Svetlana is a professional, a wife, and a mother. She chose to remain in Ukraine after Russia invaded Ukraine and started its brutal war of terror. Svetlana kindly agreed to respond to a few questions in writing. Here are her responses.
Laima: Please tell me about your life and daily routine before Russia's invasion of Ukraine?
Svetlana: My job throughout the last decade was connected to the international federation. For me, traveling for work was routine. After years of working in an international organization, I finally headed an ambitious Ukrainian urban development project. I had a very high level of responsibility to lead the project to successful implementation in Ukraine and worldwide. Our project entailed designing a floating smart city, and we actively and widely promoted Ukrainian technology of autonomous sustainable and smart construction on the water.
Both of my two sons (ages 18 and 12) and my husband were already accustomed to our family life where their mom/wife was constantly away on business trips. At the same time, my spouse, who works in a local law firm, has always been more connected to Kyiv, and never had any intentions of changing his place of residence. He was especially not inclined to learn foreign languages and certainly would never consider any radical life changes.
Laima: What has been your personal experience of this war?
Svetlana: On February 24, 2022, I woke up at 5:08 am from the sounds of explosions outside. That was a feeling I will never forget. It was a feeling of awareness of the inevitability of the war and fear of this awareness. The brain blocks the ability to perceive reality. My mind said - no, this cannot be real... Then after a few minutes, the explosions were repeated. Three times. From my window (I live on the 18th floor with a view of the lake) I saw what looked like lightning visible on the horizon in the direction of Brovarsky and Boryspil. I checked my phone. In my district’s chat there were many messages: “You also heard it?” “We have explosions,” “The war has begun…” and so on. Then I checked the news and saw that the explosions were heard not only in Kyiv, but also in other cities of Ukraine and that the war had really begun .
This whole process took literally a few seconds, although it seemed that everything happened in slow motion. I started to collect our things automatically: Some clothes, documents, all the food from the refrigerator... In 15 minutes, I had everything packed and ready by the doorway....
I looked out the window – the sun had risen and people with suitcases were emerging from each of the doors of the neighboring homes. They all sat in their cars and left. I looked at the road that led from our district towards the western border of the city – it was already filled with cars. That was when I understood – we will not go anywhere, at least for now.
On the evening of February 24th, we stayed at home. I will always remember that first day of war, laying on the coach in the living room next to my husband, without any thoughts in my head. I felt frustration. I had this feeling of helplessness, and at the same time, I needed a dear person, a reliable shoulder that gives the opportunity to get strength and then move on again.
Then, in a couple of hours, we again started to think about what to do. We called our parents, who lived on the western side of our city, and consulted with them. We understood that we must come to them, in order not to remain cut off in case of the closing or damaging of the bridges over the river. We left our house without any doubts. We left just as we were, with the clothes on our backs. We left forever.
After dinner with my parents, we decided to leave early in the morning and drive towards the western border of Ukraine. It was a disturbing night. I was terrified by the news I heard at 4:27 am. Two winged missiles were struck by the Ukrainian air defense and their parts fell into the courtyard of the house standing in front of ours. I only imagined myself, if me and my children had stayed at home for one more night. We would have already been affected by this attack. I realized that this is a farewell to our past life: Kyiv, our dreams, our plans. We had to flee. We left.
We went to a grandmother’s house in the village in Zhytomyr region. The house is already 100 years old, and it survived the Holodomor and the second World War. We heated the house with firewood and drew our water from the well. We were out of civilization during the eight first days of war. And then, when we felt “the inner calling” – we decided again to go further west. We constantly thought that we are doing the right thing, trying to hide our children, to create better conditions for them.
We went to our relatives in Chernivtsi for a week, and then we went on to Lviv, where we have been living now almost for a month in the apartment of my aunt. We are currently more or less safe. Every day and night we hear the sirens, then we hide in the corridor behind three walls. We do not go to the underground shelter, although that may not be okay. We say here, “The highest level of trust to our armed forces is to go to bed in our pajamas.”
