It was Friday night and my husband and I were just seeing our friends out the door after a lovely evening when my husband received a text. He excused himself to see what it was as I closed the door behind our guests. When I turned around, he was pacing the living room, talking on the phone. I went to the kitchen to clean up.
My husband’s work had brought us to Kyiv (also spelled Kiev) last summer—after waiting a whole year to get to our new posting due to the pandemic. As I am an author and book coach, my work goes with me wherever I go. We have spent the past seven months getting to know and falling in love with our new home.
I stared out the kitchen window at St. Michael’s Cathedral, a sight I will never tire of seeing. It is beautiful at night, lit up with its golden domes shining. My husband joined me a short time later. “We’ve triggered the evacuation from Kyiv,” he said, entering the kitchen. “I’m going to Lviv, you’re leaving the country—no arguments!” (I had been fighting with him about this ever since January. He finally won when he told me how his worrying for me would hinder his ability to assist anyone else.)
My husband told me to finish packing my ‘go’ bag – we had packed two small carry-on suitcases a few weeks earlier ‘just in case’. “I’ve got work to do,” he said. He gave me a kiss. “Thank you for cleaning up.” And with that, he headed to his home office to get online.
I did as he suggested and then climbed into bed around 10:30 pm. Half an hour later, I received a phone call. Who would be calling so late at night, I wondered as I answered? It was a woman who identified herself as being from the U.S. State Department.
“Are you still in Kyiv?” she asked.
“I am, but I’m making arrangements to leave.”
“Good. Get out as fast as you can—on the next commercial flight you can get on.” She then read me the statement from the email I’d gotten so many times from the U.S. Embassy (I had registered with the local embassy when I moved to Ukraine – you should always do so when you go abroad even if it’s just for a few weeks).
I got up to tell my husband of the odd occurrence. He was on the phone with the travel agent used by his organization. “The earliest flight is on Sunday,” he told me. “It’ll have to do. We’ll both leave the same day.”
I watched as he made my flight arrangements and told him of the odd call. He just nodded soberly. “You’d better find some place to stay.”
“For how long?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Make it a month, and then you can always leave early or perhaps I’ll join you in a couple of weeks and take some time off,” he told me before getting onto another call with his colleagues.
I went back to bed and pushed the button on a cute one-bedroom Air BnB, looking forward to when my husband would be able to join me for a little R-and-R. I texted with my friends—my husband’s colleagues—and discovered that the people we’d just had over for dinner hadn’t waited to make arrangements through the travel agent but had booked their own flight on a discount airline for the following day. Another would be joining me on the same flight I would be taking.
Saturday was a blur of packing (I moved my things to a slightly larger suitcase) and deciding what to leave behind. I took most, but not all, of my jewelry and only the pages of notes from my three-ring binder for the book I was currently writing. (I do a lot of my story planning on paper.) I packed about two weeks’ worth of warm clothes, a few button-down shirts, a skirt, and one of my husband’s suits he asked me to take, “just in case”.
Early Sunday morning my husband left with his equally small suitcase, along with those of the Ukrainians from his office who’d agreed to go for the seven-hour drive to Lviv. My friend who would be traveling with me was late picking me up in our shared taxi because he’d forgotten to water the plants. (“My wife will kill me if I let her plants die,” he told me as I climbed into the cab.)
A week later, my husband called from Lviv to tell me he and the others with him were evacuating the country. He’d run into a diplomat he knew at a café and found the person ‘visibly shaken’. He knew right then it wasn’t safe to stay.
On February 22nd, they loaded up the buses with the forty families who’d volunteered to leave, despite my husband’s pleading with the others still in Kyiv to go with them.
They’d claimed they would be fine, but still my husband worried. “At least get out of the city!” he’d argued with them.
“Yes, yes, we are,” most, but not all of them told him.
Those who’d gone with my husband to Lviv now traveled with him to Warsaw. It should take about eight hours; their bus took closer to fourteen, but they were safely out of Ukraine. I heaved a sigh of relief.
The entire party took flights the next day to join the rest of us in safety. The next day the Russian’s invaded.
Every day we wake up to CNN (a channel I haven’t watched since the January 6th insurrection) and go to sleep reading news about the war. Every day we wait for news that the Russians have invaded Kyiv. So far that hasn’t happened… we’re still waiting.
When we had originally moved into our apartment in Kyiv, we thought it would be extra safe because it’s just next door to some important government buildings. It turns out that wasn’t such a great idea—they’re at the top of the list of Russian targets. If they’re bombed, my building will most likely be destroyed as well.
I’m thankful that all I will be losing is some stuff… my clothes, books, some art, a few serving pieces I inherited when my mother died. My friends who moved everything they owned to Kyiv will be losing their furniture, the family photos hanging on the walls, the wedding gown hanging in the back of the closet. The displaced Ukrainians are losing everything—a house they’ve worked hard to make into a loving home, their job, their family, their entire life. I cannot put into words the sadness that fills me when I think of all of this.
During the pandemic, I was able to escape reality by delving into my writing. This time I just sit and stare blankly at my computer screen and hope that all will end well. The Ukrainians are a strong people and they’re putting up one hell of a fight. Let’s hope this David and Goliath story ends the same way as the original. It will be devastating otherwise.
Meredith Bond is an author who loves to travel the world. Through her books, she takes readers on a journey back in time to Regency England writing characters that “slip readily into your heart.” Don’t miss the first book of her Ladies’ Wagering Whist Society Series: A Hand for the Duke, available wherever you buy books online or on her website, https://meredithbond.com.
Categories: Guest Blog, Travels
It’s so hard to know what to say. This is stunning, sad, immediate and a vivid piece of writing. My words are pitiful things at times like these, but yours are precise and provocative. My heart is so heavy for the people of Ukraine and for you. Stay safe.
The act of leaving a cherished place with a small suitcase – it never leaves you. Glad you’re safe. Keep writing – that’s possibly the best therapy when the heart is heavy and the brain is in overdrive.
What a compelling story. Thank you for sharing such a personal description of the evacuation. Also, the photos are beautiful.
I hope all is well.
Anonymous is right that there are no true words of comfort or consolation for this situation, other than our gratitude that you shared this poignant, personal piece. We pray for you and all the people of Ukraine to come through this horrific invasion safely.
I totally relate to your article and I am praying every day for the victory of the Ukrainian people. My mother was born in Ekaterinoslav ( Dnipro ) Russia. Her mother was killed by a pogrom and at 2yrs old she was sent to live in an orphanage in Kiev. She lived there for 13yrs till her Uncle got her and her brother out of “The Iron Curtain” and took them to live with him in Brooklyn N.Y. My mother never got over the trauma and it was so hard for me to hear about her youth. After 50yrs in America she went to visit the U.S.S.R. I couldn’t imagine why she would want to visit. My mother suggested that I visit and I did a few months after my parents did in 1979. My family roots grew deep, I pray with all my heart for the victory of Ukraine. G-D Bless Ukraine and all it’s people with peace and a safe return to their home. I remember visiting the exquisite churches. I thought to myself at that time, G-D if I never live another moment thank you for this opportunity.
Thank you Merry for your vivid and moving narrative, and for the photos of these interesting and lovely places, which might be destroyed now or in the near future. I share your sadness and we are glad that you are safe, Danièle & family