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'It was like a disaster movie' Film journalist Lena Rubashevskaya on her flight from Ukraine

Lena Rubashevskaya is a well-known film journalist and documentary filmmaker from Ukraine. She was working on a new film in Donetsk when Russian troops began their invasion of Ukraine. She had to flee headlong. Now, eight days later, she tells us her story from Warsaw. Listening to her, you understand forever that fleeing war and violence is one of the most terrible and traumatic experiences you can go through.

A few excerpts translated:

"We were just recovering and wanted to stay for a few more days to finalise everything, when we woke up to the sound of missiles. At that moment, no one realised that the war was going to be so huge and so absurd. Most of us thought Putin was only after Lugansk and Donetsk, so our first goal was to flee that region. But when we reached Kyiv, it was already full-on war in the city. I had almost nothing with me, just some personal items I needed for the working visit. My first task was to get to my house, which is in a suburb of Kyiv, as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, it is next to the military airbase that was first attacked by the Russians."

Disaster movie

"So I was in Kyiv with no shelter, and no possibility of seeing my family anymore. And without a passport. That one night in Kyiv was enough for me to know that staying there was not a good idea. There was no information to get. everyone, including the government, was overwhelmed. I walked to the station, but there were already thousands of people densely packed and hardly any trains. I decided to go with the crowd and was lucky enough to get on a train to Lviv within ten minutes. Everyone was panicking. It was like a disaster movie."

Sleeping bag

"I had it pretty easy, but because there were many undocumented people on the bus, like me too, the bus stopped a few kilometres before the border because the driver did not want to risk a fine. We had to walk through snow and sub-zero temperatures to the border. At the border, we had to wait for a few hours. I had no winter coat with me, and am still alive because a boy gave me his sleeping bag."

Wi-Fi

"Once in Poland, people were incredibly nice. They helped everyone. That was a happy moment, but once I turned on my wifi in the reception camp, I got all the messages from home. My mother told me my house had been hit."

Bike

"Now when friends send me photos from Kyiv, I can't believe that's Ukraine. The streets where I cycled, to work, to the shops, are destroyed beyond recognition."

Paper

"For undocumented Ukrainians like me, it is very difficult to decide what to do. I have already been to the refugee service, to see if I could apply for refugee status. But that is not an option for me because if I get refugee status, I am not allowed to work, open a bank account, or move freely. The only option is to apply for a residence permit but for that you need your biometric passport, and you have to get that through the embassy. We went there full of hope, but the embassy was closed. After calling and knocking for a long time, someone came out and told us they couldn't do anything for us because hjet was war. Once it was over, we could come back. I was not surprised. This is how the government has been treating us for years."

Damage

"My best friend doesn't want to talk to me anymore. He says I betrayed him by fleeing. When I ask friends who stayed behind what it is like there now, they say I have easy talk because I am safely in Poland. I fear the psychological damage for all those millions of refugees is going to become another huge problem."

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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