Together with DONE DELIVERIES, the AKEDA Foundation conducts activities aimed at helping the families of Ukrainian drivers employed by Polish logistics companies. We invite you to read the interview with Ms Kateryna, whose family was supported under the Carriers4Ukraine program
“The younger son asks: mom, will the Russians apologize to us? I answer: we will see, maybe someday “
“I want to protect my children from war. Howling sirens, nights in the basement… it was something new and terrible for all of us. We, as parents, were afraid to fall asleep, so as not to miss or miss a threat. We didn’t know from which side it could come, ”says Ms Kataryna, who came to Wrocław with her two young sons.
When did you get to Poland?
On March 15, we crossed the border. We traveled for two days on the evacuation train. We got on the train from Zaporozhye to Hel. These trains sometimes traveled to Lviv, where you had to change trains and wait because of the large queue at the border. But we were lucky, we went directly. We stood on the very border for a day. In Poland, our brother, who lives here with his family, was waiting for us.
Such a path must have been very strenuous with young children.
Yes, it was very hard. We didn’t think it would take so long, and there were eight people in a four-person compartment. It was very uncomfortable and stuffy.
How did your sons take it?
The older son, 10-year-old Maksym, took everything quite normally. For the younger, five-year-old Filip, it was the first train journey in his life. Then he said: mama, if we are going home, maybe we would go by car [laughs]. Now he associates the train with an uncomfortable means of transport.
Did your sons realize that you were fleeing the war?
Together with my husband, who stayed in Ukraine, we tried to put them in a positive mood, to present it as a trip. We don’t want to scare them with war. We said it was a trip, that we would be back soon… Of course, we adults do not know if and when it will be safe. And when we come back.
You are trying to protect your children from the terrible news.
Yes. We want to protect their psyche, save them as much as possible from stress. Howling sirens, nights in the basement… it was something new and terrible for all of us. We were all in a state of shock. Strong stress. We, as parents, were afraid to fall asleep, so as not to miss or miss a threat. We didn’t know from which side it might come.
Where did you come from to Wrocław?
We are from Zaporozhye. Currently, 200-300 km from us there are villages under fire and fighting. Rockets struck Zaporozhye itself. The circuit is partially occupied.
How did you make the decision to run away?
My father said: you have to go. Because little children. Don’t let them look at it. We saw on TV what was happening in Mariupol, what the occupiers were doing. It is all so terrible. Additionally, they shot at a village 20 km away from us. Then the decision was made.
My brother and his family have been living in Poland for four years. Brother is the driver. They helped us a lot. They took care of us, thanks to which the fear was lower, we felt at home. My brother’s company helped us a lot. If I was alone with two children, I don’t know what would be.
When the war started, what were you doing? What was that day like?
On February 24, frankly, we didn’t believe it. We woke up, the children were going to school, one to kindergarten, and I was getting ready for work. A friend called me. Very early. And says: have you seen? The war has begun. I didn’t believe her. I heard the plane roar. One that I have never heard before. Then my husband and I turned on the television. And we saw: both here and this way, both in Kiev and with us in Zaporizhia. Started.
Panic broke out. Everyone rushed to the stores. To pharmacies. ATM cards do not work. What to do? Should I go and refuel my car? Run away? Everyone in shock.
What have you done?
We moved to my parents. They live in a single-family house, and we were afraid of possible bombing in a block on the fifth floor. There is a basement in the parents’ house. We all took refuge there.
Did you spend a lot of time in the basement?
When the siren wailed and the Telegram channel announcements “alarm, go to the nearest shelter,” then we went down to the basement. When the alarm was canceled, we left. Now, as far as I know, people are taking it a little bit of it. But we were very scared then, we sat as long as it was necessary – sometimes 4-5 hours.
What were you saying to the children then?
It was a game for the kids. The younger son, when there was no alarm in the evening, asked: mom, are we playing tonight? Are we going down to the basement? It was something new for them, we never did anything like this. We tried to provide them with entertainment there, my mother and I tried to keep them occupied with something. Of course, as long as we sat, the little one cried that he was uncomfortable sleeping. But in general, this is how we tried to present it to them. As a game.
But you had to tell them something about the war.
Yes, they know there is a war. They can also hear our conversations. They understand. The younger one says: Russia has attacked us. He asks: mom, will they apologize to us? I answer: well, we’ll see, maybe someday.
How do you mentally deal with what is happening?
We believe in our victory very much, we support our defenders. We are very grateful to them.
How did Poland receive you?
In Poland, people are very cordial, friendly and good. They relate very well to us, to me, to my children. I haven’t been mistreated yet.
Poland helps a lot. I can see that people who came without anything got a flat, food, clothes. There are help points, places where food is distributed. All this is very important for those who came not like me – to my brother – but those who have no one here. I think that the Ukrainians will forever be grateful to Poland and Poles for this warm welcome.
