She Fled Kyiv with Her 5 Year Old Son

I'd like to help the world witness you.

She Fled Kyiv with Her 5 Year Old Son
Oleksandra's son Daniel with her great-grandmother. Image courtesy of Oleksandra Rozumiei

Last week, I asked for stories from Ukrainian mothers.

Mothers in Ukraine, I'd like to help the world witness you. If you'd like. Write a piece (paid) about Ukraine for my newsletter. Anything about your home, your country. A memory from your childhood kitchen. Anything. Email pls rt @olgarithmic @olgatokariuk

— Meg Conley (@_megconley) February 24, 2022

Mothers have always told stories in war. Stories they hope will be true. Like the bedtime story they tell their children each night, the one they hope will be true in the morning, “Everything is going to be okay.” Children record their mother's stories across their hearts. And, if they live, they tell them to others: their own children, friends and family. But mostly mothers don’t get to put their stories, the ones they hope will be true, and the ones they hoped would never be true, in the historical record.

Maybe in a a couple hundred years, a historian will be sifting through some server- archive full of newsletters from the 2020s. Maybe they’ll bump into my newsletter. If they do, I hope the stories I've helped record make it into their stories of the world.

Oleksandra lives in Kyiv with her five year old son, Daniel. Her great-grandmother survived WWII in Ukraine. She used to say, “I wish us all a peaceful sky above.” German soldiers could be fought on the ground, but there was so little to be done about German warplanes in the sky.

In the days before the Russian invasion, Oleksandra didn’t know whether to flee or stay. It seemed impossible to her, and to others, that Russia would really invade. She was nearly sure the sky would stay peaceful. But she couldn’t forget her grandmother’s stories. She'd recorded them on her heart.

Before I end this little introduction, another story must go on the record. Not everyone is able to flee Ukraine, even if they want to. Some can't get out because of heavy fighting. Some are too sick, too old, too young, too everything else to flee. Others can't leave even when they get to the border. Some Black people are being stopped at the borders of Poland and Romania and told they are not welcome.Korinne Sky has been helping Black students studying abroad in Ukraine get across borders since the war began. When she tried to cross out of Ukraine herself, she encountered the racism she's been helping others push through on their way home. Click on her tweet to read her story.

So we are on our way to Poland from Dnipro, Ukraine by car - this is a thread of everything I see, hear and experience... 👇🏾

— Koko 🇺🇦 (@korrinesky) February 25, 2022

I am learning about Ukraine, Eastern Europe and race from Terrell Jermaine Starr and Kimberly St. Julian-Varnoon.

There was a time when no one would hire me to cover foreign policy and I almost quit studying in this region because people thought I was crazy to apply race to Russia or Ukraine. Now, everyone wants me to talk about it.

Life is interesting.

— Terrell Jermaine Starr (@terrelljstarr) February 28, 2022

If you're retweeting horror films from the border and not sharing resources to help these people, you are doing nothing but performing. I have no time for it. The few of us POC who work in the region know about the racism, that's why we are working so damn hard. Fin.

— Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon (@ksvarnon) February 28, 2022

The Linktree I created has been updated with resources for Disabled and Chronically-ill Ukrainians and general sites for donating to Ukraine.

— Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon (@ksvarnon) February 28, 2022

I hope to publish more home in war, war in home stories from mothers, women, caretakers and other people who do the work of the home. From Ukraine, yes. And also from other places violated by armed conflict - Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and on and on. If you'd like share your home story, please email me at

Read yesterday's essay: Olga Boichak writes about Ukrainian history, resilience, genocide and her own great-grandmother.

Oleksandra Rozumiei is an environmental lawyer, sustainability consultant, food waste activist and beloved mother.

To Hug To See To Say To Build

by Oleksandra Rozumiei


My great-grandmother was a child of World War II. From early childhood, I heard stories about German soldiers. They ruined Ukrainian villages - took their houses, their last bits of food and killed people before her eyes. Every time she told us her stories, she cried and said, “I hope it never happens again.”

She died two years ago, in February.

I’m glad she can’t see what Russia, that we all thought was our brotherly nation, is doing with our cities, our kids, our people.

My great-grandmother used to say, “I wish us all ​​peaceful sky above.” I didn’t understand all the deepness of her words. I do now.

