by Vika Starseva
My name is Vika, and I am from Ukraine. Ukraine – is my life. On February 24, the war began in my country. People woke up to the sound of rockets bombing our towns and villages. I woke up and clearly understood war. Putin and his army are bombing Ukraine. At that moment I felt competing emotions. I prayed and felt calmed. I looked out the window, people running in a panic. I was frightened. Some got into their cars and drove away. Some loaded backpacks with essentials and fled. Others could not believe what was happening and held on to any moment of joy. My sister called me and asked me to pack my things and go with her and her husband to a village near Vinnytsia, where friends live. Natasha called me three times, but I did not want to leave. We left Kyiv and headed to the village. The usual two-hour trip took eight hours. Roads were jammed with cars; long queues in shops and gas stations. People panicked and hurried to safety. The entire way, I called family and friends. We peppered each other with questions: how are you feeling? Do you have everything that you need? Food, water, money? Is there a safe shelter?
I tried to stay calm and steady. On the way to the village, we passed many military vehicles and young men between 18-19 years old. My heart shuddered at the sight. We arrived in the village and spent a week there. It was safe in the village at that time, but in other villages, there was shelling and planes flying overhead. To be honest, I really wanted to return to Kyiv. My apartment was comfortable and cosy. I wanted to walk with my friends, go to work, and stroll in my favourite park nearby. But my thoughts returned to reality, and I realized that the war had just begun, firmly convinced that Ukraine will win, and we will live and glorify God, who will lead us to victory. During our stay in the village, my friend Rachinda wrote to me and offered me a haven in Canada, but I replied that it was fine. “You need to be safe,” she said. “I’m safe here and everything is all right,” I replied. “I’ll pray and let you know.” In time, I agreed and asked Rachinda, if my sister could come with me to Canada. “Of course, bring your sister and her husband,” she said. My sister, Natasha, could leave Ukraine but, her husband stayed in Ukraine because men between 18 and 60 were asked to remain. Natasha could not decide whether to go or stay, but Dima urged her to go. “You have to be safe,” Dima said, and I’ll be fine.”
Honestly, I thought it might be better for Natasha to stay with her husband. Separation would be a heavy burden for both. But I too wanted my sister to be safe, and we told Rachinda we were on our way. It was difficult to leave our homeland, and it was impossible to predict the future, and when we would be able to return to Ukraine. Endless questions swirled in my head. Dima took us to the train station. The train was packed to the brim with barely any room to spare, and we were bound for L’viv. We stood or sat on our backpacks for 10 hours. Volunteers brought apples and water for the passengers. It was a brief respite for us. We arrived in L’viv at night, and the station was crowded with humanity. For the next 7 or 8 hours, Natasha and I stood in a queue for the next train bound for Poland in an underground tunnel and it was very cold. Children, elderly, adults, and children with disabilities – refugees from Mariupol’, Kyiv, Kharkiv. Eventually, we boarded and again sat our backpacks. Children were crying, the train smelled like the toilet. We had to get up from our backpacks and let people pass. The journey was exhausting. It took ten hours to reach Przemyśl. Our train had to give way to other transport trains. Ordinarily, it would have been a three-hour trip from L’viv. When we arrived in Przemyśl and we were greeted by beautiful Poland, the Polish volunteers gave us hot coffee and food. From Przemyśl we continued onto Katowice, and from Katowice to Warsaw. We stayed with friends in Warsaw to prepare documents for our journey to Canada. Our stay in Poland lasted a month. I received my visa and flew to Canada. This is my first flight, and I was afraid, did not know what to expect, or what to do. I believed that with God’s help and the prayers of the church and my friends, I would find a haven. I was met by wonderful people who care about me and my other Ukrainian friends. My sister Natasha received her visa for Canada a week later. I’m so glad she’s here and that we live in Rachinda’s house; we are very grateful for the help.
Every minute I miss Ukraine very much. I pray for and worry about Ukraine, my friends, and relatives, who are there. Now I am enveloped in different emotions, that are constantly changing. It’s hard to explain, and how much I miss Ukraine. My sister sews Tshirts and hair ornaments in Ukrainian colours, blue and yellow. We sell them at the Farmer’s Market in Kemptville to support Ukraine and thank those who buy her wares.
Stop the war. Stop Putin. Stop the murder.
Слава Богу. Шана Україні.