Did you enroll your children in school and kindergarten?
We only moved to our current apartment on May 1. I went to kindergartens, but this is not the case yet. I enrolled the elder in school here in the neighborhood where we live. But he is currently studying online at a Ukrainian school. The younger one should also go to school with us from September, with you it’s like kindergarten.
I still hesitate all the time, I’m in such a limbo. I still hope to be able to return to Ukraine soon. At home and husband and parents, school, friends, boys’ training, classes …
What is the current situation in Zaporizhia? What kind of reports do you hear from your husband or parents?
The front is very close. It is noisy. You can hear explosions from the city, you know where the Ukrainian positions are. Rockets fall from time to time. We really hope that our city will stand as it stands. Thank God, so far the city and our block are still undamaged.
I imagine how hard it must be for those who have lost their homes. When I see these women with children, who fled with no one, no support here… there are many such families. I try to believe that it will be okay. Nothing really depends on us here.
The last Easter was definitely different for you than all the previous ones. What did she look like?
I managed to buy a belt – a traditional Ukrainian babka. We boiled the eggs. We greeted each other with the words: Chrystos waxres – woistynu waxres. We tried to make it in line with our tradition. We are Christians, we celebrated as always. We called relatives in Ukraine. We prayed together. We also spent Christmas at home with my brother who lives near Wrocław. Very beautiful place, nice nature. Even the deer come.
Do you have any plans for the coming months?
I can’t plan anything. My children are safe, this is the most important thing for me at the moment.
If the situation in Ukraine improves, I would very much like to go to Ukraine. My husband will not be let out of the country. And an incomplete family … The boys need a father. You have to educate them together. So far, the situation in Zaporizhia is very difficult. But if anything changes, we’ll go.
If not, I will have to find a school for my son by September and I will have to find a job.
It’s easier for children. They adapt very well. There is a nice playground nearby, for example, which I go to with the boys. I see Polish and Ukrainian children play together, learn Polish and Ukrainian words from each other. But for us adults it is more difficult. For example, I have completed two courses of study. And I will not be able to work here in accordance with my education. Of course, when the children go to school, kindergarten, I will go to work as it is. I can work everywhere. The most important thing is that my sons are safe.
You said you were trying to protect your sons. But they talk to each other, they can hear horrible war stories from other Ukrainian children.
Yes, unfortunately, and they are also afraid. The older one asks me if everything will be fine with my dad, grandmother, grandpa. I always tell them yes, that everything will be fine, and if not, they should not worry that dad and grandparents are adults, they will do well, at most they will come to us, we will be together again. The older one is very worried anyway. I see it. But I try to spare him as much as possible. My husband also always tells me: try to pull them away so that they listen as little as possible, and know as little as possible.
But the boys come to me anyway and say: Mom, bandits have come to Ukraine. Or they ask: why did they attack us? I hear that new questions arise in their heads, they learn new words. For example – we speak Russian in Zaporizhia. And the children are now asking: why do we speak Russian? After all, it is the language of our enemies. I explain that our region is like this, south-eastern, and our parents spoke Russian here
And when they ask: mom, why did they attack us? What do you like?
Honestly … I don’t know. Even earlier, when Russian troops stood on our border for so long, my retired parents who watch TV all day talked about it, got excited, asked me what I thought about you. And I answered them: what are you talking to me about. Work here, children there, school, training, life … There was no time to analyze it, think about it. Nobody expected this to happen to a full-scale war.
Why did they attack us? I don’t even want to think about it. I do not understand this. I have never dealt with politics. I was just alive. We all just lived together, and we had a good time in Ukraine. None of us needed to be saved, as they say. I don’t want to wonder what the Russians have in their heads. I only feel sorry for our children that they have become children of war.
Was the outbreak of a full-scale war a shock to you?
Yes. Of course, it all started in 2014, and not far from us, the poor people of Donbas were already experiencing it all then. Donetsk is less than 250 km from us. But we didn’t feel the war directly. We felt very sorry for them. But no one will ever understand something unless he has experienced it himself. We could sympathize, but the enormity of this tragedy could not be understood until we experienced it ourselves,
There were refugees from Donetsk and Luhansk in Zaporizhia?
Yes of course.
Did you think you could ever be in their place?
Do you miss your husband?
Very. We have been together for a long time, we got married in 2010, a year later our first son was born. We never split up for more than five days.
It’s very hard for me. It’s hard for children, I can see how much they miss him. I also know that it is difficult for him as well. But he said it would be easier for him after all, knowing we were safe. That’s why I left.
What are your dreams?
What dreams? Live as before February 24. We lived simple and you know, people often think that something is not enough for them, something is missing, something is always sought … And I realized that we had a very happy life until that day. We missed nothing. I don’t want anything more. Just live, sleep well. This is my dream. Let there be peace.