JOHNSON CITY, Tenn (WJHL) – As day 13 of Russia’s war on Ukraine draws to a close, 2 million refugees have fled the war-torn country, with 42 million citizens staying behind.
Some are known to Nelly Ostrovsky, the Kyiv native who has lived in Johnson City for over 30 years.
Tuesday, the world celebrated International Women’s Day, but to Ostrovsky, now highlighted more than ever are the women of her home nation who are surviving the war.
‘There is no escape for them‘
Though many have managed to flee the Russian attacks, others have not been so lucky.
Many of those who remain in Ukraine – especially Ostrovsky’s home in and around the capital city – face death on a daily basis.
“My friend, she has a mother who is paralyzed, she can’t take her away from the apartment. At the moment she’s considering that but the shelling is so heavy that she cannot take her anywhere,” Ostrovsky explained. “Their apartment’s a 12-story apartment (building), they live on the ninth floor, and mind you, people in their apartments have a gas stove so these are kind of realities, this is how it kind of could end, you know, this house could be blown up in no time.”
The friend she is referring to is Viktoria Shtifanenko, who Ostrovsky has known since she was 14 years old.
Ostrovsky explained that Shtifanenko’s 32-year-old son – Anton Moiseenko – was killed in shelling on February 28.
Moiseenko and his fiancee of nine days were house-sitting for Ostrovsky in her mother’s house roughly 16 miles outside Kyiv city center when the Russians started bombing the neighborhood. They realized quickly that it was too late to make a break for their makeshift World War II-era bomb shelter in the yard outside, so they constructed a shelter out of their hallway and a reinforced door.
After waiting for two hours following the last of the last bomb crash, Moiseenko and his fiancee Alexandra Burlaka got up with numb legs from their hiding place.
Burlaka immediately off to search for their cat, and Moiseenko going to check on the state of Ostrovsky’s house.
Moments later, a delayed bomb erupted and a piece of shrapnel struck Moiseenk, dealing a deadly blow.
In a panic, Burlaka called everyone she knew and the elderly couple next door hurriedly offered to take Moiseenko to the nearest hospital. When they arrived, it was too late.
Ostrovsky said that he died in Burlaka’s arms, and nobody had room to take his body into their care.
“She had made arrangements where the priest administered the last rites to the boy and she hopes when the Red Cross will manage to get a ceasefire to get his body moved to the facility where they will incinerate the body and she will get ashes,” Ostrovsky said.
Burlaka lost her fiance and Shtifanenko her son.
“She had not been able to say goodbye because of the heavy, heavy fighting,” Ostrovsky said.
The two women are separated – one on the outskirts of Kyiv in a bunker with her elderly neighbors, one living on the ninth floor of a 12-story building with her paralyzed mother. Both are unable to escape the near-constant bombing and attacks by Russian forces.
Burlaka has been stuck in her elderly neighbor’s underground shelter for over a week.
“Since 28th (of February), there were moments when it was quiet but all they could do at those moments is to try to charge their phones because their house does not have electricity, the house next door people have a generator of some sort and they have not, their houses have not been destroyed,” Ostrovsky said of Burlaka and her elderly neighbors who remain trapped in their bunker without running water or electricity.
She said the women are trying their best to survive.
“Their spirit just amazes me. It amazes me. I don’t know what would I do in this situation, I don’t know. I’m not as strong. I’m not as strong to be in a besieged city, not to be able to bury my own child. I don’t know what I would do. They inspire me,” she said.
While some women are trying to keep ties to normal life in the midst of war.
“I have a friend whose mother defiantly stayed there and she said ‘I went to the store today and they had only this kind of sunflower oil and I don’t like that sunflower oil,'” Ostrovsky joked, adding in all seriousness that some of her friends’ relatives who remained behind don’t have access to basic necessities like medication.
‘These kids deserve to live’
Men between the ages of 18 and 60 may not leave Ukraine and are conscripted into the defense forces. That means that most of the refugees escaping the conflict are children, women, and those most vulnerable.
Ostrovsky told News Channel 11 of a friend in Kyiv, Elena Safonova, who teaches ballet. Instead of escaping the beleaguered city, Safonova helped get her ballet students admitted to ballet schools across Europe which normally would have been a tough feat.
“Russians not only took my life, life of my loved ones, they’re taking the future of my children,” Ostrovsky said.
“I think the future of these kids who really do not, they all were in school, the life interrupted to them is not simple trip to Europe, the life interrupted to them means academically interrupted. All of my friends kids value education,” she said.
One of her friends, Anna Furman, escaped Kyiv with her two daughters Dana and Darina Pupenko, to Berlin, Germany.
They had to leave their beloved father and husband behind to fight for their nation.
They now live in one room in Berlin with friends who use their room as a massage parlor during the day, so they have to find a way to entertain themselves during the day.
A week ago, Ostrovsky’s cousin told her about being trapped in her paternal grandmother’s house with Russian forces knocking on the door.
Ostrovsky explained that by some miracle, her cousin Ludmilla Smiyan and her daughter Valeria, escaped the village of Buzova, about 16 miles outside of Kyiv, on Sunday.
She said that they drove by car to the Polich border and waited for six hours in their car before deciding to take their belongings and walk across the border.
Awaiting them was the family of Ostrovsky’s daughter’s sorority sister from Wake-Forrest in the United States.
“These kids deserve to leave. And these are just the few I know just a few I know. Like I said a lot of them made it out safely and Polish people have been an incredible and incredible friend from selfless desire to help,” she said.
Ostrovsky encouraged Tri-Citians who would like to help to research before donating. She said United Help Ukraine, whose website is unitedhelpukraine.org, is volunteer-led and able to put 99% of donations directly to aid.