We are the lucky ones. My family’s story of the last 5 days🇺🇦

I write this not to get your sympathy (there are millions of people more deserving of that right now) I may be writing it out of “survivors guilt.” But I am mostly writing it to make this more relatable to you. Sometimes foreign wars can feel far away (especially if the TV in your country doesn’t show things as they are)

You know me, this is my story.

January 1st 2022 Kyiv – We’re having New Year’s dinner with friends. (All Russian speaking Ukrainian friends.) It’s below freezing outside but we’re having BBQ and spiced Rum. The girls are all chatting away as usual. The guys talk about tech and music and art. It’s a great day.

January 8th Kyiv – We’re enjoying hot chocolate, mulled wine and the Christmas Tree outside the Presidential House in Kyiv.

January 9th – Our flights back to Rome are cancelled due to Covid. So we enjoy more of being back in Kyiv. I hang out in my favourite coffee shop where I wrote vol. 15. We’re loving the snow out whilst being warm inside. The shopping malls have all our favourite foods. I’m doing genki videos and lives. The tech in the city is insane, there are Teslas everywhere. It’s like Singapore. But snowy.

Tuesday 18th January – No one’s going to attack. Only a crazy person would even think of it. Even if they did we would have days notice in Kyiv. Then troops move into Belarus, an incredibly shorter distance away.

Wednesday 19th January – The American Embassy evacuates non essential staff. Ah, if the American Embassy evacuates it’s probably time to go. Our flights to Rome are still cancelled. There are budget air flights to Rome but they don’t take pets. My wife has to be back in Kyiv in March anyway so we consider leaving Mimi with grandparents. My daughter somehow persuades us that she can’t leave without her cat Mimi. The only flights back that take pets are an obscene amount of money and involve renting another car for a 9 hour trip back from Milan all to be completed before midnight’s deadline to go into 10 days quarantine.

 

Thursday January 20th: We went bowling.

Friday January 21st: We hear that tanks could be in Kyiv at not 2 days but 2 hours notice. Oh. Everyone is scared now. Our apartment is right on the river, right next to the bridge, a prime target for an errant tank round. My daughter wants to stay with us, we take her to her grandparents which is in a much more secure location. We eat a family dinner. On the way home my wife and I decided to go have a cocktail at our favorite date night restaurant. The atmosphere was charged, like everyone was fully absorbing and appreciating the beauty in everything. We never knew if we would be able to come back here again.

January 22 Negotiations were going on. Everything was calm.

January 23rd: Grandparents weren’t ready to leave everything (“It’s fine, nothing’s going to happen.”) I am paranoid by nature. I’ve travelled the world enough to know that to survive anything you have to be prepared for everything. I pulled out all the cash I could, both in local currency and also in Euros in case the local currency crashed. We hid it around the house. My wife left her credit card. We left them our car with a full tank of petrol and the boot filled with water and food. Having a car full of petrol means you can at least get warm if the power and gas shut off (which we expected would happen) Everyone thought I was crazy.

 

January 24th Fly to Italy. I still can’t believe my daughter persuaded us to take this flight. Renting another car from Milan was ridiculously expensive and we had to pick up our other rented car we left in Rome. ( Long story, we didn’t know if I would be able to drive in January in Italy so we had to rent a car before we left and pay to park it whilst we were away.) We arrive back home at 1AM, an hour after our quarantine was supposed to start.

February 7th: We’ve got Covid. Quarantine is extended for another 10 days. (Conveniently covering our birthdays and valanetine’s day) Being inside without being allowed out for exercise or even food shopping is not good with the news on our devices all the time.

February 15th: We’re out of quarantine!

February 16th: Things seem to be looking worse in Kyiv. We suggest grandparents come and visit us in Italy. They have 90 days visas, they could come just in case, like a (cold) holiday. “We’re fine” they say. But they do agree to update their passports just in case.

