How a year ago, my daughter and I escaped from the jaws of death in Irpin

How a year ago, my daughter and I escaped from the jaws of death in Irpin

A story of one Ukrainian woman and her daughter. One story of escape from Irpin. In fact, Ukraine faced thousands of the same stories of horror, smell of death and incredible will to survive escaping from the russia's full scale war in Ukraine, that was started on February 24, 2022.

On March 7, a year ago, my daughter and I escaped from the jaws of death. How did it happen? 

Our car is rushing down Tyshchenko Street and turning onto Universytetska Street.

At this time, my friend from Kyiv calls me... "Taya, we are evacuating now, I'll call you back later" - I turn off the phone and see the car windshield shattered by a machine gun burst

Then everything is like in slow motion: I turn my head to the right, where my daughter Lada is sitting, and I see the glass in the window near her head also shattering...

Here I have some associations with movies or something... and I shout: "Lada, get down!" and I see that she can't because she has a large carrier with a cat that was injured the day before on her lap. Perhaps this saved her life, because if she had ducked, the bullet, which, as it turned out, hit her in the stomach, could have hit her head or neck... but I don't know that yet. I turn my head again towards the driver and see him slowly leaning to the left, opening the door with his hand and falling out of the car... 

Then the car continues to move at a fairly high speed without the driver...

I don't drive a car and I'm not Superman, who can move from the back seat to the driver's seat in seconds, so the only thing that comes to my mind is that I need to jump out of the car... besides, it's not a fact that they won't continue to shoot at it... So I give a new command to my daughter: "Lada, jump out!". 

I open the door and, taking with me everything that could prevent her from jumping out of the car (two backpacks, a laptop and a bag with documents), I jump out myself. 

The car had just reached the left edge of the ditch where the asphalt ended and the ground began, so my landing was quite soft... although, in fact, I don't remember what it was like... I don't remember how I ended up on the ground - I didn't get a single scratch - it seems like I was jumping out of cars on the go every day. . the only thing I felt was the car turning around from my jump and driving diagonally to the opposite side of the road, having previously run over my right leg. But it did not hurt at all.

I watched the car moving away from me and waited for my daughter to jump out of it. But she didn't jump out... Finally, the car drove into a ditch on the right side of the road opposite the city cemetery.... And that's when I saw my daughter get out of it with a carrier. 

Photo credits: Myroslava Svystovych

She was alive - and that was the most important thing in my life at that moment.I looked at what was happening around me and saw that three machine gunners were coming at us. It was like in Soviet war movies, where the Nazis are combing the forest: beautifully outfitted soldiers with assault rifles in their hands (maybe special forces or some elite troops): one was walking in the forest on one side of the road, another was walking in the forest on the other side of the road, and one was in the middle of the road.

They were moving in our direction... What's in their heads? Maybe they will try to finish us off...." - so I started shouting to Lada again: "Lie down!".  She lay down near the car. 

And I continued to assess the situation and think about how to run to my daughter. After all, there was a distance of about 40 meters between us across the asphalt road.  If it was dirt, I could have crawled on it, but crawling on asphalt didn't seem like the best idea. I decided that I would try to run across the road, and if they shot, I would fall down. 

I stood up a little and ran a few steps in a half-bent position, ready to fall to the ground in case they shot... - but they didn't shoot... then I thought, they don't shoot, maybe they won't kill me? 

I ran to my daughter and lay down next to her and the first thing I said to her was: "We might have to let the cat go here, because we have to run away, and we can't run away with the carrier." 

The day before, the cat had been injured when a shell fell under the windows of our apartment. His eye was blown out, and it was because he needed immediate medical attention that my daughter agreed to evacuate Irpin. Even when I was finishing the sentence about having to leave the cat behind, I realized that Lada would never agree to such a rescue. And so it happened, she categorically refused to leave the cat... No options... I also did not know that two bullets from those damned racist machine guns had hit my daughter. When she was sitting in the car, her jacket was unbuttoned, and when she got out, her wounds were covered by the entire jacket, with only a few drops of blood on the right side near her chest, which I thought must have been cut by the glass.

Well, since we were not running away... I lay down next to my daughter and started thinking about what to do next... the first thing that came to mind was to call someone and tell them what was happening to us, so that if anything... they would at least know under what circumstances

I take out my phone, but it's already running out of power, because we had been without electricity for several days before. Then I take out another phone that I bought a week before for a new business. It was brand new and didn't have any personal contacts to call, but it was fully charged. 

Before we had to evacuate, my husband wrote notes to everyone with phone numbers (we usually don't remember the phone numbers of even our loved ones). I said, "Lada, give me the note with the phone numbers that dad wrote." I look at those phones, and the first number is Baba Vira (my mother-in-law) - I think I can't call, the second is Baba Tamara (my mother) - again, I passed by - I imagined me calling them and telling them that we are here, half dead, waiting to be shot.  This is not an option at all... aha - Serhiy's number, he is a friend of my husband's from Kyiv, I knew him more in absentia at that time. I dialed, he answered the phone. I told him what was happening to us... "now the machine gunners are coming at us, I don't know what will happen next"... I stopped the conversation because they came very close to us.