She Fled Kyiv with Her 5 Year Old Son
Oleksandra's son Daniel with her great-grandmother. Image courtesy of Oleksandra Rozumiei

On 12th February, KLM was the first airline to stop flights from Kyiv. Everyone was saying,  this is just a media war, they all will ruin us economically. But I didn’t sleep that night. I looked up flights from Kyiv on the 14th, 15th and 16th of February.  Thinking, at least I’ll have a reservation. Early on the morning of the 13th, I called my parents saying, “I feel it’s time to leave.” I called my friends, and some of them said - you’re panicking, relax, nothing will happen. At 9 pm that day, I bought my tickets from Kyiv to Istanbul and from Instanbul to Miami. I thought,  “Okay, I hope I over-panic, but my son will be safe.” I told him, “It’s just an adventure, take your favorite toy and I'll take care of everything else.”

I sat before the bags and started to cry,  “What is everything else?”

When I came to the wardrobe, I sat before the bags and started to cry,  “What is everything else?” Could I put all my life in one bag? With all my dreams and beliefs, with all my past experiences and future plans? I packed one bag for both of us, with clothes for four different seasons. And one bag full of toys and children's books. That was the least I could do for my son to make him feel good.

I didn’t sleep that night. Cleaning up my apartment, I looked at all my stuff and thought, “Why do I need so much?” I'd just bought these amazing wine glasses by Spiegelau. I hadn’t had a chance to use them. I texted my friend, “Bring some wine. We’re leaving tomorrow. I want to see you.” It was her birthday on the 17th and I already had her present. We sat for hours, talking about what’s gonna be next, laughing about how much useless stuff I’ve got. We planned our underwear and loungewear brand. She said “You’re doing the right thing. You’re saving the most priceless thing you’ve got - your son’s life. Just promise me - you’ll come to my wedding.” It's planned for June 2022 and I’ve promised.

She Fled Kyiv with Her 5 Year Old Son
Daniel and his big Lego on his 5th birthday, January 5 2022. Image courtesy of Oleksandra Rozumiei

I also promised my parents to take care of my son. I promised myself, "Don't regret the past and do not look with fear into the future." To my son, I promised we will build the big Lego he received on his birthday as soon as we get back home. He turned five on the 5th of January. Even though I’ve made a promise not to regret, I now regret we didn’t do that Lego before, when he'd so often asked.


She Fled Kyiv with Her 5 Year Old Son
Daniel. Image courtesy of Oleksandra Rozumiei

The first two weeks after I found out I was pregnant, I cried. I thought it was too early to have a baby and not the right time. But after that two weeks, I started to plan his life.

I remember how we chose his name, his father and me. And how we argued about what extracurriculars would be better for him to take. About where he would go to  school, which languages to learn, etc. He hadn’t even been born and we already argued about his future.

I remember what was in my Pinterest album while we were doing a nursery for him. And how much I was obsessed with space - everything I put around him had astronauts and stars.

When Daniel was two weeks old, I was reading the book The God of Small Things. That was the first time I cried with the thought, “In what an awful world I gave life to this child.” In time, I've realized that the planet we have is a wonderful place.  And if I wish for him to live in a better world,  I have to do everything I can to make it a better world. And so I started to work on environmental issues.

When Daniel was 2 years old, his father and I got divorced. That was the second time I was cried with thoughts, “Everything I planned for him is ruined by myself.” In time I've realized that my son hasn't got a chance to see what that full family life looks like, but he still can see how happy life looks.

The only thing I should care about his future is that he has one.

Daniel was growing up - teaching me to be more patient, responsible and loving. I’ve cried a lot of times about a lot of things about his future. I never realized before 22nd February that the only thing I should care about his future is that he has one.


She Fled Kyiv with Her 5 Year Old Son
Oleksandra and Daniel. Image courtesy of Oleksandra Rozumiei

Late evening 13th February 2022 I packed two bags - one with clothes for us two, another with Daniel’s toys. But actually, I was also packing past experience, beliefs and plans. I cleaned up our apartment before leaving. I asked Daniel to put all his toys in their places, ”Make everything look good, so when w ecome back we’ll enjoy it.”

