18.    Ilona (Kyiv)

My 2022 started with a honeymoon. I’d lost my first husband in 2013, a few days after giving birth to my son – but I’d married again, we were making plans for the future, and I was even thinking about having another child. Meanwhile I’d been appointed senior manager at a top pharmaceutical company. And my son was just settling in at his new school, making new friends. It was looking to be a wonderful year…

A few weeks after the war started, our managers asked us to start working on site again, and I moved back to Kyiv from the countryside. Then the famous Russian warship went you know where… right to the bottom of the sea… and of course they pounded us with missiles in revenge. One of the rockets hit the factory right next to ours.

That night I couldn't sleep. I was jumping at every sound, every creak of a door. I could hear that rocket screaming through the air, the explosions. I looked out and saw a crimson sky, and I thought the block alongside ours was on fire. I was shaking all over. All I could think of was my son, what would happen if he was orphaned…

It’s not that I’m easily scared. I like extreme sports, I’ve tried skydiving, paragliding, bungee-jumping... But I’ve never been so overwhelmed by fear as I was then. Before the night was over I’d made the decision to get out.

It’s really hard for my husband. We’re here in London, his family is in Germany, he’s alone. It was even worse at the start of 2023, when he had no water, no heating, and no electricity… which meant no internet. The only time we could talk was when he was at work. So at night all I could do was follow the shelling alerts... I try to go home when I can, if only for a few days. I don't want this war to destroy our new family.

When I left Ukraine I took the dress that I wore the day we were married. And that’s the dress I’m going to wear when we celebrate Ukraine’s victory.

©️Nezlamna. 2023

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