A story of a Ukrainian refugee

Adel Kuchyk — Staff Writer 

I was buying colorful chocolate candies called “Roshen” at “Silpo,” a very popular Ukrainian Supermarket. The store was Circus themed; every Silpo Supermarket has some sort of decoration theme. My boyfriend grabbed my arm. 

“What are you doing, Adel?! We have to go. C’mon, quick!” 

I ran with him outside to the car, and we drove to some eight-floor gray buildings. It was still winter. I saw a lot of snow laying on the streets, but also people running in their pajamas. My boyfriend Misha came to an officer and begged him to let us inside one of the gray buildings, but he refused.

“There is not enough room,” he said. And just then the three of us noticed that the sky was dark red, and there was a bomb coming our way. I woke up from the pain. Panting, in a cold sweat. 

Later that December, after our Bible study group, Misha and I were driving our out-oftown friends home. I had two full-time jobs as a journalist and as an English teacher, and I also was a full-time student at National University in Kyiv, so I always had stories to share. But I went quiet when I saw the same eight-floor gray buildings. I couldn’t have remembered them, because I had never been to this city before. 

“Hey, do you guys have a Silpo here?” 

“Yes, sure, there is a Circus-themed Silpo, but it’s probably closed already,” my friend Sasha answered. 

Everything in me fell as we passed by the circus-themed Silpo, where I was buying colorful candies in my dream. 

When I told Misha my dream, we prayed. And that’s what we did all week. Misha and I separately received many confirmations from the Holy Spirit that war was coming to Ukraine. One late night, Misha came to my place. 

“I feel that God is telling me that we need to leave right now,” Misha said. “I want you to pack fast and not take a lot of clothes with you.” I had already packed and prepared for this a long time ago. 

We left at midnight on Dec. 24. At 4 a.m., we stopped at the gas station to take a nap, and at 6 a.m. I received a call from my dad. 

“Daughter, please tell me you are not in Kyiv or Odesa,” he said. “They have entered the cities and bombed everywhere. We are packing and leaving Melitopol right now.” 

I heard my dad crying, and I quickly woke Misha. 

“Honey, wake up,” I said. “The war has just begun.” 

Due to law, when president Zelenskiy proclaimed a war situation, no men were allowed to leave the country anymore. Misha was the last man to cross the border. We stayed in my work colleagues’ house in Chisinau, Moldova, for a week, and this was when Misha proposed.

With a fake ring, he bowed down on one knee and asked if I wanted to be his wife. I bowed with him. 

“Of course,” I said. 

We cried a lot. We prayed for the war to be over, and that it would never separate us.

We continued traveling through Europe for four days and slept only twice. Staying at strangers’ houses, we just wanted to get to the Slovakian border to take my younger brother Maxim. 

“Say bye to daddy,” we heard one mom say to her kid at the border. “You will see him again soon.” 

They all cried because it wasn’t true. We also hugged our dad for the last time, and I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to do it again. 

The three of us reached Lithuania, the country where my cousin lived. A couple of days later, Misha and I evacuated our moms. I remember my mom was laying down in bed with me and staring at the ceiling. 

“You know,” she said, “there was a car near us in the long column of refugees evacuating from Melitopol. The Russians threw “Grady*” in front of them and the driver lost control. We were passing by, and I saw a mother crying and hugging her infant. Both were covered in blood. Shattered windshield glass went everywhere on them. But we couldn’t stop and help them – we were afraid we’d get killed too.” 

My mom didn’t eat and sleep normally for two days after this. But with God’s help, she began to live normally again. She found a job in Lithuania and decided to stay with my cousin.

Have you heard of survivor’s guilt? It’s when you blame yourself that you live, but others die. This feeling follows me everywhere. After three weeks of living in Lithuania, Maxim, Misha, and I flew to Mexico to cross the border to America. 

“You packed well, didn’t you?” the lady at the airport said. Tears came down my throat and I couldn’t answer. Of course, she didn’t know that in this duffle bag I have fit all my life. 20 years. Memories of my school days that smell like autumn leaves. We used to collect them with my classmates and jump right into them. My first love. My pain and tears for dying friends in their 20s on the frontline. Life is not fair. 

We started to try to live in Texas. The former host family I lived with five years ago did a lot for us. They helped my fiancé and brother learn a new language, understand another culture, and prepare a wedding ceremony for us. This spring I applied to the World Journalism program where WORLD journalists and Professor Lee Pitts taught students the art of journalism, and this is how I transferred to Dordt University. 

We continue to pray for our country and work so hard to evacuate our relatives and friends from being occupied by Russians in Melitopol. In my 20s, I have become a wife, a mother of a teenager, a refugee, and a survivor. But through this journey, God has always been with us. He taught us the most essential thing: how to actively listen to Him. The Holy Spirit guided our path all the way through and showed how it is important for the sheep to know the voice of their Shepherd. Trust Him and be alert for Him. 

*Grady or Hail (Ukr. гради) – An antitank cluster munition is a form of air-dropped or ground-launched explosive weapon that releases or ejects smaller submunitions. 

Photo Credit: Adel Kuchyk

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