Survive Twice. Not a movie - a real story about war, fears and hopes
She rescued her family from captivity, escaped with her younger brother and sister from a city that was left in ruins. And yet she found the strength to go on living, dreaming and hoping for the best. Today we will introduce you to another touching, emotional story of a girl whose life, like the lives of many other Ukrainians, completely changed after February 24, 2022. The story of Kristina Saikova.
Part one. Lugansk. When life was divided into "before" and "after"
Kristina, tell us a little bit about yourself and life before the terrible events of 2014.
I was born in the small town of *Krasnodon in the Luhansk region. And I grew up in the small town of Molodogvardeysk - literally 8-10 kilometers from Krasnodon. I had an ordinary family, where my dad was a miner and my mom was a human resources worker. At that time my brother and sister were at school. I was a student of the Luhansk State Academy of Culture and Arts named after Mikhail Matusovsky. I studied academic vocal performance, planned to finish my bachelor's and then master's degree, to work in the Lugansk Philharmonic as an opera singer and participate in operas.
Do you remember that first day when the occupation forces entered Luhansk?
Everything happened quickly and at the same moment gradually. I fell asleep at night when everything was fine, and when I woke up, the upheaval had begun. That's how I remember it.
First, the groups detained work buses with miners who were traveling home from their shifts. They were taken to the main square in Krasnodon, where they were held. In this way they created the appearance of a rally in support of Russia "Russia save us". And it was really against the will of the people.
Then they made roadblocks, referendums, suspected everyone and everything. They created such rules that you just didn't feel like a human being. At the same time, people were always talking about the Soviet Union. Allegedly, they wanted to recreate it again.
What were your and your family's thoughts at that moment?
We did not understand the people who were so strongly expecting the arrival of Russia and wanted to be saved from nothing at all. Because everyone had everything: stable jobs, food, clothes. Just like in the rest of the cities. My family did not support anything that the occupation troops were doing.
"We were born in Ukraine, we have a Ukrainian passport and Ukrainian citizenship. How can we give them up, especially without having any reasons?"!"
Very much believed that all this is not for long and that the occupiers will not get anything. But alas...
And then your father and brother were taken hostage....
I will never forget that day. It happened on October 13, 2014 at 4:30 pm.
I bought train tickets to Kiev, for October 23. My parents and I wanted to find an institute for me to transfer to. Because I had to continue my studies, and it was definitely not an option in the LPR. And my parents wanted to look for a place to live so that they could move to Ukraine.
That's when a militia group came to our house with machine guns and an application for the arrest of my father and my younger brother. He was only 14 years old.
The accusation sounded like "Ukropy". That was enough for them. Then it turned out that Dad was accused of passing information to the Ukrainian military and that he was a scout. Although this is not true. He is a miner and at that time was on sick leave after kidney surgery. And my brother was taken for supporting the Ukrainian army and waiting for it to liberate us. In the end, we were told that the charge was a firing squad...
How did you and your mom find a way to set them free?
We have a Christian family. After my father and brother were taken away, I posted on Facebook. I called all my friends and acquaintances asking them to pray and help us in some way. People responded, involving journalists and negotiators in order to free at least my brother first, because he was a minor.
Some people (their names cannot be mentioned) helped to liberate from inside. And volunteers - from the territory of Ukraine. We still keep in touch with some people and are grateful to everyone who made efforts to save their relatives.
It's scary to imagine what you went through then.....
We were in the commandant's office for three days to get some information and talk to someone, because everyone was silent. We shouted at them, cried, asked them to talk to us, and didn't leave until the last minute.
Then an alleged "officer" nicknamed Tashkent came out to us. He was from the FSB and did not hide it. And you could see from him that he was a professionally trained military officer. He said that the accusation was serious and could lead to a firing squad, and tried to interrogate us too. His last words were that my father and brother had been taken away by counter-intelligence. And that meant the end. No one ever came back from there alive. At that moment I thought that my younger sister and I (she was 9 years old) would remain orphans. Because mom's heart almost stopped.
I, on the other hand, tried to hang in there as much as possible and be on the phone with everyone who helped us.
And a miracle happened: at night, from Wednesday to Thursday, this Tashkent called us and said that he had information and was waiting for us in the morning at the commandant's office. When we arrived, he informed us that a ransom was possible.
"His words, «I see that you are not a wealthy family. So the ransom will come from groceries»"
He told me how much of what and how fast to bring it in. And maybe if he liked everything, they would be released.
