Escaping Russian Terror in Ukraine
Millions of Ukrainian women and children have been forced to flee their homes. This is just one story out of many untold tales...
A woman sewing an Ukrainian flag.
Katya met her husband in 2011. She lived in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, and he lived in Norway. Like many young global couples, they communicated online and traveled regularly to each other’s countries to visit. In the end, love conquered distance and this young international couple married. Katya has been living with her husband in Norway for the past six years.
However, she never forgot her home country. Living in Norway, she helps Ukrainians living in poverty in her city of Mykolaiv by working for a Norwegian humanitarian aid organization called, Familiehjlpen Ukraina. When Russia brutally attacked Ukraine, it was only natural that the nation’s most vulnerable, single mothers and the elderly, with whom Katya already had established ties through her organization’s work, would reach out to her.
“I have so many stories to tell,” Katya tells me during our phone call.
I ask her to tell me just a few for now.
She tells me about Natalia.
Natalia was a young single mother living in a dilapidated house. Familiehjlpen Ukraina renovated the house and was just helping Natalia begin to live a life with dignity.
Then Russia invaded.
“On March 7th, Natalia was killed by a cluster bomb,” Katya tells me. “She was running towards the bomb shelter. Her six-year-old son was running in front of her. Witnesses say she was only about a meter away from the shelter when shrapnel from a Russian cluster bomb struck her and killed her. She died in front of her child.”
Natalia was killed by a Russian cluster bomb on March 7, 2022.
The southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv has been one of Russia’s main targets since the beginning of the war, sustaining heavy shelling. CNN reported that Mykolaiv was shelled heavily on March 7, 11, and 13. The Russians bombed the city with Smerch and Uragan cluster rockets. These weapons are banned under international law because they scatter bomblets over a wide area, causing a greater number of civilian deaths. However, as the world has witnessed over and over again, in this war, and in Russia’s attacks on Syria, Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea, and eastern Ukraine, Russia has no regard for human life or the rule of law. This terrorist state habitually distorts the truth and justifies its criminal actions by blaming its victims. Russia targets hospitals, maternity wards, schools, nurseries for destruction and does so intentionally to terrorize innocent people. The barbarism of Russian attacks is unprecedented and warrants calling this country what it is, a terrorist state. American President Biden has called Putin by the name he that describes him best, a war criminal.
Right now, Katya is sheltering her mother and four others in her home in Norway.
“My mother lived alone in Mykolaiv,” Katya explains. “She had come to visit us in Norway in early February. We were concerned about the war and urged her to stay with us, but the war in Ukraine has been going on for 8 years now and no one believed that this time Russia would escalate the war to this level. My mother returned home to Mykolaiv two weeks before the war started. We spoke on the phone on February 23rd, and everything was fine. Then she called me on the morning of February 24th. That night the Russians bombed the military airport in Mykolaiv. You see, after the Russians occupied Crimea, the Ukrainian army managed to get some of the military planes and equipment out and brought it to the military airport in Mykolaiv. Why should we let them kill us with our own weapons?” Katya poses a rhetorical question.
“Were you worried about your mother?”
“Of course, very worried. She was in a state of shock, but she did not want to leave her home. Then her friend called and invited her to come and stay with her family in their house. So, then she was hiding together with a family. All of them together were nine people, three generations, and a dog, hiding in that house.”
“Did you urge her to leave?” I ask.
“Yes, I spoke with her on the phone all the time. I begged her to leave. But it was not an easy decision for her to make. The Russians were shooting at cars with civilians trying to leave the city. In the end, Mama, her friend, and her friend’s sister, their two daughters, and two children, four years old and two months old, got in a car and drove to the border with Moldova.”
“So, that was five adults and two children in one car?”
People crowding together in cars and driving for many hours to escape is something I’d heard time and again.
“Were they able to get gasoline?”
“Yes, but they could only buy a few liters at a time. The drive was treacherous because the Russians shoot at civilians fleeing the cities. As they drove along the road, they saw people’s bodies dumped into the ditches alongside the road. The bodies were just barely wrapped in sheets or plastic.”
“They all got sick, but the two-month baby became very ill with pneumonia along the way and was struggling to breathe.”
“That must have been difficult.”
“Russian military planes flew over their heads. They army was everywhere. And the dead bodies. They didn’t want the children to see it all. It was an incredibly stressful journey. But they did make it to the border with Moldova. Then, my mother’s friend and her sister had to turn around and go back because they are doctors, and they are needed in Ukraine. My mother crossed the border with the two young women and the two children. Their husbands stayed behind to fight the Russians and defend Ukraine. In Moldova, they found a doctor to treat the baby. Then, they came to us.”
“How are you managing? It must be difficult to be far away from home and to be watching this invasion from a distance.”
“It was terrible for me,” Katya admits. “I couldn’t sleep. I’d lie awake all night with my phone in my hand. I’d stay in the living room watching the news. I was outside of Ukraine, and I felt that I could not do much. In Ukraine they are together, but we are far away here. We try to understand and follow what is happening and to help in any way that we can.”
Natalia's house before the rennovation.
Natalia's house after the renovation.