“The next day after our escape, the Russians shot all the cars standing in line trying to leave the city.”
Viktoriia, 44, from Hostomel, Kyiv region. With her three children and their Labrador dog, they managed to leave on the 10th day of the war.
We live 8 km from Kyiv near Hostomel, there are about 350 houses and a forest. Me, my husband, three children, two cats and a dog – that’s our family. I am a psychologist; I have my practice and an office in Kyiv. A few days before that very day, we had discussed the war with our clients, and everyone thought it would be pointless to start a full-scale war. I also believed that this was impossible in the civilized world. I was very tired, but I went to the gas station, filled up the tank, picked up my daughter from her dance class, and then we went home. The next morning, I had to go to the meeting in Kiev, but my husband told me “The war has started.” I was sitting in bed and did not understand what he was talking about. I went into my son’s room and saw planes and helicopters in the sky from his window. It was like a movie. A fighter jet flew over us. I learned from the social media that the Russians were bombing the Hostomel airport. I stood by the window and watched as several helicopters were shot down. In the following days, I witnessed the bombing of the shopping center in Irpin and the demolishing of our bridge, which connected us with Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel.
Clients started asking for advice on how to deal with panic. I quickly translated all my notes into Ukrainian (I am a physical and crisis therapist) and started posting them on Facebook.
We are located on the front line of World War II. There are few dots with observation points left in the forest since that time. I realized that history repeats. A few days later, five helicopters landed in our field. From that moment I was afraid to leave the house, especially when I saw that the gate to our private property was broken. Neighbors said that it was three cars of diversionary groups that drove through the fence at speed. Then our light, heat and water disappeared. The temperature dropped to 9 degrees in our house. We moved to the first floor of the house. During the pandemic, we turned the garage into a small room because we didn’t have enough space to work and that saved us – it was the warmest place in the house. We slept there in sleeping bags. We brought a cauldron of water, stones, some firewood and heated the room this way. Our neighbors left their houses one by one; there were fewer and fewer people around.
To recharge the phones, we ran to the neighbors who had a generator. Then it became more difficult because there was no gasoline. Everyone was afraid to leave because they had already seen people being shot on the road. One day a drone hovered over us. We knew that first a drone was hanging in the air, then there would be fireworks, then an explosion. But fortunately, the drone turned around and flew towards Irpin.
One night there was an unbearable silence, even the birds fell silent. I realized that we were used to explosions and shots and at least understood how far they were from us, and the silence brought even more anxiety. The worst things started at five in the morning: our house was shaking, paintings were falling from the walls, the children were shaking like leaves on a tree. Then we realized that we had to get out of there. We began to persuade the neighbors to flee. My kids made signs saying “Children”. We left in three cars and attached these signs to each one.
On the next street, we saw a destroyed tank. We left in a narrow period of time when it was possible to skip the checkpoints. After 40 minutes, the territory was cut off by force, and the next day all the cars waiting in line to leave Bucha and Irpin were shot. We drove 8 hours to Vinnytsia to spend the night there. I still don’t understand how I drove so fast in the dark, in the rain, following another car. We did not take anything useful with us – only sleeping bags, blankets and sportswear. Seven hours later, I was driving again. We went to Ivano-Frankivsk to spend the night there, and then we went to Poland. And the first thing we saw when we got out of the cars to breathe the air was a plane. The three of us froze; the body disobeyed the brain.
It was difficult for us to find housing. We were sent to a recreation complex in Zakopane for 18 days. It seemed that it should make us happy – nature, silence. But we felt very bad there. There were no people around. We found ourselves in the same isolation as at home during the war when all the neighbours left. When we finally arrived in Kraków, I could not get away from the window – I was standing and watching how children and teenagers were playing and making noise in the large playground. The air was full of life.
Text by Vira Baldyniuk
An exhibition by the Galicia Jewish Museum,