Larysa (63)

December 30, 2023, Pruske. 675th day of the war.

More than a year and a half after finding safety in Slovakia, she dared to speak about what she experienced. According to her own words, she will remain silent about it again for some time. Being a witness to incomprehensible evil and cruelty leaves indelible marks on everyone. She had to flee her own country. Her home no longer exists. Gradually, she managed to build a foundation for herself in Slovakia, but she struggles every day. She fights within herself, with her memories. Every day she must cope with new situations for which no one prepares you. She had to start from scratch. She lost everything when she came to us, she had nothing. And when she returns home, she will have to start anew. From scratch.

"When my daughter woke me up at night, I was very nervous and didn't understand why I had to get up. It was still dark, and I wasn't supposed to go to work until 10. Then the words 'there's a war' resounded in my ears. I thought it was nonsense, but in the distance, you could hear the sounds of explosions and planes. That's when I believed. We didn't have any supplies prepared, we didn't even have bread. I worked at Domino's Pizza, and from the supplies we had at work, we tried to cook something and distributed it to soldiers and people who had nothing. That's how we functioned until the stock was completely depleted. What we experienced then was unbelievable. People formed communities and helped each other. Even those who had nothing were taken care of.”

"I came to Slovakia on March 6th along with my 16-year-old grandchildren. My journey began when they started bombing our neighborhood. A rocket fell on a nursery two streets away from us, and half of the entrance to the adjacent apartment building collapsed in the explosion. At that moment, my daughter packed the children, and we headed to the train station. What I saw there exceeded all my expectations. It was a river of people, a very noisy river, because adults were shouting, children were crying, and you could also hear animals. Getting onto the evacuation train was extremely difficult. The train conductor only let women with children through, and men tried to create corridors for their families to pass through. The train had a designated capacity, even though it was significantly increased, the conductor counted people and didn't even want to let the elderly through. When we finally reached the doors, he announced that the train was full. I didn't want to give up, so I shouted if it was possible to take older children too. He looked at me and said he would check. After a while, he appeared again at the door saying, 'Yes, you can fit.' We got on the train. They were compartment wagons. The seating capacity was 36, but there were 120 of us. We sat tightly next to each other, with several children on our laps. We couldn't even move. We packed very lightly, otherwise they wouldn't have taken us because belongings took up space meant for people. We didn't have food with us, just water. When night came, we were all tired, and the children wanted to sleep. They lay down on top of us, and in such tightness, we spent the night. After some time, we passed through Vinnitsa, where two people got off our wagon. I'll never forget that. The screaming and desperate banging of people on the train walls. The conductor tried to explain to them that the train was full, that there was no room for them. It only caused more screaming and streams of tears. We moved on, still not knowing where we were going, only that it would be farther from the Russian tanks and missiles.”

"In Uzhhorod, they transferred us to evacuation buses, with which we continued to the Slovak-Ukrainian border. We waited there for a long time, but when we finally reached Slovakia, we were greeted by volunteers who took perfect care of us. Our hunger, thirst, and fatigue were relieved by warm tea, food, coffee, they even gave toys to children. You can't imagine what that cup of tea meant to us back then, and especially the feeling that those people were there in their free time, of their own will and conviction, to help us. Everything was really well organized at the border. There we found out that we would go to Trencin. In the morning, a woman came to us and told us that there was a free place in a monastery nearby where we could go. We were among the first here, and we're still here. We didn't sit here idly, you can't even do that because your emotions will overwhelm you. After about two weeks, I found a job, and the children started going to school."

"I didn't come here for work, I came here because I had to flee. It's been almost two years since I've been working at the factory here, but I still have to go to Ukraine every now and then because of various paperwork. The returns are not pleasant. Everywhere you look, everything is abandoned and destroyed. Even our home was so damaged and shot up that the commission decided it couldn't be reconstructed and had to be demolished. Today, it's just a deserted place. We had a home, we had an apartment, we had everything, and today we have nothing. Thank God we're alive and were accepted right here. I'm the type of person who doesn't want to be a burden to anyone, I want to be independent, I work a lot, so I can also help my family. I don't know how many more years it will take until we can have a home again.”

"My daughter returned to Ukraine with the children because they needed to finish school - 11th grade. My granddaughter started university, and my grandson returned back to Slovakia. He's 17 now, and if he hadn't left, he probably would have had to go to the front. I love Ukraine, but I don't want anything to happen to him, so we decided he won't go back there. He can have a normal life here. Even today he went on a trip with his friends. He's learning Slovak and English and wants to continue studying. However, it's not easy; we can't find suitable teachers, and he's learning languages online."

"Forgive me these tears; I always try to think optimistically. I have to be strong; otherwise, I won't help anyone. We'll endure it; everything will be fine. We have to stand together and support each other. From time to time, like now, I do break down mentally, I cry, but it's better than keeping it all inside, I could go crazy and get sick."

