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Escaping Ukraine’s killing fields

3 May 20220 comments

Anastasiia Kozinaz fled Ukraine’s killing fields for the sake of her two boys, leaving behind her husband, her family and everything she had known.

Anastasia’s house was just a kilometre from Bucha and Irpin, the places just outside Kyiv where Russian troops are accused of massacring hundreds of civilians.

For two weeks the family sheltered in their basement as Russian shells and bombs rained down.

“It was terrible. All the time there were tanks, bombs and firing. All the time we were afraid the Russian would come,” Anastasiia said.

“We spent nights in the basement and my sons became emotional. I had to talk to them about what they had seen,” said Anastasiia, who was studying psychology before the conflict broke out,” she said.

Bucha was one of the first outlying areas of Kyiv that Russian forces occupied when they moved in on February 27. More than 300 people are said to have died in extra-judicial killings.

In neighbouring Irpin, more than a hundred are claimed to have been murdered.

Images of the killings emerged after Ukrainian forces reclaimed control of the whole Kyiv region and liberated towns from Russian troops.

Bodies with bound hands, close-range gunshot wounds and signs of torture lay scattered in the city after the Russians left.

Anastasiia and her two boys Maxim, 12, and Nikita, 10, escaped the carnage at the height of the fighting.

“My husband told me I must go for the sake of our boys. He said it was not clear whether our army would be able to stop the Russians,” she said, in broken English.

“He stayed behind to look after my mother and our house,” Anastasiia said.

The three made a dangerous 26-hour journey to Poland from where they flew to Australia on hastily organised tourist visas.

“A friend of my husband, who lives in Melbourne, told him to send us here. So here we are. I am glad that my sons are safe,” the 33-year-old said.

Using a translation service on her phone Anastasia wrote words about how her whole world changed in an instant.

“On February 24, 2022, at about six o’clock in the morning, my husband called me. He was on a business trip to western Ukraine in Lviv,” she wrote.

“Without explaining for a long time, he announced the shocking news and told me to go urgently to refuel the car.

“It took until noon, and it was then that I first saw and felt the missile hit the radar tower, which was near the gas station in the village of Svyatopetrivske.

“There was chaos and panic all around. I could not imagine what to do in such a situation. Tears rolled down my face all the time.

“My husband borrowed a car from friends and was already moving towards Kyiv. There were long queues at gas stations that were still working. In a few hours, due to many accidents, the road from Kyiv to Lviv turned into a traffic jam.

“At short intervals, at low altitudes, invading Russian planes flew by and bombed something. What everyone feared most and did not want to believe began – the war.

“At dawn, my husband drove home, handed over the borrowed car to his colleagues so that they could get home southwest of Kyiv, and gave his private car to his partner to get to his family in the northern suburbs of Kyiv at Brovary.

“For the next two weeks, due to continuous bombardment and shelling, we sat in the basement. During the day, my husband tried to find food, and at night, along with other neighbours, he was on duty with weapons at prepared positions.

“During these two weeks, my husband twice tried to send us to a safer region of the country, but when a significant part of the population tries to move from the north, east and south of the country to the west in such a short time, such movements become even more dangerous.

“After two weeks, we found the necessary gasoline and took a less safe route to Pochaiv, Ternopil region, to visit friends.

“It was at this time that the fiercest battles were fought for Stoyanka, Irpin, Bucha, and Gorenichi. The next settlement in line for the fight was ours – Shevchenkove (Bilogorodka), on the border of Kyiv.

“At this time, no more than a kilometre from our house, the bloodiest fighting happened along the Irpin River, and continuous round-the clock bombardment dominated the scene.

“You could hear no other noise and the blasts shattered the window glass and scattered rocket fragments on our house. I left Kyiv with the children. My husband remained.

“We are now in Melbourne and safe. Only now we are aware of the imminent danger that was on our doorstep and, unfortunately, came to the homes of residents of Stoyanka, Irpen, Bucha, Gostomel, and Borodyanka.

“Thousands of tortured and killed people are the result.

“I don’t know how to make my children forget what war is! I don’t know if I will find the strength to return to my home!” Anastasiia wrote

Anastasiia said she was not sure what the future holds for her family and country.

“I don’t know where all this ends. A lot of things have been destroyed – playgrounds and schools. There’s a lot of burned equipment and corpses of people in the street.”

But she said that her immediate priority was to make sure her sons were safe and well adjusted.

“They are lucky they did not see a lot of the destruction and the corpses. My husband and I tried not to panic so that our kids would not see it.

“I was studying psychology so I am trying to talk to the boys a lot about what has happened and to use relaxation methods for them.

“I think about the children and the consequences of what has happened. There is a risk they will suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a year or two.

“But they need to develop and grow. They are now in an active phase of development and growth and that must be my focus.

“For now, we are safe here in Australia and my sons can get on with their lives in a peaceful situation,” Anastasiia said.


Fellow Ukrainian refugee Ulyana Matsaienko has also found refuge in Australia after her home city of Kharkiv was attacked by the Russian army

She woke up in the Kharkiv apartment she shared with her grandmother at 5am on February 24 to the sound of distant explosions.

“It was 5am on February 24 and I woke up hearing explosions. At first I thought it was fireworks. But when the windows started vibrating with the blasts, I realised it was not fireworks,” Ulyana said.

“I heard the neighbour upstairs talking loudly as they were nervous. Then I called my mother and asked: ‘has it begun?’ She said ‘yes’.

“Deep inside ourselves, we knew what was happening.

“For five days we slept in the basement. It was difficult to go out to buy food because of explosions and bombing.

“We lived in a district close to the countryside so it was closer to the fighting and there were many explosions hear our house.

“My mother and step-father’s apartment became too dangerous, so they escaped to the countryside.

“And many people from my workplace moved to the west part of Ukraine because it is safer there,” she said.

But Ulyana’s father, who is a firefighter, has stayed in Kharkiv to fight the dozens of fires caused each day by shelling and incendiary bombs.

“My Dad is a fireman and he goes to fires after the shelling and bombing. It’s dangerous work and my Dad wears a helmet and body armour when he goes to work.

“One of his colleagues, a 30-year-old man, died during the shelling recently which makes me worry about my father a lot,” she said.

Ulyana said that Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine are unforgiveable.

“What the Russians have done in Bucha and other places is evil. It is unbelievable that this could happen in Europe in 2022.

“Ukrainians will never forget this. I am worried about mother and father-in-law who have moved to the countryside near Kharkiv. I’m worried that what happened in Bucha will happen where they are,” she said   

Ulyana described how many Ukrainians have found refuge with relatives and friends across Europe and the globe

“On the fifth day of the invasion I had the chance to escape. A niece of my grandmother in Germany helped some of my family to escape. We went to Poland and then to Germany,” she said.

“My godmother and her daughter went to London, where they had friends living there.

“I had a cousin here in Melbourne and she said to me to come here. I had got a visa in Ukraine and so I was lucky to come here to Melbourne,” she said.

Ulyana says that for her and most Ukrainians, the future remains unknowable but her immediate goal is to help her family still in her war-torn homeland.

“Even if we win the war, the economy will be broken for years. Many people have lost their jobs,” she said.

“I worked in the Dean’s office at the National University of Railway Transport in Kharkiv; that was my career. I used to work and take guitar lessons and meet my friends but that has all gone now.

“I don’t know when the conflict will end. Maybe when the president of Russia is dead.

“But for me, now my plan is to stay here and find job so I can help my family,” Ulyana said.