Editor’s Note: The images below were provided by an SGA-supported church.
The story below is one of the most vivid accounts we’ve ever received of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Katya’s testimony of her family trusting God amid intense bombing is humbling and inspiring, to say the least. Read the account below and be astonished anew at Katya’s ability to trust God and keep her faith no matter her circumstances.
Ekaterina “Katya” (age 17), her mother Irina, Ekaterina’s sister Dasha (8),
and her grandmother Tatyana
Heartbroken, Katya begins her story. “I was going to enter the best school in my hometown. To do this, I was studying hard to pass the exam after graduating high school. In addition, I worked part-time in my free time and collected money to pay for my future at the university. But… the war ruined all my plans.
“The war caught our family on February 24 at 4:21 am (I will remember this exact time for the rest of my life), when the first shell hit our neighborhood. We all jumped, but just didn’t take it seriously. Since 2014, we remembered similar attacks from a nearby territory. We thought it was a minor provocation. On the Internet I saw photos of burning houses in a city nearby after the shelling, and I also saw a photo of a man whose arm had torn off because of the first shell. It was terrifying!”
Katya recalled that her mother went to the store that day where she worked, but Katya’s school classes were cancelled indefinitely. “Then I heard heavy shelling had begun, and the sirens were howling,” she continued. “We saw that people outside were in a terrible panic, trying to escape all at once, screaming and panicking. I couldn’t calm down and didn’t know what to do next. Later, after I came to my senses somewhat, we decided to buy some food and water. I quickly went to the store under the shelling and in the last minutes before closing I managed to buy everything I needed. At home, we stored water in pots and flasks after we’d filled up all our empty containers.”
After a couple of hours, Katya’s uncle called and said to get ready to leave for another district, for a big house his friends had given permission for them to use when they left the city.
“We took only the essentials,” said Katya, “since we thought we were going to be at the house for a maximum of three days. When we arrived at the place, we settled down, staying most of the time only in the basement. The small windows were covered. On February 24th, we still had electricity, gas, water, and communication. On the Internet we could see intense shelling had hit all around and destroyed many places.
“Other families with children started to come to our house seeking shelter,” says Katya. “Soon, we were 23 people (including eleven children) living in one small room; yet, we still had all the necessary amenities: toilet, kitchen, and shower. But our relatively comfortable life did not last long. On February 28, they turned off the water. A day later, the electricity. And on March 1, there was no gas supply. That’s when our ‘survival’ really started, because there was no water, and food was lasting for only one to two weeks at the most because our group was so large.
“Until March 1, we could still at least go out around the city between the shelling. From March 1, it was a nightmare: communication was completely lost, that is, we were simply cut off from the world. Military fighters were flying overhead, then shelling intensified…” Katya paused before continuing. “Bombs were falling right around our house; we hid as best we could sitting on the floor. We hugged each other, covered our ears with our hands and opened our mouths – so that, as my uncle said, we would not have shell shock. The I suddenly heard the sound of a huge explosion right above our heads, and on the first floor of the house all the windows fell down. I was shaking all over, but I pulled myself together and said to the children, ‘We are all great, we are all alive, we survived!’ All the time of this terrible shelling, our grandmother prayed out loud. She kept repeating, ‘Lord help us! Lord, have mercy!’ And God heard her prayers, we all survived, as the bombs hit around us. Miraculously, at that time, heavy snow began to fall. It was falling and falling, and gradually the fire died out. So, the house where we were all hiding in remained intact, and we all did, too. I saw shells fly into all the houses next to us and understood that at some point they would hit us. But by a great miracle, God saved the place where we sheltered!”
“Gradually, we got used to the shelling. Our feelings were dulled. We were able to reasonably guess when the bombs would fall; we were even able to go outside during moments of silence. We also figured out how to solve our hygiene problems: we collected snow, melted it, and then washed; we collected rainwater when it rained. I never thought that I would wash my hair with rainwater in my life, but I did.
“We saw that all this time God was helping us survive. At some point, one of the children got very sick and there were no medicines available. Mom found only two antibiotic pills, while the girl needed five for a full course of treatment. She divided these two pills into smaller pieces, and gave them to the child, praying to God for healing- and the child recovered!
“One day, on March 8, there was no shooting at all, and my uncle and I decided to go around the area to fetch water. We got food from broken grocery stories, taking only the essentials. As we walked, we saw all the horrors of the consequences of the shelling in our area. There was absolutely no place to ask for help: no authorities, no volunteers, no police, no medical assistance. No one to give people information about the evacuation. All this time all people in our area lived in a complete information vacuum.
“We cooked food on a fire in the yard,” continued Katya, “taking firewood from neighboring broken houses. One of our kind neighbors gave us a potbelly stove, which we could heat with firewood to warm our room. The children slept on beds, and all the adults slept on a large mattress on one side, huddled together. Those were the conditions in which we lived until April 6.
“My dad, who was working in Poland when the war began, had no contact with us for more than a month. He was completely unaware of what was going on with us and where we were. Then Dad managed to contact his friend nearby and ask him to find out where his family was. That friend of his traveled around the city looking for us. And here, again, God shows His miracle! This man, Sergei, found us and told us how Dad was worried and wanted us to urgently leave the city and come to him in Poland. Sergey later told Dad that we were all alive. One time, when my mother managed to get even a bad connection in the attic, Dad could speak to us and told us that we should urgently find an opportunity to evacuate.
“On March 27, there was very intense shelling. But on April 3 the shelling subsided, and I was able to go to my own home for the first time since we moved into the big house. On my way over, I saw devastated burned houses, or simply the remains of houses. And our nine-story building remained intact. Even our apartment survived, and the things that had remained in it since February 24 lay in their places: my open diary on the table, a mirror and make-up. You know, I felt as if I just went away for some time, and those terrible weeks never happened. Even my cat miraculously survived. It ate all the food, which we left her before leaving, and drank water from the bathroom. I took my cat with me when we evacuated.”
Kataya concluded her testimony looking forward to a hopeful future, grateful to be alive.
“Our family left our hometown on April 6. Our relatives gave us a lift in their car and took us to another village. We drove through checkpoints and into their village, staying until April 26. Then we went to a border and crossed on foot, eventually making our way to Poland after a long journey. Happily, we were able to meet my dad and all of us rented a hostel together. I still plan to enter the university in Poland and get the profession I wanted. Now we are all happy, thank God, because we all live together in safety.”
May 20, 2022
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