Escaping from war: Ukrainian family shares the story of how they left their home

It’s now been two weeks of death and destruction, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Two Ukrainian women share their story with CityNews, describing the horrors they faced escaping Ukraine. Alex Karpa reports.

By Alex Karpa

It’s now been two weeks of death and destruction, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Millions have left their homes, fleeing west to countries like Poland.

CityNews spoke to two Ukrainian women who fled the country with their children. They are now sharing their experience with the help of their Winnipeg cousin, Tetyana Haraschuk, who has joined her cousins in Poland and helped translate their story.

Alona and Daria Zub-Zolotarova and their families were living in Kyiv when the invasion began. On Feb. 24, their lives completely changed as the attack on the country they call home, began.

“They grabbed their grandma, they grabbed the cat under their arm, they packed all their belongings in 30 minutes. Took all their documents, grabbed any cash they had, and started driving to Irpin, which is a suburb of Kyiv,” Alona Zub-Zolotarova said through a translation from Haraschuk.

Zub-Zolotarova family travelling to leave Ukraine. (Photo credit: Alona Zub-Zolotarova)

As shelling and missiles rained down from the sky, Alona’s husband Alexei made multiple trips between Irpin and Kyiv, getting their family out of harm’s way. They sought refuge in a family-owned daycare. They remained there for eight days.

“On average, they had 11 to 16 people in this daycare. The basement was pretty small and when the bombing got really bad, there wasn’t enough room. They put the kids in the basement and the adults had to hide elsewhere,” she explained.

Zub-Zolotarova family. (Photo credit: Alona Zub-Zolotarova)

In the eight days, Alona’s family made food for the community and Ukrainian soldiers. One of their friends, Kolya, would make bread and Alexei delivered it to the suburbs around Kyiv. Alona shares what Alexei saw.

“He was boxed in by Russian military, he was stuck in Bucha for a while, and he saw with his own eyes as Russian soldiers walked through Bucha with their guns and shot anything that they came across, a dog, a cat, a human, a car full of humans, it didn’t matter, they were shooting everybody.”

Alona says Alexei evaded Russian gunfire multiple times and made it to the daycare. It was clear the situation was worsening, and it was no longer safe to stay there. After eight days, they began making their journey to Poland.

People line up to flee Ukraine. (Photo credit: Alona Zub-Zolotarova)

“They saw with their own eyes as they were driving that missiles were landing all around them and things were flying over their heads, over the car, and they just were driving. They were out on the road now, nowhere to hide.

“And at that point, they were thinking we either die of starvation here or we try and with God’s help, they went ahead.”

Alona and Daria say they saw the destruction and death at the hands of Russian forces. Buildings were turned to rubble and bodies littered the streets. On their journey West, they say highway signs were taken down to prevent Russian troops from navigating around and internet signals were poor. Getting around was tough. Finally, they were able to contact family in Lutsk, in western Ukraine. They stayed with them for one night before making their way to the border.

Building after being hit by missile in Ukraine. (Photo credit: Alona Zub-Zolotarova)

“They arrived at the border at 1 p.m. and crossed the border at 7 p.m. They were provided food at the beginning and after they crossed. But in between, they didn’t have access to anything. They stood outside in the cold, it was windy and there was no place to sit. They stood the whole time.”

Haraschuk, from Winnipeg, met Alona 60 kilometres west of the Polish-Ukrainian border. Daria was separated at the border but was later reunited with the rest of the family. Now they are safely housed in a town about 60 kilometres from Warsaw. But not all of their family is out of harm’s way.

Alona Zub-Zolotarova explains how her and her family left Ukraine. (Photo credit: Alona Zub-Zolotarova)

“Alona’s husband Alexei is staying in Ukraine to protect the country and to make sure it is safe for them to return home.

“It’s the 21st century, they were living their lives, they were going to work, they had their weekends, they had their families, they had their beautiful city and their beautiful country. Then one day someone said, ‘get out’ and now they have nothing.”

Alona, Daria along with countless other Ukrainians are asking for the skies over Ukraine to be closed and are calling on countries like Canada to provide more military assistance.

“They’re asking for the world to help their husbands and their men in Ukraine to protect the country so that they could go back to their homeland, have their country which is free for their kids and grandkids to grow up in and be proud of like they were before it started,” Daria Zub-Zolotarova said through a translation from Haraschuk.

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