My Fleeing from the War in Ukraine

The story started in the previous posts:
Staying in Ukraine Before the War Started
Beginning of the Invasion of Ukraine February 24, 2022

We made it to Poltava after paying 3500 UAH to the taxi driver. This poor guy… in retrospect, I put him in an awkward position. My partner was pregnant, and the main road to Poltava was heavily guarded with all the accessories or war set along the way for the Russian troops. I am a veteran and so for “operational security” I won’t get into all of the ways the main road to Poltava was rigged or the locations and how we made it on the back roads to Poltava from Gadyich. It’s safe to say that no one would have made it up that road and out the other side alive. I booked a hotel room for 1 night. It was more like just 8 hours, from 4 pm to midnight because we had a train to catch from Poltava to Odesa just after midnight.

In Poltava, the ATM machines worked normally. The stores had almost all of their normal inventory and the pharmacies had essential medications. We stopped to pick up some more prenatal vitamins just in case the situation in Odesa was different, and in case our route out of Ukraine was long or the stores were empty. We shopped for snacks for the night train and had a chance to call Boston Children’s Hospital while we waited. Boston Children’s Hospital is the best hospital in the world for newborn babies and for complicated pregnancies. We were at around 15 weeks pregnant now. The fluid surrounding our baby was still increasing but the baby had a strong heartbeat. We needed to get to Odrex in Odessa quickly for their advanced technology to properly diagnose what was going on in Katya’s womb. Wow, I have not written that word, womb, since early March. I haven’t had that word cross my lips until just now. Maybe I have been blocking it put? That word, womb, brings up a flood of emotions. Maybe later in another blog, I will get into all that. The joy and hope of the future, and the crushing sadness that you will read about in this blog later. Of course, we didn’t really have a good live video of the ultrasound so all we could send Boston were the pictures and an 18-second long video that was from 12 weeks pregnant. In my mind, my job was to arrive in Ukraine, make sure my partner was safe and healthy, and then make sure the baby was safe and healthy. Katya was healthy, but we had a growing fear that the baby was not okay. We ate a good meal, made love like the world was ending, and then we went to sleep for a few hours. Surely, I can’t be the only person that has a rush of emotional energy after a torrent of tears that seemed to have fallen from nowhere! The time had come for us to make our way to the train station.

I took my partner’s advice and booked a hotel room about 300 meters from the train station. There was a curfew but we had tickets and luggage, and yes, my D visa gave me the confidence I needed to walk in the dark towards the heavily armed men at the train station. One of them spoke broken English so I basically showed him my passport and D visa while Katya explained the purpose of our travel. We bought some extra drinks and candy bars for this purpose! I admire soldiers that stand for the cause of patriotism! They accepted the food and drinks and helped us towards the train station. With only 1 window open the place was still packed with older Ukrainians, women, and children.

The air rate siren came on loudly and the soldiers came in and turned off the lights. We were all shown the way to a Soviet Era fallout shelter. My guess is that there were 200 of us in that shelter. It was hot and many people prayed and cried. I firmly believe that God and the universe send us the right things just at the right time. Angels can come along, and I think they can take the form of just about anything. As we sat there one of those little angels appeared. The angel appeared in the form of a little deaf boy with his dead family. This is 100% true. I have a video of the train station and my Google maps have every movement from that night and all of the time before and after that night. The boy had blond hair, almost white really. He had no expression but I could tell he was scared. He just stared at the floor while he tried to avoid the very large dog next to us. The dog had a muzzle on!!! I watched this boy and his parents talk, or rather sign to each other. In the saddest moments in the past couple of years, things like this have been happening to me. This boy with no facial expression was being so brave. He was maybe 8 years old and didn’t cry at all, NOT ONCE. Surely, he knew that a war had been started by Russia. There is no way that his family heard the air raid siren but the mother in this family had the coolest little radio with a LED screen attached. She was reading what was happening in Poltava while we were all listening to it. Something compelled me to just start playing ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS with this brave boy. At first, he didn’t want to play but I think he felt safe, after all, I was between him and the large dog! We played for another 5 minutes before the soldiers came and walked us up and out to the waiting train.

Katya and I finally boarded the midnight train at nearly 1 a.m. The lights were not turned on except for emergency lighting. Katya was scared. The reality of visiting a large city set in. We reserved 2 top bunks but when we got into our cabin there were 5 men already in our beds. She got a little upset and snapped at all 5 of them. They didn’t speak Ukrainian very well, and although Katya knows Russian, she is a proud Ukraine and speaks Ukrainian 99% of the time. In Gadyich, Poltava Oblast, they all spoke Ukrainian all the time. There is such national pride there. The soil is ripe for planting and is as black as night. There’s such great culture and respect for Ukrainian society there. On the train, I asked the 5 kinda short men why they were in our cabin. One of them answered that they were construction workers from Azerbaijan. They were fleeing the missile attacks in Kharkiv. Our train started in Kharkiv then ventured north and west to Poltava, then down to Odesa. You can imagine how an upset woman, worried about pregnancy and worried about her family, could really not be happy with 5 men that didn’t pay for the whole cabin occupying where we were going to sleep. We both believe in Karma, mother earth, and God, so I calmed her down and told her that these men were just trying to escape with their lives. However, that did not save the train conductor that these 5 men clearly had bribed into being on the train in the first place. I would not want to be that guy. She vented her feelings and I helped her hop onto the top bunk. The train stopped maybe every 45 minutes for security reasons. There were troops on our train walking from cabin to cabin looking for suspicious people. About 6 hours into our 9-hour trip south to Odessa one of the men offered me a hotdogā€¦ that didn’t go well for them… Katya doesn’t eat pork or beef AND still got very nauseous easily. I tried to warn them but I was not fast enough She lit into those guys so fast! I kinda snickered under my breath at what I knew was going to happen…she was Verbally tearing someone’s head off, and even though things were high stress, it was kinda sexy and funny to see her take charge like that. Those poor guys didn’t have a chance.

