Maryna arrived in Gdansk with her son. Her husband, parents and relatives stayed at home.
What did you do before the 24th of February?
I worked as an accountant in a medical facility. There were three of us: me, my husband and our son. We were happy, our life was blissful. Everything was enough on its own. We made plans for our future. I dreamed about summer, spring and how I would plant flowers. I bought a lot of summer clothes, was getting ready for the holidays. My life was perfectly happy.
And what about your work now?
I don’t speak Polish. If I knew the language, I would have to study to work as an accountant. Then I would need to be retrained because the rules here are different, everything is different. At the moment, I am a person without a job.
What plans did you have for the 24th of February?
I had sports training in the evening. In the morning I had to bring my child to school. Luckily, our sick-leave benefit finished on 23rd of February. We were looking forward to it, my son wanted to go to school.
How did the first day of war go for you?
Precisely at 6 am, I heard someone calling my husband, it was his friend Maxim. I said that I was glad it was him who called, I’ve already started worrying about something bad happening. But my husband responded with: “Something bad has happened. There were attacks near Sumy”. We turned the TV on. We watched the news, and there was a livestream with the mayor of Boryspil. He said that explosions could be heard, but there’s no need to panic, our soldiers were just shooting at unknown objects. Then I received a message in a chat from my son’s class that today’s classes were dismissed. Just like that. I decided to get dressed. I was getting ready for God knows what. I didn’t know how to tell my child about it. My husband went to work. For another couple of hours my brain refused to acknowledge all of this.
So, you could say that it was just a regular day because you haven’t yet acknowledged all of it?
Yes, you could say so. I even went grocery shopping. The queues next to pharmacies and shops were enormous. Everyone was distressed, because they thought that regular shops would shut down and there would be nothing left. We stayed in our flat for about 3 days: all of us were fully clothed, so only jackets and boots were left in case we needed to run. We slept on the floor in our hall. The TV was turned on all the time. I slept and listened to it, afraid of missing something. On the 3rd or 4th day we went to Vehicle Repairs & Services, where my husband works, to be close to him. Then, the siren alarm went off – it is such a terrifying sound, especially if you hear it for the first time, unprepared. Next to Vehicle Repairs & Services there was an educational facility, where we could find a basement. We went there, sat there while the siren was as loud as ever. They landed in a nearby area. We decided to spend a night there, but live near my husband’s place of work. We were given a small room in the basement, we even had a mattress. It looked like a prison cell, but in that situation it was a VIP-room for us. There was a hot shower, a little stove where I cooked borscht. Somehow, we got through.
I think on the 7th day of war the siren alarm went off again and we went to the basement. In the sky we saw an enemy aircraft. And then a sound… only after I discovered that it was the sound of a dropped aircraft that flew over our house. The lights went off, my child started screaming. I grab my son, cradle him and say that everything is going to be okay, that we are safe, meanwhile understanding that this thing could possibly destroy our little safe space. But I keep repeating these sacred words. Everything is okay, everything will be okay. It exploded, as it turned out, 200 meters from us, our neighborhood was left without light and water. I said to my husband that we should go, that I didn’t want to raise a child in those conditions. We went to the train station, but it was closed. It has been this way since the war started. It was the 8th day of war when we couldn’t even leave. Only on the 10th day we were able to get out – my husband’s client found a place for me and my son in her car. That’s how I crossed the Ukrainian-Polish border. The Poles gave us a warm welcome, it felt like we were at the fair. Tea, sandwiches, my child was wrapped in a blanket, people were giving us enormous amounts of candies. For the first time in a while, life felt better. My son said that we were not alone, that everyone was rooting for us.
How is your adaptation going?
I think I needed a month or so to get myself together. I lived with my sister. We were genuinely upset and watched TV all the time. I was waiting for the day we could finally go home. I was sure that everything was going to end well very soon. My child was depressed, missed home more than anything. That was until I decided to enroll him into a Polish school. He started living again. This adaptation was quite easy for him, now he has friends and attends school swimming pool. It was refreshing for him. And I am trying to adapt as well. Trying to take part in all the possible projects. That way, I felt a little bit more alive in Poland.
What changed in your worldview after the war started?
Everything changed. When you are in those conditions, you realize that life is over. Everything that made sense then, everything material, your dreams, relationships, it doesn’t matter at all anymore. Everything has come to an end.
So, only the lives of children and your own matters in times like these?
Yes, the most important thing is to stay alive. Everything else though…
What kind of plans did you have for this spring?
To plant flowers. I love gardening. I was waiting for the start of March to start planting seedlings and then replant them all over again. I have been doing this during spring and summer for 2 years. It was supposed to be the 3rd year, but it didn’t work out.
Have any new plans or wishes come along the way?
No. At the moment I live in a state of uncertainty. I don’t know what’s going to happen in a month. I have no idea about my accommodation, my lifestyle. I can’t plan anything. Part of the reason is my husband being away. It feels like a mental “crossroad”. I can’t stay here, but I also can’t return to the place I came from.
What makes you happy right now? What fulfills you?
Talking to people, just regular activities, really. I find nice weather, nature, the sea, and different forests extremely enjoyable. I ended up in a beautiful city. Polish people are extremely welcoming, they support us as well. I am insanely grateful to the Poles, volunteers and my host-family. I didn’t expect such an attitude.