At that time, my computer was going through all the possible options for our behavior and their possible reaction to it. I looked at the gunmen, then at my daughter, who was lying next to the cat carrier, and realized that her life depended on my actions and words now... what should I do? Shout at them? - provoke them to aggression, beg: "Don't kill me?" - it would be too humiliating and could also provoke the opposite reaction.  And then I remembered the case when a Gypsy woman at the train station kissed my husband's hands for entrusting her to watch his suitcase - she was so grateful for his trust (because a sane person would hardly entrust such a task to Gypsies). "So every person has something good in their souls," I thought, "and every person reacts reflexively to requests for help. I thought: I'll just ask them for help - those who are helped are not killed. Here they are, almost close to us, about six meters away... I raise one hand and, stepping on my throat, speak their language so that they understand - "please help" And now I remember, it was said in such a tone as if I was asking them to take my suitcase from the top shelf of the compartment... "I shouldn't show fear - those who are afraid are killed," I thought....  I could see them stagger a bit in surprise... "Who were you calling?", "My husband", I lied, "Drop the phone". I threw the phone, and the one in the middle crushed it with his boots. "Do you have any other phones?" - I said: "No," and in my pockets I have three more phones, two of mine and the third of my daughter's, and I think: "Maybe I'll get through, how can I be without communication, contacts, photos...". Then came the questions "who are you?", "where are you going?", "we are peaceful citizens of Irpin, we are going to evacuate", "why not on Soborna Street?" (apparently there were some agreements about the green corridor and they knew that the evacuation should be on Soborna Street) "it happened so", I said, ... "where is the driver?", this question surprised me a bit: did they not see the driver fall out of the shot car? Maybe someone else had shot the car earlier, and they only saw it rolling down the road and me jumping out of it, and then my daughter? This question will probably always remain just a question... "Let me see your documents," I took out my and my daughter's passports, but no one even looked at them.  "Okay, go to Soborna Street..." I exhaled.  

And then my daughter says she's not going anywhere until we take another cat out of the trunk... 

While we were driving, the driver managed to tell us that he also had a cat in the trunk. I knew my daughter, so I didn't even argue with her. If she won't go, she won't go.  I went to the trunk to open it, but he wouldn't give in. I explained to the people with guns that we needed to open the trunk because there might be another cat in there that needed to be taken away, and I asked them to help, but I had no idea how else I was going to carry that cat and whether these armed men would think we were getting too brazen.  But they are already trying to open the trunk...  We look through the window and see that there is no cat there, if it was there, it most likely jumped out through the broken glass on the side. 

There is no cat, we can leave... We are leaving... We are just near Matrosova Street... We can walk along it to Soborna Street - it is very close.   I am still waiting for the shots in the back. On the left are houses - it seems to me that it is too dangerous to walk between houses during the fighting, on the right is a wedge of forest between Universytetska and Soborna streets - We go to the forest... it seems safer to me. 

We run through the forest diagonally to get to Soborna Street, closer to the circle. 

I am in front with backpacks and a carrier in my hands, my daughter is behind me. The carrier, shattered by bullets, is periodically going to fall apart and my daughter stops me from time to time and makes me fix the carrier so that the cat doesn't run away... and she does all this with a bullet in her stomach, which I don't even know about because the place of injury is covered by my jacket. I don't see that her blouse is covered in blood under the jacket. Later, she said that it was very difficult for her to walk, as if there was a stone in her stomach, she just wanted to sit down and not move. But she had to walk to get to the vet to save the cat that had been shot in the head. She didn't tell me about the injury and how hard it was for her, not a word. And I kept pushing her: "Lada, you're lagging behind, let's go faster!" 

We got out on the road, and a car was coming from the direction of Romanivsky Bridge, as if someone had sent it to pick us up on purpose. We got into the car.  I told the man who was driving in three words that our driver might have been killed, and he reacted in a very calm way, like: "Well, that's our job."

A few minutes later, the car stops on a blown-up bridge, and then we have to cross the river on the masonry under the bridge. We go down as before: me in front, my daughter in the back. 

Some guys and girls came running up to us, volunteers took our cat's bag and backpacks, and one of them asked my daughter: "Are you wounded, do you need to be carried?" And she answers, "Yes". And I hadn't realized that all this time my daughter had been walking with a bullet in her stomach, and only when we were ferried to the other side of the river, where they put her on a stretcher and cut her jacket covering the wound, did I see that her entire jacket was covered in blood.  One bullet had pierced through her right breast and the other was lodged in her left abdomen. Each of these bullets, if they had entered somewhere to the left, above or to the right, could have been fatal for my daughter, just as the ones that left holes in the hood of my jacket could have been fatal for me. And some bullets must have been fatal for the man who was taking us out of Irpin... We still don't know anything about him.  Later, we found out that on that day, in the same place on Universytetska Street, several other cars were shot at, and their passengers were less fortunate than us. A family with two children was killed that day as well. 

Photo credits: Myroslava Svystovych

But we will realize and rethink all the danger of what we experienced and how lucky we were later..., and for now: an ambulance, my daughter's surgery, my cat's surgery... - We are in almost empty Kyiv, most of whose population left during the first two days of the war. But after Irpin, which became the first line of defense of the capital, Kyiv became the safest place on earth for us...

Myroslava Svystovych

Ukraine Front Lines

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