Stories from Brave Ukrainian Women
This International Women’s History Month we are recognizing the brave Ukrainian women, serving their families and communities in crisis.
Alina, 39, chose not to reveal last name for security reasons, as she and her family are still in Ukraine. This is her story:
My name is Alina. I am 35 years old and I live in Kyiv. Used to live. Until February, 24, 2022. On this day, Russia attacked Ukraine and we were forced to urgently evacuate.
I have two children – a 4.5 year old girl and a 3 year old boy. Throughout February, we heard that Russia might launch a full-scale invasion to our country. My husband and I hardly believed in this, but we understood that if this happened, Kyiv, where we live, would certainly become one of the main goals for the enemy. Therefore, we prepared a plan – if Russia starts even the slightest movement towards our borders – I take our children and leave. And my husband stays in Kyiv.
That morning, February, 24, we were forced to put this plan into action. I packed our things, dressed the children, and before we even had time to have breakfast, we left. First, we stopped by to pick up my grandmother, who is 85 years old. And then my husband’s brother – at 18 he had a stroke and has been suffering from epilepsy since then. My husband drove us out of the city to the highway. And then I had to drive all of us alone. We had almost 600 km of road ahead of us. I only have a license for a year. And almost no experience of driving on my own.
My grandmother felt unwell all the way – she felt sick, it seemed that she would faint, there was a suspicion of a pre-heart attack. On the way, we even had to stop by a hospital in some town, so that they could quickly examine her and make sure that she would reach our destination alive.
We drove for 12 hours almost non-stop. We had a bottle of water and a pack of cookies with us. We drove through huge traffic jams, empty gas stations, military vehicles that were driving towards us. From time to time, on the road, strong emotions could attack me – I thought that I might never see my husband again; that I would become a widow, take refuge abroad, and raise two children myself; that I will never see my house again (and we have just bought a new apartment in Kyiv). Tears welled up in my eyes, but I couldn’t cry – I was the only driver, I was driving a car and I had to see the road clearly. I had to bring four people to a safe place.
At midnight, we got stuck in a huge traffic jam (it stretched for more than 60 km) and had to return to a nearby town for the night. Since it was very, very difficult for the children, they were very tired and cried. The town where we spent the night is located 40 km from Vinnytsya , which was under artillery attack that night. I didn’t sleep all night because I could hear planes flying overhead…But God saved us. We got up early in the morning to move on.
Sitting in the car, my husband’s brother realized that he was having an epileptic attack. Thank God, a strong heartbeat has passed and the attack did not happen. But all the way he was forced to go in special glasses and a blindfold – as it was a sunny day. And the sun glare provokes an epileptic seizure in him. In the whole car, he was the only one who could help me somehow: look at the map, give the children a fallen toy or water, somehow distract the children. And all the way because of the sun, he couldn’t help with anything.
On the second day we spent another 8 hours on the drive.
Now we are in a relatively safe place, in Western Ukraine. Now I spend many hours every day at the computer – informing people in the West about what is happening in Ukraine and raising funds to help refugees and people who are staying in Kyiv. I also try to take care of those who have been evacuated from our church to the same region as me. I believe, not just hope, but I believe that the war will end soon, we will win and return to Kyiv – to rebuild it and live in our own home. My biggest fear is that this may not happen and we will have to run further.
Kateryna Pyatybratova, 33 is a first-generation Ukrainian-American, currently residing in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida.
For those of you who know me personally, I was born in Lviv, spent my childhood in Kharkiv and immigrated to the United States when I was 12. I have family in Lviv, including my grandparents – my grandmother who is 92 and grandfather who is almost 95 years old. Both chose to stay in Lviv. My grandmother said to me today “The events happening around me have brought back the haunting memories of war we lived through 81 years ago.”
My grandparents recounted to me how much they were looking forward to celebrating the upcoming birthday of their little great-grandchild, Emma, on March 10th, but all the stores where they wanted to buy her presents are now closed. And my grandmother said she almost cried when the little child say, “It’s OK. I understand it’s war, and I might not get a present.”
And there are other stories from all over that are coming to me, and I want to read out to you just three of them:
My friend in Kharkiv has written this to me this morning: “Thank you for not forgetting us, we are sitting in a basement, the food and water are ending, the shootings don’t stop. They want to surround Kharkiv. Around our house there were burning cars. We couldn’t get out. We are trying to see if we can send children to the Romanian border and stay here. Maybe the children will be spared. With a big risk, I ran back to the house to prepare hot tea for my daughter and recharge my phone, since the cellar doesn’t have an outlet. Please pray for us.”
