My story after the beginning of the war in Ukraine with the Russian occupiers

Sofia Vnukova

“Connessioni” apre a contributi in lingua straniera, senza per questo rinunciare a valorizzare l’italiano, parte preziosa  del patrimonio culturale della Comunità europea e segno d’identità nazionale. Sofia Vnukova, studentessa ucraina venuta in Italia con il  programma Erasmus, narra qui come ha raggiunto Viterbo e l’Università della Tuscia dopo l’atto di guerra russo del 24 febbraio verso il suo paese. 

I was in Kyiv on the eve of the war and I was there on the day the war began. I do not know a more peaceful, quiet and wonderful place than Ukraine. But in one day everything changed. As an Erasmus student from Lviv, I had gone to Kyiv to get a visa to Italy, but obviously, I couldn’t obtain it. At six o’clock in the morning of the twenty-fourth of February, my friends and I were already queuing in line, first at the ATM to collect some cash and then for groceries. People around were horrified and shocked.

I was lucky. I had bought a return ticket to Lviv in advance and I reached Lviv at eight o’clock in the evening when the rockets had not yet hit the capital. So, I did not see the bombed buildings. When I arrived in Lviv I heard a siren about the air alarm. In the following days, I often heard them. My friends and I constantly had to find refuge in the bomb shelter. The siren could be at 4 am and 12 am, at any time when you did not expect it. I saw empty shelves in stores and it was scary. Also, until the last moment, I did not believe that I would be able to come here to study in an exchange program with the Italian University of Tuscia. Rockets were often fired against Ukrainian airports, so I had to fly to Rome via Warsaw.

I had a very difficult experience at my first border crossing. From Lviv to the Uhryniv-Dolhobychuv border I went by bus. However, many women with their small children and I were dropped off thirteen kilometers from the border. There were very few buses to pick us up and take us to the border, they rarely drove, they only picked up women with babies, and there were a lot of them. It was about ten o’clock at night, so I couldn’t wait any longer and decided to walk with the two other students I had just met. Imagine what it was like to walk at night, on an unlit highway with heavy bags, in cold weather. We were lucky that a good man gave us a lift in his car on the way. He drove us to 3 kilometers from the border. I am really grateful to that man for warming us up a bit in his car. At that time I did not know that I would be standing in the cold near the border for more than 8 hours. Needless to say, after that I had very serious health problems. Of course, women with small children were allowed in first. I understood that, but it was so hard… When I finally crossed the border and was given tea, I spilled it because I couldn’t stop crying and shivering from the cold.

I will never forget the kindness of Polish volunteers. After I got to the heating station I had to wait a few more hours looking around for the most direct bus to Warsaw. By some miracle, I was able to get on the bus straight to Warsaw. It was a very difficult journey both physically and morally. After all, I constantly saw and heard children’s cries and their questions about where their fathers were, and how soon they would return home. I cried with them. I will always remember the eyes of the little boy who looked at me after crying for five hours. He had an empty and exhausted look. I will often see him in my nightmares.

My Ukrainian friend met me in Warsaw. I spent the night there and then flew to Italy.

My first week in Viterbo was still very hard both because of the usual burocratical issues and my mental state which had none of the enthusiasm of an Erasmus student abroad. Even now, I can’t stop watching the news all the time. And even if I’m making new friends and following courses, and I’m keeping myself busy, I am constantly worried about my family, boyfriend, friends and acquaintances who could not go abroad. 

War is the worst experience that can happen in a person’s life…

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