"Our home was destroyed just a few days after I arrived in Slovakia. It happened on March 15th. I found out about it later, about a month and a half later. It was impossible to contact anyone; actually, there was no one to call, and no one called us because everyone was hiding from the Kadyrovites. I found out what happened completely by chance when I saw a video from the liberated parts of Kyiv, where our house was. Someone went through our neighborhood and recorded it. Frankly, I could barely recognize our street. Everything was destroyed. And unfortunately, not just houses; people died there when their houses collapsed under the pressure of rockets. It still hasn't ended. Just yesterday, they were shelling us. I have nowhere to hide; I have nowhere to return. It's the story of millions of people. Even our neighbors who left their homes about a week before they were destroyed. They found out that the troops would go through our neighborhood. Many people, especially the elderly, didn't want to leave their homes, so they had to be forced, and thanks to that, they survived.”

"Because of this war, I realize even more that I'm not getting any younger and I have my age. I want to go back home, but when I imagine having to rebuild everything and how many years we still have to repay... I can't handle that! My legs and back hurt, and my eyesight has worsened. I planned to have my eyes operated on here, but the insurance won't cover it."

"My son is also in Slovakia; he could come here because he takes care of the children, his wife is no longer alive. It's not easy for him; he's sick, he has kidney problems, but he works. In all this misery, the feeling that both my children are here with me and safe makes me happy. I'm such a mother, my children and grandchildren have to be with me; only then am I content. When the war started, my only priority was to keep my family safe, outside Ukraine. I was ready to fight, for our freedom and life; I wouldn't even mind sweat and dust. I just wished for people to have a better future. Ukraine will endure, I believe that. It will be hard, but if the world helps us, we can do it! However, the world is already tired, and I see that they're starting to help us less. There are even those who don't care whether we win or even wish for us to lose. I want it to end already! Thank God we're here in Slovakia; I tell everyone how lucky we were. There are great people around us here, and everyone treats us humanely. No one has ever said anything bad to us; everyone helps and supports us. This help isn't taken for granted, and I don't expect it, but it makes me very happy. Many would even give us their last, for which I'm incredibly grateful!”

"My family lives both in Russia and in Ukraine. I am Russian. I was 17 when I came to study in Kyiv. I remember being in Kyiv for the first time when I was 12, and it was love at first sight. I could have lived in Moscow or St. Petersburg, but I chose Kyiv. When I was a child, we lived with my family in Chukotka, in a military district, so I had the privilege, and I could choose. Today it's no longer a secret, we lived right next to the nuclear warehouses (Note: an underground space where nuclear warheads are located). I had a relationship with Russia, but I may never forgive this to the Russians. Ukraine didn't want anything from anyone, especially didn't want to harm anyone. We had our country, and we weren't interested in others. That's how we Ukrainians are, we don't want to fight, steal from anyone, but we will definitely defend what's ours! Russians say they came to liberate us, but I ask from what? I had nothing left. When I left, I only had documents, a backpack, and nothing else. We couldn't even take our belongings or suitcases on the train. These horrors will have a long-term negative impact on everyone. Adults often struggle and will continue to struggle with mental illnesses. Perhaps children can forget and grow out of it, but we will carry it with us until the end."

"I have family in Russia, cousins and aunts. Even after 2014, we kept in touch. They live in the east, near the Chinese border. I must emphasize that they understood me, supported us, and listened to what was happening. Over time, censorship intensified, and they blocked our social network 'Odnoklassniki,' and since then, I haven't heard anything from them. I last heard that my aunt is sick. I know them very well, and I'm sure they still have doubts about what they are told on Russian television. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about others. Former classmates and friends blocked me, and I have no contact with them. They didn't believe me; they even told me that I spread propaganda. They saw the truth on TV, so they 'knew' better what was happening here.”

"Can I imagine returning to Russia? No, I don't want to go back there; I don't know how I could look those people in the face after all they allowed and supported. So much evil and pain they brought upon us. Our home was only 6 km away from Bucha, and the military airport was across the forest. Helicopters flew over us every day, tanks roamed the area, and cannons roared. When you think about it, it's insane, but over time, we could tell by the sound of the weapons whether they were ours or Russians. It was terrible. A friend called me from work, saying they were hiding in the basement with friends because tanks were rolling down the street without regard for anyone standing there. They ran over many dogs and cats; they passed by my friend just a step away. They destroyed everything, shot at everything, even destroyed places like theaters. They spread fear among people by shooting into the air. This is not liberation; this is genocide! We couldn't believe that we would experience something like this in our lifetime. Russia is like a steamroller; you either cower before it or die. There is no freedom behind it, only a destroyed country and a cemetery!"

"It affected us all. I have friends in Irpin, fortunately, unlike others, they survived. However, they had to flee their homes, and although their journey away from the Russians through the forest was only 6 km, it took them an unbelievable 12 days because they had to hide and only move when there was no shooting. One forest and almost two weeks without food and in fear. Those who didn't flee had to face the rampage of the Russians. What you see in photos or videos can't even come close to describing all the fear, the smell of burning and blood you face every day. Like many others, I didn't believe this was possible. I thought Russia and Ukraine would always be friends."

"We survived, but life has vanished from Kyiv. Residential areas are without children, and streets are practically empty. God forbid you ever have to experience this! After a long time, I remembered all of this, and now I will be silent again for a long time; I am completely derailed by it. In Ukraine, I am supposed to retire soon, but it's only 40 - 50 euros. How am I supposed to survive on that? Jobs are scarce there, and even if I found one, it would only be an extra 50 euros. This would be my life; I have to start from scratch."