Flight from Kyiv: I want to believe I will be back

The Ukrainian capital has so far withstood the Russian invasion, but as the fighting neared Kyiv, civilians were forced to flee their homes. Jowharspoke to Sofia, a resident of the city, about the possibility of war breaking out in her city.

It’s hard for Sophia*, 29, to find time to talk. She lives in the center of Kyiv, and on the morning of Friday, March 4, the city came under a fierce attack from Russian troops. As soon as the sirens stop wailing, she has to go to the supermarket “while there are no bombs”.

By evening, Sophia is tired and deflated. It has been more than a week since Russia first invaded Ukraine, launching a “special operation” by air, land and sea. The strength of the Ukrainian resistance surprised the world, and so far Kyiv remains uninhabited.

On Friday, the sirens sounded all day long. Every night since the invasion began, they’ve exploded at least twice, which means she and her 52-year-old father have to go downstairs ASAP. “It’s been eight or nine days already, but it seems like a long day,” she says.

Neither she nor her father wanted to leave Kyiv. “We both understand that it has become unsafe.” I stopped for a long time. “My biggest fear is that if I leave, I will never come back.”

“People in Russia don’t think it is a war.” Before the war began, Sophia worked as a travel agent. Two weeks ago, she was traveling in Peru. Now leaving Kyiv is fraught with unknowns. “It is almost impossible to understand where to go. Almost all real estate in Western Ukraine is rented. ”

Sofia was photographed visiting Peru in February 2022. © SOFIA Meanwhile, Russian forces are ratcheting up pressure in the cities of eastern and southern Ukraine. Kherson fell under Russian control, and missile strikes targeted civilians in Kharkiv. Mariupol besieged, and there was a fight near Kyiv at Hostomil Airport.

At least 351 civilians have been killed and 707 injured since the Russian invasion, although the real numbers may be “much higher,” a United Nations monitoring mission reported on Saturday, March 5.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the invasion on the basis of a perceived threat from Ukraine and members of the Western alliance, NATO, and now it threatens Ukraine’s right to exist as a country independent of Russia.

“The biggest problem is that people in Russia don’t think it’s a war, but the Ukrainians want to choose their president for themselves.” she says. Once millions of people in Russia have it, they will exchange for Putin.

Sofia has lived in Kyiv since 2009, “I am not afraid of death”, but her family is originally from the city of Luhansk in the east. The region was the target of a Russian separatist power grab in 2014, which means this new war looks all too familiar to its father. She says, “I’m sorry to say he’s used to it.”

Most people have already fled the neighborhood in Kyiv where she and her father live, but those who remain work together. Every day some buy food, others go to the pharmacy, then share supplies among themselves, usually they wait until the sirens stop going, but sometimes they go anyway. They are used to the sound. “I’m not afraid of death,” she says.

Before the war, Sophia loved to live in Kyiv. One of her favorite things was to go early in the morning for a run through a nearby park. On February 23, a photo was taken from the top of the hill showing the dull morning sunlight on the quiet streets, and the Dnieper River in the distance. The Ukrainian flag writhing in the breeze.

A view of Kyiv taken by Sofia during a morning walk on Wednesday, February 23, 2022. © Sofia Less than 24 hours later, the Russian invasion begins. Since then, the capital has slowly been filled with the sights and sounds of war. Historic buildings are now the backwaters of tank traps and sandbag piles. “It is my biggest dream to be able to take a morning jog in Kyiv now,” Sofia says.

“I want to believe it will be over soon.”

“I want to believe I’ll be back” The next day Sophia has a hard time speaking again, this time because she’s driving. In the evening continue. “We had to evacuate today… It’s hard to talk about. It feels like your roots are being uprooted forever.”

News reports have shown images of deadly Russian attacks on civilian targets in other cities. Apartment buildings were smashed to their sides, and homes were reduced to rubble. There are growing fears that a new battlefield will soon emerge in central Kyiv. Everyone she knew was afraid that the city was about to be besieged. She felt like she had to leave. We were all afraid of being left without water, food and ablution. Bomb attacks may get worse.”

During the trip, Sophia remembers that there was so much traffic out of town that it took six hours to drive 100 kilometers. She went south, and is now staying with a family friend. Tomorrow they will start heading towards the border, and Sophia hopes to get to friends in the EU.

A tough day left her infatuated with passion. Proud of the heroism of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians and angry at Russian justifications for starting the war, Sofia says the decision to leave her city “ruined her from within”.

When she left Kyiv, she not only left her home behind; Her father did not join her on the trip. “He stayed home. I can’t even talk about it.” I stopped. “I don’t know if we’ll ever see each other again.”

“I want to believe I’ll be back.”

* Sophia’s surname is withheld at her request.

© Studio Graphique France Media Monde

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