Ukrainian couple fled Kiev with 2 cats and half a tank of gas
- Dima and Tetiana left Kiev with their cats, Scotty and Pixie, after Russian forces began invading.
- They had to contend with heavy traffic, gasoline shortages, and shelling too close to be comfortable.
- Dima told Insider about fleeing the airstrikes and the peaceful railroad town where they are in limbo.
Dima woke up to the sound of bombs on the morning of February 24. At first he wasn’t sure, but when he heard the second boom he knew Russia was attacking Kiev, where he lives.
He jumped out of bed and started packing. His wife, Tetiana, was still sleeping.
“She sleeps really well,” Dima, a software engineer, told Insider, declining to share her last name to protect her safety.
“I was the one who woke her up. I tried to do it as gently as possible, but she still freaked out because she realized and heard,” he said.
They did not leave that day. The lines of cars driving out of town were long and barely moving, and Dima and Tetiana had only half a tank of gas. They were afraid of burning it all while waiting in traffic.
“It was not clear whether we should move or stay and how dangerous it could be,” Dima said, adding, “If you lose that window when you should be moving, then it becomes very difficult for you. to move.”
The next day, the roads seemed clearer, so they packed their cats, Scotty and Pixie, into carrier bags and headed south. They had friends in Vasylkiv, about 20 miles away. The journey took two hours and they had to show documents at three military checkpoints, according to Dima.
Although the couple thought they were safer in Vaslylkiv, just hours after their arrival the night was interrupted by shelling.
“It’s really hard to play tabletop games when you hear air strikes overhead.”
There was a military base about five kilometers from Vasylkiv, and Russia attacked it three or four times during the three days the couple stayed there, Dima said.
The day was calm, apart from occasional shooting in the distance. But around 10 p.m., explosions of bombs began to rattle the windows, according to Dima.
“What’s really scary is when those airstrikes are followed by ground fire, then you understand that some troops have been delivered and there’s a war on the ground,” Dima said. “The experience isn’t pleasant, deep down. You’re stressed out and not sure if the next bombshell will drop somewhere very close.”
They tried to distract themselves by cooking borscht, cleaning and playing with the dog. At night, they turned to games.
“It’s really hard to play tabletop games when you hear air strikes overhead, but I think doing something is definitely better than just shaking in fear, which I think we have. stopped doing after the second night,” he said.
But after three nights of airstrikes, coupled with news that the Russian army was shelling residential areas, they decided it was time to move further west, away from the fighting. Dima and Tetiana packed up their car. Their friends Vasylkiv packed their dog and cat into their own vehicle. Then the two-car caravan drove west in search of gas to a small railway town in central Ukraine, where Tetiana’s grandparents live.
They found only one gas station selling fuel. The queues were long and the owner demanded cash payments, but they managed to fill up.
“As soon as we got the gas our spirits went up and it was really easier to see how we can get where we want to be,” Dima said.
For cats, who were nervous about loud noises and grumpy about traveling in small carrier bags, the adjustment was more difficult.
“They’re not really adventurous,” Dima said, adding, “They’ve lived in apartments all their lives.”
A bubble of peace, but with anti-aircraft sirens
The couple originally intended to continue driving west and settle in a safer place where they could volunteer to help with the war effort. But for now, Dima, Tetiana, their friends and their pets stay in the small railway town.
Dima wants to join a civilian militia, which supports the army and monitors checkpoints.
“It’s really hard for me to read the news and not be able to actively help, so I want to be somewhere where I can be really helpful,” he said. “I’m trying to find common ground here, where we can help, but also she’s safe,” Dima said of Tetiana.
Instead, they found that apartments in Western cities are filling up with people from central and eastern Ukraine. They therefore stayed for the moment with Tetiana’s grandparents, where they have accommodation.
They couldn’t find coffee in town for a few days, which was difficult since Dima and Tetiana normally drank it every day. They recently discovered a cafe that is still open.
“It’s quite normal here. You wouldn’t say there’s a major war going on in the country. People are going to shops, riding bikes,” Dima said, birds chirping in the background of our phone call. “Nothing shows that there is the slightest sign of disaster.”
An hour and a half later, he sent an audio recording of the anti-aircraft sirens, with a caption: “It’s not just birds chirping.
The sirens sound several times a day, he said, but there have been no bombings. Now they can go an entire night without hearing sirens or gunshots.
We don’t know if this peace will last.