(Cover Photo Source: AP News)
When the war in Ukraine started, many Ukrainians, including my family, had to decide whether to stay home or travel to find a safer place. Even after spending several weeks waking up to air raid sirens and sleeping under shelling in the basement, my family still planned to stay because it was the only safest option at that time. “We thought we won’t go anywhere. It was before I was laying on the couch and then at the next moment we saw a black smoke coming from the building across the street, a missile hit a house across the street. Shells started flying back and forth. We ran down to the car. The first missile hit the house across the street and we had no idea where the next one would land. We were sitting in the car and heard extremely loud shooting, while dad was trying to decide if it was worth going at that moment. And then he drove at full speed,” said Mariya Matsegora, my sister.
When discussing a further travel plan, my 83-year old grandma strongly objected to leaving. Born in 1939, this was the third war that had affected her in her lifetime. She still remembers how German planes were piercing the cellar lid where she was hiding as a kid during World War II. In 2014, when Russians occupied Donetsk, a missile flew into her kitchen, hanging from the ceiling like a chandelier, narrowly saving her life. After starting her life over for the second time 8 years ago, my grandma is now once again spending her nights in the basement hiding from the bombs.
My parents decided to send my 15 year old sister abroad alone, so that she could be safe there, get her education, and have the opportunity to live and do things that teenagers normally do. “After sitting in the basement and almost getting killed, we all started to see the world differently. We all became different people. I realized that I just want to go to school and study…Of course, I wanted to go, I didn’t want to keep surviving here, but at the same time, I wanted to stay with the family, so that I can be sure they are okay. Because if there is no service and I am not with them, there is nothing I can do,” said Mariya.
My sister Mariya traveled for five days before she settled down in Germany. It took my parents three days to drive her to the border. “There was no gas in the city and we had no idea where we were going. We were able to get some gas on the way out of the city. There were long lines at the gas station and a limited amount of gas but we were lucky to get an extra canister of gas to put in the trunk,” said Mariya. When telling about her trip my sister Mariya mentioned that she was very scared to travel first because of all the stories about families getting shot in their cars when they were trying to evacuate. Thankfully, they got safely to their first destination. “We stayed overnight with people we didn’t really know. But I was surprised how they were doing everything to help us. When we were entering the city, there were people standing by the road with the posters saying ‘Tea, Coffee, Sandwiches’. They knew we drove for a long time and were offering sandwiches for free,” said Mariya.
The hardest out of all five days was the third one, the last day before crossing the border. “On the third day we realized that that was it. We were in the car trying to spend our last hours together. My parents were trying to give last minute advice. They tried not to show it but I knew how hard it was for them to let me go. I thought I was ready, but when it was time to say goodbye before crossing the border, I literally had a waterfall from my eyes. We all were crying there. It was the first time I saw my dad crying. He hugged me so hard, it was something special and had so much meaning,” said Mariya.
After crossing the Ukrainian-Hungarian border, my sister learnt where exactly she was going and how she was going to continue her trip. After two more days in the car, she got to her final destination in Germany. My sister describes her first night there: “It was unusual to spend the night in safety. I am still very sensitive to loud noises. I would wake up from even the quietest noise, being worried that a missile could reach me even here. Any alarm sounds like an air raid siren. Now, thank God, I stopped being afraid of the kettle.” She said “in Germany, I finally got enough sleep. Everyday life became something really special for me. The best thing that happened to me was as simple as waking up in the morning and having breakfast in silence. Silence became so special and small things are so meaningful now.”
Although it should feel good to be safe and away from the war, my sister agreed that sometimes it is hard and doesn’t feel right: “Sometimes, I feel really sad in the evenings, when I realize that while I am safe others are not; while I sleep normally, others sit in the basements. Of course, I am worried about my parents who stayed in Ukraine because I don’t know what can happen to them in a moment. I miss home and actually understanding what people are saying [she doesn’t speak any German], but it is also great motivation to do things,” said Mariya.
When I asked my sister what her dream was, she said that it is probably too simple. She said that she just wants to meet up with everyone once again, just gather with family and have dinner and laugh at the stories together. It is amazing how our dreams became very simple. Now, all we dream of is waking up one day and seeing a message “war is over, you can come home” on the screen.