Editor’s Note: The testimony below was provided by SGA-supported church in Poland.
The separation of Ukrainian men from their families during the war has devastated many families — including Natalia’s. The call for husbands, fathers, uncles, and brothers to stay and defend the homeland has resulted in many women and children fleeing the country to find safety and shelter in Poland.
As you read Natalia’s interview below and take in the details of her harrowing journey to escape Ukraine, please pray that she will receive comfort and strength through the outreach of an SGA-supported church in Poland. Pray also that God will protect her husband, Anton, as he travels to Poland to be reunited with Natalia and their daughter Yesenia. Read more from the interview . . .
Natalia (40), her daughter Yesenia (2 years, 10 months)
Natalya says that a week before the war broke out, she had a premonition that something was going to happen. “I could not sleep, and I would often tell my friends: “There will be war, I know it!” I already bought a large suitcase to fly to Poland to my eldest son, who worked there. On the night of February 23 to February 24, something went wrong with the electronic ticketing system, and I was no able to buy tickets. At 4:20 in the morning, two intense explosions were heard in the town. The second one was so strong that it made Yesenia bounce in her bed, and windows shook on the balcony on the fifth floor, where we lived. Of course, we immediately realized what it was, and started packing. Unfortunately, at that time we could not leave right away because of a terrible rush: huge crowds, thousands of people tried to leave [our city].
From that day on, my husband, our daughter and I would sit in the corridor during the shelling. I told our daughter that it was a thunder. I could not say the word “war” not to scare her. There was no basement or shelter anywhere in the area. We had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from the explosions. Air raid sirens were continuously on. During one of the attacks, a rocket hit a children’s development center, called the Planet of Knowledge, which was located next to the building of the Ukraine Security Service. The [opposition] aimed at that building, but hit the children’s center. We live 10 min away from this center, which Yesenia attended since she was 12 months old. With that explosion, windows were shattered in ours and neighboring houses by a blast wave. My husband and my sister were on the street at that time and witnessed that terrible “glass fall”. They waited in a safe place, and did not suffer. Then I found out that [the opposition’s] missiles had also hit School No. 35.
Natasha also recalls a moment that happened to her on February 24 in the morning, “The first explosions in the city (as in many other cities of Ukraine) have already taken place. Everyone tried to flee; businesses and establishments were closed. I had an appointment on that day at 8:10 at the Visium Diagnostic Center. I could not get through there in the morning, and no one answered the phone. I did not know what to do, and but I decided to go there anyway. It was the grace of God that a physician was there and waited for me at the diagnostic center. There were no longer any of the employees inside, only a guard and my doctor. No computers, no equipment left; just empty dark rooms. The doctor looked at the results of my checks and prescribed me a treatment for arthritis.” “He is a great man and a great physician,” says Natasha. “He knew how much I suffered from pain and how urgently I needed a treatment. He came there just for me. He is a good doctor, indeed. I thank God for him. I was able to buy the medicines at the pharmacy, and noticed that the prices were considerably higher.”
“We stayed at home, as we had some reserves of food and water. Then a supply of gas, electricity and water stopped. Until the last moment, we three did not think of departing: my husband Anton could not let Yesenia and me go to Poland all by ourselves, but then he took a decision for us to evacuate, thinking that it would be safe for us there, as we would be with our older son. On March 3, we left [our city] with that huge suitcase that I had prepared beforehand.
We first went to [another Ukrainian city]. It was just a very hard trip! We were on a train full of refugees like us, all people were distressed, “all nerves”. – Anyways, at first, our trip went smooth, but at the railway station of [another Ukrainian city] our train went under fire. Therefore, it was turned back, as they had to change the route to [a different city]. It took us 36 hours to get there. It was very hot in the train because of the crowd of people. There were 12 people in one compartment. No ventilation at all. The food that we took for the trip has gone bad. We did not eat for 24 hours. Everyone was hungry and thirsty. I lost 10 kg due to continuous stress. In [a stop at another Ukrainian city], we should pick up my son’s girlfriend to join us on a trip to Poland. It was just incredible. The train traveled in complete darkness; we had no idea where we were. Only one of the train shift drivers figured out that we were passing [a Ukrainian city’s] railway station. In complete darkness on the platform, crowds distraught with fear tried to get on our train at all costs. But the train was already fully packed. Just by the great grace of God, I managed to pick up the girl from the platform. She was able to jump through the door opened for her by the guard. We quickly closed the door and continued our way in complete darkness. It was just a miracle and God’s hand! I prayed, cried and thanked Him so much! Even now, when I think of this, goose bumps run through my body.
In such terrible conditions, we finally reached [another Ukrainian city]. When we arrived, Yesenia drank three glasses of sweet tea with cookies. All the way from our house to [a Ukrainian city], I told her that we were going to another country. I did not want to scare her and told her that we were running from the war. She cried, saying, “Mom, I don’t like this trip, let’s go home.” For three days, Yesenia could not eat anything but tea and biscuits. The soup offered to us at the railway station was very salty for her. She had a hard time.
On March 5, we reached Poland. We were taken from the border by a Red Cross van. Because of my arthritis, I was not able to carry heavy bags. My hands were already very sore. I was looking for someone who could take us. Some women around told me that it would be hard to find. I believed that God would help, if you believe. And He helped. A kind Polish woman gave a ride to us to [a town in Poland]. We lived there for one month with a Polish family. Now we live in [a different town in Poland]. Here I rent a shared apartment with other two Ukrainian women. I made friends with them on the road.
My husband left [to travel to Poland] at the beginning of June. Before June, he was in our apartment all this time, despite the shelling. He said he did not want to leave our home. I miss him, and Yesenia misses him, too. I really want our family to be together again. A father should see how his daughter grows. A wife should be with her husband. My heart is breaking, but I hope that we will go through tall the difficulties and meet again.“
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