While intending to go to the West, we actually decided to stay in Lviv as our final destination and not to leave Ukraine. There are two men in our family who are not allowed to cross the border due to their age; therefore, me and my younger son decided to join them and stay, even though we have the best opportunities to go to Europe and live safely at my sister’s house in France. After all, the biggest happiness in this hell is that I still can lean on my husband’s shoulder and hug my children. And as the war is still not over, we pray every day for the victory and strength of our arm forces!
Laima: How do you foresee Ukraine’s future after the war?
Svetlana: I believe that in the next five to seven years Ukraine will be a construction site. And then, for many years afterwards Ukraine will be a memorial of this bloody war. However, I am confident that Ukraine has huge chances of getting up from out of the ashes – just like the Phoenix – and turning into a new type of democratic country in Europe. Ukraine will be a country with the experience of bold confrontation, with the ability to self-organize, a country with a history that is thousands of years old, which we will finally remember and raise from the secret dust-covered shelves, which for too long had been replaced by propagandistic pseudo-history. I’m sure that the world wants to learn more about Ukraine, and about our people – because the ordinary people have become our brand. That is due to their courage and heroism in this war. I say: Love your neighbor and love animals the same as people. I see the future of Ukraine as bright and beautiful, and I am going to take direct participation in this process. We have created a charitable fund now, which is aimed to support the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war and to provide assistance to our citizens who suffered from the war, to those who lost their homes. Also, we plan to help to rebuild hospitals and maternity hospitals together with UNICEF programs, creating the best conditions for those mothers and their children who are living right now in those shelter facilities, where they stay in case of air raids, listening for the sirens.
Laima: How do you feel about President Zelenskyy’s leadership during this war?
Svetlana: You know, in my opinion, giving an assessment to the leadership of the state, which is still in the process of war, is not right. We do not know all the details; we do not know why and on which basis of which facts certain decisions were made. We, as the people of Ukraine, should be concerned about one thing – to protect ourselves from the attack of those Russian racists, to expel them all to the very last one out of our land, and to finally start rebuilding our great country.
In my opinion, and it may sound fatalistic, Zelenskyy was born to lead Ukraine’s army in this war and to manage this country after the Ukrainian Victory. All of us should help in the ways in which we are able.
Laima: How has this war affected you as a woman?
Svetlana: I felt helplessness for the first time in my life. Finally, I realized that I physically need the support of the person who has been with me for the last 20 years. It always seemed to me that I was independent and so strong that I had already climbed to the top of the mountain of the world. And it turned out that the war was something that my “strong and independent woman” persona was not ready for. She disappeared somewhere … and a “loving wife and mother” appeared. Probably for the first time after many years, I stood behind the stove and cooked for my children and husband. My guys liked it very much. (They are probably those who have benefited from this war the most…). They got their “Mom” back, and not the businesswoman they had always known.
Laima: What are your fears?
Svetlana: There was fear during the first week. The fear of accepting a new reality. The fear that it’s all true and real. Then there was fear of the unknown, of what will come next. However, this stage has already ended. The awareness of the inevitability of this war has come to me. The brain began to create variants of the development of reality. And even if something will not happen, even if these attempts to do something new will be again destroyed by the invader, there is no fear, there is an awareness that we still can continue creating, that we can make newer and newer attempts for a better future for our beautiful country and for the future of the children.
Laima: What are your hopes for the future?
Svetlana: Sofia had three daughters: Hope, Faith, and Love. Hope is what forms the warmth in our heart, Faith firmly holds this warmth inside the soul, and Love is the ability to share this warmth with the surrounding world. We are Ukrainians – we have hope for the future of our country, and belief that people from all over the world will help us to overcome these difficulties, and that the unlimited love of our neighbors will help us to hold onto our roots, to preserve the memory of this war, and to create the ability to prevent this from happening in the future anywhere on the planet.
Laima: How do you feel the West could help Ukraine? Could the West do more?
Svetlana: You know if someone has 100%, but used less than 100%, it means he could give more. I do not judge. There were those who used all their possible means of influence, and those who did not. Nevertheless, in my life I live by my own principle: Do more than you are asked, and the result will be greater than everyone expected. I wish that decision-makers would have the courage to do more than they have been asked. Then the result will be greater for all.