Voices From Ukraine – Viktoriia

“We have some friends who work in the military and someone in the secret services. They all confirmed that it was very likely that Russia would attack Ukraine in the coming weeks. We were certain that if Russia attacked Ukraine, they would do it with such an overwhelming power that it would destroy everything around the military bases, maybe even whole cities. We knew that life as we knew it is about to end, so we decided to make our remaining time very special. We began to spend a lot of time together with family and friends. We planned long walks and ate dinners together almost every day. I have always loved my family but this was truly a special bonding time that can never be taken away. I am so glad that we were able to do it because soon enough, life as we knew it had truly changed forever…”

“During these gatherings, we also talked a lot about what we would do and how we should prepare ourselves for when the war started. Back then, we didn’t know that there would be an option to leave the country. Our plans were to simply leave the city and meet at my parent’s weekend house, about 40 kms away from Kyiv. We planned to stay there as long as we could. This house was really small, full of gardening tools, grain and dirty potatoes. It was not built for living there long-term. My parents went there earlier to clean the place and make it a little more welcoming. The day the war started, I woke up to a dull but loud noise, so I opened my phone and I saw that Kharkiv and Kyiv was bombed. I woke up my husband and told him that the war had started. He then called his dad who confirmed that he could see the explosions in Kyiv. My dad was a van driver, so we initiated our plan and began to evacuate relatives from Kyiv. The traffic was already mental. We evacuated everyone, but despite our plans, my 84-year-old grandad decided to stay and protect his home with his hunting rifle. We didn’t have time to argue with him. On the way to the weekend house, I remember frantically calling all our relatives and friends trying to convince them to leave their homes and move to the countryside. Our weekend house had an entrance hall, two tiny bedrooms, a kitchen and a small cellar. At some point, there were 17 people there. We were sure that this would be over in a couple of days, maybe a week or two.”

“Before the war, I went to sleep planning what to cook the next day, but now, all my thoughts were around how can we stay alive. We had been in the weekend house for about a week. By then, only the closest family members, about 10 people, were there. We were able to convince my granddad to stay with us as well. We heard explosions nightly from the nearby city. Our phones were regularly sent alerts when the air sirens were on. We began to see that the weekend house wouldn’t protect us for long anymore. Then, one afternoon, a military plane flew by the house very-very low. It was so loud that I just grabbed my son and, in a second, we were down in the cellar. It turned out that it was a Ukrainian plane, but we got really scared. After that, every time my 2-year-old son would hear a noise, he would instinctively run into the cellar by himself and just stay there. He was beginning to get confused and scared. Seeing him made me decide to try and find a way out. My mother-in-law’s friend was living in Ireland, who kept calling us to come to Dublin. Initially, I kept refusing and hoped that things would get better, but my husband convinced me to leave. It was scary to come here. I didn’t know anything about Dublin. I didn’t know what conditions would wait for us here. But seeing the fear in my son’s eyes made me realise that we had no other choice. Besides the ongoing war, there were a lot of other concerning things happening. We heard about gang attacks, robberies, and rape cases. Just because you were attacked by another country, it doesn’t mean that all the criminals had disappeared. I tried to convince my husband to find a way out with us, but he was reluctant, saying that he had to protect the country and he wouldn’t have the morals to leave his father and friends behind. He would not been able to live with the guilt.”

Pictured here is Viktoriia Oliinyk with her son Makar Oliinyk in their Dublin hotel room.

“After a week in the weekend house, we decided to leave and we made our way to the Polish border. We were still hoping that we could just stay in Poland for a few weeks and would be able to return soon. In Poland, we were located into a big gym facility. The Polish aid services were fantastic. However, the safety of the place wasn’t great. It was overcrowded and there were many sick people there. We finally decided to take our chances and travel to Dublin. My son, my mother-in-law, her daughter and myself. My mother stayed. She had to work. She is a nurse in a mental health hospital. She never actually stopped working. She was going to work every day from the weekend house too. She said, she couldn’t leave her patients and she is still going to work every day. I used to be a very active person, but these days, I have no strength to go on with my day. I am trying to always fight this feeling. It doesn’t let me do anything meaningful. I feel guilty even to smile. Every time I catch myself smiling, a voice comes into my head asking: How can you enjoy this moment when people are dying back home? I looked it up, it’s called Survivors Syndrome. It started when we were in Poland. The sports hall had a pool which had a woman wearing a mermaid costume in it. When my son saw the mermaid, he ran up to the pool and started to laugh. He was just happy with his discovery. It had been a while since I had seen him laugh, so I began to laugh too, but then almost immediately, I began to sob uncontrollably. I felt so guilty. How can I enjoy life at any level when my mom, my dad and my husband are struggling to survive back home? It’s a terrible feeling. I experience it all the time. It’s like having a reset button that is defaulted to guilt every time something good happens to us.”