February 22nd: We realize that being in Italy just isn’t possible. Nearly every penny I earn is taken away in tax and there are so many limitations of how I can earn it back. I’m pretty down that the Italian dream isn’t working out. But going back to Kyiv in May, after everything has blown over, looks like the best option. It is a more European city than Rome, it’s business friendly, it’s high tech, it’s warm in winter, my daughter and wife have friends there. We’ll be sad to leave Italy but do actually quite like the idea of going back to live in Kyiv in May.

February 23rd 2022: At 4 AM I learn they have bombed Kyiv. No one imagined it could actually happen. My wife wakes up. I decide whether to tell her or let her sleep – it’s going to be a long day. But we expect the internet to be shut off straight away so I tell her so she can speak to her parents, it might be a while before she can talk to them again. My daughter walks in “My best friend has just told me they have bombed Kyiv! She’s telling me not to worry. How am I supposed to not worry?”

There are reports of traffic jams and lack of petrol. We expect tanks to come across the main Kyiv bridges in hours. Some friends get in their cars and leave. Where are they going to go? Grandparents ask what they should do. They wish they had flown out last week. Grandad doesn’t have his passport back yet. We don’t know if they can enter Europe. They haven’t packed. We tell them to stay put while we desperately try to find out what really has happened.

We calculate times and distances to the border. We try to find out about long term visas for Italy or Poland. It’s 650 kms to the Polish border. We google the petrol capacity of a Nissan Micra. It’s 600 km.

February 24th 2022: Curfew breaks at 7AM. At 5 AM they ring us asking what they should do. The internet is miraculously still working. We scoured it for news. Where are the tanks? Where are the missile strikes? Are the roads safe? There’s no way grandma could survive, never mind even get down to, the evacuation cellars. Are the apartment blocks safe? What’s the best choice. We tell them to go. They leave at 6:45 with a car full of food, water, blankets and whatever they can fit in the car. Everything else they leave.

(When we arrived in Italy a year ago we arrived with 3 suitcases. Everything else we left in Kyiv thinking we’d have time to move it later. My daughters toys, my books, genki t shirts, the suits you can see in my profile pictures, the note I wrote my wife the morning of our wedding day which she keeps on her make up stand. That was all now left behind.)

They get across the bridge faster than a regular working day. Stage one complete.

650 km to go. It should take 8 or 9 hours. They would be in Poland with my sister-in-law by nightfall.

Every thirty minutes grandma rings up asking which road to take. Which ones are open? Which ones are clear? Which ones are being attacked? We’re on google maps and bbc news trying to find out the best route, anything away from hot zones and Belarus. Grandmas and internet navigation don’t mix. Trying to relay exactly where they are so we can find the best route is proving tricky. I ask on Facebook how to track someones location on Viber. I find out it’s possible with Telegram. We start tracking them in real time. They are going backwards. I’m sure there is a sit com somewhere with grandparents arguing like crazy about road directions whilst fleeing from a war zone.

Friends are on the road a couple of hours in front of them, they are scouting for petrol and safe places to park if they have to stay over night. News comes through that men aged 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave the country. My friends have to make the harrowing choice of whether to leave their families at the border, literally leaving them alone in a foreign country, or stay with them somewhere safe in country. No one really believes that Ukraine can survive more than a few days. They all head for safe areas in country.

We’re expecting grandparents to be at the border by nightfall. They are nowhere near. Grandad falls asleep at 1AM. Grandma is awake all night. Walking is hard for her at the best of times, being trapped in a car all day is not helping. It’s cold as they switch off the car to save petrol.

February 25th – We awake in Italy after sleeping in comfy beds. We check Telegram. Grandparents have been on the road an hour. They haven’t moved. They need to call for petrol. Petrol is rationed to 20 liters. They unbelievable luckily get the last 20 liters.

We check the news. Kyiv is miraculously still standing. This can’t be. But it is. For the first time we have the thought that Ukraine could actually win this. We follow the dot on Telegram, Grandparents are moving slowly. The tanks behind them are moving even slower.

