Editors note: Like many Rotary members, Rotary Foundation Trustee Per Høyen, a member of the Rotary Club of Aarup, Denmark, had a desire to take action in response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Through the Rotary network, he and his wife learned of a 17-year-old Ukrainian refugee, Artem Ziablov, temporarily staying in Germany. In this second of two blog posts, Artem shares his journey from Ukraine to his new host family in Denmark.
By Artem Ziablov
I am a student of Karazin Kharkiv National University where I am in the first year of my studies for a bachelor’s degree in math and computer science. One week before the war started, my mother took me from Kharkiv to Irpin, a city in the Kyiv region, where I lived before my studies. On the morning of 24 February at five in the morning my mother woke me up to tell me that the war had started and that the country was under attack. I looked out the window and heard the bombs being dropped on Gostomel airport, 10 kilometers from our house. Ukrainian fighters were in the sky very close to us and Ukrainian missiles were firing at Russian troops, so it was very scary to stay there.
We gathered up clothes, and the first night we went to a bomb shelter. But it was very crowded with many people complaining so we stayed at another house instead. We each had a backpack, our passports, and laptops. We had booked tickets for a train, but the trains were all so packed that we decided to leave by car. Since we don’t have a car, I phoned my best friend to ask him if he could take my mother and me to somewhere in western Ukraine. But he said that he had a problem, as he was already transporting seven other people. Nevertheless, we all packed into the one car, and we left our dog and cat in our neighbor’s care.
We went to Khmilnyk, a city in the Vinnytsia region of western Ukraine, and stayed there for one day before moving on to Lviv. There, we had a friend, Lars, who is a Danish Rotarian. We stayed in his flat for a week, and then I went with my mother, a friend, and his mother to Poland, where we spent a few days. From there, my mother and I went separate ways. Because she could keep working in Bulgaria, she went there to stay with friends, while I went with my friend and his mother to Germany. It was there that the Høyens came to get me.
The trip from Ukraine to Europe was difficult. It is hard to leave your home and it is hard to see images of places where you have spent lots of time and realize some of those places no longer exist. It is very emotional. At the same time, you understand that your life is much more important than all the stuff you are leaving behind.
In a sense, there is less uncertainty now that the invasion has happened. Before, everyone at the university was speculating on what would happen if Russia invaded. Many were thinking it would be like in 2014, and that there would be sanctions but nothing else. Seeing how the rest of the world has responded has been amazing. When we were crossing over into Poland, all the volunteers were extremely friendly and there were so many people helping.
I am still in touch with many of my friends, some are in France, Germany, or Poland. We have been talking through social media and chatting asking, “How are you” and “what are you doing” in this and that country. I also have a friend who is in the Ukrainian army and we are in touch trying to help each other.
At first, I couldn’t think of doing anything. I just sat around watching the news. Recently, I’ve begun to have time to think about and reflect on all that has happened. A few week ago, I was able to get in contact with one of my teachers who stayed behind at the University to make the best of it. The teachers are providing many of us with lessons remotely so we can carry on our studies.
I am starting to be able to resume some kind of daily life. I had actually been to Denmark a few times before the war, and it is very nice. The Høyens have been gracious hosts. I’m grateful of all the Rotarians and other organizations who have been helping.