As War Begins in Kyiv, a Ukrainian Family Hunkers Down


On the day that Russia launched a brand new invasion of Ukraine, I reached Lena Samoilenko, a cultural activist and freelance journalist who works in Kyiv, within the early night. “We’re simply barricading ourselves in,” she mentioned. “I’m comfortable to take a break to speak.”

Samoilenko, who’s thirty-six, grew up in Antratsyt, a small metropolis in japanese Ukraine that has been occupied by Russia for the final eight years. Within the years instantly following the primary Russian invasion, Samoilenko helped set up aid efforts within the east, and, as a journalist, coated the occupation of Crimea. She now lives in a suburb simply east of Kyiv, together with her husband, the poet Anton Polunin, their two youngsters, aged 5 and 6, and Samoilenko’s mother and father. Whereas we talked, Samoilenko’s father walked in, nervous that Polunin had left the home—he thought that the newly introduced curfew kicked in at 5 P.M. (In truth, it could start at ten o’clock.) Samoilenko interrupted our dialog a few occasions to inform her five-year-old, Marta, to step away from the window. “I can’t get the youngsters used to that,” she mentioned.

A month earlier than our dialog, Samoilenko and I had met in Kyiv to speak in regards to the methods wherein individuals had been making ready for warfare. She informed me that she had refreshed her first-aid abilities and made preparations with associates who may come and keep on the home. However she additionally mentioned that warfare, as she and her family members had skilled it within the east, was inconceivable to organize for. We spoke in Russian; our dialog has been translated and condensed.

“On Wednesday, we packed drugs kits with tourniquets, gauze, and elastic bandages, all of the issues I understand how to make use of. We watched ‘Brassic’—it’s a enjoyable British present that places us in temper—after which put the youngsters to mattress. The youngsters took a very long time to go to sleep, so we learn to them for greater than an hour. We’re studying ‘Comet in Moominland,’ which has suited the previous couple of weeks nicely. There may be stuff like, ‘Let’s go dancing—the comet isn’t coming till Sunday, so we’ve got loads of time to bop.’ I made a listing of all of the contact info for my associates, and we made preparations for maintaining in contact, if there is no such thing as a Web or cell service, by way of Bluetooth-based messenger apps. However we didn’t have a way that it was about to begin. We went to sleep in a relaxed temper. My husband was planning to go to work within the morning. The youngsters went down after one within the morning. I turned in a venture and went to mattress round three.

“All of us slept by way of the primary explosions. My oldest daughter, Dasha, woke me up—she lives within the metropolis. She referred to as at five-thirty, in a panic. She mentioned that there had been an explosion someplace close to her, and she or he was saying, ‘Let’s get out of right here.’ Anton mentioned, ‘Why can’t they assault at midday? Why does it at all times must be 5 within the morning?’ I calmed Dasha down. I informed her that I like her very a lot, that if want be we’ll come and decide her up within the metropolis. I informed her that the sounds, which I might now hear, too, didn’t sound like explosions on the bottom. I used to be within the Donbass in the course of the warfare there, and I do know that when a constructing explodes it sounds completely different—it’s a bigger and extra horrifying sound. What we had been listening to had been most likely ground-to-air missiles hitting one thing within the air. So I informed Dasha that at the very least our anti-aircraft techniques are working.

“I reminded her that she was not alone—her fiancé is together with her—that they’ve their go luggage, and that they will go down into the metro. They’d deliberate to go to a village in central Ukraine, west of right here, to stick with her fiancé’s distant kinfolk. They thought that they’d a trip, and so they went to the pick-up spot, however by some means it had fallen by way of. They ended up spending nearly half the day within the metro, rolling their suitcases forwards and backwards. Now they’re with their associates in Kyiv. Dasha lives in a taller condo constructing, on one of many higher flooring, and she or he is scared to spend the evening there, in order that they went to stick with their associates who stay on the bottom flooring, close to a metro station. After they hear an air-raid siren, they run all the way down to the metro. The remainder of the time they’re of their associates’ condo, hanging out, or maybe fortifying it, as we’ve been fortifying our place.

