Ffive in the white Renault. A young woman and her little daughter: Polina and Eva. Plus Serhiy and Margarita, Polina’s parents. And then Valerij, the taxi driver. They are fleeing Kiev because the war is here. They actually wanted to go west, to the Polish border, but then they heard that there was fighting west of Kiev, and so they’re taking a snag. First south, then west.
They are all bleary-eyed, except Eva. She’s three and a half and doesn’t notice much, not even fear. They let her see comics in the last few days, then everything was fine, even at night. But the grown-ups didn’t sleep much. Several times they were in the makeshift air-raid shelter under their block in the dark. Without a specific reason, because it was still quiet in Kiev. Just out of the hope that maybe you could feel safer down there. Before that, in the evening, they had already packed because they wanted to get out early, before the arterial roads could no longer be used, because so many people wanted to leave. It wasn’t a lot of luggage, because such a Renault is not infinitely large. Passports, money, birth certificates, plus something to eat, warm clothes and a blanket for the little one. cell phones and chargers.
Before it started, Polina thought: You’ll never see this apartment, this block again. But whatever. Better to lose the block than live. And the life of Eve. She slept until the end when it started. Until Valerij got there, by taxi.
“Pour vodka over the ravioli and you won’t notice how it tastes”
Now Polina tells how the day before departure was, Thursday, the first day of the war. Peace ended for them with a dull early morning rumble. explosions. Not close, maybe out of town, but audible. Until then, none of them could believe it, but now they understood: the war is here. Kiev, their city, may fall.
Think. Escape or not? Get some money first. Some ATMs were already out of order, others were lined up. People were excited but not panicking. Telling everything you saw on TV. Tanks in the north, warships in the south, bombs on Kharkiv. And what you knew about Facebook.
Then on to the store. In the mornings it was the same as always in the shops, later endless queues formed. Everyone is talking at once again. Some try jokes. “Hey, security guard, is there anything still useful?” – “My dear, pour vodka over the ravioli and you won’t notice how it tastes.”
Later, Polina took a look at the air raid shelters under the house with her parents. Simple basements, but now with sofas in them and tolerably clean. Even a poster on the wall in one room to make it cosy. Some neighbors are already there, they have food and blankets ready, but because it’s still quiet they don’t sit downstairs in the bulb light, they prefer to stand outside. They smoke, they watch the children, and they listen to the sirens. Usually none can be heard, because in these first days of the Russian attack, the war is still primarily a television event here in Kiev.
And then, in front of the bunker, in front of the shops, at the ATMs, all the hum of rumours, information and telephone calls. That some are already sleeping in the subway, in a sleeping bag, directly on the floor. That some are moving from the left bank of the Djnepr to friends on the right because they fear that the bridges will soon be gone. That the ten-year-old niece is scared to sleep because she and her friends are sharing bombshell videos in their chat rooms. It’s bad for her, but if her cell phone were taken away from her, it would be even worse. So she keeps crying and asking if Putin is going to bomb her too.
Probably a false alarm, says one
Then a siren goes off and the people in front of the bunker do – nothing. Just stay on the street and keep smoking. Probably a false alarm, says one. Maybe it wasn’t a siren, but something else, says another. It’s also stuffy down there.