Ukraine (IIX): Anna and Chrystyna, Two Young Volunteers on the Polish Border
I met Chrystyna and Anna, two Ukrainian student volunteers, standing outside the border gate separating Poland and Ukraine. We later met up to talk about their experiences in Kyiv during the war.
CHRYSTYNA, 19, Sokal (Kyiv) [PICTURED LEFT]
ANNA PETRINKA, 18, Lviv Oblast (Odesa) [PICTURED RIGHT]
Can you tell me when you first left Sokal?
[CHRYSTYNA]: “Sokal is my hometown but I was studying and living in Kyiv in the last year at the Kyiv School of Economics. I was living there for the last year and I left Kyiv on the 24th of February.”
The 24th of February was the first day of the invasion. Can you describe that experience?
“It was chaotic and frightening. I was waking up because of the ring of my roommate, her sister called her and said,Why aren't you waking up? Aren't you going to leave? Then we opened the window and heard explosions somewhere and I understood that it's really happening. Because just a few days before, I was going to bed with thoughts like, What should I do if I'm waking up with war, and if there are sirens?
As I'm living in an apartment with five other girls, we were all waking up and thinking what we should do. And every girl isn't from Kyiv originally, so we're trying to think how we could get to our parents’ homes.
Then I had to phone my mother and say her that the war has started. I think it was one of the most frightening mornings of my life. And I really hate that I had to ring my mum and say something like that.
Later it was like a lot of chaos because there were a lot of sirens. We were going to the metro station, and then going back to my apartment to pack some things.
It was really a disaster because I was staying there and I had no clue what I should take with me, how long I should stay out of Kyiv, and what I really need and what I don't. I met with a friend of my sister because we were meant to leave Kyiv together if it was an emergency. Once we met, we tried to find some ways to leave but it was quite hard because the roads were already so busy and there wasn't any tickets for trains. We [eventually] got tickets from our friends.”
Is that how you got here, with a train ticket from Kyiv?
“Yeah, we got by train from Kyiv to Vinitsya, and from Vinitsya the father of that friend I talked about took us to our hometown.”
Where is your mom, and where is your sister at the moment?
“My whole family is in my hometown in Sokal.”
What's your plan - or, do you have any plan?
“No. Mostly it's, like, trying to build a plan.”
Do you expect to go home soon?
“Yeah, my hometown is in the Lviv region and it's completely stable and safe. So I will be back after my shift. But I think the bigger question is when I will be back in my home in Kyiv.”
How do you hope this ends?
“There isn't another option than Ukraine winning. But the way of how it will be, and the process after the winning the war, I think it's quite a mystery now.”
How did you find this group - this non-profit or charity that you're with?
“We were studying in a program called the Ukrainian Leadership Academy during our gap year. And now as the organization is quite big and it's been operating for seven years, they are trying to also build some volunteer services in Ukraine at the border. Now I think the main point of the organization is that we’re taking volunteers at the border.” [/CHRYSTYNA]
And how did you meet Anna, just through this group?
[ANNA]: “We know each other for a year thanks to the Ukrainian Leadership Academy, it's a program of non-formal education during gap years for students after school.”
Were you also in school in Kyiv?
“I've been studying in university but in the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. It's one of the most popular universities in Kyiv.”
“Taras Shevchenko, he's one of our famous poets.”
Ah, he has this poem I love, it's called Calamity Again - translated into English. Shevchenko, right. So, when did you leave?
“You mean my hometown?”
Wherever you were on the night before the 24th - whether that was your hometown or Kyiv.
“I left my hometown about five days before the invasion. I was in Kyiv, I've been there when the war started.”
Where when the war started?
“Kyiv, yup. It's like the Ukrainian pronunciation.”
Right, it is Kyiv. Keev, Kee-ev, I forget. It is “Keev”, yeah.
“I'm trying to say Keev, but I often say Kee-ev with you because it's easier to pronounce for you I understand.”
You left your hometown five days before the invasion, then you went to Kyiv five days before?
“Yeah, I went to continue studying at the university. I went to a dormitory when everything started. I woke up because of the sirens and it was really…like, really scary…and I just, you know, two days before the invasion everyone was talking about the war.
Everyone knew it was possible but no one wanted to believe that it would be true…
I was just reading this booklet, you know, about what to do in case of the war. I was thinking about the sound of sirens. And I was thinking, Oh, will it be true that I will hear it in real life, and face these real obstacles?
And in two days it become true, and I remember that moment when…you know…the terrible…”
You remember the moment of?
“This terrible moment. I don't want to remember it.”
How did you leave - by train, by car?
“I've was there in Kyiv for 10 days. I spent all my nights and all my days in a bomb shelter under my dormitory. It was quite okay because it was built after the Second World War. We were going with my friends to volunteer to make Molotov cocktails, maybe you know what those are. It was good experience but it was quite dangerous in Kyiv and the administration of our university told us to leave the city since it could get more dangerous than before.
We decided to go to Lviv because we have a lot of friends there and there are a lot of opportunities to volunteer. So, I left by train. It was quite okay. We were sitting, not standing on the train, which is good. But there were about 12 people in one cabin. It was a hard night.
Then we came to the railway station. There were so many people that we couldn't go outside. Then we got to a house where our friends were living and now we've been staying in Lviv for about three weeks."
Where are your parents, and where's your family?
“My family now is in Odessa, it's my hometown. It's one of the most popular tourist cities, it's close to the sea.”
So, your family’s in Odessa - your mom and your dad?
“My mom, my dad, my little sister, my grandma, and my uncle. They stay together in one flat just to feel more safe, because they lived in different flats but came together to feel the support from each other.
I'm really proud of them because they started a huge volunteer movement in our city, they're asking friends for financial help and then go buy a lot of things for our military and they're spending all their time on it. They don’t work, they don't earn money, they’re just volunteering.
I can't explain to you how proud of them I am. But I’m still worried about them a lot because a lot of missiles are flying around the city, and a lot of sirens, more than in Lviv. And they just say, Don't worry about it. They stay in a flat just talking to each other, having fun, while the sirens are shouting.”
What's your plan - do you have a plan?
“To be honest, I just want to keep volunteering while it's still needed. But today I thought about travelling a little bit because now it's easier for Ukrainians than before and I really want to spend maybe a week abroad and see another country and maybe help there. And then go back to Ukraine - soon the education will start again. Online, but I need to keep studying, because it's important."
I suppose the last question: How do you hope this ends?
“I have the ideal picture that Russia will lose very badly and publicly and everyone will know about it. And they will admit their loss and they will pay reparations to Ukraine and will help to rebuild our country and just to leave all the territories that we had before 2014, and we will bring back Crimea and the Donbas, which have been occupied for eight years.
This is my ideal picture for the end of this war but I understand that it may not happen, or it will happen in another way. But I just want our people to stay safe and I believe they will come back to their homes.”
That's everything. Did you have anything else to say, or does that cover it?
“I just wanted to say thank you for being here, because it's really valuable and I can't say how much I appreciate your support.”
Hey, I’ll say one thing, and I've said this to a few other people I’ve had the honour of speaking to - I’m really, really impressed by you guys. It inspires me to no end, I swear. All my friends back home say the same thing. When I tell them who I'm talking to, they can’t believe it. You're very strong, you inspire the world, and you inspire me. Slava Ukraini.
You inspire us too, really. Thank you. Hope to see you tomorrow!
I really hope you can come to Kyiv and Odessa and see all of Ukraine when it's safe."
It's going to happen, it's just a matter of when.
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