“After her telephone name woke us up, we mentioned whether or not we must always get the youngsters up and take them all the way down to the cellar. We determined to not wake them but. So I began by getting all our paperwork in a single place—passports and my displaced-person papers. We began packing heat garments and making ready the cellar. We have now a big sufficient and well-reinforced cellar. We swept it, introduced down some mattresses and heat garments. We set it up for basement residing in case there’s precise bombing right here. Then I texted all our shut contacts in Kyiv, to reconfirm that they will come to our place. Anton cooked an unimaginable breakfast for everybody. It was heavenly: couscous, crimson beans, and gorgonzola. Round eight, after the youngsters had woken up, we sat all the way down to eat. It felt calmer by then.

“I went all the way down to the primary flooring, the place my mother and father stay, and introduced them drugs. My mom has a damaged arm, so she is on meds. She just lately had COVID. I made positive that they each took their coronary heart drugs, as a result of they had been sitting in entrance of the TV and watching TV makes individuals much more anxious than studying Telegram, as we do. I requested them to get their issues collectively in case we’ve got to go away the world. Mother mentioned that she will not be going wherever as a result of she doesn’t really feel nicely sufficient. That foreclosed the potential for leaving for me, too. I’m not going to go away them right here alone.

“As soon as we knew that we had been all staying, we began enjoying video games and fortifying the home. We performed hide-and-seek. As we ran round the home, we taught the youngsters tips on how to fall whereas opening their mouths—that helps shield your lungs throughout an explosion. I informed them that Russia had attacked us—I couldn’t conceal that—however we did it in a approach that wasn’t scary. Anton and I’ve humorous methods of falling, so it was all a sport. I mentioned, ‘Let’s discover ways to do that in case you hear a loud sound, or in case I let you know it’s essential to get down.’ This comes from my expertise of the primary occupation. Once I went to the Donbass commonly, it could typically occur that you simply had been using a bus and there was artillery fireplace, and you then’d must get out and get down.

“We performed physician, too. Alongside the best way, I used to be reviewing educational movies on tips on how to cease bleeding. The youngsters discovered tips on how to name emergency numbers or their grandparents, tips on how to unlock my telephone and their dad’s telephone. And we simply let off steam by operating and leaping round.

“We stay solely a couple of kilometre and a half from a army coaching camp. The primary strikes—those that got here round 5 within the morning—appeared to focus on army installations. So it was fairly loud right here all morning, up till about one within the afternoon. There have been a number of explosions an hour, and that’s simply what we might hear right here, on our aspect of the town, within the woods. The loudest explosions got here at 12:01 P.M. The information later mentioned that there have been cruise missiles. These are massive, uninteresting, very loud sounds. It sounds prefer it’s throughout you. I perceive that there have been six individuals killed and twelve wounded right here, close to us, because of these strikes. Then there was a small explosion of some type, and since then it’s been quiet.

“The youngsters’ room has load-bearing inside wall, and their mattress is correct subsequent to it. We determine they’ll sleep there tonight. So in that room we’ve got been placing books within the home windows, to fill your entire opening. Thankfully, we’ve got loads of books, together with ones we revealed ourselves, so we’ve got the remainders or press runs. That is in case there’s artillery fireplace. Books will cease shards from flying, and so they additionally uninteresting the sound. Plus, it stored the youngsters occupied: they spent two hours lugging books. Individuals suggest utilizing sandbags to dam the home windows, however we didn’t have any sandbags.

“I noticed that I completely forgot one thing in my preparations, and now I remorse it: we don’t have a hearth extinguisher in the home. We have now a hose within the basement, so if there’s a fireplace down there we are able to put it out. And we’ve got buckets of water. But when there’s a actual fireplace we’ll must ask the neighbors for shelter.

“As a result of a number of the early strikes had been close to right here, our associates are a bit afraid to return. Additionally, taxis had been charging upward of two thousand hryvnia [about sixty-seven dollars] this morning, so individuals couldn’t afford to return. There are nonetheless trains leaving the town, so many individuals are most likely going to attempt to go away. However for individuals who resolve to remain, our home continues to be open to all.”