OV: How did this war start for you?
OT: We have been talking about the war for the past six months, but we didn't think it would
look like what is happening now. We didn't think the war like we saw in the movies about WWII, with all these tanks, missile strikes and air raids is still possible in the modern world today. Yes, we thought that some kind of escalation of the conflict in the East of Ukraine would be possible. Perhaps some escalation in Crimea, because they needed water from the mainland. But the war in the form it is now in the 21st century seemed impossible to us.
OV: February 24. The first day of the war. Tell me about that day in your life.
OT: We lived near the airport and got used to planes taking off at 6:30 every day. On February 24, I woke up from a strong rumble and thought that a plane taking off. When I opened my eyes, I noticed that it was still quite dark and it was not dawn yet, and a few minutes later all the phones started buzzing. We were said that many cities in Ukraine including Kyiv were under attack and it was the war. My friend from the other side of the city called and asked through tears to remember the name of the village where they were going to hide. Then we turned on the TV. I realized that Irpin where my close friend lived was under attack too. I called her right away. I woke her up. She asked why I called her in such an early hour. I told her: “The war had begun! Wake up!” At first, she did not understand what I was talking about. They didn’t know. She had two hours to get ready, pack all the necessary stuff, and leave in the car with her little child. Afterward, when we met in Bulgaria, she thanked me and said that that phone call was decisive. That night they slept tight and did not hear any blasts, but the place where they lived was next to the war zone. When they loaded the stuff into the car, there was artillery was already artillery fight nearby.
OV: Did you leave Zaporozhe right away?
OT: No, we had to take care of our parents first, they didn't want to leave. Therefore, we moved them from the city to the village, where there were no strategic objects which were the first targets for the missile strikes. We stocked everything necessary: food, fuel, medicines, etc. Only after a few days, we left by car to Vinnytsia. The journey usually takes a day, but we spent seven days on the road. The whole country was like one enormous traffic jam. People from all over the country were trying to escape the war and saving their families. We did not know if we would get under fire if there would be food, lodging or a toilet on the way. People on the road exchanged information about what roads were free, which bridges were mined or destroyed. All the news were spread by the word of mouth because the Internet didn’t work or worked badly. It was a new reality.
OV: Did your parents refuse to go with you?
OT: Nobody from my family left. All stayed in the city. It was their conscious choice. I recently called my younger brother, who stayed in our city with his three-year-old son and wife. He said that they were used to the war, used to the sirens. They are no longer afraid. I can't imagine how you can get used to war. I do not understand how you can keep your kids there. Children should not see war. They should not get used to the fact that when they hear the sounds of a siren, then their parents let them watch cartoons on mobile phone while sitting in the basement. They should not have such associations. Though many people stayed. Many tried to leave but came back after a while. Some people couldn't imagine how to live in another city not to say in the other country.
OV: How did you end up here in Bulgaria?
OT: First me and my husband came to Vinnytsia. There should have been relatively safe there. I thought I was finally ok, but on the very first day, when we just relaxed a bit, I heard the air raid alarm again while walking in the park. I started to run, but I didn't know where I was running. The city was unfamiliar. I became very scared again. The next morning, my husband took me to the Romanian border checkpoint, where I crossed the border on foot in a few hours. It was snowing heavily, tears rolled by themselves. In front of me was a huge bustling refugee town. From there, volunteers helped me come to Bulgaria, where my friend Maria and her family from Irpin were waiting for me.
OV: How have you adapted to the new place?
OT: From that moment until now, I have the feeling that I seem to be floating in the air. I have lost my home, roots, have no relatives and loved ones around. Sometimes I wonder why I left? I did not need to save the children; I did not need urgent medical attention. Sometimes I feel like I just ran away. My whole life has been there. The only person whom I love most of all, without whom it is hard for me to live and breathe, remained there. And I don't know when I'll see him. When we are together again. Sometimes I think that I will go back to Ukraine. But I can't imagine how we going to live in the country where you don't feel safe. Where, one day, your place might be under a missile strike.
OV: Where is your husband now?
OT: My husband is in Vinnytsia now. He couldn't come with me. Men are not allowed to get out of the country. He is 30 years old. He is of military conscription age.
OV: Is he in the army now? Was he conscripted?
OT: No, he is not in the army now. That is not necessary. In Ukraine, we have a professional army. He is a civilian without any military experience. So far there is no need to draft men without any army experience. I don’t know anyone who was drafted from the street or without any military experience or training. There are a lot of volunteers in Ukraine, who serve in the territorial defense. They went through trained and wait to be drafted to defend their country if necessary. There is no point to force someone because many people are ready to fight. Still, he must stay in the country. This is a must under martial law.
OV: Do you miss your family a lot? Did you try to convince them to leave?
OT: Most of all I miss my husband. He is my life. He is my best friend. He is my love. I miss my family a lot, including my mother, who periodically tells by phone how scared she is, how the earth trembles under her feet from the blasts and she can hear the battle near the city. I always ask them to leave, but I have to accept and respect their decision. They support me back in my decision to be in a safe place. Now I have a choice between staying safe but living away from my beloved husband and my family in the place where I have nothing, where I do not even want to unpack my suitcase, and where there is no point in building something. I don't I know how long it will last. I don't know when the war will end. The news is constantly changing. And if two weeks ago it seemed that you could try to go back home, then now it’s getting worse again. I often think that any decision I make in not permanent. I tried to live like a refugee, but I can always try to return to Ukraine.
OV: What do you want to add at the end? What would you like to say to people who will read this interview?
OT: It’s not easy for everyone now, but we have to keep going because when you stop, then you start to fall into the abyss. Our life will never be the same. It will never be the same neither for those who went on vacation before the war and couldn’t return, neither for those people who spent all this time in the basements hiding from the bombs and missiles. For none of us life will be the same anymore. Every day we have to do something to make our life as normal as possible, so sooner or later we will find some foothold. For some of us this would be children, for others, some good news from home, for some their liberated cities. And as soon as find this foothold we have to help others to find it too. We have to support each other. People should stick to people they shouldn’t stick to some material things, money or property. We had to leave a lot of things behind, but still stick to each other. We should seek each other's support.