“I suddenly felt very, very alone,” Dima Bubnovskyi said as he recalled the heartbreaking moment last Friday when he saw his wife Sasha and their daughters Sofia, 6, and Mia, 2, walking down the street disappeared towards the Polish border.
They had to walk a few miles to get to safety, but he had to turn around and head back toward the danger. “All my instincts as a father should go with them, but martial law meant something else,” he said.
“We had spent this intense week together, fleeing the bombs and sleeping on the floors of safe houses, hiding for eight days in the basement of our home in Irpin, which had been under fire from day one – and now we were forced to close it say goodbye to each other.
“It’s hard to put my feelings into words, but it was like someone took away all the important things in my life. I told my girls that I loved them, that it wouldn’t be long before we were together, but inside I felt empty. I was afraid that I might never see her again, even as I tried desperately to hold on to hope.”
Dima, a 29-year-old computer science graduate, couldn’t risk returning to Irpin, so he drove to Truskavets, a town 90 km from the border in western Ukraine, where a friend’s 80-year-old mother took him in in her guest room – and where he is right now.
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Like all young Ukrainian men, Dima faced immediate conscription into the army, but it hasn’t happened yet.
“I admit that the thought of fighting at the front is very scary,” he said. “Of course I can put a gun in my arms and fight and just die – but I’m worried about my family’s future. There are many young men who are eager to fight the Russians, and even for them there are not enough weapons. In the meantime, I believe I can be more useful to my country by helping keep the economy running. Even our government says that those who can work should, because we have to support our economy and pay taxes, and that’s why there are a lot of men in western Ukraine working the same way I do right now.”
But Dima, an IT professional, has a hard time concentrating. He admitted: “I really miss my wife and kids and I’m struggling to focus. Last night I had a call with Sasha who told me that Mia cries a lot and really misses me and can’t understand why I can’t come with her. It broke my heart.”
He also worries about her house and the pets left behind.
“The last I heard was six days ago when Sasha’s father escaped from Irpin and lived somewhere in the middle of Ukraine. By that time, two of the houses on our street had been hit. We have a black labrador called Clode and a cat Lolita that we couldn’t take with us because there wasn’t room in the car, but Sasha’s dad left keys with a neighbor and I hope he was able to feed them. We are very proud of our home but we do not know if our beautiful home is still standing and if our beloved pets Claude and Lolita are alive or dead.”
Dima’s parents are divorced, but like his grandparents they live in Odessa and for the time being they all stay together. Western Ukraine still feels relatively safe, he said, despite air raid sirens going off “about four times a day.”
Since arriving in Truskavets, Dima has hardly been out, apart from going to the store once to stock up on groceries.
He said friends saw the article we published, which they shared widely, and he was grateful for it because it was a way to tell them what happened to them and show they were safe.
I told Dima how I met Sasha and his brave girls just a few hours after he left them. They recovered briefly from the freezing cold in a mother-child tent run by the Red Cross and Caritas at the Kroscienko border crossing.
I also said that we have launched a Refugees Welcome appeal to raise money for the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukrainian humanitarian appeal, which supports 13 UK charities including the Red Cross, along with our sister title, the evening standardwe have raised over £300,000 so far.
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Sasha, he was happy to report, is safe and trying to get the girls into some sort of routine after traveling via Kraków to Koblentz in Germany, where she found a place to stay through a relative.
“The West, especially the Poles and the Germans, have been incredibly generous to us,” he said. “We will be forever grateful to them.”
He still thinks back to the shock they all felt on the day the war began. “It was the 19thth Sasha’s sister Anastasia’s birthday and we had baked her a wonderful cake. We had to cut the cake on the floor of the air raid shelter and shells and bombs could be heard outside. It was such a sad and scary way to start her 20th yearth Year.”
He added: “It has only been 21 days since the start of the war and our morale is high and Russian soldiers’ morale is low, so we believe there will be successful negotiations to end the war within the next two months.
Meanwhile, I look at the disaster for people stuck in Mariupol, where 2,500 people died, and that puts my personal situation into perspective. My family feels far away, but at least they are safe. Every evening we have a video call. Can’t wait to catch up on the same sofa. It’s so incredibly lonely without her.”
The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now we are renewing our campaign and launching this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukraine crisis we urge the government to go further and faster to ensure aid is delivered. To learn more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. to sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate, then please click here for our GoFundMe page.
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/ukraine-father-war-russia-donate-b2038536.html ‘I suddenly felt very, very alone’: The plight of Ukrainians staying behind to fight Russia