I’m trying to think of what more I can do.

February 26th – Surely they must be there by now? It’s an 8 hour drive. They have been on the road for 2 days already. I see news that paratroopers have attacked the road just behind them. I don’t tell my wife. It turns out later to be a false alarm. My sister-in-law has been waiting on the Polish side over night too. There are no hotels available anywhere near the border. They sleep in their car. Her daughter, my niece, who is back at home with neighbors calls “Mummy I want you back with me.”

February 27th – It’s Carnivale time in Italy. We decide to take my daughter to take her mind off all the news and logistics. The Ukraine border have run out of EU “Green card” insurance documents. Without it they can’t take the car into Poland. We tell them don’t worry about the car, leave it if you have to but there’s no way grandma would be able to walk across the border. We’re looking everywhere trying to find online sites to get the EU insurance. Places in the UK want 350 pounds but won’t work from Ukraine. My wife rings her insurance broker. It’s Sunday. She’s in an underground bunker fearing for her life. Eventually we find an agent who is working on a Sunday. With bombs falling. We get the documents. We thank her profusely for being there to help. We arrive at the Carnivale. It has finished.

February 28th – An 8 hour trip is now taking 4 days. No hotels. No showers. No bathrooms. Luckily Ukraine elected a comedian who turned out to be a Lion. We expected columns of tanks to be blocking the roads. So many times we were fearful of rocket attacks on the vehicles leaving. But Ukraine fought back like a monster. The armed forces bought grandparents time to make it so close to the border.

I see a meme saying how to tell written Ukranian from other languages. You look at the letter “Ï” If it has two big balls it’s Ukrainian.

We get another call. The car is registered in my wife’s name. They can’t take it out of the country without a signed, notarized letter form her giving permission. They need it now. My wife handwrites a letter. She takes her photo holding it. She signs it “Slava Ukraini”

March 1st 2022 – It’s past midnight. We’ve stopped reading news in front of our daughter. She has gone to bed. We’re watching this dot on Telegram move closer and closer to the border. It moves backwards. Then forwards. And into Poland. We’re too exhausted to even cheer. We can’t imagine what it has been like for everyone in Ukraine. We thank Poland, we thank the fighters in Kyiv and every city in Ukraine.

 

And now we’re here, today. I always say “Family first” and, maybe selfishly, that’s what I’ve been focussed on for the past 6 days. They are now safe. Now we’re thinking of our friends. Their children. Being forced to fight or stay with your family, which would you choose? The family we had New Year dinner with, they have gunfire in their garden, there’s an explosion on the horizon. Many people I haven’t even had the courage to call. They are my friends. The people I have beers and rum with. The girls my wife gives my daughter’s clothes to.

You know me, you’ve seen me, hopefully at some point in your life I have helped you in even some small way, now my friends need you. If you can help, please help. And if someone is doing this evil in your name, please, please get them to stop.

Richard Graham

Hello, I'm Richard Graham. When I was a kid I found school to be sooooo boring... So I transformed my way of teaching. I listened to what the kids were really wanting to say and taught it in ways they really wanted to learn. The results were magical. Now I help teachers just like you teach amazing lessons and double your incomes!

30 Responses to “We are the lucky ones. My family’s story of the last 5 days🇺🇦”

  1. Paula

    I am so sorry to read about your experience. We need to hear more because that’s the true cost of war. The human cost.
    I send you my prayers and wish you all the best to you and your family.
    Let’s pray for a swift end to this madness

  2. Pam Smith

    Richard,

    Thank you for sharing your family’s experience. I’m in tears. They don’t help anyone, but let some of the emotion and tension escape. I can only imagine what you are going through. I promise to do what I can- send some money, write to those who supposedly can do more, hope for compassion and reason from those sorely lacking in it. I can’t pray. If there is a creator, he/she/it, and I aren’t on speaking terms right now. Know my thoughts are with your family, friends, neighbors near and far in Ukraine.

