Story #71. Life in Russian Occupation With a Small Son

March 5, 2023
The story of Maria Ivanyuk, who managed to leave an occupied village in Kyiv Oblast with her son. #UkraineWorldTestimony

Maria Ivanyuk had prepared in advance for a possible full-scale Russian invasion. A few weeks before February 24, she already had bags packed with everything she needed. She always took documents and a backpack with a basic supply of food, medicine, and other important things with her when she went out.

Maria checked all the air raid shelters near her house, and was worried every time she took her son to daycare. She and her husband thought out a plan for what to do and where to go if a war started. Her diligent preparations stemmed from the fact that her father and her husband had fought against the Russians in Donbas since 2014, so they were well aware of what Russian aggression was.

On February 24, Maria and her husband woke up to explosions. They immediately understood where they were from. Then her husband got a phone call and they knew that Russia had indeed started a full-scale war.

Although Maria and her son planned to immediately evacuate to western Ukraine, they first stopped by her mother in the village of Buzova, Kyiv Oblast. Her two sisters, her nephew, and her younger brother had gathered at her parents' house. Maria convinced everyone to move on urgently because Russian troops would advance towards Kyiv along the Zhytomyr highway, where their village is located.

However, Maria's mother did not want to leave her home, so her sisters hesitated. Maria could not leave herself, because she did not have a car. Unfortunately, before they could get to safety, fierce fighting began near Buzova, and the village fell under occupation.

February 28, 2022, was the scariest night in Maria's life:

"I will remember that night for the rest of my life. I was afraid not of my own death, but for my son, brother, and nephew who were with us. I had a feeling of incredible guilt for not taking them out earlier, for not saving them. I felt terrible because I didn't listen to myself, I didn't do everything I knew and understood before the war, and now they could die or get hurt," Maria Ivaniuk recalls.

Maria and her family sat in the cellar where her great-grandmother and grandmother once hid from the Nazis. Now they were hiding from Russia there. The place was so humid that they couldn't make their lighter work, and a candle brought in from the street would immediately go out. The lime on the walls got into the humid air, and then into their noses and lungs. There was little oxygen because the cellar was small and there were many people. At first, Maria and her relatives thought that they were having panic attacks, but then they realized that it was the lack of oxygen that made it difficult to breathe.

The concrete walls, floor, and ceiling also amplified the sounds of the explosions and gunshots that constantly rang out above. Cracks began to appear on the rather thick concrete ceiling, so Maria and her family were afraid that it would fall on them. The ground shook under and around them from the Russian shelling.

"At this moment, you clearly understand that life can really end at any moment. And it is not a fear of death, but a fear of losing every moment. Just wasting your time. That night I felt faith again. Faith in an incredible power that cares for this world. Traditionally, we say God, but other religions have many other names. I believed in something of my own. And I am grateful to this Power that helped us and continues to take care of us," says Maria.

Although Maria didn't know if she would survive that night, and even said goodbye to all her friends in a Facebook post just in case, the shelling stopped and their basement survived. Then Maria and her 3-year-old son Yura managed to leave for Lviv Oblast.

Unfortunately, after the experience, Maria's son developed severe post-traumatic stress. Even in safety, he was frightened by every noise and fell to the ground, covering his ears with his hands. Yura was also greatly distressed by the sounds of air raid sirens. Pained by her son's suffering, Maria decided to go abroad. They now live temporarily in Denmark and are hoping for Ukraine's victory to come soon.

This material was prepared with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation.

Related articles

March 8, 2023

Story #72. The Village that Turned into Ruins

The story of Serhiy and his mother from the village of Kamyanka, Kharkiv Oblast. #UkraineWorldTestimony
February 7, 2023

Kherson, a City on the Frontline

Watch our documentary to see the city's and its people's reality firsthand.