Ukraine: Dreaming About My Previous Life

By Elena Khyzhniak Elena Khyzhniak has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on June 14, 2022

Editor’s note: Grit Daily is publishing first hand accounts written by Ukrainian entrepreneurs, founders, and tech workers struggling to keep their lives and businesses going while their country is at war.

“That” night, my mom called me and said: “pack up.” That’s how the new life started for me. Now, I live in a village in the west of Ukraine, where I must go to the neighbors to catch the Internet and work. And I consider myself very lucky: at least I’m alive, and my parents are with me.

The war that started eight years ago

For Ukrainians, this war started not on February 24th, 2022, but in 2014. It was a scary time, and I was afraid of the full-scale invasion back then. Later, we saw that Russia didn’t go further after the occupation of Crimea and entering Donetsk and Lugansk regions. We got a pause for eight years. And then, at the beginning of 2022, we saw disturbing news.

I live close to the Boryspil airport, and my parents work there. In February, we went to Lviv for several days, just in case the invasion started. Nothing happened, so we returned home just a few days before February 24th.

“That” night, my mom called me and said: “pack up.” She and my dad were among the first to hear the explosions because they had a night shift. They also told me that the evacuation of the passengers from the airport had already started. They left the airport last after all the passengers were gone. Later, they told me how spooky it felt to be at the empty airport, usually filled with thousands of people.

I packed some stuff, took some documents, and my parents picked me up. We decided to stay together because the mobile connection was unstable. The plan was to spend the night in Kyiv and then move in the western direction. During the day, there were more explosions, and, of course, I couldn’t work. I felt physically and psychologically down. In the evening, my parent’s manager called and said it was better to leave Kyiv (the risk of the new attack was very high). So, we decided to go to our friends’ house in Obukhiv (a small town near Kyiv).

We were lucky enough to come there quite fast. The roads were empty, and the government hadn’t imposed a curfew yet, so we were allowed to travel after the sunset. We spent the night in one room with no heat: three families, a dog, and a cat. The next day, the villages close to Obukhiv were hit by missiles. We had to move out and save ourselves.

Beautiful landscape of the Ternopil region

We didn’t know where to go. We had a few friends in the western regions of Ukraine, but we were afraid to go to big cities because they were the first under attack. Finally, relatives invited us to come to the village where they were staying. We thought that countryside was a safer option and decided to go there. After all, the bombing can destroy the infrastructure in a big city: there can be no electricity, heat, or water supply. And in the village, it’s easier to survive.

I’d prefer to visit this place as a tourist…

After 14 hours of heavy traffic, we came to the Ternopil region.

The bells are on, the Internet is off

Now, more than two months later, I’m still in this village. It’s safer than Kyiv, although sometimes we hear explosions, see the glow in the sky, or fighter jets flying (we only hope they’re ours).

In Kyiv, the air raid sirens were a typical sound. We heard it several times every day and even got used to it (if it’s even possible to get used to something like that). Here, in the village, air alarms are a much rarer event. Instead, if there’s a potential danger, we hear the bells of the local church. When we heard it for the first time, we didn’t know what it meant, so strange it sounded.

You never know when the air alarm turns on. Sometimes we don’t hear it for several days, but then it starts again. When you hear it, you should hide in the cellar and wait there until the danger’s gone. Well, we’re happy that we don’t have to spend the nights there…

The main problem here in the village is that I don’t have the Internet. Also, there’s no mobile connection because we live in the valley. I can rarely catch the signal; usually, I must go up the hill for 20 minutes to make a call.

Luckily, I found the neighbors who have access to the Internet. I come to them every day. This “office” is the only way for me to work in the current circumstances. I can’t make video calls, and sometimes the Internet is slow. Also, it’s not always easy to concentrate. But, at the same time, when you can focus on tasks, you can’t read the news and worry. So I work as much as possible.

Happy discoveries…

What to do next? I don’t have an answer yet. I don’t want to leave my parents and go abroad. My friends, who fled Ukraine and are safe now, worry much more than I because their relatives are still here. So, I choose to stay.

After we came here, I was experiencing huge emotional swings. When I was feeling down, my parents supported me, or I used to go for a walk to see nature’s awakening. It helped a bit.

This war showed me how great Ukrainians are. I’ve always known we’re a very warm and caring nation, but now I see how many incredible people there are in our country. We live in the house of strangers, and they are kind to us and take care of us. Everyone is willing to help, and almost everyone does some volunteer work.

For example, the head of the village and the headmaster of the local school have started several initiatives. One of them is cooking food for the army. I joined this project and now help in the kitchen several times per week.

Cooking varenyky for the army

For many Ukrainians, a part of the reality now is the constant search for armor. Many men who joined the armed forces or territorial defense forces need equipment ASAP. I helped find bulletproof vests for my mom’s colleague and his squad. Besides, I help collect donations for volunteers whom I know personally, for instance, my brother. If you want to help them too, you can donate to Volunteer Union “Defense” (“Zahyst”) via PayPal: or by requisites stated here.

… and sad thoughts

I’m in touch with my friends all the time: some are still in Kyiv or other cities, and some have left. One of my friends was injured during the evacuation from Irpin. Russians shot his car. Another friend joined the army and was killed several weeks ago in the battle in the east of Ukraine. It’s so hard to accept that someone you’ve known and talked to so often is gone forever.

Another thing I can’t cope with is the cruelty of Russian troops. How can they be so brutal, so infernal, so unspeakably inhuman? Do they still live in ancient times? They are worse than animals: animals kill to eat; why do Russians kill, what is the purpose of their crimes? It doesn’t fit in my head. Especially after the pictures from Bucha and Mariupol.

My attitude towards Russians changed drastically. I don’t have friends in their country anymore. There’s only one Russian with whom I maintain a relationship, my godfather, because his position about the war is clear. Also, I unsubscribed from all Russian bloggers I’d been reading before the war.

I miss my previous life very much. In the beginning, I was hoping the war wouldn’t last. “Two, three weeks, one month, tops”, I said to myself. But it’s been more than four months, and it’s not even close.

I want to go home. I dream of going to the office again, drinking coffee with my colleagues, and chatting. Maybe I’ll return to Kyiv sometime soon when we’ll be able to buy gasoline. Right now it’s extremely hard to find it in our region.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve adjusted to this “new normal”, if you can use the word “normal” during the war. I met my friend and my godson and even visited several castles in the Ternopil region.

I really hope for the best. I’m waiting for this war to end as soon as possible. And I know that all of us do everything we can to make it happen.

By Elena Khyzhniak Elena Khyzhniak has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Elena Khyzhniak was born and raised in the city of Boryspil, a suburb of Kyiv. She graduated from the National Aviation University with a degree in software engineering and now is a Mentors coach and coordinator at CodeGym University project

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