    Hugs from my family to yours.
    Pam

  3. Fiona

    Richard your story is incredibly moving ..of course, we are hearing about the conflict but without accuracy I’m sure !
    Please keep us posted on ways to assist,
    Positive thoughts to you and your loved ones at this harrowing time thank heavens the border crossing was successful!!
    best wishes
    Fiona

  4. Susan

    That must have been hard for you to write. Thank you! It really brought the real, every day human cost, home to me.

  5. Anne York-Herjeczki

    Wow! Thank you for sharing. Prayers for Ukraine and a swift end to this terrible war. So grateful your family is together!

  6. Yolanda

    Thank you Richard for letting us know your story which is surely the same of many Ukrainian people. I am very sorry for this unfortunate and terrible situation. I pray and hope it can be better the soonest possible.
    Also thank you for your great labour around the planet. God bless you, your family and the Ukrainian people

  7. Sylwia

    Hi! I am so sorry to heard your story. I so sad, because of this war. It is so unfair. I pray everyday to stop this war.
    I live on Poland. Here almost everyone try to help refugees.

  8. Robin

    Prayers out to you, your family and everyone.

  9. maria paola zabaglia

    Thanks for sharing. Your story tells the story of so many families and they are all heartbreaking. Think of those lovely women who take care of our houses, look after our parents. Now they are desperate, it is time for us to support them and welcome their relatives if they are lucky enough to escape.
    God bless Ukraine and the Ukrainians.
    Paola

  10. Kathy

    How totally stressful!! I am so glad you and your family are safe at this time!! The whole world is watching this in horror. We stand by you. We are praying for your continued safety. We are praying for victory for Ukraine. We are praying for peace, compassion, and sanity.

  11. Rafeeda

    Thank you for sharing. I never expected to experience war this way. It goes to show we are all vulnerable. Anyone can just turn the tables and say , “We want your land!” I pray for peace and safety for all. May Allah protect the brave Ukrainian people, and all the people experiencing war at this moment. Amen.

  12. David

    Richard,
    Praying for you and your family…and for those in Ukraine.
    May God grant the people of Ukraine protection, peace, and victory.

    David

  13. Charmaine Fernandez

    Dear Richard,
    I have no words…I was thinking of all the times that you have helped and supported me, and each one of us here in Genki English. I hope and pray that you and your whole family are staying safe. How can I/ we support you? My heart goes out to all our nations at war, extremely suffering and experiencing calamities. I’m sending all my love and prayers. This is really unbelievable. Stay safe and strong. Keep on inspiring us. Much love and respect to you. Thank you very much for everything that you do. Truly grateful.
    All my love and support,
    Charmaine

  14. Barbara

    I’ve just finished reading… there are many people trying to help all over Italy, even in Fano… I’ll do help as much as I can…

  15. Beverley

    Dear Richard,
    thank you for sharing and thank you for all you have done and continue to do in the Genki community.
    I’ve supported and will continue to support emergency funds for Ukraine.
    If you have any friends who manage to get out and don’t have an immediate place to stay, I can temporarily accommodate 2 people in Italy.
    God bless and take care,
    Beverley

  16. Aimee

    Richard,
    Thank you for sharing your story! My heart is heavy and so very sad. It is so insane what is happening. I am glad you and your family are safe. Please take care, dear friend. My thoughts are of all the innocent people in Ukraine as well as those who had to leave their homes.

  17. Antoina

    I live in Russia and I can do nothing but cry . I hope it will stop soon.I am glad you and your family are safe.

  18. Maria Teresa Sivira

    I cannot even imagine all the sadness you and the ukranian citizen have suffered. while I’m reading your story, I’m crying, I’m at work, I need to believe this horror will stop soon. I’m from Venezuela, some of my people left the country few years ago but for different reasons, there was an economical crisis that made some of us leave the country. they decided it!!!
    In this moment for any of you is your decision, that’s terrible.it’s incredible just one person can have such a power! I really hope you can come back to your country, all your friends and family be okay! Dear Lord Bles you!!!

