Anna tells of her escape from Ukraine

My name is Anna. For a long time I didn't dare to tell my story of fleeing the war. But I think I have something to say and maybe my story will inspire another mother with similar experiences. I have two daughters aged eleven and six.

Our life was no different from the life of an average family until that morning when Laura, our younger daughter, was two and a half years old. It was an ordinary summer day, I woke up and Laura was lying there with blue lips and not breathing. I grabbed her hands and ran with her down the hall to the neighbours, because I couldn't find my phone. My hands were shaking, but there was no one around. A few minutes later I found the phone and called an ambulance. During the drive, I held Laura in my arms and asked my angel to come back to me ...

The angel came back, but Laura was diagnosed with epilepsy. My world collapsed in an instant. No one in my family or my husband's family had ever faced this disease. I wanted and still want to help her in any way I can. In Ukraine, I sought out all known doctors and took online consultations from foreign doctors.

It turned out that Laura suffers from a factum-resistant form of epilepsy that cannot be treated surgically. You can't imagine how a mother feels when her child can have a seizure at any moment and you don't know when and how it will end. At some point I realised: if this is life, I don't want to live like this.... Yes, I didn't want to live. But I saw that my eldest daughter, Margot, needed me very much and I had no right to leave her.

We had a flat in Kiev, but it was too small for us and our dream was to find a bigger flat. We finally succeeded and bought it. On Tuesday we got the key and on Friday the war broke out. We now have two flats in Kiev, but we have never lived in one of them and of course we can't sell it in the current situation. But that's just one of the small disasters on the side.

The day before the war broke out, Laura came to the hospital. Her condition worsened, but at 5am we were told to go home because the war had started. They had started administering a new medicine that was not available in the hospital, the pharmacies were closed, everyone was talking about the war, but I had my own war.

Three days later the pharmacies opened again, there were queues for hours, but no one could tell me on the phone if they had the medicine I needed, and I had to spend the whole day waiting. The worst thing was that this medicine then did not have the expected effect. I tried several times in vain to call the emergency doctor. He didn't come because we lived on the city border, not far from Butscha, where there was fierce fighting and it was very dangerous.

My family reassured me and everyone hoped that the war would be over in a fortnight. Two weeks passed and there was no stopping us, we just got into the car and drove into the unknown. To where the hospitals were still working. You have to remember that you could only drive up to a certain time, so it took three days to get to Lviv. We arrived in Lviv and I simply called an ambulance to the car.

At St. Mikolay hospital they really tried to help us. The head doctor of the hospital, Ivan, is the kind of person I would like to see as head doctor in Kiev. The hospital in Lviv impressed me because it uses the latest technology and works closely with doctors from all over the world. Ivan didn't know me at all, but it was obvious that he sincerely wanted to help, and he did.

Laura and I were in intensive care, you're not allowed to stay with your baby there, but I got an exception and if someone else was admitted I had to go quickly. I can't remember if and when I slept or ate. We were in the ICU every other day, the situation did not get better. Evacuation sirens sounded from time to time and both patients and staff had to go to the basement. At some point I didn't care at all and just didn't go down there. A nurse stayed with us, and at that moment I felt I was not alone. Sometimes a gesture like that, when someone helps you completely selflessly, gives you the strength and faith to keep fighting.

After three weeks, we realised that we had to move on. At St. Mikolay Hospital we asked for help from abroad. Three countries responded to our request: Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany. I decided to go to Germany. We had a few hours to pack and in the morning three ambulances arrived, each of which could take a child.

I heard the German language for the first time, they were simple young men who worked in the ambulance and brought children from Ukraine to Germany in their spare time. I was allowed to take one daughter with me. My heart was torn in two. Half of my heart stayed in Ukraine, and with the second half I had a hard road ahead of me.

We drove a bit and the cars stopped at the station. The men got out and tried to rescue another mother and child at the station. A woman with a child from Zaporizhzhya got into our car. I sat there silently, eyes glazed over, looking out the window. She was talking to her boy, I understood her very well, but said nothing. They were talking about us and thought we were foreigners, it was funny.

Then the boy had to go to the toilet urgently and the mother didn't know how to ask the car to stop.  I tuned in and automatically spoke in English. I couldn't remember the last time I had spoken English. At a petrol station, a little boy in another ambulance had a seizure and the staff asked me to translate his father's questions and answers. In a situation where you have no choice, you remember everything you know.

I struck up a conversation with the medical staff who were transporting us. These heroes transported the children all night and still went back to work in the morning. When I asked them, "Why are you doing this?" they replied, "Who else if not us?"

Laura's condition got worse in the car during the night, she was helped against the seizures and it went on like that the whole way. We were on the road for about 24 hours. The young people from the ambulance took us to Cottbus and said it was just a transfer station and in a few days we would go to a special hospital in Hamburg.

At the Carl-Thiem-Klinikum Cottbus we were the first Ukrainians at that time and I was very surprised how warmly we were received. All the staff knew English and I had no problems communicating. The physiotherapist brought Laura some things. I heard these scary German expressions: "excuse me", "don't worry", and I had no idea that these were encouraging words.

