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Invaded: Escape from Kyiv

Invaded: Escape from Kyiv


Just a few days ago, Halyna was a young woman living a peaceful life in Ukraine’s capital. Now she has been forced to flee because of the war.

Listen to part one of Halyna’s story here.

“I’m not leaving Ukraine. I’m not leaving my country. Why should I? It’s my country.”


Hello, I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Last week, we introduced you to Halyna. That isn’t her real name.

“Okay, so I’ve just opened Twitter and it began. I feel chill[s]…*crying*… I believe that we’re strong. I have to be strong now. I’m going to be strong.”


She’s a Ukrainian woman who watched from her apartment in Kyiv as Russia began to invade her country… and who has seen war rage ever since.

“The thought that Russian tanks are on the street that is named after one of my ancestors is sickening.”


Today, we continue her story.


“They say someone is going to say ‘hi’ to us again so we’re back in the shelter.”


The invasion was just a few days old. 

But going in and out of bomb shelters, as a huge convoy of Russian tanks drew closer, Halyna had to make an agonising decision. To leave Kyiv. 

A spectacular city – her city. But one that had become a war zone overnight.

“I kind of think if you can’t fight in the streets, you probably should get the f*** out and not be in the way.”


On a grey day, Halyna ran the gauntlet: a forty-minute walk to the metro station with her sister, her sister’s boyfriend and her bag of possessions.

“The weather is cloudy and we are heading out of Kyiv for now.”


And then to the train station, where in normal times tourists from all over Europe arrive to enjoy a city with a cathedral that dates back to the 11th century; a city which only four years ago hosted the Champions League final.

But these are not normal times. So Halyna joined the throng of people hoping to escape on any train with space to take them west. 

It was here that she was separated from her sister.

“A lot of people were trying to get in. So my sister and her boyfriend basically crammed me inside one of the wagons… And I got a little bit upset because I didn’t want to leave my sister.”


On a train that sometimes felt like it was going backwards, packed with people and their pets, Halyna eventually made it to Lviv.

“This was definitely the hardest, one of the longest and most tiring and gruelling train rides I’ve ever had. I’ve been travelling west since 1pm last night. It’s 6am here, so I’ve been travelling all night and most of the day in a very crowded train.”


“It’s a beautiful city. I wish I had this stroll under more positive circumstances. I don’t know if you can hear the birds singing. It’s very peaceful and quiet.”


Now Halyna is living in relative peace, in a city near Ukraine’s western border with Poland where it’s almost business as usual.

Where the occasional sirens hardly provoke a shrug. 

She’s living in a bizarre, sometimes guilty, silence. 

“It’s surreal and it doesn’t feel fair. I am here, so I don’t have to hide in a cellar. I can get six or eight hours of sleep. I can go around town.”


A silence punctuated by moments reminding her that the war is all too real.

“On my first day in Lviv I got lost – and the nearest people to me that I saw were members of the local territorial defence unit. And I asked them for directions and since I wasn’t local and I didn’t know my way around, they thought I must have been a Russian spy and they called the cops on me. And the cops took me to their station, to their post, and they checked my ID, checked my phone… That was fun.”


It’s not as if Halyna needs reminding. 

Many of her friends are in Kyiv, fighting for the territorial defence units.

Her cousin is at war in Mariupol, the coastal city coveted by Putin.

Her seven-year-old niece periodically hides from missiles in a basement.

And her parents remain in the east of the country, just 40 kilometres from the border with Russia.

“My parents called me and it was very nice to hear their voices. And it definitely reassured me because the community of the place where they’re staying right now – it’s just amazing people who are helping each other anyway they can. It’s beautiful. And I’m very happy my parents are among good people. They are not alone there.”


You’d think Halyna’s family would be united by the war. And they are, mostly.

“Oh, by the way, have I mentioned that my father is Russian? He lived for the first 18 years of his life in Russia. Actually my cousin on my father’s side, she messaged my elder sister a couple of days back. And her message was very funny. She wrote something about an information war between England and the US. So I guess the BBC is bombing Kharkiv, I don’t know.”


The invasion is now over a week old, and Halyna is still in a different city to her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. 

He’s planning a possible return to Kyiv.

“He has a very rare blood type. So at the moment they are working to get his blood to where it needs to be – or maybe even get him back to Kyiv to be a donor in the hospital.”


As for Halyna, she doesn’t know what’s next for her. 

But she’s certain of one thing. She won’t be joining the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who’ve got out of the country in the past few days.

“I’m not leaving Ukraine. I’m not leaving my country. Why should I? This is my country. I don’t want to leave.”


In the meantime, she’s left with a strange dilemma.

“I should probably do something to enjoy myself. Listen to some music, I guess, go open my Spotify, but I don’ know what I’m going to listen to because there is nothing I want to be tainted forever by the memories of these feelings.”


She’s left waiting, and watching, with so much on the line.