  19. Margit

    Richard,
    thanks for writing this all out. I’ve been thinking of you and your family.
    I am glad everyone is save.
    It is amazing to see how hands and hearts come to gather and help is done.
    The last couple of months I thought :
    ‘The world has learned nothing from history’
    ~but now is the time people are about to proof that this is not true.
    Ukraine is giving us the chance.
    Prayers, Strengths and Wisdom to all of us.
    And a huge portion of courage to the Russian Community.

  20. Trevor

    Transferring your money into Bitcoin may have been an option to keep it safe. I guess some people have been doing that. The Ukranian government is also using it to airdrop funds to people. Also a lot of support coming in from the crypto community in the form of donations. It will be interesting to see what role it plays in helping Ukraine. Hopefully a positive one.

  21. Sheila Ryan

    Thank you for a heartfelt, harrowing and firsthand account of the horrid situation befalling Ukraine right now. I appreciate your willingness to share what must have been traumatic for your whole family. Is there a charity you can recommend for PayPal or credit card donations? Thank you 🙏 May you and your family stay safe!

  22. Sam

    Richard,
    I’m sorry to hear what your family and friends are going through. This afternoon, I had an online English meeting with a group, and we talked about helping Ukrainian. One of our group members has connections with a refugee support group somewhere on the border. We’re going to donate money and ask our friends to join us in the donations. Our message is;
    “Ukraine, We’re With you.” Love is Stronger than war!

  23. Michael Romani

    Words seem so inadequate. I pray for your family and friends and for all the people of Ukraine. I can’t imagine how stressful this is for all involved. As I drive around here in Japan I try to imagine how I would feel if all the buildings and homes were suddenly bombarded.

  24. Lottie

    Richard,
    Thank you for sharing this first-hand account. You were just the person to help grandma and grandpa get into Poland, I think.
    How quickly the situation changed! And all now facing the decision to either leave one’s family at the border – alone in a foreign land – or to stay in a war zone.
    “War remains the decisive human failure.” – Galbraith

  25. MIHO

    Hi, thank you for sharing this. I’m Japanese who’s interested in teaching English.
    The war makes me feel very sick. I’m thinking “what can I do?” over and over again but I have no answer. Even if I’m living physically far away from Ukraine, I mentally feel much closer because of the internet, SNS more than before. Just want everyone on the earth to be happy and safe. Praying for the people who are in the fight.
    Peace 🕊

  26. Karen

    Dear Richard
    My thoughts are with you and your family.
    Take care
    Karen

  27. Helen

    Hi,
    I’m from Ukraine and I’m still in the country. I’m glad that your family is safe.
    I would like to thank all people who help us in any possible way. We are grateful for your support.
    But not all people who live in the eastern part of our country can get food and medicine because Russian troops don’t allow to deliver them there. Drivers of the trucks are killed and soldiers get the food. The worst situation is in Mariupil where people have been without water and food for more than a week. One child died of dehydration there. Three attempts to evacuate people from this place were organized but none of them was successful because Russian soldiers use green corridors to move forward and they use people as alive shield.
    Let people know about this situation. Something must be done. Children mustn’t die. Red Cross help them please!
    Helen

  28. Anna Lee

    My dearest friend Richard, Thank you for sharing your pain in detail. Indeed, with the news on TV, I was far away, but you made me to join you. I did shared your family story with my family and friends. Even to some of my Russian friends, too. They appreciated and hope to end this war asap. Please remember that you are not alone.

  29. Mari

    This is devastating to read and makes the experience people had so real. So hard to leave things behind but in the end better to choose life.

    I contacted an old friend I knew from even before Facebook and fortunately found him. He said he is find but his family is stuck in Kherson, waiting for liberation. Then I discevered he had moved back to South Africa where I have met him a few years ago. I am relieved he is safe but so many others are not. I pray that this ordeal will soon be over rather to than to escalate.

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