He asked where we were going. I said, “We’ll spend some time by the ocean, it’s our little adventure. We’ll be back in a few weeks.” I’d booked a round-trip. Our return tickets are on 14th March. He was excited.

Nothing happened on 16th, 17th and 18th of February. I calmed. I started to think that I did over-panic, like a lot of people said. This trip was a complete waste of money. I enjoyed walking by the ocean with Daniel and talking about the future. I started to plan our next trips, and build my work plan. I felt voltage inside because of what was happening at home, but I knew that everything was going to be fine. Russia and Ukraine would have some sort of agreement. And we’d live a full, calm life. Daniel just started to take ice skating lessons at home. I worried about the time he was losing without them in Florida. I remembered that I didn’t warn his speech therapist that he would be absent this week. A lot of small things.

I took my phone out at 11:57 pm the night Russia invaded. Just to scroll instagram before sleep. And I received a message from my friend, “started.”

She replied, “We been bombed since 5 am.  It’s quiet now. Don’t be afraid. Everything is gonna be alright.”

I opened the news - there was Putin’s speech on his “rescue operation.” I messaged my mom. They live right next to a military airport in Gostomel. She replied, “We been bombed since 5 am.  It’s quiet now. Don’t be afraid. Everything is gonna be alright.” I scrolled more and more news, crying. I cried for two days before I ran out of tears. Scrolling through the news and asking family and friends if they are still alive. I’ve started to feel helpless and alone.

She Fled Kyiv with Her 5 Year Old Son
Daniel and a dear school friend in Kyiv. Image courtesy of Oleksandra Rozumiei

The first day I thought the invasion was to push Zelenskyy for some actions - everything would stabilize in a few days. If so, then I didn’t have to tell Daniel that anything is wrong. But these days now, they are lasting forever. My son started to ask me, When can we go home? Can we call Alisha? Alisha is my seven year old sister. He wants to know how his school friends are doing and when he’ll get to go back to school. He wants to know why I am crying. I started to say the truth, in a way he could understand, in a way he could accept at his age, and in a way I could accept in all conditions,“Sometimes bad people do bad things, but there are a lot of good people, and they will win."

He knows that our friends and family have to hide from bombing and Russian troops. He is asking if my parents are hiding our dog too.

Still, he keeps asking me how everything is at home. He wants to know when we will build his big Lego. Will he go to school the next day or next week? Daniel wants to know how our dog is. He knows that our friends and family have to hide from bombing and Russian troops. He is asking if my parents are hiding our dog too. Every time he asks, I’m trying not to cry, to make everything look easier, brighter. I keep promising him we’ll be back soon. But I already don’t know if we’ll have a way to return, or a place to go.

She Fled Kyiv with Her 5 Year Old Son
Daniel and his Lego table in Kyiv. Image courtesy of Oleksandra Rozumiei

I’ve remembered I didn’t hug my mom before I left. And I haven’t seen my grandparents for a while. I haven’t said to the man I love that I love him. I was offended about something I can’t even remember now. And I haven’t built that Lego. Every time Daniel asked, I was too busy, or too tired, or just lazy. That’s why I feel we have to be back soon. To hug, to see and to say. We have to go back to build - not only Lego, but our whole life.

Meg, here.

I keep thinking of Oleksandra's mother telling her everything will be okay while Oleksandra tells her son everything will be okay. Some mothers are always mothering, always tucking their children in, telling them everything will be all right - even when they are separated by an ocean, by a war. I pray that Oleksandra's mother's story, Oleksandra's story, will be true in the morning. I pray that that everything will be okay.

Oleksandra and Daniel are still scheduled to return home on March 14th. They are waiting to see if they can use their return tickets. Oleksandra's mother has a friend in the United States. If they cannot go home, they will travel to her friend's house. They'll wait and worry more there. I've asked if I can send some Lego sets to the friend's house.  That way they'll be waiting for Daniel when he arrives in another strange place. Oleksandra graciously said I could.

I am able to send Lego sets and pay Oleksandra for her essay because of your financial support of this newsletter, through memberships and tips. I hope to publish more voices and your continued support will help me. Thank you for letting me do this work. Thank you for helping me put things on the record.