Oew hours after hearing the first explosions in Kharkiv, Sonya saw her happy family life turned upside down. “A friend called my partner and told me it was possible to join the Territorial Defense Force,” she says. “He accepted and made the decision on his own. I wanted him to consult me…but then I realized it was his choice; he actually forced me to support him.
“He left and we didn’t really say goodbye,” she said. “I tried to accept the possibility of never seeing him again.”
Sonya was determined to stay near him, in the house they shared, but after 10 days, as electricity and water supplies deteriorated, she made the decision to move west. ‘Ukraine.
“I realized that most of the time I lived in fear,” she says. Since the start of the invasion on February 24, families from all over Ukraine have been flocking west, especially to the city of Lviv. Until Friday morning, when an aircraft repair plant at the airport was hit by missiles, Lviv had felt relatively safe.
Yet even here the sirens of air raids still pierced the clear spring nights and the sight of mothers carrying sleeping children to shelters became familiar. Many of them are in the same situation as Sonya, alone with their children after their husbands and fathers left for the front line with the Territorial Defense Force.
“I’m angry, not just because I can’t see my loved one and my friends,” says Sonya, who worked for a human rights organization before the war started. “I left all my things at home…it makes me even angrier that I was totally unprepared for this.
“I was offered to leave Ukraine but I feel that if everyone leaves, we [as a country] won’t stay up.
Many women in Lviv struggle with the same choice. Alexandra, also from Kharkiv, says that since her husband started learning to shoot six months ago, she had no illusions about what would happen in the event of war.
The family had filled up with gas and bought winter tires for an emergency evacuation. Three hours after the explosions began, they began the two-day journey to Lviv with their three-year-old daughter.
“He brought us there and immediately went to the military enlistment office,” Alexandra explains. “Now he is not far from the front and is trying to transfer to another battalion to get there as soon as possible.
“We call each other by video, and every day he tries to talk to his daughter, but if he goes to the front, he won’t be able to take his phone with him. The decision to go to war belonged only to him. He wants to stay and kill for this land. It’s his choice.”
But Alexandra feels that the hardships she and her daughter now face are no less significant. They left Lviv for Lithuania, where she has friends, but now find themselves without support. “We’ve been asked to find another place to stay as soon as possible, so we have to leave,” she said.
“Now I don’t know where we will go and where we will live. My salary may not even be enough to pay the rent. But I will find something.
Galina’s husband was among the first to enlist in the Territorial Defense Force. On February 24, at lunchtime, the couple gave blood, and then parted – Galina flew to Lviv from their home in Odessa with their children, leaving him at home. Now she tries to do what she can to help defend her country.
“I try to help their military unit, receiving the things they need from abroad and transferring them to Odessa,” she says. “I can’t go back to him, because I care about our children. My place is close to them now, they don’t need me anymore. I really want to go back, but it’s not safe enough there yet.
For all three women, the feeling of disorientation is the same. Everything they once took for granted is now gone.
“Before the war, I had a very ordinary life, with goals for the future and dreams,” says Sonya. “I studied English and took courses in web design. I didn’t really believe war could happen.
Alexandra is worried about her parents, whose Kharkiv neighborhood is still better off than some but has still been devastated by bombs. She mourns the family life that has been torn away.
“Before the war, our life only got better,” she says. “I got a good job and had a comfortable home life. On February 24, all of a sudden, the only thing that mattered was the safety of our child. But I really want to go home.