Reporting from L’viv, Ukraine
By Charles Bonds – Special to The Bloomingtonian
The war in Ukraine began on February 24, 2022, early in the morning. Many sought to flee the capital, Kyiv, and surrounding regions, as well as other cities throughout the country. Lviv’ska Oblast’, in the West of the country, was a major destination.
Three acquaintances, Taras, Kseniya, and Zhanna, shared the story of their 30-hour journey from their small town outside of Kyiv to a town near Lviv, Brody. Taras and Kseniya were married in September of last year, they want to start a family, they are well educated. They have an apartment in Kyiv and a small house in Taras’ native village nearby. They took with them a friend, Zhanna, a media expert, and her father of 78 years.
I asked Taras about the moment they left in his 2004 Purple Lada, more commonly known as a “Zhiguli,” a car made in Russia at the Avtovaz factory in Samara. He reported that the trip was stressful from the beginning.
“We left Friday before two and didn’t arrive in Brody until 8:00 PM on Saturday,” he said, adding that, “there were many traffic jams and checkpoints along the way.”
They stopped on Friday night, after 7 hours of travel in a small village near the town of Kaniv, in Cherkassy Oblast (their route West started southward because this seemed the safest and quickest way to travel). They found there by chance.
“The first checkpoint we crossed, right outside of Kaniv was how we found our accommodations. The men manning it were alarmed because I was driving quickly.”
Taras mentioned that the men were armed but did not threaten them. After some conversation with Kseniya and Taras, one of the men offered them lodging, “It’s very basic and small, but nobody will find you there,” he joked.
Kseniya replied wittily: “Nobody is looking for us.” As they got to the hunter’s lodge along the only remote road they travelled, the man with them verified their documents and bid them a good night’s rest. “We boiled water and ate dinner,” Kseniya reported, “we slept in our clothes, went to bed at ten, we were very tired.”
Kseniya mentioned that she woke around three and went outside. “I looked up and couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen so many stars. It was beautiful, but immediately, I realized why I had the opportunity to see such beauty. Honestly, if it wasn’t under these circumstances, it would’ve been a beautiful trip.”
The next day was filled with slow traffic and more checkpoints. “They checked our trunk and documents,” Taras said, Kseniya added that “It was officious, not suspicious, and they were very kind.” Taras mentioned that “very few gas stations were working,” and Zhanna added again “it was clear that it was a war because everything was closed and the streets were quiet, once in a while a grocery store was open.”
They saw some equipment, but mostly found their country seeking shelter as they began to cope with the direct threat that Russia poses to their lives and that has already turned the everyday on its head.
They arrived in Brody on Saturday around 8 p.m. and Kseniya’s parents wept as they greeted them. They ate their dinner and rested, they were home, even as the home they aimed to make was being surrounded by enemy forces.
Kseniya told me, at the end of our conversation, “Oh, I wanted to add an interesting detail. We killed a dog by accident. We were on a road and saw a stray,” Taras continued, “Yes, I was unable to avoid it, a car overtook us, and if the dog had been slower…it was very sad.”
Kseniya mentioned that their license plate was deformed by the impact, “they asked us at the next checkpoint why our plate was bent.” Ukraine has many stray dogs and they too are running because things have changed for them.
The war presents dangers for all life, not just for people.
Charlie has a Ph.D. in History from Indiana University. He was a Fulbright Student in 2015-2016 and wrote a dissertation about the repression of Yiddish writers in the late Stalin Era. Charlie currently lives in Lviv. He is documenting the defense of Ukraine against a brutal aggressor, and is serving as a fixer and volunteer. More of his writing can be found at: https://charlieinukraine.com/
Editor’s note: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Sunday that 1.5 million people have now fled Ukraine in the fastest refugee migration since World War II.