My cousin also had written to me asking for help for two families that are now two-time refugees from Luhansk and Donetsk. Both sets of adults are now unemployed. They are with their family in Ivano Frankivsk region. Any kind of financial help you can give them to get them through immediate needs would help.
How To Help
Kateryna is leading the work with faith-based organizations in Ukraine that are helping internally-displaced people and refugees fleeing the war zone that are desperately in need of funds. 100% of the proceeds go towards that effort. You can donate to this effort, Razom (Together) With Ukraine here.
(English translation followed by original text)
Marina, 22, chose not to reveal last name for security reasons, as she and her family are still in Ukraine. This is her story:
A week had passed since the start of the war. These are my diaries, thoughts in regards to the situation in Ukraine, and my position. I hope in a year, under peaceful skies, my Facebook page will remind me how, in one week my heart changed.
Nowadays my parents and I are in different parts of the country, but none among us thinks of getting outside of [their cities]. Nowadays my friends and I are in different parts of the world, but I do not want to go abroad. Nowadays life is not possible to get used to, nowadays it is impossible to speak about comfort and safety, nowadays everything is hard.
A week ago, I didn’t know that this was possible, but at 5:45 there came a decisive call, “What is happening there for you?” Only a week ago we sang with our home group these amazing songs and prayed for peace, and that same night we woke up to explosions. A week ago around 6:00 am, 24th of February I was sitting in a passage of my group house and with tears prayed, “God, I am scared, I am so scared,” and with complete abandon, “But if it is your will – let is be war, and help me not to lose it.”
I see that our prayer is working, because it reaches with a cry to the very heart. I see that God is uniting our country, protects us and supports. He is for truth, and that is why very soon we will all see victory. I know this. I am convinced of this.
Пройшов тиждень війни.
Це мої хроніки, роздуми стосовно ситуації в Україні та моя позиція. Сподіваюсь, через рік, під мирним небом, мій facebook нагадає мені як за один тиждень змінилось моє серце.
Наразі я і мої батьки знаходимось у різних частинах країни, але ніхто з нас не має наміру виїжджати поза міста. Наразі я і мої друзі знаходимось в різних частинах світу, але я виїжджати за кордон не хочу. Наразі життя незвичне, наразі про комфорт і безпеку говорити важко, наразі взагалі все важко.
Ще тиждень тому я не вірила, що це можливо, але о 5:45 пролунав вирішальний дзвінок “Что у вас происходит!?” Ще тиждень тому ми співали з домашньою групою неймовірно класні пісні і молились про мир, але в ту ж ніч ми всі прокинулись від вибухів. Тиждень.
Десь о шостій ранку 24 лютого я сиділа в коридорі гуртожитку і зі сльозами молилась “Бог, мне страшно, мне очень страшно”, і з повною капітуляцією додала “Но если Твоя воля – война, то помоги мне её не проиграть”.
Я бачу, що наша молитва працює, бо вона криком доноситься з самого серця. Я бачу, що Бог єднає нашу країну, захищає нас і підтримує. Він за правду, тому ми зовсім скоро усі разом побачимо перемогу. І я це знаю, я в цьому впевнена […]
(English translation followed by original text)
Maryna Slobodianiuk, 39, is a volunteer, helping families with children that are crossing the border between Ukraine and Romania through Porubne, which is in the Bukovina region. This is her story:
On the fourth day of war, we organized the following algorithm of crossing the border. We first asked the border guard for a special line for families with small children and invalids. However, on the 11th day of war the border guard mixed all people into a general line, which slowed the movement. Our requests to the leaders of the region haven’t produced any results, since the administration believes that families with children should not leave Ukraine.
As a former lawyer and civic leader, I am putting every effort to make sure that mothers don’t get to sit on a cold earth, waiting for their turn. They are tired and their strength is exhausted. The children are crying. Many of them haven’t slept for 11 days, being in basements, then awaiting evacuation trains. During the journey, as many as 16 people could be in one compartment. The local government guaranteed free transportation from the city to the border only on the 8th day of war. Until that day we got people out on voluntary basis, using cars.
I couldn’t work myself up to leaving Kiev during bombing until I saw the ruined building near my child’s school. I put her into the car, but couldn’t find fuel, because the gas stations were empty. we drove 130 km until Zhytomir for 11 hours.
Overall, I spent 24.5 hours behind a wheel without sleep, trying to get out my child into a safe place, because throughout the entire trip we got into places on the road where there were shootings. I am afraid never to see my friends on a spring day in Kiev, and I don’t want to lose my faith in God, who protects my loved ones. America must help close the Ukrainian airspace, because we are afraid of the next Chernobyl.
