“Faster! Don’t look back!” Nastia is shouting at me. She’s running just a few steps behind me. I can feel the ground roaring, feel it shuddering under my feet.
The concrete is so hot under the summer sun that it is crackling. Huge slabs of capital concrete have already started rising into the air. We keep on running and jumping over them.
“We won’t make it in time. The bridge is destroyed!” I answer. “We have to cross the water to get to safety. We are trapped!”
“Oh God, what is going on?!” There is nobody to answer that question.
Only now I am starting to realise that I had this dream over a month ago when nobody really wanted to believe that a full-scale invasion could happen.
Yesterday’s life, full of hectic worries, has been left behind an invisible line, and we can never cross it again. Nowadays, shards of window panes and burnt-down homes are flying at us through the news screen. Our homes, our streets and our cities. Our friends and family. Our people. Everything is on fire.
Screams. Cries. Death.
Chaos is the best word to describe this madness. It seems that a heart cannot take this much pain, but we continue to watch, numb. We still haven’t realised that this is happening for real.
Yesterday and tomorrow no longer exist. There is only today – February filth, soot and blood mixed in leftover snow. Explosions. Damn explosions everywhere.
“I hope we have somewhere to return to,” my colleague whispers tiredly, as she curls up into a corner. She has just learnt that a rocket hit a building next to her house. We are running over the remains of our destroyed lives on this endlessly long and horrible today.
Sitting on the wooden stairs, I was writing in my diary to try and cope with everything that was brewing inside me and threatening to explode my head. A majestic cat, grey, passed me by on his way down, ignoring my presence. He’s calmed down a bit, even though he had just been a witness to those horrible crowds at the Kyiv Central Railway Station, people packed like sardines:
“Women and children! First go women and children!” a policeman had been shouting and then he shot in the air for emphasis. Damn. You just needed some musicians to fully reenact the atmosphere of Titanic.
People, cats, dogs, everyone was there. There was a roof over our heads, it was warm, and there was no shelling. We were lucky. Genuinely, no sarcasm.
My friends were taping the windows to protect them from the blast wave. The air was thick with the concentrated need to cry, and the need would soon find a way out, one way or another. We all are trying to hold on, and to cheer each other, but, if I am honest, we all break down in turns.
My turn will be very soon.
My diary entries are threaded with fear and confusion. One thing was clear though – I can’t go back home. I was inevitably nearing the most radial decision in my life: to take a leap into the unknown all on my own or to stay here. I’m lucky to have had some time to think about it.
War is not a romantic story. It’s a place where you need to know how to protect yourself from various assaults, where you need to have pepper spray and a morning-after pill in case you get raped. That’s how I used to see it, imagining worst-case scenarios.
I got that pepper spray but wasn’t so lucky with the morning-after pill. I stood at the drugstore door twice but didn’t manage to cross the threshold of the reality where I’d need to come to terms with such a necessity.
Where should I go? Where would I live? Would I be able to find work? What’s going to happen?
I made the decision weighing the pros and cons. Took a leap of faith into darkness and hoped to fly.
The bench in the park was slightly wet, but the coat protected me well from the cold. My friend was sitting next to me.
“You think there’s only one right choice, and that you’ll die if you make the wrong one. I understand. But you’re wrong. Every choice has pros and cons. Some have more pros and others have more cons, but you’ll be fine. There is no right choice. Each one will turn out okay.” It was this conversation that helped me to calm down and make the final decision. It was time to buy tickets.
I found a place to live thanks to a friend and famous Irish luck: a single message that hit the target, four handshakes out of six, and a wonderful family across Europe selflessly opened their door to a complete stranger.
I remember the road in snapshots. Rain. Polish border. Volunteers giving free hot meals and basic necessities despite it being indecently early. Warsaw. So impossibly calm. I couldn’t wrap my mind over the fact you need to just cross a line on a map and find yourself in a completely different world. A world where people live their calm and peaceful lives and do not shudder from every noise. It felt unnatural. My first ever flight. I tried to figure out what I needed to do, heard words in English and Polish, and couldn’t understand any.
But that first meeting with the host family I remember in detail. I claimed my baggage, left through the doors with a sign “No going back” over them. They stood behind the security ribbon along with other greeters, and as soon as we recognised each other, they hugged me. No hesitation or second thoughts.
In that moment, after all that fear, worries and doubts, I finally felt: “Everything will be alright. I will be alright.”
3 months later.
I stood before the glass office door on O’Connell Street. An elderly Irishman, maybe 60 or 70 years old, stood next to me and gazed kindly at me, probably having noticed my dismay.
“It’s my first day. I don’t know what to do,” I whispered to him. “They told me to come at 9.40 and ask for Jane, but the door’s locked.”
“Just knock. Go on,” he smiled at me. “Good luck with your new job.”
After a short tour, I found myself on the first floor again, where my work desk stood. I mean, on the ground floor. I need to remember that.
There was a sign over the computer and a stand with client brochures: «Begin here»
So I began. Here. Because even at its darkest, life doesn’t stand still. From the ashes of yesterday hopes we find new, exciting beginnings.