Diary from Ukraine: Crossing into Poland, ‘I can exhale at last’

As Zakhida and her family cross the border into Poland, they find both freedom and homesickness on the other side.

Zakhida Adylova and her mother
Zakhida and her family have been placed in a tidy house 11km (seven miles) from the Ukrainian border [Courtesy of Zakhida Adylova]

Zakhida Adylova, 35, is a language teacher and producer for a political talk show who lives in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

She is a Crimean Tatar, a Muslim ethnic minority that was forcibly deported from their homeland, the Crimean Peninsula, to Uzbekistan in 1944 under orders from Joseph Stalin. In 1993, Zakhida returned from exile with her family to Crimea, Ukraine. Then in 2014, she and her daughter were forced to leave their home in Crimea for Kyiv after Russia annexed the peninsula. Zakhida’s mother joined them a year later. Today, the three are again facing a Russian invasion, and on Sunday, March 6 were forced to flee Kyiv for Lviv. Zakhida has kept a diary since the war began. This is her account from today.

Day 13: March 8, 2022 – ‘We made it to Poland, but my heart is in Ukraine’

4am: My 11-year-old daughter Samira, my 75-year-old mother Abibe and I woke in the apartment of a friend of mine who had offered to host us for a couple of days after we arrived in Lviv from Kyiv in the early hours of Monday morning.

Yesterday, while searching for ways to get to Poland at the train station, I met some Canadian volunteers supporting Ukrainians with humanitarian assistance. They offered to help us cross the Ukraine-Poland border by car and to find a temporary place for us to stay. My face lit up to learn this and I accepted their help.

So early this morning, to meet our car, we headed to the railway station where I saw hundreds of refugees. It was just as busy as when we first arrived in Lviv. People were everywhere – sitting on the platforms, inside the station, standing in a queue to board a train and go abroad.

It was heartbreaking to see. There were women wearing indifferent and fatigued expressions on their faces, children crying and yelling because they could not play as they wished, and elderly people whose eyes were full of sorrow.

The smell of dust, sweat and urine and the noise of people rushing made me feel dizzy.

I found out from local volunteers that the buses heading to the Polish border are filled with mothers and children. You must register and wait in line until your turn to board. If you are lucky, you can find a car; it’s a more comfortable option to cross the border. But staying in Lviv does not seem like an option. Today, this city is overcrowded and there is no place to rent or stay unless you have relatives or friends who can put you up.

6.30am: The Canadian volunteers secured a car for us and we started our trip towards the border.

10am: We are four kilometres (2.5 miles) away from the Polish border and stuck in traffic. There are so many cars. Many people walk to the border on foot holding bags and their children in their arms. It made my heart sink to see this, another way in which Russian actions have made us suffer.

2pm: Thanks Almighty, we managed to cross the border quickly. It was miraculous! My family and I finally arrived in Poland.

The volunteers have put us in a tidy house in a village about 11km (seven miles) away from the border. It looks similar to a village in Ukraine and the Carpathian Mountains in the distance are gorgeous. It makes me feel better to be in a place that reminds me of Ukraine.

3pm: I can exhale at last. I’m in a safe place. My daughter and mother are safe. There is no bombing outside. A strange feeling of freedom has come over me. I can stop worrying for a while, but I wonder how long the feeling will last. My heart and thoughts are in Ukraine. My freedom has come at the cost of leaving my home and I feel homesick.

My daughter is sleeping now, exhausted after a long trip and my mom is laying out the table with food for the first time in 13 days. Sweets, fruits and nuts. She has laid out everything we brought from home – the last piece of Kyiv.

Fruits and nuts brought from Kyiv
A table in Poland laid out with food from Kyiv [Courtesy of Zakhida Adylova]
Source: Al Jazeera