Я як колишній юрист та громадський діяч докладаю всіх зусиль, щоб мами не сиділи від на холодній землі в черзі. Вони втомлені і знесилені. Діти плачуть. Багато з них не спали 11 днів, перебуваючи в підвалах, потім очікуючи евакуаційних потягів. Під час поїздки в одному купе могло бути 16 людей. Місцева влада забезпечила безкоштовний транспорт від міста на кордон. лише на 8й день війни. До того часу ми вивозили як волонтери машинами.
На 4-й день війни ми організували наступний алгоритм перетину кордону. Ми попросили у прикордонної служби окремо чергу для сімей з немовлятами та інвалідів. Але станом на 11-й день війни прикордонники змішують всіх людей в загальну чергу і з уповільнили рух черги. Наші звернення до керівництва регіону не дають результатів, оскільки адміністрація вважає, що родини з дітьми не повинні залишати Україну.
Я не могла наважитись залишити Київ під бомбардуванням допоки не побачила зруйнований будинок біля ліцею моєї дитини. Я посадила її в машину, ніде не можливо було заправити пальним, бо заправки були порожні, ми їхали 130 км до Житомира 11 годин.
Загалом я провела 24,5 годин за кермом без сну намагаючись вивезти дитину в безпечне місце, бо всю дорогу ми потрапляли на небезпечні ділянки дороги, де були обстріли. Я боюсь ніколи не побачити своїх друзів і весняний Київ і не хочу загубити віру в мого Бога, який охороняє моїх найдорожчих. Америка повинна сприяти закриттю повітряного простору над Україною, бо ми боїмося наступного Чернобилю.
Maggie Palatova ran a bilingual Christian school in Kyiv and, since crossing the border with her family, is looking to continue her ministry to children and families. This is her story:
In the midst of the darkness of the past six days, we have been completely overwhelmed by so much LIGHT! I would like to share each of the specific ways that we have been awed by the kindness and goodness of so many people around the world since war started last week. May these big and small moments be an encouragement to everyone who reads this:
1. The church in Chernivtsi that took us in late at night, fed us, and gave us a place to get a few hours of sleep.
2. The cafe in Moldova that accepted our huge group after we made it across the border.
3. The Moldovan mom and daughter passing out snacks to cars in line for the Romanian border.
4. The group of Moldovans giving out food, water and hot tea at the border to Romania.
5. The enthusiastic volunteers who greeted us late at night on the Romanian side of the border and filled our cars with food, diapers, SIM cards, and more. Plus offered rides and made sure we had a place to spend the night.
6. The camp in Romania that took in our whole group for several nights, fed us, and provided everyone with humanitarian aid.
7. The Christian school in Romania that provided financial support.
8. The Romanian gas station owner who offered us anything we needed for our kids.
9. The woman in the next Romanian gas station who gave candy bars to our kids.
10. The cashier in the 2nd hand store in a Romanian town who gave us a discount on the shoes we bought for our kids and then gave all the money back.
11. The woman at the store next door who couldn’t speak any English but wouldn’t let us leave until she gave us her number so we could call if we needed anything.
12. The four or five different people in the same town who came up to us in the parking lot as we were trying to drive away and gave bread, snacks, bags of groceries, wet napkins, money, and bottles of water.
13. The man in the next gas station parking lot who saw our cars and bought our kids Snickers.
14. The man who stopped to make sure we were okay when we pulled over in the Romanian mountains.
15. The Christian educational organization in Hungary who gave us a place to sleep and even met us late in the night to let us in, the day before running an international conference.
16. The police officer who pulled us over for speeding (accidentally) in Hungary. We are choosing to see this as a positive because it is reassuring to be in a place where laws are upheld.
17. The organization in Poland that has welcomed us and many of our New Generation families for the next transitional period.
18. A friend at our new location who did all of the organizational work for me while were were traveling.
19. Countless friends, relatives, and others from around the world who have written to make sure we are okay and find out how they can help.
20. Two organizations that have set up funds to help our school families.
21. Countless people who have already given financially to help.
22. My sister, who checked in with us every step of the way and helped communicate to the rest of my family.
23. Friends from my church in the States who have gathered every day to pray for us and Ukraine.
24. My kids, who came to snuggle with me in a moment that was particularly emotionally hard.
25. A number of different friends who are staying in Ukraine to organize help for others.
26. Numerous people who have offered places to stay around Europe.
27. The Poles who have donated clothes and other supplies to the place where we are staying.
28. Those who led worship for us tonight, and the powerful words we sang.