A personal story from Irina Davis – a native of Ukraine

By Chuck Gibson

LOVELAND, OH (March 13, 2022) – The storm clouds of war continue to rumble in the Ukraine as the attacking Russian troops advance closer to the capital city of Kyiv as I write this. Many Ukrainian natives living in our own community fear for their families in Ukraine. They are more worried than ever. Irina Davis is one of them and spoke with me by phone Thursday, March 10. In this Part II of a three part series, she shares her personal story.  

A window in the home of Irina’s brother is taped up after being rocked by an explosion in Ukraine. (Courtesy Irina Davis)

“I’m very worried,” said Irina. “My step-brother lives over there. I’m from Kyiv as well.”

It is more than her step-brother. Irina is close to all her family still there in Ukraine including her step-mom, step-brother, nieces and nephews and sister-in-law.  She has visited there many times since coming here to the United States as a teen. They have been able to talk by phone daily. In the first days, even before, she encouraged her family to leave, to come here to be safe. One day her sister called and said their building shook. They remained in Kyiv through the early days of the invasion of Ukraine.

“They finally did leave Kyiv five days ago,” Irina said. “They stayed for a long time. I kept telling them it was too dangerous. My step-mom and my sister-in-law’s parents were saying it was too dangerous, so they finally left.”

A lot of Irina’s childhood friends are still there. She says they are trapped. It is very hard for her to see “politicians playing big games” causing the innocent civilians to suffer. The images and reports on our own news reveal the devastation of destroyed cities and deaths of civilians. There is one friend who lives in a small city near Kyiv taken pretty early on.

“There, we kind of lost communication,” said Irina. “Kyiv is still . . . they still have power, they still have water. It’s too dangerous to be out on the street.”

Despite the danger, most days, during the day, they were still able to go to the grocery store. They had to stand in line for hours to get bread and some things, but can’t because the sirens go off and they have get back to their buildings. Irina learned there are some people who want to leave Kyiv, but can’t.

“I found out from my brother’s experience, who left Kyiv five days ago now, it is not only very difficult, but it is very costly,” Irina said. “People can’t just pick up and leave. Many want to, but haven’t been able to.”

Her brother and sister took the kids and left Kyiv. As most people in Kyiv, Irina’s family was living in a high-rise building. She called Kyiv, “the Manhattan of Ukraine”. They were on the 25th floor running down 25 floors to the bomb shelter then back up again every time the sirens sounded. They lasted about a week before they finally did get out. Her mother, in her late 60’s, grew sick of running up and down. She put a mattress down and started sleeping in the bathroom.

The family of Irina Davis was sleeping in the bathroom of their 25th floor hi-rise apartment in Kyiv, Ukraine (Courtesy Irina Davis)

“They have a car,” Irina explained. “They were able to get gas, rent an apartment. Many others are unable to.”

The plan was to go as far west in Ukraine as possible without crossing the border and wait it out. Even with a car, it took them over 30 hours to travel what is normally a 7-hour drive. Roads clogged with refugees, gas stations closed and many stops to show passports. Her sister said it is too expensive for many. When Irina said she could help, but asked how expensive, the answer was $40 per night.

“For them, $40 is too expensive,” she said. 

They’ll wait until things get worse, then her sister will take the kids and cross the border into Moldova. Some friends of Irina have already crossed the border.

“I have friends who have crossed,” Irina said. “If you have family, you stay because their husbands can’t leave. I have one friend who got out with her infant and mom and went to Czech Republic.”

Mothers and children are getting out. Most men can’t get out. Men aged 16-60 are being required to stay and fight. Irina explained it is a different place, there used to be a draft, a lot of men have served and have military training. She knows from the first-hand accounts from her family and friends, the conditions for the people of Ukraine right now.

“People are hurting. There’s not enough food, not enough medicine; the Russians are surrounding Kyiv,” said Irina. “They are fleeing. They are worried. Some have been stuck in bomb shelters for a week, maybe two weeks. The west is not as bad. The east is overrun. Kharkiv, the second biggest city in Ukraine is destroyed. People had to leave.”

More than 2 million people have fled Ukraine in these first 17 days of attacks by Russia. Many more wish to flee, but are apparently trapped by attacks on civilian and humanitarian passageways by Russian aggressors. What about the response from around the globe, the aid?

“I want my family and friends safe and I want the Ukrainian conflict stopped,” Irina said. “Closing the sky just means the NATO planes shooting down Russian planes over Ukraine and Putin will get pissed. I wouldn’t put it past him to use nuclear weapons.”

From her perspective, Ukraine has to be helped, but the U.S. and the world must tread lightly. It is difficult decisions like that which keep Irina from being a politician. Millions of lives depend on it. She says that is too much for her. She wants to see more humanitarian aid and military aid for Ukraine, but does not want World War III.

“They need help,” she said. “I’m worried most, aside from my immediate family, about all the people who want to leave, but can’t get out.”

Irina believes it will get worse before it gets better.

“I just worry about all the people still there unable to leave,” said Irina. “That’s what keeps me up at night.”

The buildings Irina knows from home are being destroyed by Russian shelling (Courtesy Irina Davis)

The television stays on, tuned to news of what is happening in Ukraine. Her husband  says turn it off. She met him in college here. He is American. Irina is hearing first-hand accounts from family and friends about the destruction of her homeland.  The images she sees on television news here are familiar places from her past.

“I’m watching the buildings I know, the streets I know. It is surreal,” Irina explains. “It’s home.”

Irina shared the story of the first time her American husband traveled with her back to her home in Ukraine. Her reaction was Wow! I’m home. She was so excited. She says he turned to her and said: “It’s so gray here.” It was still Soviet style housing. Irina was shocked that he saw it so differently. Today, they both watch the images of destruction and people fleeing Ukraine.

“Seeing these images either being destroyed or at risk of being destroyed is very emotional,” said Irina. “That’s my childhood home. It’s stressing.”

Ukrainian flag on black storm cloud sky. stormy weather (I-stock image)

Irina Davis was a teen when her mother brought her to America to get away from the dangers of living in Ukraine in the mid-90’s. She has lived here for 26 years. Ukraine is still home. She still has family there. The stress of the attack on Ukraine is obvious for all to see. That stress stretches across the sea right here to our own community. That stress also reaches just across the border into places like Moldova and Poland where millions of Ukrainian refugees have already fled. In Part III of this series on the invasion of Ukraine, we’ll hear from a native of Poland with family still there helping provide aid to the Ukrainian refugees.

CLICK HERE to read PART I in this special Loveland Beacon three part series.