Zhytomyr there were tanks on fire, dead people, some were torn apart, lots of smoke… But there was silence because the battle just finished. We were going silently in the column through Korostyshiv. Dead villages, many blowup cars. 6 hours later we were in Kyiv. Hallelujah! Lyonia Zihert, the godfather, was meeting us happily. We were all crying! Finally, we were free. He took us to the Cathedral of St. Alexander, the city around was dead. Another Kyiv as if in horror films. We had a quick, warm lunch and hot tea. The kids were leaning on their godfather. We were safe. There was some info on trains heading to western Ukraine on schedule. The nuns packed some treats, sweets and water for us hurriedly. We got into a car and went to the station. Meanwhile, Alyonka and Pascale (Ed. Olena Noha, ‘Caritas-Spes Ukraine’ Project Manager, Pascale Vayer, Founder of ‘Little Hearts’ in Austria) were already arranging our further route. Another 18 hours and we were in the city of Uzhhorod, at the border. It didn’t seem for real at that time. There was almost no queue there. We went to the checkpoint. Three good guys, Alex, Paul and Janik, texted us, ‘Our dears, we’re on our way to you now. Just wait for us. By evening, you’ll be finally safe’. They had never seen us before, never known any of us but they were going 750km to the border just for one reason — to save us. They came for us with clothes and sweets, hugged us as if we’d been the best friends the whole life. Paul said, ‘Are you dirty? We’re gonna get a room for you at a hotel so that you could wash yourselves and put on clean clothes’. That was unbelievable. It was nightfall already. We ran into the hotel fast. The receptionist didn’t understand who we were, what was going on and why we needed a room for one hour to just wash ourselves. Paul said, ‘Ukraine, children…’. The woman found a towel for us quickly and helped the children to get everything done fast. We got into the car. The engine started, the children fell asleep. Then it was morning, 7am, Pascale’s house.
Tears… Lots of tears, tears of both happiness and sorrow… To be continued… One more little miracle. Pascale, her husband and children welcomed us all to stay overnight. Having given us enough time to get some rest from our travel, she and her older daughter suggested going shopping. She bought some changing clothes, slippers, underwear and pyjamas for us. We spent another night at her house and the very next morning we set off to the town of Waidhofen. We were going there, knowing that there was no room left in the guest house where some friends of ours stayed. Then Pascale said to us, ‘The owners have moved out of their house and suggested it to you for a temporary stay’. Doesn’t God take care of His children? God’s Mercy is above all dilemmas, above everything! I’m deeply grateful to every person who opened their heart to God’s Mercy in our story! Most certain now, to be continued… The story was written by the author. Svitlana’s story is not single. The Mission’s commitment is to save people’s lives. Help us to enable helping others.