The train ride west from Kyiv took about seven hours. When we arrived in the city of Ternopil that night, fellow passengers helped me lift the kids and our stuff down the high steps of the old-fashioned train wagon. One of my brothers-in-law found us on the crowded platform. He had our three oldest kids with him. We all hugged, and the big boys took our bags.
We meet lots of refugees from Ukraine here in Budapest. It’s easy. All you have to do is go to a park and listen for people speaking Ukrainian or Russian. Then you ask them where they’re from and how they ended up in Budapest. People are desperate to tell their refugee stories. They often start with the morning of February 24, 2022, with the moment they realized war had started.
This is my story, but to tell it properly, I have to go back to the moment when I started to take the threat of invasion seriously.
Despite all the upheaval and change that have characterized our life for the past 13 months, my husband George has been thriving. After he managed to get out of Ukraine in the wee hours of day 3 of the war and reunite with the kids and me, he went to bed, utterly exhausted. But he only slept for a few hours, and when he woke up, he immediately found himself surrounded by amazing opportunities to do enormous good. Without pausing to catch his breath or even missing a beat, he jumped into a swirl of activities and new partnerships that resulted in hundreds of evacuations in the critical early weeks of the war, millions of dollars of aid to the people of Ukraine, and ongoing care for the long-term needs of refugees in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe.
Over the last few months, I’ve written three posts that chronicle how we have been coping with all the unwanted changes in our life brought on by the war in Ukraine. While these months have been difficult, the overall tone of my writing is positive. In fact, my husband thinks that the second of those three posts is the most inspiring thing I’ve ever written. But today I want to start to tell the other side of the story. Yes, I firmly believe we are going to make it, and I know we have a future and a hope, but that doesn’t mean the here and now isn’t agonizing.
I have always suspected that children are far more resilient than most adults give them credit for. My experience of navigating early tragedy supported this theory (my mom died when I was 5), and now I’ve had a chance to observe my own children coping with loss and grave difficulty.
Our life was a beautiful dream. Every time I walked the streets around the converted old mansion that housed our apartment in downtown Kyiv, I found myself thanking God that we got to live in this charming district, filled with historic buildings and dotted with trendy cafes, interesting restaurants, and all sorts of shops. We had a close-knit church family who all lived within walking distance and a wider community of friends who were in and out of our home on a regular basis. To top it all off, our new landlords had told us that we could stay in their apartment for at least 5 years, and we planned to do precisely that. We had moved 14 times since getting married 18 years earlier, and now, we were finally settled. I couldn’t have been more pleased or content.
Someone recently asked me why I’d stopped writing. In light of what has been happening in Ukraine, the country that I’ve called home for almost two decades, I had trouble comprehending why an explanation was even necessary. But since I didn’t want to embarrass my friend by stating what felt painfully obvious to me (“…my life turned completely upside down on February 24, 2022, and I’m still trying to figure out which way is up…”), I just said (truthfully) that I’d been really busy.