Natalya (42).

June 26, 2022, Zilina. Day 122 of war.

She had a bouquet of flowers on the bedside table. It was her birthday. Her husband did not forget about her day despite the situation in which they found themselves. Nobody knows today whether they will be able to return home. They dream of a small apartment where she could cook for her husband dishes he likes. Instead, they share common space with dozens of others who fled the war in Ukraine. 

“We came from Krematorsk. We left after a rocket exploded near our house. I was in the bathroom when I heard such a terrible thunder that the washing machine itself jumped. I came out of the bathroom and wondered what the flowers were doing in the hallway. The pressure wave completely blew out the doors and windows of our apartment, from where pots with flowers flew through the entire apartment. If I wasn't in the bathroom, it's possible that I wouldn't be alive anymore. At first I didn't understand what was happening, I watched through the cloud of smoke as everything disappeared in a single moment. Neighbors place burned completely. People were coming home from work to find pieces of their furniture strewn across the street, such bad was the blast. In about a day, we managed to clean the apartment and we went to the window repair shop to see if they could repair the windows. Unfortunately! The whole city had this problem, glass was a scarce commodity. As I was returning home, I observed the changed city with tears in my eyes. Where my children went to school, today there was only dust and ruins. That's how it was with the whole streets.” 

“We started talking about how we were going to deal with this situation. It was clear to us that we would have to leave. We were investigating what the options were. Friends advised us to take an evacuation train to Uzhhorod. It was April 26, no train was running, not even for the next day. Finally, on the 28th, several wagons that had been prayed for arrived. Before we left, I managed to prepare a garden by our cottage, I planted parsley and dill in the greenhouse, and potatoes outside. Now the neighbors send us photos so I can see how everything is growing. I told them to take what they need, dig potatoes out for us, at least someone will benefit from it. There is no drinking water or gas in the city. People live in gardens where they have wells and where they can cook over open fires. But when you cook, you have to hide. Soldiers go around the place, break into the apartment, and steal what is cooked, they are so hungry. On social networks, people are writing about how apartment inspection groups are forming in the city, posing as city employees. They come in the evening, open the apartment, find out what is valuable inside, and take it away. Who will stop them? 70-year-old neighbor? They would beat her up!” 

“Mom lives in Bakhmut. She is a patriot who would not leave her apartment even if she were to die in it. The situation there is even worse than in Krematorsk. Her neighborhood is bombed every day. When humanitarian aid arrives in town, you must decide whether to risk starvation or life. Mom told me about how she was walking around the city, suddenly a plane flew by and she wanted to hide somewhere. Unfortunately, people are very afraid and when there is an air raid, they often close shelters and entrances, they don't want someone to run in there and throw a bomb. She was standing at one entrance, banging on the door, a plane flying over her head. No one opened. She just had to believe that she would survive. And so every day! She doesn't have anything to cook with anymore, it's only from the supplies she has. We also talked about going back, but where? If our apartment is gone, we can only live in the cottage. But there is nothing there except a roof over your head, no water, no electricity, no gas, and they are still planning more attacks. Krematorsk is very important because of the airport. Here I can at least work in the kitchen as a dishwasher, save something and send it home to my mother. I wouldn't be able to find a job at home.” 

“Our evacuation train had 14 wagons. The windows were closed, taped with cardboard. The train was not so warm but the air was suffocating. We had nothing to eat because everyone only packed things for one or two days. Our fellow passenger thought she would get something on the train. We shared with her. When we were standing somewhere, only the guides got food and water. We could only buy a small bottle of water for 20 hryvnias. We were shelled twice along the way, luckily we survived! The husband consumed all his pills on the train, so he felt sick. We finally got to Uzhgorod, where the volunteers finally took care of us and gave us something to eat. Here in Slovakia, we are safe, but we miss home. We don't know how long we will stay here, where we will end up.” 

“We survived 2 months of war there. We were already used to explosions, so we didn't run to shelters and basements. Only what happened at the end scared us. They take really good care of us here, we have things to eat. We constantly hear about how good people are, how they help each other. Some even give their entire houses to Ukrainians for free, and even bring them food every week. An acquaintance told me that it's embarrassing for her to just keep taking, but people are really good and like to help.” 

“Before the war, I worked in a boutique with expensive clothes. I couldn't do it here, for this job you need a perfect command of the language. Often it's about compliments, about advice. You say the wrong thing and the customer gets offended and doesn't come back. That's why we do what they offer us, I wash the dishes, and my husband works in the gardens. He plants flowers, cuts thuja, lawns, they are very satisfied with him. We both work.” 

“We had 3 options where to go: Slovakia, Poland and Germany. There was no more room in Poland, my husband probably wouldn't be able to travel to Germany, he has problem with blood pressure, so we stayed here. Doctors immediately helped him here. They wondered how he could live and function with a pressure of 220/180. They wanted to take him to the hospital, but he refused, preferring to work. He was prescribed medicine, now he is fine. But due to the blood pressure he had to turn down 2 jobs, unfortunately it was high up in the mountains where his problems could get worse. My husband's dream is for us to have our own apartment here, where we would have a small kitchen, where I would cook for him, and he would eat what he likes. We have only been together for 2 years, but we are happy. I have never seen a man treat a woman so nicely before. He brings me flowers, cooks for me, and says a nice word. Fate knocks us down, but together we always rise again.” 

“I miss little things, like meeting people I know on the street. Those short conversations, asking how are you, are a precious memory for me. I have no one to talk to here. People smile at us, say something, but I don't understand them. Most of them are really good and help, but there are also those who scream at us to go back home. Then I just think that they don't even know how much we would like to go home, because we have everything there.” 

“When we left the house, I only packed some clothes. Underwear for 2-3 days, medicine, one shampoo, a few tins of food, bread and tea. That was all. When we got here, we found out that we had neither towels nor slippers. Fortunately, the volunteers gave us a few things, so we could wash in peace. I didn't even pack any cosmetics. The man laughed at me that I was mainly thinking of him when packing, because he has 4 pairs of socks and I only have one, which already have holes in them. We were packed in 4 hours. My husband got the second lock, changed it, and we gave the keys to the neighbors, let them at least water our flowers. I love flowers, my husband laughs at me that I have an arboretum at home, that birds will move there. If my flowers don't survive all this, I'll come home and plant new ones. We will have some kind of future. I feel sorry for those who invested a lot of money in their apartments and now everything is ruined. An acquaintance told me that if the bank comes to her about her debts, she'd rather hang herself, because she has nothing to pay her debts with, because she doesn't even have a job. Well, if they destroy our homes, we will live in cottages. We will survive! Let's move on! I will never forget Slovakia! Thanks to these people!”