Alina arrived in Gdansk with her son. Her husband and relatives are currently in Ukraine, their home.
What did you do before the 24th of February?
I worked in a bank. Russian bank “Sberbank”, but now it’s an International Reserve Bank. I have been working there since 2012. Over the past two years, I have held a position of manager.
And what about your work now?
On the 24th of February we were told that our bank would be eliminated. All of the employees were going to be laid off during the next 2 months. And later, you could say, began a whole new phase of our lives.
Tell me how you lived through the 24th of February?
On the 24th of February 2022, we woke up because there were a ton of messages in our work chat about explosions in all parts of Ukraine. I nudged my husband awake and started packing. He went grocery shopping and took everything he could. We had no idea what products we would need. My husband works at Vehicle Repairs & Services. Our work situations were alike: there was a lot of money in safes and his clients’ cars were all around. He went to work. He started putting these cars together for other people to have an opportunity to leave. At that time, my boss said that we should continue working. I took my child and the two of us went into my office. He was sitting in the kitchen area and all I had was my work. We tried working and communicating with our clients as much as possible. Handed out money. Tried to do the best we could. Nobody went anywhere, everyone was working. People wanted to purchase currency, but there were already restrictions. Panic was spreading like a virus. Our ATM machine was entirely empty and the queue was enormous. We had no money to replenish it with.
Nobody knew where you were going to spend the night. Then, there were explosions in Sanzhiika, it’s not far away from our home. We heard them while at work. At 3pm the chief of our bank said that we should go home to our families. The bank shut down and I did what I was told. Put a spare mattress on the floor of our hall. We didn’t know where to go. I live in a 16-story building, all the basements are private properties: fitness clubs, shops, etc. We couldn’t hide there. Apparently, our only safe space was our hall. During the first night, we were all clothed up in jackets and jeans, even while sleeping. I didn’t let my kid undress himself. I slept for, maybe, 40 minutes and prayed. That’s all I could do. When we woke up, there was this feeling when you don’t even realize that you’ve slept at all: “Wasn’t it just a dream?”. It was a real-life nightmare, comprehending that all of this is our reality.
What happened next?
I couldn’t go anywhere because I am a responsible party at work. In a few days I had to go to work again. The next day, our bank was eliminated and nobody knew what it would look like. Then we asked our friends to go to their country house together and lived there for 5 days. My husband went to work as usual. We were all worried sick. There were all these roadblocks on our way. They brought a tank and left it almost in front of my house. It was truly horrific.
What changed in your worldview after the war started?
Everything material has lost its sense. Really, you understand that what matters the most is life. I am a patriot of Ukraine and I don’t want it to change or its territories to be occupied. I gave birth to a son and I don’t want him to die for someone’s sick ambitions. Or my husband. To my mind, a human life is the most important thing in the world.
When did you decide to leave? What made you do it?
Actually, I never wanted to leave or immigrate. I liked living there. But on the 2nd of March, the day my son was born, I realized that it was impossible to live and raise a child in this nightmare (there were no sirens, but we were aware of the news), that the war was turning us into pure fear. I tried to calm myself down by saying that I was leaving for only 2 weeks. I would rent myself an apartment and live there with my child, it seemed perfectly easy. At 6 am, my husband picked me up and we went to the Ukrainian-Moldovan border.
How did you cross the border?
We stayed at the Ukrainian border overnight. It was extremely hard. Everyone decided to go at the same time. Only on the next day, at 6 or 7 am, I was able to cross the border and go to Kishinev. When I finally got there, I took a picture. Even blood vessels in my eyes broke because of stress. I don’t remember the time I stayed in Moldova: went grocery shopping to a local market, bought something, cooked. I didn’t know what to do next, what would come next. I’m still in this state of mind: “What should I do next?”.
How did you end up in Gdansk?
My sister on my father's side of the family lives in Gdansk. We have an age-gap of 10 years. We used to talk to each other pretty rarely, but me and my sister always knew that we could ask each other for help. By that time, she had already accepted my mother and another sister of mine into her house. Meanwhile, there was a wave of panic in Moldova, everyone thought that there would be war on their territory too. So, I had to move to Gdansk.
How about your adaptation in Gdansk?
It seems that I haven’t adapted at all. That’s the truth. I had moments when I couldn’t leave my flat for 2 days. At the start of the war, I stopped going to my therapist, but then I started making appointments again. I realized that I couldn’t do it anymore. It was exceptionally hard. Before the war I had some sort of organized logistics, I had a job. My son had school and karate classes. We had a schedule, but in Gdansk it feels like you’re a humpty-dumpty. You can’t get a hold of yourself. And you don’t have anywhere to go. I have this feeling that I have been sitting and doing nothing for months. And yet I have time to drown in self-sabotage. You just want to shut yourself down and forget about everything that’s been happening in this world.
What makes you enjoy your life and not give up?
I don’t even know. Mental states can be different. Maybe believing that every war is meant to end.
What would you recommend to your past self?
I have no idea. I think that everything is going according to plan. I had a lot of difficult situations in my life, when I thought there was no way it could get better. It was extraordinarily tiring. When I think about it, it seems that only yesterday I was walking on the beach and realized that we are able to deal with everything we’re going through. It means that I can do it too. It means that I can catch a bus and go. It means that I can deal with new foreign applications. I can go to another country without knowing its language. I can live like this for a while. So maybe it was meant to be.