Now living with friends in the Midcoast while hoping to reunite with her husband

Ukrainian woman who escaped war with her children recalls day ‘war changed everything’

Mon, 06/20/2022 - 12:00pm

    MIDCOAST—In the month leading up to Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and unjust full-scale attack on Ukraine February 24, 2022, Daria, 34, was at home in Kyiv, the country’s capital, with her two sons, Mitya, 8, and Niki, 3. Her husband was at work. A couple of phone calls later and everything in their lives would turn on a dime.

    Daria and her sons are now safe and housed with friends in Midcoast Maine for the present time. Though she had a working knowledge of conversational English, we communicated by Google translate to get all of the details.  I would ask or type a question and she would type her answer.

    Q: What happened just before Ukraine was attacked?

    Daria: So I’ll tell you how it all started. We had our own little lives; we had a house in the suburbs of Kyiv. I have a master’s degree in customs law and was an office manager for a customs brokerage firm in Ukraine. My husband serves in Customs and Border protection of Ukraine. Our children went to school. Mitya was in third grade and Niki was in kindergarten. We were planning our summer vacation and planning to build a veranda near the house and plant new trees.

    Suddenly, everything changed on the day of the invasion. A friend called my husband at work and told him that we needed to get out of the suburbs as soon as possible. And then a neighbor called and told us to pack our things. There had been no warning days before in the newspapers. An American friend had more information and told me troops were positioned in Belarus and we didn’t have much time before they started shelling Kyiv. I didn’t believe it; I didn’t want to leave our house.

    But I summoned my will and I did it for the sake of my children. My husband told us to go to Poland. He had to stay back because of his job and fight the Russian troops.

    “After Russia spent weeks building up a huge military force along its border with Ukraine and in neighboring Belarus, Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched what Ukrainian officials described as a ‘full-scale invasion’ of the country on February 24, 2022.” - CBS News

    Q: How much time did you have to gather your children and your belongings?

    Daria: We had one day. At the end of my husband’s workday at 5 p.m., he called me and told me I had six hours to get out and go to Poland. And he had to stay behind.

    Q: What did you tell your sons?

    Daria: I told them we were going to Poland and in one month, we would be able to go home and they would see their father.

    Q: What was behind your husband’s decision not to evacuate with you?

    Daria: He remained to defend the country, although he could have left with us. He, like most men, and many women have remained to fight. He is just a civilian but was a volunteer in the army. His work is related to helping the military. He worked on the border of Romania and helped transport humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Now, he has returned to his primary job in Kyiv and is restoring the airport and Customs checkpoints destroyed by the Russian military. He is in a safer place right now.

    Q: How often do you get to speak to him by telephone or computer?

    Daria: We are always in touch, but as you know, a couple of days ago eight rockets were launched in Kyiv; two were shut down, and I’m always worried about whether I’ll be able to contact my husband tomorrow.

    Q: What made you take up the offer of Elisabeth and Oleksii in Maine to move even farther away?

    Daria: The apartment in Poland was very expensive; we were there for two months. They told us they knew we couldn’t pay for the apartment for much longer and wanted to help us. They said ‘We have a big house for you and your family,” so we flew to New York, then to Maine. We arrived on April 10 and have been living here while my oldest son goes to school.

    Q: Was it a culture shock to come this far away?

    Daria: For thousands of years, Ukrainian people have been valued for their hospitality and their desire to help a person in need. And I see that same trait in Americans. This is my first time in the United States and I see that Americans are very good and sincere people. Strangers learning that I was fleeing the war with my young children gave us so many things. We were given a house to live in and a car to use. People brought us things we needed, food, clothes, boots–it restores my faith in humanity. I can’t list every name of the people who have shown us hope and kindness in this community.

    Q: What news do you have about your house and Bucha? Has it been fully destroyed?

    Daria: A shell hit our house but did not cause as much damage as the neighboring houses. There is still a roof and walls but no windows, doors, or furniture. In our village, 1,500 houses have been destroyed, and neighbors have been left without a roof over their heads.  We have neighbors who are just using our house as a shelter at this point. They have a generator and turn it on for three hours a day to heat water. Volunteers bring food and seedlings so neighbors can grow their own vegetables. International organizations are also bringing aid to the villages. The longer the war drags on in Ukraine, the less confidence I have there will be anything left to Ukraine to return to, that it will all be a pile of rubble.

    Q: Mitya, eight, has now had his school year interrupted twice with a move to two different countries during the school year. How is he faring now?

    Daria: The first transition was very difficult for him in Poland because he could not speak Polish. But, he went to school there with my friend’s daughter who translated for him. Here in America, he didn’t have any friends, but he’d had a lot of English lessons, so that has helped him to understand kids here. The school has made him feel very welcomed and he has made a  friend from the Congo. His friend tells him stories about his life in the Congo too and the problems he’s experienced with their war, so Mitya trusts him—they have the same experiences.

    Q: How do you find balance in your days while you wait for the end of this war? How is your husband faring?

    Daria: I do a lot of work around the house. I have been planting trees and bushes and flowers in the front of the house. Housework also gives me a sense of home and reminds me of what I had in Ukraine. I want to do something pretty for Elizabeth and Oleksii.  I can’t use my law degree, because I don’t have my work permit yet. I’m also working on my driver’s license. But, I would love to do something with Ukrainian cooking and introduce that to the community. I’d like to get that work permit soon to have a stable, financial cushion for our family.  My husband misses me and the children very much. He says he cannot pass by the playground. When he sees the children there playing, his heart starts to ache. He ordered paintings from a Ukrainian artist of our likeness for a portrait and hung them in his office of an apartment where he now lives.

    Q: Do you have any insights into when this war will end?

    Daria: We all have hope for the American land lease since Europe has suspended the supply of weapons. We hope for American weapons, without which, we cannot win. But, if we get them, we can go on a counter-attack, and then there will be victory at the end of the year. In the midst of this, I want to thank the State of Maine for the support and assistance they have surrounded us with since the first day we arrived. On behalf of the Ukrainian people, I would also like to thank President Biden and the U.S. Government for their assistance. This has been the greatest help we have received in a bloody war with an enemy who kills children and the elderly with a smile on his face. We will win this dishonest war and thank you all for your help.


    A GoFundMe campaign has been set up for Daria and her sons at

    The organization by which the Rockport Elementary girls were selling their wares to benefit Ukrainian children is Unicef.

    Certain first and last names have been omitted for security reasons.

    Kay Stephens can be reached at