We didn't spare anything. My mother, grandmother and I were ready to give everything we had, as long as my father and brother were released. Friends and neighbors helped with money and food as much as they could. We fully loaded our friends' car with food. And when they brought everything, they did not expect that there would be so much food. Allegedly they were satisfied.
How did you feel knowing that your family was now being held hostage?
When you realize that your relatives are being held captive by the russians and you don't know what can happen - it hurts and scares you to no end. A million thoughts in your head "what if I never see them again?". They went through a wild horror there. They were beaten, bullied, threatened, pressured psychologically, treated like animals. They were in terrible conditions.
What condition were they in after liberation?
When Dad and my brother were brought in, their faces were very pale and shocked. The first thing Dad asked very, very quietly was: "Are we being released?". I was worried about my brother's mental state because he was only 14 years old. But thank God, he tried to hang in there. It took a while for them to come to their senses after the experience.
What kept you going back then?
Hope. Hope that the Ukrainian army was about to liberate us. Because it was close by, there were brutal battles going on. We expected Ukraine and did not want to believe that all this would last and the horror would continue.
Remembering those events, meeting with the occupation troops, what emotions do you feel now?
I'm angry. Angry because we had a good life. We had jobs, schooling, housing, friends, church, everything we needed. All the things our parents spent years trying to acquire. And in one moment it was all taken away from us. Russia simply decided to save us from a good life in our own country.
Part two. Irpin. Continuation of a terrible dream.
How did your history with this beautiful suburb of Kiev begin?
We did not move to Irpin right away. After our relatives were released, we quickly packed our things, documents and everything we could just take with us. First, friends from Kyiv helped us with train tickets. And on October 20 we were already met here by volunteers who helped to liberate my father and brother. And they took us to the west of Ukraine. My parents and my youngest lived there for five months. I found an institute I could transfer to, and I was in Kiev for a while. Then my parents were invited to Nikopol in the Dnepropetrovsk region. They lived there for another six months. Dad bought himself a map of Ukraine (he liked to look at cities) and he liked the name Irpin. So it was decided to move there. And for the last almost 9 years we have been living in this wonderful city.
Was it difficult to adapt to life in Irpin after Luhansk?
It was not easy, but we fell in love with this city very quickly. It was small, cozy and close to Kiev, which I liked very much. The city was being transformed before our eyes. New parks were opened, the central square was handed over, new houses started to be built. And the most important thing is that we felt that this city became our native one. We made many new friends and acquaintances here, found a church.
Everything was going well. I graduated from a vocal academy and started working in my profession - a performer and vocal teacher for children and adults.
Of course we missed home, but we also realized: the road there is definitely closed to us.
Your first feelings when you learned about the Russian army's invasion in Irpin...
For a long time there was talk that this could happen. Everyone tried not to believe it until the last. But on February 24, 2022, we found ourselves in a horrible never-ending dream. And I broke down. Abruptly all the memories and emotions of 2014 resurfaced. Those shelling, explosions, when you don't know whether you'll be lucky to wake up in the morning or not. I remember I was shivering so badly that I couldn't control it.
How did you manage to escape and leave town?
Two weeks before the events my parents decided to talk to me. They said that if war broke out, I would have to take my younger sister and brother (I had a little brother, who is now 8 years old and under my parents' guardianship), all my documents and leave. My parents made the decision to stay. Because my brother Daniel, who has already grown from a 14-year-old boy into a 22-year-old man, served in the patrol police. He is militarily obligated and had to stand for protection. My parents didn't want to leave him behind.
"Of course, and I refused to leave, but no one asked me. I had to take care of the younger ones."
So on the evening of February 24, when it started, our friends picked us up and we left. It was incredibly hard. I still remember my parents' faces. That moment of saying goodbye and not knowing whether we would see each other again or not....
It must be hard to live knowing your family is in danger?
Terribly scary. Communication with my parents was very bad, with my brother it was practically non-existent. On February 23, he left for work, and after that we never saw him, because he was defending Kyiv. Heavy shelling of the city began, and on February 25 they blew up the bridges that led from Irpin to Kiev. This had to be done so that the Russian occupiers could not break into the capital.
How did you see your beautiful city upon your return?
