24 February – the day of the invasion
The first day of the [Russian] invasion [of Ukraine] was my 15th wedding anniversary. We had planned a party with friends and had booked a table in a restaurant.
But early morning, around 5am, my family – my wife and my 10-year-old son – were woken by Russian rockets flying over our house. The first thought was to grab everything we could and leave. But all the roads were blocked with traffic, and they were shelling us all the time. It was terrifying. So we went to a nearby underground car park and spent the whole day there.
There were about 60 people there on the first day. It was cold, there was no heating and people were lying on the floor. Occasionally we dashed back to the apartment to get supplies – we live on the 14th floor and the elevator was still working – that first day we were eating things like cookies and crisps, anything you could grab in a second.
We slept in the car park in our car. My son was in the back seat, my wife and I in the front, half sitting and half lying down. I am almost 2 metres (6ft 6in) tall so it wasn’t very comfortable.
We tried to think about our anniversary – about the wonderful 15 years we had together, that we have a God-blessed 10-year-old son whom we love very much. But that first day – it was just about fear.
Waking up in the car felt horrible, my back was aching like never before. In the morning the bombing was quiet – well, almost quiet. The meaning of the word “quiet” was changing – when you hear only two explosions, instead of 10. We went home and quickly ate porridge for breakfast.
Ukrainians are friendly people and we know almost all of our neighbours very well. So we started to organise getting food and water for those who couldn’t – filling up water bottles in the apartment, fetching food, making a space in the car park for women with children to feed and change them in privacy.
We weighed up leaving, but the traffic was still very bad. And we were thinking maybe this madness would stop. That night we slept underground again.
The third day some friends got sick from the cold in the car park and we decided to return to our apartment and try to live normally – take a shower, cook meals, give lessons to our son and get him playing online chess. We taped our windows. The elevator was no longer working.
My son’s a very brave boy. He’s trying not to cry. He’s trying to help. But every time the siren sounds from outside the window, and we have to run downstairs to the shelter again, I can see he’s scared. But he doesn’t panic.
That day I was standing with a neighbour outside in our yard. Suddenly we heard gunshots from automatic rifles close by. Later I read the news via Telegram that Russian troops were trying to infiltrate the city. It said they were liquidated.
At the moment you hear gunfire, you’re not afraid – you don’t have time to be afraid, you just have to get your son to safety in the car park. The shock comes a little later, when you realise you could have been killed. Or worse, your wife and child could be killed and you survive.
By Sunday, some of the small neighbourhood shops had opened again. This war has transformed our reality – an open shop or gas station felt like a return to normal life. But when you queue there’s a real possibility you may be killed.
Inside the store, there were only a few supplies. But the shelves weren’t empty, thanks to previous customers, thinking about those still queueing.
I shared the food between our family and other people in the car park. The numbers had now grown to about 150. I started to organise more supplies for everyone: food, water, toilet paper.
That night in our apartment we phoned everyone to check they are safe. My wife and son slept in our bedroom, and I slept in my son’s room. His part of the building is closer to the siren. To make sure I hear it, I left the window open while I slept – well, you can’t really call it sleep. You just lie with your eyes closed. You sleep fully dressed next to a bag with documents and food. Everybody here is exhausted.
On Monday some of the big stores in the city were open for a few hours. I took my car to fill up on supplies. I went alone and I stayed on speakerphone with my wife, and she continuously tracked my location from my phone.
Every time I was stopped at a roadblock to get my documents checked, I asked our soldiers, “What do you need?” I brought them things like cigarettes and water. It’s my thanks to these people who defend us, defend Ukraine, standing 24/7 outside in the cold with no sleep.
Ukraine is tiny compared with Russia and our army is much smaller. But the braveness of people here, and how they have shown they are ready to defend the country until the last breath, gives me hope.
When I was driving back from getting gas on Tuesday, my wife phoned me. “We can see smoke coming from the Holocaust memorial complex,” she said. I was absolutely devastated. I am Jewish. My father is 83 and survived the Holocaust, which killed half my family. We went to the memorial very often because I wanted my son to know the history.
My father has memories of running across a field to get away from bombs. Now, my son has to do the same, but it’s not Hitler, it’s Putin who is bombing us. I was completely shocked and depressed. It’s no secret that our president in Ukraine is a Jew. We all support our president, we are very proud of him.
I know people in Russia. Half of them are not my friends any more. A couple of them tried to tell me it was us who started this war. I just blocked them; I don’t want to read the crap they are writing. Russian TV has washed their brains – as a friend told me, “it’s not TV, it’s radiation”.
On Wednesday the Russians told us you better leave Kyiv. My wife and I were still thinking about whether to go. There were two things stopping us. First, her parents are in Chernihiv. We were desperately trying to get them out, out of that hell – so they could come with us. And second, I still wanted to help people here.
I’m a very peaceful person. The only way I would fight is if they come to my home – I will defend my family. At this point, I was doing my best to help the people who defend us and those who need help.
We realised if we decided to leave for western Europe, where we have family, we needed different clothes, not the skiing jackets and winter clothes we packed on the first day. As the elevator was still broken, I had to lug four suitcases up the stairs to the 14th floor, one by one.
We finally made the decision to go. I was nervous, but after Putin’s conversation with Macron on Thursday, and hearing about his aim to control all of Ukraine, we now understood that he won’t stop until he ruins all this country. We were not prepared to live in Putin’s Russia.
But mostly, the decision was about the safety of my son and wife. We didn’t want him to see the war any more, to wake up and be afraid of bombing and tanks. He was very sad about leaving without his grandparents. We didn’t want to leave them either, but we needed to take care of our son.