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Olha Gorbacheva

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Olga V: 24 February. Tell me about this day. How did the war start for you?

 

Olga G: We lived in the city of Kremenchuk, Poltava region. On February 24, we were not under fire, now it’s clear why, because the target was Kyiv and the border regions, and we are in the center of Ukraine. At that time, we lived outside the city, building a new house. The children were with their grandmother in the city. I always wake up quite early. When I woke up that morning, I immediately knew what had happened by the number of notifications with news on my mobile phone.

The husband was still asleep. I knew what to do - we had discussed the scenario of our actions if it did start: he’d join the army as a volunteer, and I’d leave with the children to a safe place.

I knew that I needed to wake him up and not waste time. I was numb for a few seconds. Watched him sleeping. My heart was pounding. There was a keen sense of responsibility, understanding and awareness that this day had come now, rockets and bombs had already dropped on the heads of peaceful sleeping people. No time to delay. At that moment I knew that very soon, I would have to say goodbye to my dear husband, my man, my protector and warrior. And nobody knows how soon we'll see each other again. The only thing, I remember, was difficult for me to say what was happening, that Russia had started a military invasion, and we were attack on all borders, and that’s why I had to wake him up so early, and not because I made a morning coffee for him. The coffee was not ready.

At that moment, there was Russian tanks were going through the borders along with rocket and bomb strikes on Kyiv, Kharkov, Zhitomir, Mariupol, Berdyansk, Odessa and Chernigov. I woke my husband up with the words: Wake up. It began – they bomb our cities. He got up and went to make coffee, and I went to call my parents and children. It was almost 7:00 am.

Then everything was like in a whirlpool. Children, packing things, the road, a lot of calls and conversations at the same time monitoring important messages about possible air raids. We had finished everything in one day. Everything felt surreal. Now it seems to me that it was not one but a few days.

 

Olga V: One day felt like three…

 

Olga G: Yes exactly. We were like machines. We didn’t let our emotions take control, pulled ourselves together, and did so many things in one day as we had never done before. My husband could afford only a day to send us abroad. Decisions had to be made very quickly. We drove part of the way by car, but there were 40 km-long traffic jams, so we walked to the border.

It was scary, but on the other hand, I have never seen such unity among our people. They helped each other in every way possible, picked up and carried children, strollers, and heavy suitcases. On the way, local people provided us with water and food. That was incredible.

 

Olga V: Why did you choose Bulgaria?

 

Olga G: I know this country. I know the language. I used to work here on a contract basis. I have friends here who offered help with housing and work. Although I knew that in Bulgaria there were pro-Russian sentiments and the society was not yet quite mature.

 

Olga V: Yes, I heard how some people in Europe romanticize Putin and the Russian authorities.

 

Olga G: Because of these sentiments, I was not sure if I wanted to go here, but I know the language and people, and it’s easier for me to adapt with two children here. In Sofia, we were sheltered by our friends, a Bulgarian family. We have been living in their house for almost nine months from the beginning of the war to this day. During this time, we have become one big friendly family. I am very grateful to them. They had plans to refurbish the room where we live for their elder child. They put them aside for our family. When we moved in, the whole room was covered in stickers, marking where the furniture should be after the refurbishment. Their kids get along really well with my kids. We are so happy to live in such a family.

 

Olga V: How did you adapt here? How do children cope with the move?

 

Olga G: My daughters are 13 and 14 years old. I sent them to a Bulgarian school. It was very important for me that my children studied normally, at school among the kids of their age.

 

Olga V: Is there a language barrier?

 

Olga G: Of course, there is. But my girls studied Bulgarian intensively in the summer before going to school. And living in a Bulgarian family also had a very good effect on them. So, it’s faster to learn a language when you need to constantly communicate in everyday life. I was very worried at the very beginning. Because it is not easy to pull teenagers out of their usual lives and find an alternative for them in another country, where everything is alien. Obviously, in a head of a Ukrainian child, there is an idea that all this is temporary. We'll stay here for a while and then we'll go home. The hardest thing in their lives is endless waiting. They are waiting for me to come into the room one day and say, "It's all over! Get ready! We're going home!” But I know: the war won't end tomorrow and there's no point in sitting and waiting for something. It was necessary to quickly adapt to the new reality in a new country. I sent them to school and went to work. Because we can't survive here on my savings. Money is running out.

 

Olga V: Where did you find the job?

 

Olga G: In a beauty parlor. I started to offer my services of sugaring, it’s a method of removing hair from the body. The owner of the parlor is a very nice and sympathetic person who helped me get settled in a new place. I’m really grateful to her!

 

Olga V: Below I will leave a link to the parlor, so people could sign in for your services. You need new clients, right?

 

Olga G: Yes, sure! Thank you very much!

 

Olga V: Do you miss your husband? 

Olga G: It's not only missing him but constantly worrying about his life. He put himself in danger every day. I live in constant fear. It's very difficult to deal with this. But what I can do? He is a brave man who went to defend his homeland. How can you tell him “No, I won't let you go"? it’s his choice. He is an adult and mature person. If he hadn’t done it, how would he have felt afterward? This calms me down. I understand that it is his duty. He protects his country, his family, his woman, and his children. And I'm proud of him.

 

Olga V: What do you want to add at the end? What would you like to say to the people who will be reading this?

 

Olga G: We have to stimulate positivity. Live for the future. Live for what will happen after the war. Work, take care of your children, and do everything for the future. I advise everyone who is like me now, in immigration, I advise you not to wait for the end of the war, not to put your life on pause, and not to be in constant stress and hoping to return to how it was before. It won't be like before anymore. We have experienced a lot of hardships still and are experiencing them now. We need to understand that have to build the future right now. For our country and for our children!

 

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