Nataliia has worked in the finance world for over 25 years, working for banks and private companies. In December of 2021, she was hired by an IT company for a remote position that fit her desire to have more freetime. She was happy. She had worked hard to get to this point and wanted to be able to have more time for herself. She lived with her husband, and her daughter was living close by with her boyfriend. “Everything was ok,” Nataliia expressed.

Nataliia watched President Biden’s speech on January 20, 2022 where he predicted that Russia would invade Ukraine. At this time, Russia was still denying any intent to invade, while having nearly 100,000 troops near the borders. She remembered discussing it with friends and family but none of them believed that it could happen.

Photo Courtesies: World Atlas, Evgeniy Maloletka,, Rodrigo Abd, Associated Press, Emilio Morenatti, and Google Maps

Still there was tension felt by the people: a small number of families had already started to relocate to other European countries; companies were offering to relocate their Ukraine workers, and some made minor preparations for having to leave home for a week or two. She continued to work from home in Kharkiv.

On February 24th, around 4:10am, she was awoken by strange sounds. The windows in her house were shaking to the sounds of bombs. She called her mother and sister. They both believed everything was going to be okay, it would just be that one round of bombing.

At 5:30am, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced they were at war with Russia, as they had invaded Ukraine. Nataliia desperately wanted to check on her daughter but it was unsafe to leave. Telegram, a messaging app widely used in Ukraine, was the main source of news. Co-workers shared that some districts of the city were destroyed. By 6:30am, she heard news of people who had tried to escape the city but were met by Russian troops and killed.

That first day, Nataliia tried to work but it was impossible as the bombing went on all day and night. She had to sleep in the hallway of her apartment. She was too far from the subway and there were no bomb shelters. There wasn’t really any sleep. On February 27th, her daughter called to tell her that she had obtained spots in cars for them and that she had 15 minutes before the car would come to pick her up. She was only to bring a backpack, there was no room for any other bags. 

Nataliia’s rescuers were former schoolmates of her daughter that she has known all of her life. Once they were able to start to leave, they had to drive slowly as if a car went too fast. It would be seen as a threat and immediately shot.

They drove with no idea where they would end up. Roads were destroyed, surrounded by Russians, and they didn’t know if they would be able to return to Kharkiv. Telegram was a life saver for many of the Ukrainians as many were reporting what roads were safe and which weren’t. People were offering their homes for people to stay in.

Nataliia and her cousin went to the rail station in Lviv. The station was packed with women and children. After waiting for 4-5 hours in -20c weather, they found themselves in an old, packed evacuation train. They were headed to Poland, a normally 1-2 hour trip. The train was old, with old benches, children sitting on mothers’ laps, children sitting on the floor, they couldn’t move without touching someone. The train made many stops. During the day, they were allowed out but at night they were locked in with no light and no food or water. People of nearby towns would meet the stopped trains and provide food and water to the passengers. The trip of 65 miles took 24 hours to complete. As she looks back now, if given the choice she would have not gotten on the train. She recalled during the trip, “I saw all human emotions: hysterics, laughing, anger, crying, and yelling.”

Once they arrived in Poland they were greeted by Poles with food, blankets, and beds. They again boarded another train that was headed west. It was also packed but it was a newer train. Nataliia talked with a German couple that were sitting on the floor because they gave their sleeper car to a couple of Ukrainians for them to sleep in. Then they headed to Berlin as there were rumors of refugee centers that offered places for Ukrainians to stay. Upon arrival they were told that there were two options, they could go to a camp that was outside the city or get on another train.

The second day of driving, all that could be seen was roads, fields, and planes, unsure to which country the planes belonged. Nataliia’s daughter’s employer had offered to evacuate her on a bus. Thankfully she didn’t as the bus was bombed. By the 4th day, they were in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, and were able to stay at a hotel that was booked by her daughter’s employer. Many Ukrainians from the east were headed to Lviv and other western cities. Nataliia’s cousin called on the 5th day and Nataliia invited her to join her in Lviv. It took her cousin 2-3 days to arrive. They then planned on crossing the border and leaving Ukraine as it was not safe. Russia was moving west covering the whole country. Her daughter refused as she didn’t want to leave her boyfriend.

Germany was not a right fit for her and unsure how long they can stay. She has taken English classes at the American English Center in Kharkiv and loved learning the language and made friends with the Americans that taught there. After talking it over with her daughter, she decided to look for sponsorship through the U4U program.

Nataliia’s friend booked them a hotel in Berlin and found people who had offered to host them. As most expected the war to not last long, they couldn’t host them for more than a month. They assisted Nataliia and her cousin in finding public housing, helped with the paperwork, translating, and registration. It took about three months before being accepted and able to move in.