I came to Irpin after the Ukrainian army liberated it from Russian terrorists. It was on April 24 that same year. It is an indescribable pain when you know what your town looked like before "saving Russia" and see what is left after. The hair stands up on my head. Our Irpin was destroyed by 75% and this figure says it all. Especially the neighborhood we lived in. There was an air raid and there was practically nothing left of it. I have never seen destruction on such a scale in my life. Communication was very poor, there was no electricity, no water, there was ruin all around. And it was a city that had been cleared of that who had been killed by Russians. Before that, the sight was even more horrifying.
And yet you find the strength to move on. How?
I see people returning to the city despite the destruction, helping each other. And this helps me too. Despite the fact that the war continues, the state is trying to rebuild everything. We are Ukrainians, a very strong people. We continue to live!
Has your view of the world changed much since those events?
Just made sure that you and your family are nowhere close to being completely safe in this world.
Part Three. California. About the only main dream
Why choose this state?
I didn't choose it, to be honest. It was just that my friends who live in California suggested that I come to them under the U4U program. This program was opened for Ukrainians after the war started. I refused several times, but then I decided to give it a try.
Did your family take your desire to move to California well?
My family pushed me to move. My family knew that I wanted to visit America and, of course, for the English language, it was a very good chance to tighten it up.
Was the moving process easy or the opposite?
It's very hard. I did not want to leave my family in Ukraine. I doubted this decision for a long time. But I was reassured by the fact that I could return at any time. The first four months were normal. I was surrounded by such beauty, incredible weather, the ocean... I could not believe that I was in America. But then I got depressed and it got really hard.
What were you most concerned about?
Everything is different here. Sometimes I look at the people around me and wish that my Ukraine could enjoy life again. We had a good life, but they decided to "save" us from it. It hurts.
Did you have a hard time finding a job?
To begin with, I waited a very long time for authorization for it and lost a lot of time. But then I came across the fact that they don't really want to take me to work either. There are too many conditions, which, unfortunately, are not for those who came under the program. But I managed. Now I work from home in one company as an online administrator and in H&M. Of course, I want to do other things. I really love to sing, to teach others how to sing. But there are a lot of obstacles in this as well.
How do you keep in touch with your relatives in Ukraine?
We talk on video all the time. Now, thank God, the connection is fine. But in winter it was terrible. I could go weeks without hearing from my family, and there was constant shelling. At such times it is incredibly difficult morally.
The war must have provoked many fears and anxieties.....
I'm very afraid of loud and sudden noises.
"There was a fighter jet show in California last year. I covered all the windows, my ears with a pillow, and cried."
I couldn't reassure myself that it was just a show and everything was normal. It's not easy, as it is for every Ukrainian.
Do you plan to stay in California or do you still want to return to Ukraine?
Yes, I want to go back. America is a beautiful country. There are many wonderful people here, but Ukraine will always be home for me.
What are your experiences and experiences of surviving war that you want Californians to know about?
I have encountered different people in California. Not everyone can understand me or other Ukrainians. And some just don't even want to understand. Someone said that Russia was doing everything right, that it was protecting us, and I tried to bring reality to people. It is unpleasant and painful when people do not want to hear the truth from those who experienced this horror personally and saw everything with their own eyes.
Unfortunately, reality is brutal. There is a lot of propaganda. But I would like people to know where the lies are and where the truth is. That there is a real war in Ukraine. And it did not start on February 24, 2022. It began when Russia seized the territory of Crimea in March 2014 and the territory in eastern Ukraine in April 2014. And since 2022, it has been a full-scale invasion by Russian troops. Every day our soldiers, civilians, children are killed, whole cities are destroyed. This is not liberation, but genocide of the Ukrainian people. Therefore, support is important for us, it is important to understand and to be heard. We want to live.
What do you believe in and dream about right now?
All my hope, my dream, like any Ukrainian, is for the war to end and Ukraine to win. I believe that it will definitely happen. No one is immune to the fact that it may happen again to you or your children someday. But you still try to go on living, to make any plans for the future. You try to enjoy every day as much as possible and appreciate your loved ones even more...
Socium.Network team would like to thank Kristina for agreeing to share her story, personal experiences and hopes with us. We believe that everything our interviewee dreams of will definitely come true. After all, truth always overcomes injustice, and good always triumphs over evil. If you have any creative suggestions for Christina or want to get advice on vocal lessons, you can contact her personally on Instagram or Facebook.
Thank you for reading us!
* Since April 2014, controlled by the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LPR). According to Ukrainian legislation, it is a temporarily occupied territory.