“Like in all these days, I pretend that I’m calm”: Words from Ukrainian Writer, Liuba Dyvak.
By Ewan Waddell

“Like in all these days, I pretend that I’m calm”: Words from Ukrainian Writer, Liuba Dyvak.

To continue our Stories series of Ukrainian voices, we spoke with Liuba Dyvak — a writer who managed to flee Kyiv after the invasion began. A couple of weeks ago, Liuba came to the studio to share her story over a beer.

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If you would like to support through donations, you can do so here.

If you would like to host refugees, you can find more information here.

To learn other ways you can help Ukraine as a foreigner, please see this website.

And if you know of any stories or individuals who you think should be heard on our platform, please reach out to us.

“Hipster photo from pre war times” / “First day of war tears”

“I’m Liuba, I’m 26 years old, and before war, I used to work in a creative agency — Drama Queen Agency. I was a junior copywriter and manager — so names and slogans and other stuff. But now I’m unemployed and I’m not going to have the life that I was just getting used to.”

“It was the 24th of February and I was sleeping really bad. It was the first time I really started worrying because I didn’t believe that war will be in Ukraine… And then at 5:30am my Grandma wakes me up — I used to live with her for the last four months because she has a problem with her heart — and with shaken, lost eyes she tells me ‘please don’t worry, don’t worry. War starts, Putin bombed our city’. I wake up immediately. And in all this, like all these days, I pretend that I’m calm. Like I know what to do. But I really don’t know what to do.”

“So I tried to calm her down and say ‘ok, pack your things’, but she didn't have one medicine she needed so I decided to go to the pharmacy and the supermarket. And you know what the most shocking thing for me was that all these people are in the same situation, in panic, don’t know what to do, in these giant lines to the bank and the pharmacy, but everyone was so polite. So united. Nobody yelled at each other. We Ukrainians were so gentle with each other.”

“It’s such a strange feeling when you realise that now everything changes. I realised my life will probably change, but I didn’t know how yet, and I didn’t know what to expect. I just knew that now I have this potential to die. So I was listening to music going back home when I see these child’s swings. So I just sit on the swings to listen to a few songs and breathe. And then I hear some sounds far away. Explosions. And I was like, okay, I can hear the explosions. And then three armoured personnel carriers drove down my streets. And I say like okay — I really need to pack my things.”

“So we decided to evacuate to the countryside together. It was me, my Mom, her boyfriend, my Grandma, one woman with her teenage son, two cats and ten bags, and it was a small car. It takes like an hour and a half, but it took eight hours because of all the people trying to evacuate… The house is 130 kilometres South West from Kyiv and it was on this road Kyiv-Odesa — so I wasn’t really sure if it was a good idea to go there because our government recommended staying at home... All of this day felt so surreal.”       

“When we finally [arrived] after eight hours to reach the countryside house, it was so peaceful. So silent. And it was the first time I felt safe. And it was the first time when I started crying. Like we unpacked our things, hugged our dogs and cats and chickens. And it was so peaceful. We had this countryside, Ukrainian dinner with potatoes, borscht and moonshine made by my grandfather. And it just felt home and safe… I just started living my cool life, I’m independent, I have some money I could afford to rent an apartment, I go to see a therapist, I have my jiujitsu class. You know, this nice, hipster life with hipster problems. Like this situation is so stupid, and I can’t realise how this situation is for [my Mom], because she’s like 46 years old, all her money was in this business and a few little flats near Kyiv and she’s supposed to be a landlord to have some money when she gets old… It was the time that I realised I need to do something. I decided to go to Berlin and try to set my life together if it’s possible at all. I chose Berlin only because a lot of my friends evacuated here and I would most likely go nuts without familiar faces around.”

“But I didn’t want to leave my family because I didn’t know when I could meet them again and hug them again. You just can’t predict anything. And it’s the most fucked thing about war. You can’t predict anything, since it changes so fast.”

“I couldn’t leave the countryside for probably a week. I tried to do it by car but every time something happened and people cancelled it. So I bought a train ticket to Bila Tserkva — a city 50 kilometres from the countryside. I asked my friend who was in the territorial defence of Bila Tserkva to take me to the train because it was leaving after curfew and he wrote to me like ‘Okay Liuba, don’t worry, everything will be fine’, and then two minutes later, he wrote to me ‘Russian descent just came to our city, blew up bridges, there are street fights’. And it was a moment I really feel shame about because I was really panicked, and my Mom and my Grandma started to panic because they saw me.”

