I left my husband behind in Ukraine and fled with our 2 children

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Marina and her two children escaped Ukraine. Courtesy of Ramin Mazur
Marina and her two children escaped Ukraine. Courtesy of Ramin Mazur
  • When the invasion began, fear froze me.
  • It was a friend of mine, a fellow mom, who told me to pack up and leave.
  • This is Marina's story, as told to Ramin Mazur, with additional reporting by Heather Marcoux.
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For the first two days after the invasion began, I was frozen in fear in our home in Odesa. I wasn't at all worried for myself, but I was absolutely terrified for my two children as our country was attacked.

As a mother, I have never felt such fear and dread; it was paralysing. While other women in my community felt spurred to help the war effort and got busy cooking in school kitchens or stockpiling food, I stayed at home with my family, weighing every option and hating them all.

A friend of mine — a fellow mom — had already fled on foot, walking with her children to Moldova. I didn't know if I could do it. I didn't know if I could leave my husband behind and walk into the unknown like that.

When my friend arrived in Moldova she was embraced by volunteers and sheltered in the capital city of Chi?inau.

"Don't be afraid to grab your kids and just go," she told me.

Her courage gave me the strength to move, and while the last remaining hours in our home were terrifying, they were also precious, because we were still together. I was still able to make choices with my husband by my side. Knowing that we would soon be separated was painful, but I realised my country needed my husband to stay and help protect the families that can't leave. I needed to flee with my children because I could, even if I didn't always believe that.

We planned my departure with my husband

On the evening of February 27, three days after the invasion began, we sat down for one of the hardest conversations of my life. Together we decided that the kids had to get out of Ukraine. Getting them to relative safety had to be my priority, and I summoned every bit of strength I had that night.

After we reached our decision, I started packing everything I thought we would need — but as any parent knows, packing for kids is hectic, and we were on a tight schedule; we'd gotten word that we would be able to leave by 7am.

Thanks to JDC, the global Jewish humanitarian organisation which has long worked in Ukraine and Moldova and is responding to the current crisis, my journey wouldn't be as physically difficult as my friend's had been. We didn't have to flee on foot, and I didn't have to figure everything out on my own.

I filled out a questionnaire, and the organisers took care of everything for me. They provided me with bus schedules, locations, and other detailed information I would need for the trip to Moldova. They took care of all the logistics — all I had to do was get my kids and follow the plan. It was still terrifying, but so much less daunting than doing it alone.

And then we left our home

In the early-morning hours, I fed and dressed my children in our home for the last time and left with only the most necessary items. It was hectic and hard.

My children said goodbye to their father, and my heart broke, both for what my children are going through now and for what the future holds for them. Do they even have a future now?

I followed my friend to Chi?inau, where my children and I are receiving food, accommodations, and help from the Jewish community.

Marina's husband is still in Ukraine. Courtesy of Ramin Mazur
Marina's husband is still in Ukraine. Courtesy of Ramin Mazur

I am so grateful to my friend for giving me the courage to get my children out of Ukraine, and so grateful to the Jewish community in Moldova for embracing us.

Back home, the women, children, and elderly people who couldn't flee must descend into the city's labyrinth of catacombs when the sirens announce a missile attack.

While my kids and I figure out our next move, my husband helps these people take shelter under the city. He's a university professor, but now this is his job. Now this is our life.

Editor's note: we are using her first name only to protect her and her children's identity.

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