Ukrainian Refugee

Hello everyone! My name is Tanya Mahel, my maiden name is Danylyuk. I’m 32 years old. I have a son, his name is Arsen, he’s almost 8. He went to school. I had my own peaceful life, I had a big house with a big and green yard. I had a job. I had our beloved German shepherd dog. I had nice clothes and pretty shoes. 

You ask me why I write everything in the past tense? Because one February day changed everything in my life, in lives of all Ukrainian people. 
So, how it was?

On February, 23 2022  it was very cold and dark evening. Our dog was very nervous and was barking all time. We were scared. 

Our morning on February 24 started as usual. I got up at 6 a.m., I prepared the breakfast, put on my clothes, my son woke up and we were ready to go out. My phone got a message. My son’s teacher wrote that the war started, cities like Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk were bombed by Russian soldiers and all schools and kindergartens became closed. Time has stopped.

How did I feel at that moment? I felt despair, pain, fear, anger. These were emotions that could not be described, they just had to be experienced. There was only one question in my head, what to do next?

When I was getting to my work, I saw a lot of people near the shops and supermarkets. Gas stations were overcrowded with cars, a huge crowd of people at ATMs and empty shelves in pharmacies. Chaos and panic were in the streets. This is the beginning of the great Ukrainian struggle for independence and democracy.

It would seem that this day lasted an eternity, and the night was the longest in my life. We were very scared. We spent a few days in our basement. Today is the 21st century, but we left our home and had to live in a cold and damp basement, because it was safe place. 

In a few days, we decided to go abroad to our relatives in Poland. Only women and children could go. Our fathers, husbands, brothers, adult sons stayed in Ukraine. Our, I even don’t know how to say, way or trip to Poland was hard and very long. We just took one small bag with documents and some necessary stuff. It was night, there were a lot of policemen, women, sleeping babies, children, old people on the Ukrainian-Polish border. And, you know, it was  terrible.

People left their homes, houses, they left everything just to save their lives. So, we did the same. We left everything in Ukraine, house, jobs, clothes, pretty shoes and so on… And now we’re in Poland, in a foreign country without job, without money, without my dad and other native and beloved people. My mom is very upset. I don’t know how to explain to my son why we left Ukraine and why he should study in a Polish school. Every day we pray God, that the war is over.  We are afraid every day, emotionally it is very difficult to realize that in Poland we have to start our  life anew. 

What does it mean war? War is a lot of bombs, crying, human cries, fire, death, horror, destroyed houses, streets, cities, infrastructure, the economy as a whole.

Just few days ago my native city was bombed by Russian rockets. This is the war, our today’s terrible reality.

I, my mom and my little son, are reduced to begging everyone to help us in this difficult time. We are just one family!

A Camp in Ukraine

Interview by Ukrainian Olya Zhugan:

I’m looking at the woman, standing in front of me. Her name is the same as mine, Olia, and sharing this makes me feel closer to her. She is probably just a bit younger than I am, in her early thirties but she definitely looks more exhausted, sad or is it frightened. I can’t quite describe what it is I see in her eyes. She is not wearing any make-up, her hair is not done and her dress is a bit wrinkled.

UkHouseWe are standing on a little verandah outside a tiny wooden house. There are about thirty of them, absolutely identical. The houses are set on the edge of the wood. They are quite old and shabby, but surrounded by ancient tall oaks, which makes me think of a fairy-tale. It is the best she do now; an abandoned children’s camp that was provided to the Displaced by the authorities.

It is only two weeks since Olia together with many other people arrived at this camp. It lacks most of the things they were used to when living in a modern European city. Now they do not have hot water or heating, and only a few crude stoves for a hundred people. Most of them only took absolutely essential things when they were fleeing — money, documents and some clothes. There was no time or possibility to get a van or a truck and bring what they needed. It was too expensive anyway. Transporting people away from the war has become a business for some people.

“So, how are you getting on? – I ask her.

“It is not that bad,” she replies. “Of course, we had to forget about lots of things, which seemed to be just ordinary things in our everyday life. We do not have an iron, a hairdryer or a microwave. But when you start worrying about what to give your children for lunch or how to keep yourself clean, you stop thinking about such trivial things.

People from the community outside bring a lot of things for us here, from tissues to duvets. I do not know what we’d do without their help.”

“Are you here with your family?”

“Yes, I came here with my husband and a 10 year- old son. But my parents decided to stay behind the line. The line — it’s how they call it — an unofficial border in an unofficial state. As soon as you cross it, you can’t be sure of anything. This war is not like a real war. There are no planes, bombs or thousands of troops. But it does look different. But, it is a war.

There are many people wearing camouflage, many military vehicles, too many windowless buildings.”

And what does your husband do?
“Oh, actually he is a mechanic. He is looking for a job now.”

She pauses and smiles sadly. And I know why.

It is nearly impossible for a person who comes from behind “the line” to get a job. People are too suspicious of them.  People are afraid of employing or just dealing with people from Donbass, people who came from behind “the line.”  Many of our locals  consider them traitors and blame them for welcoming the war to the country. And I know that it is true for some but not all. There are still a lot of wonderful people who became prisoners of the situation. I ask Olia.

“What exactly made you leave your home?

“Fear. I couldn’t stand that feeling any more. I was afraid of going outside, of letting my child go to school. Sometimes we spent the night in the bathroom as it was the safest place. It was the only place which could save us from the others. But we left not because we felt fear, because we began to feel the lack of it.

One moment I realized that we were getting used to all of that, staying low and quiet. We became shadows. I do not want my child to live like that. It is hard for us here, but I enjoy lots of things that I never appreciated before.  Oh, it’s not a hair dryer, or the microwave or the stove,” she adds quickly, laughing. “No, it’s about the long walks, relaxed people, quiet mornings.”

Olia is smiling and looks almost happy. I decide that this a good end for our conversation. I wish her good luck and promise to come again.

War Can Knock On Any Door

You wake up every day, take kids to school and do whatever you usually do without its ever crossing your mind that one day everything can change. But then just one single day changes your life; Somewhere in your country, a war has begun.

UkraineRuinMy story is not a story about what happens when war comes to your house. It is about what happens when war stands just outside.

You start checking the news every hour, scared to see if maybe the situation has deteriorated. And the news shows something you never expected to see in your home news: Continue reading