Lviv, UKRAINE – In early March, the war situation in the Kharkiv region became tense. The neighboring town – Izyum, which is only an hour’s drive from my town of Lozova – was attacked by the Russians.
My family and I made a difficult decision – I needed to be evacuated while it was still possible. Since both my parents work in the military and they couldn’t quit their jobs, I spoke with my cousins Maria and Kira and we decided to go together.
Online, I found a volunteer organization that helps Ukrainian refugees get to Spain and provides them with necessities and a place to live.
We first had to go by train to western Ukraine and cross the border into Poland. We were to meet the representatives of the Spanish NGO at the border.
The evacuation train ride from my hometown, Lozova, to Lviv took 30 hours.
on the train
In the small compartment with seating for only four, there were 13 of us, including children, a one-year-old baby and a large dog named Jack. We were lucky to be able to sit down as some people stayed in the hallway the whole time.
When we arrived in Lviv, the station was packed with thousands of people, Red Cross volunteers and police. Everyone was in a rush to try to help the refugees, giving them food, drink, clothing and transportation to centers where they could stay or travel to another location.
The girls and I stayed at my friend’s house for a few nights. After that, we took a taxi to the border post of Shehyni, Ukraine.
At the border
Hundreds of people also came – by bus, car or on foot. Passing on the Polish side, we met volunteers from all over the world – England, France, Korea, etc.
They all provided people with food, medicine, personal hygiene products, SIM cards and even dog treats for those traveling with pets. People and the police were always asking us if we needed anything, if we were sure of our destination and warning us about security.
We also met some high school kids our age who were volunteering there and helped us get on the bus to Przemysl, Poland, the nearest city center.
We walked about two kilometers (just over a mile) to the refugee center. There was also everything people needed, including places to sleep.
We met the representatives of the Spanish organization and were told to wait for the bus with 100 other people accompanying us. But during the day, the departure time changed, from 12pm to 6pm then another day.
We were tired and confused, but there was no turning back. We managed to leave the center the next day at 2am, but not everyone got on the bus due to a misunderstanding with the bus drivers. Some had to wait two more days for their buses to arrive.
Our path to Madrid, Spain passed through the Czech Republic, Germany and France. We were on the road for three days, spending the first night in Germany at Run on the Pegnitz.
The sports school where we stayed had a place to sleep and shower and local volunteers prepared lots of German food for us. We were grateful to finally have some rest.
We spent the following night in France in Nîmes at the Paloma concert hall. There too, we had everything to feel comfortable and take a break. We also met very friendly journalists from the local TV and radio stations, who offered us help in France and their contact details.
On Friday March 18, we arrived in Madrid. At the refugee center we were told that since we were all 17, we could not stay without a legal guardian and that we would be placed with different families.
We didn’t expect that since in Ukraine you get some independence from the age of 16. And, of course, after leaving our families in Ukraine, we didn’t want to be separated from each other.
Fortunately, Spanish volunteers who accompanied us throughout the trip decided to help us. They talked with their families and friends and decided to become our host families until we were 18 years old.
Currently we live in the same building in Las Rozas Village, near Madrid in different families, but still very close to each other.
Tanya Tkachenko is a junior reporter for Youth Journalism International.
At the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, YJI student Tanya Tkachenko offered a first-hand account of life in her hometown of Losova, Ukraine. Read it here:
A student journalist from inside Russia shared his frustration. You can read it here: