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Forced to flee: Ukrainian journalist recounts escape from war-torn country

Written on Sep 24, 2022; Updated Nov 1, 2022

Anastasia Zahorna wrote this story with the assistance of her tutor, Parker Burroughs, who, until his retirement, was executive editor of the Observer-Reporter.

Anastasia Zahorna in Pittsburgh

I never thought that I would have to live through a war

The war in my country that forced me to leave home and travel thousands of kilometers from relatives and friends. For me, as well as for millions of Ukrainians, it all started on Feb. 24. I woke up at 6 a.m. when my beloved said, “Nastia, it has begun.” I still did not understand the scale of what was happening, even when I saw the smoke through the window. I remember imagining the impossible, that the smoke was just morning fog. No, it was smoke from a Russian rocket that fell two kilometers from us.

I was born and lived all my 22 years in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. This city is wonderful with its history, architecture, and people – life before the war. It was terrible to watch, how in a matter of hours this best place on the planet turned into an environment of panic and fear.

So, it was decided to leave, and my mother and I went to the gas station. There were long lines of 20 to 30 cars filled to the brim with clothes, food, and people. When we were filling up our car, I saw a man selling his car to another man. I thought, is everything really so serious? People at the gas station were buying cars, illegally, exchanging cash for a car without any guarantees. With trembling hands, people handed over a wad of U.S. dollars and nervously signaled to their families to get into a newly acquired car.

I have been in a relationship with a wonderful guy; he is my strength and inspiration. And we broke up because my family needed me and his family needed him. Everything was like in a movie: I just screamed to the whole world (but no one heard this, my soul screamed). It seemed to me that I was hugging him for the last time. At the same moment, I tried to drive away the thought that kept popping up in my head: that I would never see him again. We said goodbye, and I and my family – my sister, mother, father, grandmother and aunt – went to a safe place.

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