I left home with a small suitcase and haven’t been back for 2 years

We got in our car and drove to the Polish border (Picture: Tania)

My phone’s calendar is full of reminders. 

At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, my friends and I guessed the date we thought it would be over by and put them in my diary. 

Some people optimistically said it would last a few weeks or months, while others predicted a year or so.

As the days went on, I felt a pang of sadness and pain in my heart whenever I’d get a notification that another deadline had passed.

Nowadays, I don’t actually have any more notifications coming up. That’s because literally none of us guessed this war would still be raging on – almost two and a half years since it began on 24 February 2022.

Tania, her husband and her son (Picture: Tania)

I was born and raised in Kyiv, Ukraine. I’m a city girl through and through, who loves to travel and spend time with my friends.

Then I met my husband and we had our son, Daniel. It might sound like a cliche but life was perfect for me – I felt settled and happy.

In the weeks leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there were whispers that it might happen. As a result, I noticed friends and neighbours stockpiling resources like food and petrol, as well as preparing suitcases in case they needed to flee quickly.

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I honestly didn’t believe anything would happen though, so I didn’t. In fact, I went on a skiing holiday to Turkey in early February.

Once back in Kyiv, I needed to go to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv for a few days for my studies. Unfortunately, my husband had Covid-19 at the time, so I took Daniel – who was eight at the time – with me, as well as my mum to help me look after him.

We packed small suitcases, rented an AirBnb for five days in the centre of the city, and drove for about half a day to get there. 

I felt so conflicted (Picture: Tania)

A few days later – on the morning of the invasion on 24 February – I was woken up by sirens blaring throughout the city. As soon as I realised what was going on, I started to panic.

Lviv was far away from the invasion of the country and I knew it wasn’t safe to try to go back to Kyiv. But our stay in our rented accommodation was coming to an end and everywhere else was booking up fast – we felt helpless.

I called my husband, who said he was going to stay, but he said we should flee the country for our own safety. I felt so conflicted.

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Mum had a goddaughter in Poland who offered for us to stay with her, so that same evening, we got in our car and drove to the Polish border. I’m so glad we left almost immediately because we only spent about nine hours at the border, when I heard stories of others spending days waiting.

Once we got to the Polish city of Wroclaw and we didn’t know what to do. Thankfully, by March, the UK announced the Homes for Ukraine scheme so we decided to start the process of applying for that.

I had been to the UK before and I can speak English so it made sense to go there.

We try not to think about the future too much (Picture: Tania)

As I had already got my permission, so we started driving towards the UK, hoping that my mother and Daniel would get their permission too. However, it took almost three more weeks for them to receive their visas.

During this time, we spent a few weeks in Germany and Belgium. It was very stressful for us.

Throughout this time, that’s when the guesses from friends and loved ones about the end of the war happened.

Daniel asked me if he could sleep in my bed (Picture: Tania)

In the background to all of this, the uncertainty of the whole situation caused me so much stress. There would be moments where I’d catch myself feeling irritated about people around me having fun – couldn’t they see what was going on in the world?

On top of that, I couldn’t sleep properly and would jump awake in the middle of the night. Daniel felt this too, asking me if he could sleep in my bed. One time, he heard a noise and hid on the floor, frightened.

By 25 April, everything was approved for us in the UK so we flew out that day. I felt relief, but also sadness to be leaving both my home country and loved ones – not knowing when we might be able to return.

Tania’s husband and son before the war (Picture: Tania)

We eventually settled in Buckinghamshire, which is a lot different to the capital city vibe where we lived in Kyiv – it’s very green and a lot slower than we’re used to but it’s not too far away from the big city of London. Daniel loves his school and I try to support him with his education here as best as I can.

Today, my husband is still in Ukraine, but we speak to him regularly. It’s made difficult by regular power cuts and blackouts that make speaking to loved ones hard.

I’ve organised and attended numerous events for Ukrainians, where people can learn more about our culture and our lives in the UK. This is where I met someone from UK for UNHCR.

I brought my favourite tea with me (Picture: Will Ireland/PinPep/UK for UNHCR)

So when UK for UNHCR asked me earlier this year if I would take part in their ‘Cuppa Hope’ campaign – which brought together refugees and members of the public to share their stories with – I jumped at the chance. It’s all well and good putting out stats and survey results, but conversations about our lives in casual settings like sharing a cup of tea can be so powerful.

I brought my favourite tea with me – lemon, ginger, mint and honey – to share with everyone and the reception was great.

As for the future, I try not to think about it too much. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to Ukraine.

I told myself that I’ll properly think about it all when the war is over and Ukrainians can begin rebuilding our lives.

Judging by all the guesses of dates in my calendar that have now expired, I’ve frozen my expectations.

However, I still have hope, which remains deep in my heart.

As told to James Besanvalle

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk

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