Miraculous journey out

Miraculous journey out

Image Credit: Submitted

Editor’s note: Jeff Oller, a native of Fredericksburg — where his parents still reside — and his wife Yanna were living in Ukraine, where they were both teachers, when the invasion from Russia occurred. This is the first in a three-part series of how Jeff and Yanna managed to leave the country.

Thinking back on my time in Ukraine, I have fond memories of seeing a city blossom into a beautiful rose. When I first arrived in Kyiv, the city was like any other city: people doing their work and coming home to their families, crowded restaurants and bars and voices of people laughing, talking and enjoying each other’s company.

In 2014, with the Maidan Revolution, the city became a little darker, with the threat of Russian rule. The people of Ukraine rose to the challenge to change the government because of a movement to the west. After the revolution, life began anew. The joy and happiness of the people came back. A time of rebirth began again. The days got better, and life became easier. The sounds of Ukrainian, Russian and many other languages were heard in the streets. Life was becoming easier every day until day one of the war, which shattered the peace of Ukraine into the horror it is now.

My wife and I were both English teachers at one of the most prominent schools in Ukraine, Study Academy. We lived in a beautiful apartment on the 13th floor on the island called Rusanivka. We overlooked one of the most beautiful parks in Kyiv, the Dnipro River, and woke up every day to the sight of The Motherland Statue and the Ukrainian flag waving in the air — Pecherska Lavra with its golden domes to the right and the sounds of busy traffic driving past our balcony.

Spring was the most wonderful time of the year, as the trees and grass became greener by the day with the smell of cooking shashlik — barbecue — on the warm weekends, the sounds of people meandering along the sidewalks getting coffee, warming themselves in the warm sun, and rows of benches neatly set up along the orange-bricked sidewalks that weaved throughout the park.

Walking to the bus stop across the walk bridge that connects us to the rest of Kyiv, waiting for the Marshrutka — minibus — to take us to work near the city center, driving across Paton Bridge, which connects the left bank to the right bank, and the sights of cars stuck in traffic jams and the sound of people quietly murmuring on the bus talking about the weekend activities were commonplace. After getting to our stop, the usual barista who already knows what we drink gave the customary greetings.

This place is much more different than the district where we live in — tall yellow and white buildings with many glass windows, a modern megapolis and the hustle and bustle of people, and children and restaurants that lined our way to work.

Entering the office, we are greeted by our fellow colleagues and typical small talk of the day. We, my wife and I, are preparing for our lessons of the day and anticipating our individual students to come in or to get started online. As we start our classes, the students come in noisily and sit down on the red couches to wait for their lessons to begin — the students with customary greetings and the joy we had to see them every class.

My wife’s students are extremely memorable as they greeted her with the smiling faces, funny jokes and pleasant demeanors. They loved her for teaching them the way she did, and they tried to do the best they could every time. Students being students weren’t always happy about doing certain assignments, but their joy and enthusiasm for every class was evident.

It is hard to remember the exact day the atrocities of the current war started, but I know the day previously, we had a normal work day, not like any other. We woke up around 9 a.m. to multiple messages from friends around the world: “Are you OK?”

We had no idea that at 5 a.m. the war started, and we turned on the TV to find out about everything going on.

In actuality we didn’t even think about leaving because, as it normally is, there isn’t much going on in Kyiv. We were told to stay home from work, and all classes had been canceled. So we decided to go to the grocery store 30 meters away from our apartment to get some food supplies to wait this aggression out. We were sitting in our apartment in the afternoon, until I heard the loud sound coming from outside our windows, and before I could even say anything, two MIGS were passing our windows.

That is when the fear set in. You can sit at an air show and watch these planes fly, but when they are right in front of you, it is a completely different story. As we are in sheer shock from these events, the night is the most dreaded time. As night falls, you hear the bombs and explosions from 10 kilometers away — the glow of the aftermath. After the planes had passed, we had decided to find the bomb shelter with our friend and her boyfriend.

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