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A food service tent in Romania. The sign reads "Help for Ukrainians, Free food & drink"
A food service tent in Romania. The sign reads "Help for Ukrainians, Free food & drink" | Photo courtesy of Yev V.

Ukrainian college student flees for safety amid Russian invasion

I feared being bombed and couldn’t sleep all night. I kept drifting off sitting in a chair, then shooting back awake. While my dad slept, I stayed up so if sirens went off, one of us would hear it.

Yev. V.
Interview Subject
Yev V., 19, is a Ukrainian citizen. He lived in the city of Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine, but fled to neighboring countries during the start of the Russian invasion. He is currently in Switzerland with his family, with plans to study in Canada.
Background Information
Russia launched a full-scale invasion on Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

As of April 20, 2022, the United Nations estimates that more than 11 million Ukrainians have fled their homes, with 5 million leaving for neighboring countries and about 6.5 million being displaced within Ukraine’s borders.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, from Feb. 24 to April 20, 2022 it has recorded 5,264 Ukrainian civilian casualties: 2,345 killed and 2,919 injured.

To read more of Orato’s unique, first-person accounts and coverage of the conflict, click “Ukraine-Russia” in the trending topics bar at the top of Orato.world homepage. 

ODESSA, Ukraine – Before this all happened, I doubted the rising tensions would lead to anything.

My father told my sister and me to leave, but we said the same tension happened in 2014 and nothing came of it. We thought this would pass and we would be safe.

Like so many others, we were wrong. 

Noises in the night invoke fear and worry

I had a chance to leave for Switzerland two weeks earlier, but I decided to stay in Ukraine for my birthday on March 2. When the bombing started Feb. 24, I was living alone in the outskirts of Odessa near the ports.

I heard a terrifying loud noise at night and checked online. People were saying there was gunfire in the streets and that Russia was bombing Odessa. My heart sunk; was my city really under attack?

I couldn’t see far out my window through the dark. Panicked and agitated, I wondered if a bomb would drop on me at any moment.

Later, I found out the reports I read that night weren’t true. Odessa was safe while I was there, but Ukraine was not. Our army was holding Russia off by land, keeping them from getting as far as Odessa, but I knew we are vulnerable by sea.

At this same time, my mom and sister were in Kyiv. I was distraught thinking about them and worrying for their safety, as Kyiv was getting bombed directly. They stayed underground in the subways overnight for protection.

That same night, I left and went to my dad’s house at the center of the city. He made plans to have a friend of his pick me up and take me to the border of the neighboring country of Moldova.

I feared being bombed and couldn’t sleep all night. I kept drifting off sitting in a chair, then shooting back awake. While my dad slept, I stayed up so if sirens went off, one of us would hear it.

Crossing borders in pursuit of safety

The line at the Moldova border was massive. Cars and people stretched as far as I could see. The smell of exhaust from idle cars filled the air, and the waves of chatter from groups of people made each conversation unintelligible.

My country was under attack, and I was fleeing. I was able to leave legally, as Ukraine had not banned men ages 18 to 60 from leaving the country.

Once we finally entered Moldova, I rented a hotel room alone and waited for my mother and sister to meet up with me. Reuniting with them—seeing them safe—flooded me with relief.

I expected to spend my 19th birthday home in Ukraine while my dad was in Switzerland for work. Instead, I spent my birthday in Moldova, worrying about my dad’s safety back in Odessa.

However, my dad was eventually able to join us, using his Israeli passport to leave as a citizen of that country.

After we all met up in Moldova, we went to Romania en route to Austria. We stayed there for a day, then flew to Switzerland. I updated my friends through Instagram posts throughout.

Lines of cars at Ukraine/Moldova border | Photo courtesy of Yev V.

Headed to Canada for university

My family has been staying in Switzerland for a few weeks now, though they all want to return to Ukraine eventually.

I on the other hand, am enrolled at a university in Canada; the process was difficult, but they accepted my application as a refugee. Now I’m just working on saving money to get there.

So much is uncertain, but I hope I too can come back to a peaceful Ukraine someday.

John Ancillotti is a member of Orato’s Spring 2022 Writer’s Workshop & Internship Program.

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John Ancillotti is a student at St Bonaventure University, majoring in Journalism.