“Then with my Mom, we have this long walk through the countryside and she told me stories about our relatives who used to live there and we visited the graves of our family members and bought some illegal beer and poured it into teacups. And we had this type of conversation that we can’t have when it’s a peaceful time, you know, this really deep conversation. Before that, she was really tense and had these really weird conversations with me, for example, she said ‘Liuba, if someone wants to rape you, don’t be aggressive, just let it happen. Because someone saying you can’t survive rape is bullshit, Liuba! You can't survive if you're dead.’”

“Before the war I suffered with a couple episodes of depression. But when the war starts, I felt all these survival hormones and like depression doesn’t exist anymore. Like, it sounds cheesy, but it's so cool to live… Just breathing, just hugging your family, just doing your normal stuff. I don’t know, I just feel like, in all of this, I have so much will to live.”

“I say goodbye to my family and I don’t know when I could see them again and I go to the border with five hundred euros and two bags. To the Polish border took eight days for me. It was like two days on the road to Lviv and then I found some way to the nearest border, then go five kilometres by foot with some woman and her two children. And she was really nervous. She said ‘at first my parents take care of me, then my husband take care of me’, and so she just didn’t know what to do. She had kids and this really domestic life and she was just very nervous, so I calmed her and her children.”

“I checked the train schedule and I found the train leaves twenty minutes after and I go to the ticket man and ask if it’s free for Ukrainians and he was like ‘Yes, but from tomorrow’. And I was like, I don’t have a place to stay here, can I just go on this train? And he’s like ‘As an official man, I can’t allow you to do that, but you can ask another man on platform 6’... Obviously, I don’t ask this man. I finally got on the train.”


“Do you wanna hear about my harassment episode?... So I was really glad that I got on the train, but then I realised I didn’t eat for probably 12 hours and I’m a little hungry. And so I go to buy some soup on the train, and there was this man sitting next to me asking if it’s some Polish soup and I was like I don’t know I’m not from Poland, and he was like ‘I’m not from Poland too I’m from Berlin, I’m a developer, blah blah blah… Where are you from? I answered that I am from Ukraine “Do you want me to buy you a beer’, so I was like sure. And we have this really nice conversation, like very polite, he told me about his wife, and then he bought me a second beer and then I start with all the stories like ‘how precious is life?’, like how I’m glad to be alive and he was like ‘listen to me… Are you depressed?’. And then he started to be like so weird like ‘I want to show you to my friends’ like I was an animal or something. And then ‘I want to kiss you’... And like, didn’t I hear you say something about your wife? And he’s like ‘oh it’s complicated’ and he starts to touch my hand and grab my face and I was like man, don't cross my borders. We in Ukraine do not like when someone crosses our borders! And I was so pissed at him so I yelled at him and went back to my third class wagon… Another thing I experience after all this is that I feel more aggressive to men. I know it’s not all men, but some delusional old fucks that make a decision and then younger fucks with penises break into my country. Do you know about the concept of property? Why should I leave my country because of these people?”

“I talk to my Mom and Grandma almost every day. What scares me the most about this war is that there is no logic to it. They bomb not only strategically important objects, but everything. It’s scary with them in Ukraine, but my Mom doesn’t leave because she doesn’t want to leave her man, and my Grandma physically can’t do this. I ask them: if the situation gets worse, do you try to escape? And they’re like sure, sure, but still, you don’t really know if it’s a safe place now. It could be bombed randomly.”

“In the first week of war our president had some interviews with journalists and some of them asked him what guarantee [he] can provide to Russia… They break on our territory! We shouldn’t provide them any guarantee!... This situation kinda shows that there are no rules in this world anymore. Like people don’t learn their lesson from World War Two? Or they just forgot… Because the situation is awfully similar.”

“A lot of my friends, a lot of Ukrainians, have this post traumatic stress syndrome. I woke up every morning at 6am. Like no matter which time I go to bed. First three weeks — always 6am no matter what. And I remember I respond to [my friend] at 6am and they ask ‘do you have the same thing?’. Yes, yes, like, let’s meet now. And so at 6am we’re just walking around the streets, everywhere closed, just talking and crying. I have no job, no place to live and I don’t know when I could see my family. I want to text my therapist to check if I’m alright, but I wasn’t sure if she’s in the condition to give me some help, and I also feel that people need it much more than me now, because I’m in a safe place at least… My country is in a deep asshole. But we will win. But I mean, it’s just what price it takes.”

Below are some links to ways you can help right now.

If you would like to support through donations, you can do so here.

If you would like to host refugees, you can find more information here.

To learn other ways you can help Ukraine as a foreigner, please see this website.

And if you know of any stories or individuals who you think should be heard on our platform, please reach out to us.

Interview by Ewan Waddell.

Photos courtesy of Liuba Dyvak.


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