Kharkiv, kyiv, Uzhhorod, Slovakia, Vienna, Paris, Bordeaux, Dubai, Palmerston North.
This list of destinations is like a Kiwi’s return after an overseas experience.
But Yana Kuzmina’s trip from Ukraine to New Zealand is characterized by bombs, food shortages, standing for 24 hours straight on a train and even a sandstorm.
Kuzmina is one of millions of Ukrainians who have fled their homeland since Russian forces invaded in February under the guise of carrying out a special operation.
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She and her mother Olha Drozhevska were among those who spoke at an event at the Palmerston North City library on Saturday, organized by the Ukrainian Educational and Support Trust.
Kuzmina said her life changed when the invasion began in February.
She did not wake up at her home in Kharkiv – in the east of the country, 40 kilometers from the Russian border – when she woke up, but to the sound of bombs exploding.
“Not everyone believed the war was starting.”
She took a few bases before hiding in a basement, which was extremely cold, as the bombs were falling.
“I see the wall and the window shaking.”
The war in Ukraine, just another in a long list of shocking events confronting humanity and testing our resilience.
All the shops closed and there was no easy access to clean water, which was particularly bad for Kuzmina as she needs insulin for her diabetes.
“The situation was getting worse day by day.
“We thought it would be two or three days…maybe Russia was scaring us.”
She and others managed to escape, first by car before managing to board a train.
The train was so crowded that she had to stand for 24 hours straight without sleeping – “it was hard to breathe and it was so hot” – to get to the western Ukrainian border.
The train had to stop for two hours in the middle of the night in kyiv, with everyone on board kept quiet as alarms sounded in the distance.
“It’s an awful silence.”
The people she traveled with decided to cross Slovakia, because the stories of extremely long waits at the Polish border had filtered.
She was looked after by “very nice people” in Slovakia, who provided her with everything she needed.
“You have to have a very big heart to do that.
But her mother’s concern about a possible nuclear war led her to travel further west, through Vienna and Paris, to family friends in Bordeaux.
Meanwhile, Drozhevska was working to obtain an emergency visa for Kuzmina to enter New Zealand.
But obtaining this visa, granted at the end of March, did not put an end to Kuzmina’s troubles, a sandstorm in Dubai forcing her to wait there before flying to New Zealand, where Drozhevska lived for four years.
Although getting her daughter out of Ukraine was a good thing, Drozhevska said her father was still in Ukraine in the apartment he had shared with his wife of more than 50 years.
Olga Dubnytska also has family in Ukraine, including a sister and a brother in kyiv.
His sister had visibly aged since the start of the war, with clean water not available through the town’s damaged pipes.
“I couldn’t even recognize my sister.”
His brother had seen the atrocities in Bucha, a town near kyiv where the bodies of hundreds of dead civilians were found.
“He’s never seen anything like it,” Dubnytska said.
“He couldn’t imagine how awful it could be. They killed and raped so many people. It was genocide there.
His brother was an ambulance driver whose vehicle broke down shortly before the start of the war.
But a fundraising effort by people in New Zealand meant he had a new one to drive.
Dubnytska said he had a New Zealand flag on his ambulance and wanted to thank everyone who had donated.
Olena Pokydko said her sister, who worked in a kyiv hospital, sent a message when Russian missiles woke her up.
Her sister ended up moving into the hospital so she could provide 24/7 care.
She witnessed horrific scenes, including a 25-year-old soldier who begged doctors not to amputate his legs.
“But they were [amputated] because they couldn’t do anything,” Pokydko said.
She would never understand how horrible the war was since she was living in New Zealand, but her heart broke every time she spoke to her family or friends in Ukraine or saw news of the war.
Yuliia Pogorniats said people, including her brother, found it difficult to escape from certain parts of the country due to Russians leaving mines in fields and controlling roads.
Buses full of civilians using the humanitarian corridors are stopped by the Russians and cleared of the men.
They are either used as bargaining chips in exchange for POWs or given a stark option: fight for Russia or die, Pogorniats said.
Sean Morrah said his Uranian wife Zoia had been on the phone all night talking to friends and family.
“It’s heartbreaking for her and I can see it every day. It’s just soul destroying.
Jeffery Sanders of Massey University’s Center for Defense and Security Studies said bigger battles were yet to come during the war.
The long duration of the war, which Russia had hoped to end in days, could push Russian President Vladimir Putin to use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
It would turn Russia into a global pariah, a “bigger version of North Korea”, he said.
While Sanders said there had been talk of a coup against Putin, Konstantin Zharkov, who left Russia in 2010, doubted a coup would take place.
Many opponents of Putin have been imprisoned, exiled and killed.
There was no easy way out, especially since the West had repeatedly recognized Putin as a legitimate leader despite shady elections and constitutional changes, Zharkov said.
The Ukrainian Educational and Support Trust has launched a Givealittle campaign to raise funds for people in need in Ukrainewith money donated to small charities and organizations to provide medical supplies and care, food, water and shelter.
People can also donate directly to the trust with deposits to ANZ bank account 06-0629-0849079-00 with reference “hum. aid”.