Where home is…

Boyarka is a town close to Kyiv. The railway divides it in half. On one side are historical buildings and the private sector, on the other – dozens of apartment buildings. These two parts were united by the dramatic events of February 2022. From the very beginning of the full-scale aggression, wishing to seize the Ukrainian capital in three days, Russian troops began mass shelling, and already on March 4, Boyarka’s local authorities began evacuating people. Then two special trains headed west from the town station in the direction of Ternopil.

Today, when the enemy has been driven far from this land, life is returning to the Kyiv region. Schools are opening after the forced distant learning, and there are more and more cars on the town’s roads. However, there are also those who haven’t returned – fear seems to numb them, prevents them from making a decision to get on a train. People need time – it will heal all wounds.

“Dad, it’s started… We’re being bombed!”

My childhood friend Zoya, with whom we used to live on the same street and have been friends since we were five, shared her war story with me…

Now she lives in Boyarka, near Kyiv, in a private house. She and her husband Roman occupy one half of it, her daughter Olya with her husband Ihor and their three kids – the other.

Before the war, everyone had a job, lived as a big friendly family, after all, all they had to do to come on a visit or have dinner was to open the next door…

Zoya recalls how on February 23, before going to bed, she habitually set the alarm clock for six a.m. However, it wasn’t the alarm clock that woke her up, but an unexpected phone call half an hour earlier. The call was from Anna, Roman’s daughter from Brovary. She frantically shouted into the mobile: “Dad, it’s started… We’re being bombed!” For a while, Zoya lay frozen, unable to believe what she had heard. And then she quickly got dressed and rushed to her daughter next door.

Olya had just woken up and was making breakfast in the kitchen. On the chairs in the room were neatly hung clothes, which the two older boys – 12-year-old Artem and 7-year-old Maksym – had to wear to school, and one and a half-year-old Mark – to kindergarten. The house was warm and cozy, and the children were still asleep…

“Darling, the thing we were all so afraid of has begun – the war…”, Zoya hugged her daughter, and so they stood there, afraid to move, afraid to break that last moment of peace before an awful reality…

A little later, Zoya’s elder daughter, Kateryna, called from Henichesk, Kherson region, and said that the occupation troops had already entered the city…

Over the next few days, everyone listened anxiously to loud explosions almost constantly rumbling somewhere nearby. The news of what was happening in the suburbs of Kyiv was horrifying. The men joined the Territorial Defence. Zoya, a trained cook (she worked in the lyceum canteen), and her friends baked pies and buns for our defenders from morning till night, without days off. Olya stayed at home with her kids.

The long road of refugees

On March 6, Ihor, Zoya’s son-in-law, gathered everyone in one room and announced: “Tomorrow, the orphanage is evacuated to Poland. You, mother, as well as Olya and the kids will go with them. You’ll help the teachers and you’ll be safe.”

At first, Zoya says, she was dumbstruck, and then she resolutely declared that she would not leave her home! But Ihor insisted. As a father of many children, he would be allowed to go abroad with his family, but he did not even consider that option, he believed it was ducking-out. “It will be very hard for Olya with three children. So please go with them,” he said to his mother-in-law.

Wiping off the tears, the women began packing. And the next morning they set off on a long journey. By the way, they were joined by the wife of Olya’s children’s godfather with a five-day- old baby. The Poles were then surprised and said it was very dangerous to take a baby so far in cold weather. But what could they do? The whole world had already learned about the occupiers’ atrocities…

The train departed from Boyarka railway station. There were 120 orphanage children, including a lot of kids with cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, and other disabilities. There was nowhere to sit in the carriages, let alone lie down. My friend’s elder grandson, twelve-year-old Artem, squeezed between her and his mother, covered his face with his hands and wept bitterly for an hour. And then he was silent all the way, refusing food…

The road turned out to be really long. Because of dangerous traffic and other war-related factors the journey took us three days! We didn’t expect it to be so long, so we ran out of food and diapers. So did the orphanage children. Panic began. My heart was torn by the children’s cries coming from everywhere. Teachers struggled to calm their wards. They were at their wits’ end. We were lucky that at one of the stations volunteers came with food and hygiene products…

Welcomed with toys and tears

Tired and exhausted, hungry and sleepless, the refugees arrived in Warsaw at 4 a.m. on the fourth day. And there they were met by Poles – kind, friendly, with sympathy and tears in their eyes. Each child was given a toy and hugged…

The orphanage children and their accompanying families were taken by bus to Ustka in the north of Poland.

