Diary from Ukraine: ‘Terrified we’d be separated while fleeing’

This weekend, Zakhida Adylova decided to flee Kyiv for Lviv in the west with her family.

Zakhida's daughter and mother on a train from Kyiv to Lviv
Zakhida's daughter and mother on the train from Kyiv to Lviv [Courtesy of Zakhida Adylova]

Zakhida Adylova, 35, is a language teacher and producer for a political talk show who lives in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

She is a Crimean Tatar, a Muslim ethnic minority that was forcibly deported from their homeland, the Crimean Peninsula, to Uzbekistan in 1944 under orders from Joseph Stalin. In 1993, Zakhida returned from exile with her family to Crimea, Ukraine. Then in 2014, she and her daughter were forced to leave their home in Crimea for Kyiv after Russia annexed the peninsula. Zakhida’s mother joined them a year later. Today, the three are again facing a Russian invasion, sheltering in the bathroom and corridor of their apartment. Zakhida has kept a diary since the war began. This is her account from today.

Day 10: Saturday, March 5, 2022 – ‘It was time to leave’

5.45am. I woke up early in the morning because I had a live interview with a Chicago-based news station about how I was coping in Kyiv and what I planned to do. I told them I would stay in Kyiv for as long as I could. Afterwards, I fell back asleep until about 11am.

When I woke, however, things had changed. I follow various media resources including Telegram channels, and in one, a police official said that in his view, Kyiv residents should leave, warning that the city would become very dangerous if it was attacked and that people could be cut off from any help. I thought of how there was already nothing in the shops and about would happen if my mother needed medical care. If the city faced heavy bombardment, how would we leave?

I spent much of my day crying, anxious about making a decision and disappointed and angry about the prospect of leaving, but I needed to think of my daughter, my mother and myself.

4am. I spoke to a psychologist with an online support network and after we spoke, I felt much better. She told me that by staying or leaving I was still making a decision. I knew what I had to do. It was time to leave.

6pm. I baked some bread and decided that tomorrow we would pack and leave.

9pm. My Ukrainian friend and her husband who have been stuck in Denmark since the invasion began messaged me and told me to come to stay with them. Many friends outside Ukraine have offered to host me and my family. For now, we will go to Poland and once there, I will decide whether we should stay or go elsewhere.

Zakhida Adylova red suitcase and other bags packed by the family
Since being forced to leave Crimea, Zakhida has learnt to pack only the essentials [Courtesy of Zakhida Adylova]

Day 11: Sunday, March 6, 2022 – ‘Terrified we’d be crushed or separated’

10am. My mother and daughter woke up. My 75-year-old mother was crying. She felt that something was going on and she understood that I had made some kind of decision.

I told her that we needed to leave, but she did not want to. She said that she was too old to move and that nothing would happen to her.

I told her that I could not force her to leave with us, but that I was responsible for my daughter and we needed to go. I told her to be ready within half an hour if she was going to come with us. I was extremely worried that she would choose to stay behind, but thankfully, she didn’t.

We packed quickly. After being forced to leave my homeland when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, I have learned to pack only what I need – and nothing sentimental. I take only the most important things: my laptop for work, power banks, clothes, toothpaste, a toothbrush, underwear, clothes and documents. I packed a suitcase for my 11-year-old daughter, Samira, and I and my mother packed her own luggage with her Quran.

My daughter stuffed her backpack with toys and games. “Samira, what are you doing?” I asked her. “I need them, mum,” she said.

At least I know these things will distract her.

Once we’d packed, I started looking for a car to take us to the train station. It was too risky to drive to Lviv, which is in the west and near the Polish border, but I still looked for a car to take us west even as I also looked for one to take us to the station. I called my brother who told me to call our friend who could help. Eventually, at around 1pm, our friend drove us to the station, and the trip – normally 15 minutes by car without traffic – took about half an hour as we were slowed down by driving around tank traps and through checkpoints.

2pm. We arrived at Kyiv central railway station. There were so many people. I discovered that two trains had already left Kyiv for Lviv. I was so frustrated to learn that we had missed them. People waiting there said there would be another train at 5pm.

But then there was an announcement that other trains were leaving for the west. There was a rush of people and I decided not to join the crowd as I was terrified that we’d be crushed or separated in the crowd. People were shouting and cursing. It was unbelievably tense.

Some minutes later, there was an unexpected announcement for a train to Lviv departing from platform 8. The three of us were near that platform and quickly grabbed our luggage and made it onto the train. We were lucky to get seats as the train was soon filled with people standing in the isles.

We were on our way by about 3.40pm.

As we headed west, my heart ached. I didn’t want to look at anyone. I didn’t want to leave Kyiv, my second hometown after Crimea. My daughter and mother were worried about me.

An hour later, I tried to smile, and they seemed relieved. There were lots of children in our carriage. A woman sitting next to us was shaking. She was from Irpin, where civilians had been killed that day. “I couldn’t imagine that I could survive,” she told us.

Zakhida's mother and daughter sleep
Zakhida and her family reached Lviv around 3am on Monday morning [Courtesy of Zakhida Adylova]
Source: Al Jazeera