I immediately told them that our destination was the Schön-Klinik, a specialist clinic in Vogtareuth in Chiemgau, as I had already corresponded with them in Ukraine. They had promised to take us in if we came there ourselves. Laura behaved normally during the day, but every night she had a series of seizures. I didn't sleep more than three hours a night and was like a zombie. The clinic tried a new medication and with an increased dose it worked. My happiness was indescribable.

Next to the clinic was the Ronald McDonald Children's Aid House, they took us in and gave us a beautiful room where we could live in peace, do laundry and cook. But this happiness only lasted a week, then Laura got worse again and we returned to the clinic.

Eva, one of the smartest and most understanding women I met on my journey, organised an ambulance ride for us to Vogtareuth. To this day I don't know how she did it, because we had no insurance or registration.

The journey was long and I dreamt of this clinic, imagined it. How surprised I was when we arrived! Everywhere were fields, cows, forests, strange houses, farms. That was Bavaria. After the bulky Carl Thiem Clinic with its punctual staff, I couldn't believe that this was the Schön Clinic. It seemed more like a big farm with access to a terrace and fields all around. There was no duty roster hanging on the door and people were more relaxed.

Laura was scheduled for a multislice MRI of the brain with the hope that she could have surgery. I ran after Laura through the corridors trying to be strong and not cry. Also because my second daughter was still with my family in Ukraine.

Every night there were rocket attacks on different parts of my country and I hated all Russians. From the beginning of the war, I communicated with all my relatives and friends only in Ukrainian on the phone. One day a woman turned to me in Russian, "How are you?" She was also in that hospital with a teenager with cerebral palsy. I looked at her crossly. Then I asked in Ukrainian, "Where are you from?" She said she was from Ulm, I asked, "And before Ulm, where did you live?" She replied that it had been in Russia and I just left. The next day she brought Laura a whole bag of sweets and me coffee and explained that she fully supported Ukraine. She also told me about life in Germany, her own story, and my hatred of all Russians disappeared. It doesn't matter where you come from, what nation and religion you belong to, what matters is what kind of person you are.

A few days later, a nurse came to my room. She worked in another department, but after she found out that there were Ukrainians here, she came in. Her first words, "Good afternoon, I come from Ukraine", moved me to tears, I heard the Ukrainian language for the first time in months. Then I met another Ukrainian family at the clinic. We are still in contact with each other.

The MRI scan did not show the affected area and we started trying the medication again. All the tests could not reveal the cause of the disease. My family was still not able to leave Ukraine. My husband and daughter were sent back several times at the border.

Then, on my birthday, my husband, Margot and Leonardo, our Spitz, left Ukraine and came to visit us in Vogtareuth. Laura and I were in hospital and were invited to her home by a Ukrainian nurse, Vita, and a second Ukrainian family also came to visit. It was one of those days I will never forget.

In a hurry we tried to find a hotel. With this housing shortage, there is a problem with hotels because the clinic is located there and rooms have to be booked well in advance. Vita helped Sasha and Margot find a hotel. It was a small room for €80 per night. We stayed like that for fourteen days. I tried to find accommodation for a longer period and at a lower price. I called all the hotels but got no result.

Then we started going round in person and asking and that got results. We found a hotel for 45 € with a better room, the landlady let me do laundry for free and was very friendly and always asked if we needed anything. After two weeks she spoke to a friend who agreed to let us stay at her hotel for free.

Kathi was incredibly beautiful and intelligent. She was exactly how I imagined real Bavarians to be: a slim, tall blonde with green eyes. Her family owns a farm, a hotel and a house for long-term rental. Kathi said she couldn't help the whole of Ukraine, but she could help one family. She gave us the most luxurious room on the top floor, about 100 square metres, and said we could stay there until we decided what to do next.

My husband found an online job as a programmer with a company from Berlin after three months and we offered to pay, but she refused. Laura and I were temporarily in hospital, but we had a flat to return to. It is an invaluable experience and an indescribable feeling just to be helped. I am very grateful to this family and pray for their happiness.

My eldest daughter was a competitive gymnast in Ukraine and I realised how hard it was for her without her favourite activity. I tried to find a gymnastics school nearby, but nothing worked. I looked for other gymnasts from Ukraine in Germany and found a school in Gersthofen. I applied for an appointment there. They looked at Margot and accepted her. Then we just had to move.

We found a flat in the centre of Augsburg. This city reminds me of Lviv in its architecture. I found good schools for the girls and a good doctor for Laura. She takes CBD oil, which is still banned in Ukraine. Margot is very happy here with her new gymnastics coach.

And I started thinking about my future and what I wanted. Before the children came, I worked in IT like my husband, as a programmer and in quality assurance. I think I could do something like that again. Of course, I need to refresh my knowledge and improve my German. I could only attend the integration course with many interruptions, but I did what I could and the situation with Laura is more relaxed now. That gives me more opportunities. And the fact that I have overcome all these problems has shown me how strong I am.

These one and a half years in Germany have already changed me. I have realised that war, no matter where it takes place, always affects all countries. If we put all our energy into developing science and medicine instead of wasting money on wars, the world would be a better place, a better place for our children. And it doesn't matter what nationality you are. Believe me, sometimes buying a cup of coffee and a croissant for a homeless person can strengthen their faith. All warm words, if you want to say them, say them. Do it today, because everything can change in one morning.


Thank you, Anna, for having the courage to tell this story here!