16.    Halyna (Odesa)

We’d flown to Barcelona on the 19th of February for a short break, and were due to return on the 22nd. All we were worried about at the time was that our flight home might be cancelled, leaving us stranded abroad. We never had the slightest doubts about returning – it seemed just unimaginable that war was really coming. Anyway, we caught our flight… and it turned out to be pretty much the last one back to Ukraine.

On the 24th, I was woken at 4:58am by a noise unlike anything I’d heard before. I just knew something wasn’t right. I picked up my phone and read the news with horror: Russian bombs falling in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Uman... I woke my husband and just said “it’s war". There was another explosion, another, another... We’d made no plans at all, we didn’t even have emergency bags packed… We’d only just unpacked from the holiday!

We went to my parents in Ternopil province. But it was only after Kherson was occupied that it really started to sink in for me. We heard about all the atrocities… I couldn’t get out of bed the next day, and I drank away the grief. My husband and I hardly ate at all in those days, we were living off tea with honey.

A couple of weeks later we returned to Odesa for a few days, leaving our son with his grandparents. It was for work, we had to go. And I just can’t describe how scary it was. We knew there could be an amphibious landing any time – there’d be no way back, and we’d be separated from our child. We left him a backpack with a few clothes, his personal documents and a bit of money. Just the essentials, in case we never returned.

I can’t claim to feel nezlamna every day… I feel like breaking down whenever I hear the latest horrors from Ukraine, when it hits me that this sickening injustice is just the way things are, that I can't influence or change it... I have to keep reminding myself I’m here in the UK for the sake of my child. Every day my family back home hear of someone we know who’s been killed in action. Two of my cousins are at the front. Both became fathers to newborn sons this year…


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