“First of all, we bathed all the children, because there was nowhere to wash on the way. After that, the Poles gave us a delicious meal, and then started bringing us things and gifts… It was an endless stream of humanitarian aid!” says Zoya. “We cried together, but more from joy and such a bright manifestation of humanity than from despair of what we had experienced. The Poles said something reassuring to us, we didn’t understand everything, but we could see in their eyes and hear from their intonation that those were kind words.”

My childhood friend, her daughter and three grandchildren lived in one room for a month. It was crowded, but safe – without sirens and explosions. Then they were moved to the Poseidon hotel, where the family had two rooms. Olya took care of her own children, and Zoya Vyacheslavivna took care of the orphanage children. That’s how she turned from a cook into a volunteer teacher.

There were 16 children of different ages in her group. One girl was in a wheelchair, two had mental disabilities. She devoted all her time to her wards – from their awakening to their bedtime. She took them for walks, organized leisure activities, without days off.

“Days off were out of the question,” she says. “Children need constant care and attention. They are disadvantaged, because they grow up without parents.”

The hotel owner, Pan Petro personally accepted the Ukrainian refugees. He treated them with great humanity and compassion. Zoya says that the living conditions were excellent, they were given delicious meals three times a day, and volunteers delivered clothes and household items. In addition, the place where the hotel is located is very beautiful – the forest and the sea.

“Live here for a whole year, I won’t take money from you!” Pan Petro insisted. “You are safe here!”

But after the Kyiv region was liberated, after two months in Poland, my friend’s family decided to return to Boyarka: firstly, the women were very worried about their husbands; secondly, teenager Artem never came to his senses in a foreign country – he withdrew into himself, ate almost nothing, lost a lot of weight, even his ribs stuck out, and all the time begged for home.

As we said goodbye, everyone cried.

“Pan Petro, we will never forget you and your kindness!” Zoya said through her tears…

On the other side of the war

They returned in May. They had to pay a lot of money to the carrier, almost everything they still had with them. The road back took a day. And when they were already driving along the Zhytomyr highway, they felt not the joy of returning, but the despair of what they saw.

“Instead of neat little houses, multi-story cottages, curly gardens and well-kept lush flower beds, there were massive ruins that stretched for 100 kilometers to Kyiv,” my friend recalls through tears. “Large supermarkets, gas stations, schools, hospitals burned to the ground… My heart was bleeding from what I saw! So many people now have nowhere to return! And how many are not alive, probably many are still buried under the rubbles of their houses…”

Shocked by what she saw, she called her younger sister, who has been living in Crimea for many years, and told her about the horrors of war and the occupiers’ atrocities. Instead, she heard:

“That’s not true!”

“Sister, I just saw all this with my own eyes!” Zoya was indignant.

“Your Bandera propaganda has clogged your brains so much that you see things that are not there!”

Zoya turned her phone off.

But that was not her last disappointment. Her older brother, who currently lives in the occupied Henichesk and has a profitable business, has taken the side of the invaders.

“I can’t understand this, because he had a wonderful life in Ukraine, he had everything – housing, real estate, money… What has attracted my brother to the “russian world”?! I don’t know. But now he praises a new occupational order, does not even want to listen to the truth that russia attacked us: “It’s all America”, he says. And I have to keep in touch with him only because our 82-year-old mother stays in Henichesk, and I can’t come to see her,” the woman says with pain.

She says that the war not only killed tens of thousands of innocent people, caused terrible destruction, but also placed some families on opposite sides of the front – like her family.

“It parted us forever,” she clarifies, “because we will not forgive them until the tenth generation, at least, for this terrible trouble that the russians have inflicted on us!” And I will not be able to forgive my sister and brother, who supported the murderers!”

Zoya’s eldest daughter Katya with her husband and two daughters left Henichesk for Norway. Their apartment has already been occupied by ruscists…


“We’re not going anywhere again. Whatever will be, will be. The other day I went outside and saw a large, gray missile flying overhead, very low, toward Kyiv. It was so scary!” my friend Zoya sighs. “But that’s okay, we’ll hold on…”

Since educational institutions in Boyarka are closed, the lyceum employees who are free from distance teaching spend half the day weaving nets for our defenders. “Until recently we wove in green ribbons, and now white ones, we are preparing for winter,” says Zoya. “I want to wait for our victory at home. A person can be truly happy only where home is. Despite everything!”

Olena Oliynyk