Watching the news is always a battle. You want to feel informed, but you also want to block out upsetting events. However, in recent months I’ve become hooked on daily reports. The reason? My mother travelled into Ukraine during the war. Despite many individuals fleeing the country, she was desperate to enter. The more I listened to her experiences, the more I could imagine the visuals. In my own words, here’s my mother’s account.
Towards the end of March, my mother received an unpleasant + shocking update. My grandfather was severely unwell. At this point, I knew what was coming. She would be entering Ukraine, immediately. Of course, a million thoughts passed through my mind. Is it really a good idea? Can’t the neighbours call the ambulance? Are trains in Ukraine even running? Yet deep down, I understood. This was her own father, after all.
We already knew all flights to Ukraine were cancelled, so I browsed options. Not that there were many. United Kingdom to Poland was the easiest. Krakow specifically, as the city wasn’t too far from the Ukrainian border. The following morning, with a small backpack and a handful of toiletries, my mother set off. The very real possibility she may not return, and that this was our goodbye, kicked in. It wasn’t coincidence that I was given a list of final wishes, just in case…
My mother relied on a small overnight bus from Krakow to Lviv, followed by a train from Lviv to Kyiv. During these 24 hours, I received three messages. The bus was travelling much slower than usual, she said, with increased caution should anyone be hidden on the roads. Naturally, I had questions. Was she okay? Had she eaten? Did she see tanks? Were there many people on the bus? Who was with her? However, it wasn’t the right time. The only certainty was that eight hours later, she had arrived in Lviv. My mother had officially stepped foot in Ukraine.
Kyiv has a curfew. 9 pm to be exact. The train arriving into Kyiv? A handful of minutes before then. In that moment, you only have two options. Wait in the train station until morning or make a run for it. Both were frightening, but my mother chose the latter. Those 15 minutes spare should get her to my grandad’s apartment in time. Although, this wasn’t an ordinary run-across-the-city-to-get-home situation. A few seconds could be the difference between life or death. Tunnel vision kicks in.
Just like one individual reported on BBC News, citizens slept in outdoor clothing due to the threat of sirens. Evacuation bags were prepared by the door as a default. The unpredictability was crippling, but daytime events weren’t much better. The military presence on each corner served as a constant reminder you’re in the midst of war. Passport checks and questioning of whereabouts became the norm, yet they also provided a chance to communicate. My mother recalled a particularly upsetting conversation with one soldier who helped her reach the hospital. From how she described the male, he wasn’t much older than 21. He would later tell my mother she reminded him of his own and that he hoped to return.
When it became apparent my mother wouldn’t come home anytime soon, I started to wonder how she spent her 24 hours. Everything was closed, after all. Even walking around the city became a mission, since locals reported traps embedded into the ground. Whilst Kyiv wasn’t as targeted as other cities in Ukraine, my mother’s morale eventually hit rock bottom. That was the final straw for me. Within minutes, I booked a flight to Poland. I was prepared to take the risk, or at least get as close as I could.
During this time, however, my mother planned to leave Ukraine and make her way into Poland. Later, I discovered she would be residing in a refugee shelter. The place we would be reunited. There was no right moment to enter Ukraine, but timing was on her side. My heart breaks for every single human who wasn’t as lucky.
Whilst this blog post was the product of diary entries from April, I’d like to give a recent update that my mother is currently doing okay and is in the process of bereavement. The emotional support from everyone has kept us going more than words could possibly explain, so thank you. Truly.
Until then, see you in the next post.