What the invasion anniversary means to Ukrainians now living in Utah
On Feb. 24, 2022, Yuliia Danilyuk was woken up by loud explosions. Outside her window, the sky was black with smoke. Russian soldiers had begun their attack on Kyiv, Ukraine.
“Everybody was in a panic,” she said.
One year later, Danilyuk now lives in Utah where she escaped with her mother, two children and little dog. The journey was far from easy.
On that day, roads were blocked and nobody could leave town. After counting 34 Russian helicopters outside of her window, she and her family moved to the basement. But they still weren’t safe. Ultimately, the family, including their little dog, left for a neighboring village. All they had with them was a backpack and some documents.
“When we were going to this village, we saw some broken and destroyed cars and also people covered in blood,” Danilyuk said. “It was very terrifying.”
Another town close to where they were was almost completely destroyed just four days later. By that time, Danilyuk and her family were sheltering in another basement with 16 other people, including six young children and a pregnant woman.
The house came under fire and all the windows were shattered. Danilyuk said she had a feeling her son was in danger and pulled him toward her. Right after, a big piece of metal flew into the place where he was.
“If I didn’t have that feeling to take my son from that spot, I would probably not have a son anymore.”
Soon, 34 survivors in all were in the basement. Danilyuk said it was especially tough because Russian soldiers destroyed electrical communications so there was no way to reach other people.
Her family stayed there for nine days. She said they didn’t have enough food and the basement didn’t have a bathroom. Instead, they relieved themselves in a bucket in front of everyone.
Eventually, some men rigged a phone charger from a car battery and were able to get online to see what was happening. That’s how they found out about an evacuation. They wrapped themselves in white fabric and walked 8 kilometers through a forest and open field with only a paper map as a guide.
“When we walked, we saw a lot of houses on fire,” Danilyuk said.
When they arrived at the evacuation point, Red Cross cars were already full with pregnant women and wounded children. After throwing herself at other cars asking them to take her kids, Danilyuk found a car willing to do so.
“I just stayed with my mom and I told them ‘goodbye,’” with no expectation to see them anytime soon.
But, by some miracle, another car was able to take Danilyuk and her mother. Finally arriving in Poland, people were given food and blankets. Danilyuk, though, couldn’t find her children. She ran around, asking everyone. Some journalists noticed her and helped start a search.
Eventually, they found them and Danilyuk said that, too, was a miracle.
She and her family, including their dog, were then able to find a host family in Utah. Sponsors rent the house they now live in. Although Danilyuk and her family made it out, she said many of her neighbors were killed and classmates of her son went missing.
Now thinking about it a year later, Danilyuk misses her home.
“I just remember my home and how cozy and comfortable it was,” she said. “I feel like never, I’m gonna be home again.”
Nazar Bil and his wife, Myroslava, took steps to get out of Ukraine because of their own child. They chose Utah because Myroslava was an exchange student there 20 years ago. The host family had visited them in Lviv, Ukraine and she still had a relationship with them. They had been invited before to visit the family in Utah, but they only decided to come because of the war. Originally, only Myroslava and their son were going to move.
“When we started planning this last summer, the situation in Ukraine wasn’t so bad yet,” Bil said.
His wife and son left Ukraine in September. It was easier for them because they lived in the west, where Russian soldiers didn’t have as much control. They crossed the border to Poland and flew to Utah. They didn’t plan to stay long, but things started to change and Bil joined his family last November.
“I’ve woke up from the sounds of bombing of electricity station nearby,” Bil said. “There is no secure place now in Ukraine.”
In the year since the invasion, Bil said Ukrainians feel sad. They hope the war will end in victory for them as soon as possible.
“We have our home still waiting there. We have even our car still waiting there because we still hope that we will win this war soon and we can come back to our good life in Ukraine.”
But, he said Ukrainians need a full victory in order for them to return home to their families. In the meantime, Bil said he and his family are grateful for their Utah host family and for all the support they have received since arriving.