Anna Sehal  ·  Ukraine

We needed to act to save our lives

We didn't want to be brave. We just had no choice.

Produced by Darien Laird and Heather Oman
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Anna Sehal

We didn't want to be brave. We just had no choice. We needed to act to do something to save our lives. People say it is courage. I don’t know. For us, it's just life.

My name is Anna Sehal. My parents said that if I have any possibility to tell the truth, I must do that. Because everyone should know what's going on, what Russian troops are doing to Ukrainians.

Our village is occupied. It is called Peremoha, which means “victory” in Ukrainian. This is the village of my grandparents. I used to go there in my childhood for many, many years. We had a house and everything. We came to the village because we thought we could just stay safe. For two or three days it was quiet. And we thought that, okay, it's better than in Kyiv. There it was bombed, and they were shooting all day and night.

And then we heard that tanks were coming from the north, through our road. The road goes through our village. We realized that if tanks were coming, they would come to our village. We thought that maybe they would just come and go by. But the bad news was that they stopped there because our military forces bombed them. Just part of them were bombed. The rest stayed in the village. They used the villagers as a shield, to be protected from our military. At first it was okay. From time to time they dropped by the houses and just asked for food. It was not so aggressive and people gave them food and whatever else they wanted, like some charge for their phones and so on. But at that time my husband began to say that we needed to escape, because he said it would get worse and worse.

But we couldn't escape. The way was blocked and we knew that maybe we would be shot if we tried. The bridges were bombed too. But we heard from someone that there was a way near the forest to get out by car. And one morning we saw the cars coming by our home so my husband said that we should try. We had almost no petrol but we decided to try. Our family fought about it, because they were all afraid. My family didn't want to try to escape because it was still kind of safe at home. And they said it was very dangerous to leave. But my husband actually insisted and he said no, we would go. If you decide to stay it's your decision, he said, but we will go.

And we went.

And it was hard. We didn't know the way out and our car got stuck in the mud in a field. I was with my son and my husband. We had no one to ask for help, and we didn’t know how to get the car out. Luckily, we saw a village just nearby, so we went there and my husband saw a car. My husband asked the owner of the car to take me and my son to Kyiv. This man was very great. He took us, me and my son. My husband stayed to sort all the things with our car. And we went to Kyiv.

It was such a relief to get to Kyiv. I felt like we had a 50/50 chance of dying in the village. Eventually my husband joined me. My family stayed in the village. Two military troops came to their house with guns. The soldiers didn't do anything bad to them, but of course they were so scared to death. After that, they decided to go. I don’t know how they did it, but they escaped that day.

And the people still living there were surrounded. They were blocked by tanks and Russian troops. The Russians began to do horrible things there. They would burn our houses, steal something, rape women, and attack. They were fighting with just ordinary people. Women, kids and older people, not with military forces. That's one of the most horrible things, I think.

But then the Russians agreed that they would give a green corridor (a temporary demilitarized zone to allow for humanitarian aid and safe transit of refugees) to them. The villagers began to take their cars and try to leave. At the entrance of the village, the Russians tried to kill them all. They shot and bombed the cars. Maybe it was just for fun. I don't know. Why did they do that?

My family eventually escaped to Kyiv, as well. And after that they decided to go to the Western Ukraine. They are staying in the mountains somewhere now. They are confused about what to do next. They don’t know how to start a life just from scratch. For younger people, it may be easier. But my parents have a home, they have work, they have everything there in Ukraine.

For me, it was plain. I knew I had to go. I realized that I must take my son and leave my husband in Ukraine. And he realized that too. I had contact with my friend Jessi in Switzerland, and with some other people who were supporting me so much. And maybe they gave me courage to go, I don’t know. I knew I would have someone here to support me.

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We took a train from Kyiv to Uzhhorod because we decided it was not a good option to go by car. We went to the railway station just to try, because I knew that people were waiting there for days and nights to get on the train. I don't know why but we were lucky to get on the train almost immediately. And I met people on the train from different parts of Ukraine. I have never felt such a feeling of unity with those people. In normal days, maybe I wouldn't. They wouldn't even talk to each other, maybe. But now we are like one family. It’s something incredible.

When I finally got to Switzerland and met my friend at the railway station, it was the first time I met her in real life. We had only met over Skype before. But she was like next of kin for me. I realized that I wouldn't be alone here in a new place.

We talk with my husband a couple of times a day. He is not allowed to leave. Men from age 18-60 are not allowed to leave. We understand that they can’t just leave their country, of course. We need to defend it. To protect it. To fight. Even if he was allowed to leave, he wouldn’t.

We didn't want to be brave. We just had no choice. We needed to act to do something to save our lives. People say it is courage. I don’t know. For us, it's just life.

Nowadays many countries are taking in Ukrainian refugees. But most of those people want to go back home soon. And they have so much hope for that. Their soul is there. They love their country. Nobody wants to leave their home unless they are forced. Our nation is united. Hopefully we will be stronger when all this is over.

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