Igor Likhvanchuk was woken up at dawn by the sound of two explosions near Kiev. “We got up and started getting ready,” he says hours later, while he takes refuge on a platform in the city’s suburban train, along with his wife, two friends and two dogs. “We didn’t know what to do and we went down to the subway to protect ourselves from a possible second wave of projectiles.”
Russia invades Ukraine: what we know so far
Around her, she could see restlessness, tension, but still no sense of desperation. “People come and go. It is not normal life for Ukrainians, but it is not life in a panic,” said Likhvanchuk, a Hispanic philologist, when he was still beginning to digest the situation in his country, after the offensive launched by Russia in the early this Thursday. He admits to having needed to take a couple of tranquilizers to keep calm. “Many things have happened this morning and now we are understanding… “.
Paralyzed for a few hours in the Kiev metro, Likhvanchuk and his friends were looking for a plan, which they had not yet materialized. “The problem is that my relatives are far away and we can’t reach them.” His mother-in-law is 150 kilometers from Kiev. His father, 70, lives in Kovel, a city located between the borders of Poland and Belarus, 50 kilometers away from each of them. “I can’t go there, I can’t get out of here,” he says, somewhat helplessly, as if he needs to justify himself.
The philologist talks to his father, questions him and he replies that he is still at home. That he doesn’t leave there, unless it’s to take shelter in some kind of underground shelter. “The whole territory of Ukraine is being bombed so it doesn’t matter where you are. He’s not going to leave the country because that’s his city, that’s where he was born and where he lived. He’s not going to leave.”
“What is our family going to tell us? What is the grandmother of one of my friends, over 90 years old, going to tell us? A woman who defended Kiev from the Nazis together with the Russians, when they started attacking the city. She stood shoulder to shoulder with the Russians and now she is seeing a situation where they are the ones who are starting to attack our city,” Likhvanchuk says, heartbroken. He is forced to pause before continuing. “She can’t tell us anything. Because all of this is inexplicable to her. It’s inexplicable to everyone.”
On the outskirts of Lviv, a city near the Polish border, Oksana Horin woke up when her husband left home at four in the morning. She wanted to fill gas. “He saw on social networks that Putin was going to attack and we were afraid that later there would be a lot of people at the gas station,” says the Ukrainian woman. At six in the morning, the Ukrainian heard the distant sound of some projectiles. Her city, for the time being, has not been affected. She snorts, but she speaks calmly: “The truth is that I don’t want to accept reality.”
Horin has lived in Spain for nearly a decade, where one of his children also lives. For years she was the director of a Ukrainian school in Madrid. She now works as a programmer in a Spanish company and her telecommuting allows her to spend time in her country, where her husband and another of her 16-year-old daughters live.
The Russian attack caught him in the Ukraine, and for now he does not plan to return to Spain. “My husband doesn’t want to run away, he wants to defend our city, and I don’t want him to stay here alone. We women are also organizing ourselves and we have to defend the elderly,” she says about the possibility of returning to her quiet life in Móstoles, the Madrid municipality where he lives… or used to live. She herself exchanges tenses without knowing which one to choose: “We want to be an example and convey that we are not going to leave, but that we will try to defend ourselves and help as much as possible.”
Plan to get your daughter out
The one who worries him is his daughter. They have not yet made the decision, but the teenager already has her suitcase packed. “We believe that the best thing is to send her to Madrid, with her sister, but we are still thinking about how and when to do it,” says Oksana. To travel to Spain, she must first leave the country. “The plan is to drive her to the Polish border, so she can cross on foot.”
On the other side of the border, some Polish friends would wait for her and could host her at home until she got a ticket to Madrid. Thousands of Ukrainians have tried to leave the country for Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova or Poland before the invasion launched by Russia. Several countries in the area have already offered to receive refugees.
While the programmer prepares the food, she texts them to prepare the final plan and writes to her neighbors to “take the initiative and organize ourselves”. “The men” who want to join the Ukrainian president’s request to take up arms, she says, have also met at the town’s “House of Culture” to define the strategies to follow.
While chatting calmly with elDiario.es, her husband tells her that some friends will sleep at home tonight. “They live very close to the airport and they fear an attack,” explains Horin. The first day of war, this February 14 that will be recorded forever, has for Oksana an aura of “strange normality”. “We are in a stressful situation, but that fear hasn’t entered us yet, but I want to do something to defend ourselves. It seems that we are fine. Now I am at home, calm, but I know that things are not good”.
He thinks of his mother, although he says he does not fear for her safety as he does not live in a big city: “She is in a small town. She tells me that she is praying, that she is praying a lot.” Her niece and other relatives did have to leave their homes in Kiev, where they work, on the run, after hearing the loud explosions at dawn. “I am on the way to the house in Lviv. We have been there for about five hours. Now there are big traffic jams. I have seen people walking with suitcases on the road. Also tanks and other military vehicles,” Cristina told this media by message, before the lack of coverage during the journey.
Izan Martín can’t assimilate it either. The young Spaniard works as a coach for a Ukrainian soccer team in Dnipro, one of the cities that have suffered attacks. At 5:30 a.m. he began to hear explosions. He never fully believed that Russia was going to attack the country but he also had his backpack ready. “At first you don’t believe it. You look at it, you see the fire, and you start doing it.”
After hearing the detonations, he organized himself together with several teammates in different cars, with the initial objective of traveling to the Polish border, but they changed their plan. “We called each other and decided to go to a very small place, a town, as a quick solution,” explains Martín, who claims to be grateful for the attention of the Spanish Embassy.
“We need truthful information, someone to tell us which is a safe escape route, to know when to leave, where to leave and what to do,” prays the young man, somewhat blocked, in a hotel room where they will spend the night with other members of the club from different countries, including Ukrainians. “Our drama is solved if we get out of here, but imagine how they are… “.
They are, as is Igor Likhvanchuk. After hours sheltered in the subway, they received the information of the advance of the Russian troops towards Kiev. His group then decided to move to a city located about 100 kilometers from the capital, to sleep in the house of the family of one of his friends, which has a basement where they can shelter in case of a Russian attack.
The philologist begs for visibility in perfect Spanish: “I cannot find the words to describe what Putin is doing with us. He has it in his head to create an empire and he does not care about the lives of human beings. He does not care about anything. We are surrounded of the Russian army, but every Ukrainian is going to take up arms and defend every inch of their land,” he says, still dismayed. He asks for support from European society and governments: “What is going to happen in Ukraine can happen in any country in Europe. There must be a forceful reaction to what this devil is doing.”