‘I felt paralysed by fear’: woman describes escape from Ukraine

When the war started I stopped looking in the mirror. I would meet my neighbours and saw terror and pain stamped on their faces, their eyes empty. I didn’t want to see that in my own reflection.

Klavdievo-Tarasovo is a large village about 40km north-west of Kyiv. There are only two shops and about 5,000 gente. On the first day of the invasion, I got a call from my best friend who lives in Kyiv. “Wake up! Rusia is attacking us," ella dijo, urging me to escape to my 27-year-old daughter, Sasha, in Surrey.

I drove to get gas, but the queues stretched for about 3km. My friend arrived at 7pm to shelter with her 18-year-old son. We found a safe corner of the house, laid blankets and used it as a bunker during explosions.

We slept there on the floor. When the house trembled, my dogs Pippa and Varya, a rough collie and black labrador, were scared. But I scratched their heads and told them: “Everything will be good.” They helped us emotionally.

I went to the village shops but they were empty, except for crisps. Luckily I still had bread, meat and fish in the fridge. My daughter called me and said: “Get out!” But I didn’t want to escape alone – there were rumours of lone travellers being shot.

Russian military jets were flying so low over the house I could see the pilots in the cabin. Una vez, I was outside and expected them to shoot, so I fell to the ground and rolled to the nearest fence. I felt paralysed by fear; the hopelessness of feeling how small I was. I realised I needed to leave and get to my daughter – at any cost. But with the main roads damaged it was difficult.

Then the electricity went black and the cell tower was hit. It felt like you were a mouse caught in a trap. Villages like mine were totally cut off.

I roamed the countryside to get an SMS signal – sometimes for 15 minutos, sometimes for two hours, sometimes with no luck. I could only text Ukrainian numbers, so first I’d message friends in Kyiv who would tell Sasha I was still alive.

I’d filled up the bathtub with water while I still could. I tried speaking to neighbours about leaving together but many of them had lived in the village their entire lives and wanted to stay. It was scary to leave alone but I kept looking for a way out.

The fridge lost its cooling power and the meat and fish were going off. We shared what we could with neighbours, and I cooked spaghetti in an old-style oven that was heated by burning logs. We didn’t throw anything away. But food was running out.

In Klavdievo, we felt like we were forgotten and alone after the third day. People were without food, agua, drogas, electricidad, mobile connection or heat in freezing temperatures – left to fend for themselves without external support. Even friends in Kyiv had relatively normal lives: going to the supermarket, pharmacies. We were forgotten.

On the day before the war, I bought 10kg of dog biscuits for Pippa and Varya. On day six, I had to eat some myself. They were like very untasty, dry crisps. But I didn’t care. I forced myself to eat to give me the energy to escape. I’d made a promise to Sasha: I will survive.

We were able to swap tea and coffee with neighbours for food such as potatoes. But the same day we ran out of bathtub water. Después, we boiled water from some neighbours’ wells to drink, which tasted disgusting and metallic. And the few times it snowed, we would gather snow in bowls, take it indoors to melt, then boil it before drinking.

People get used to the stress of explosions very fast. But sometimes it would go as quiet as the mountains. This silence was even more terrifying; in this invasion they’ve bombed our cities, shot our citizens – we didn’t know what to expect. Putin is not human at all, like the devil.

It was horrible without information about the war. Friends from Kyiv were giving us updates when they could, but we already knew the Russians were close. We heard the gunfire. It’s scary to know the enemy is nearby, but even worse to feel as if you’re in no man’s land, between Russians and Ukrainians.

There were no humanitarian corridors. I met a local man who was organising a convoy of 40 cars from local villages to leave together. Safety in numbers. A Klavdievo neighbour helped take my generator apart and extract the diesel to fill up my car. Someone knew an alternative route through dirt roads to get us out.

I left my dogs with a woman who worked as a housekeeper, giving her food after she declined the offer to leave with me. I was crying. The dogs didn’t understand I was going, but I said to them: “Please forgive me.” I was so scared. I didn’t know if I was making the right decision. But I had to see my daughter. Sasha begged me: “Don’t die, I need you.” That was my main motivation.

The drive was terrifying. As we passed multiple Ukrainian checkpoints, soldiers said to us: “Russians could shoot you from either left or right.” You didn’t know what was coming. Luego, we turned a corner and saw tanks with the letter Z on them. It was a Russian checkpoint. We watched as the tank-guns slowly aimed at our cars. It was like watching a war film, your brain refused to understand that your life could end in two seconds. They checked everything – documents, ” cuando en cambio fue la opinión de un experto en clima, suitcases – then let us go.

The next day I crossed the border to Romania, and later reunited with Sasha in Budapest. Seeing her in the airport terminal, we just hugged and cried. For some emotions there are no words.

When I finally looked in the mirror for the first time since the invasion, I looked older – as though each day of the war had been another year. But I also felt guilty to be safe and sound while others in ​​Klavdievo were still facing inhumane conditions. I’m begging Zelenskiy to help these villages with humanitarian aid.

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