We arrived in Odessa to some snow. In December I made a video of a little snow falling outside our apartment in there but it felt like this snow was greeting us, both beautiful and also a chilling sign of what was to come in the following days.
Katya and I checked into our Airbnb apartment and quickly took a taxi to Odrex Medical Center. We made an appointment with their best doctor because she used to newest ultrasound machine from Germany. It was in 3D and color and would tell us all we needed to know about the baby. This was almost 15 weeks from the day of her pregnancy. I made a video of this ultrasound to keep as a memory of our baby that was safe in her belly. I mentioned out loud that maybe it was too soon to tell if our baby was a boy or a girl. The doctor had a difficult time locating the hands and feet at first but then my partner said in a very happy voice “Andy, it’s a boy!” I was about 3 seconds away from making that video live for my mother and sister to see but I wanted the moment to be special between only us. The doctor spoke pretty good English and told us that we needed to have a serious conversation. Katya and I both looked at each other because we knew this was not going to be good news. The doctor told us that the baby had 6 chambers of the heart not 4 like you and I. Our unborn son had serious neurological issues, with his little hands and feet all contracted into little fists. The esophagus was not formed properly and the heartbeat while strong, was too fast. I had my arm cradling Katya. Her body went limp and weak in my arm. I had to quickly wrap my arms around her to support her weight so she would not fall down. She wept like a child, then I wept like a child, and we both sat down arm in arm, totally stunned. I think I can speak for both of us and say we were in total disbelief. In total there were 9 really serious things wrong with our unborn son. The doctor told us we needed to call the Genetics hospital and some other specialists, but no one answered the telephone. I tried to keep her calm by calling some doctors in the USA that I worked with. I sent the ultrasound to Boston Children’s Hospital and the Mayo Clinic, both are world-class. I have gone through a lot in my life. I have seen death up close, and lost family members, friends, and other loved ones but nothing compared to this feeling of hopelessness. Ladies reading this… a good man is just taught and/or born with the ability to come in and fix just about anything that is wrong. When we can’t fix things that are horribly wrong it is one of the worst feelings. I didn’t want to lie to her and we both had talked about, read, and researched every possible outcome of the pregnancy. Not one scenario included our unborn son living a healthy, productive life. Back in the apartment, I called a dozen or so doctors and specialists. I called the US embassy staff to inquire about a medical evacuation for my partner. If she was my wife we could have gotten help but we both were so caught off guard with the pregnancy that we had only touched on the topic of marriage and a wedding. When we did talk about it I remember her mother being angry at me that I talked about a wedding after Easter and before April the 8th (I believe these dates are right). These dates it seems are holy days in Ukrainian culture and the church. I had to respect their beliefs, but looking back again, I wish I had gone ahead and at least filled out the paperwork for immigration with Katya as my fiance’. Did I love her? Yes! Did the baby come along to speed things up? Yes! If things had not gone horribly south (I will get to all of that near the end of this blog) I would have done my best to marry her. It’s hard to explain this situation other than to say I am a man of action, not words, and that I left that safety of the USA to return to Ukraine to take my pregnant, sick partner to safety through all means necessary! I did that and it’s done now. I am not in love now and I struggle sometimes with the reality that August 21st is approaching without a little boy on the way. In our apartment, there was a strange vibe. The best way to describe it is the word surreal. I made a video during the day and one at night of the air raid sirens sounding off in the distance. During the day I set my phone in the window and opened it a little. The sound of an incoming missile attack is heard very clearly. A few seconds later the sound of an explosion can be heard. At night we could hear church bells and the air raid siren. It felt like a scene from the Walking Dead like the apocalypse was upon us! As Katya’s protector and at the time, finally knowing how sick my partner was, along with our unborn son, I just didn’t have time to break down or be scared. I was as steady as I have ever been in my whole life. I can say it rather matter of fact because all of the western men I knew had all left Odessa, leaving behind the people and places we all had grown to love.

Katya and I waited for news from America, from the specialists that would help us make the best-educated decision for the future, and for our son. Part of me wishes I could go back and replace the horrible news that we got about our unborn son with some better, happier memories. I don’t know if anyone reading this will relate, but this is part of what happened. We made love like crazy like it was the last time we would take another breath on this earth. In a way, it felt like the world was ending. Our unborn son would never see the light of day, or take a breath outside of his mother’s miraculous womb. Neither of us knew 100% that we would have to make a life-altering decision or that we would never make love to each other again, or that our blossoming relationship would end, but we soon found out.

We woke to an air raid siren at 6:40 am. I remember this time because it is still on the calendar on my phone. I can say again that God was looking out for us that day. I called car rental agencies all over Ukraine but no one answered. Being the arrogant American that I am, I didn’t give up. I called B**** rental car based at the Odessa International Airport 3 times. On the 3rd call, a man answered. I will not say his name because he did us a huge favor and I’m pretty sure we were also putting money straight into his pocket. He told me that he was in Moldova and that we could rent an SUV for $300 for one day. I knew it was taking more than one day to cross the border so I told him $300 for the distance from Odessa to Moldova. Conservative men reading then, and ladies that believe in a woman’s choice, pay close attention to this part. The kind staff on this website said I should write if it will help someone. Well, this will help someone for sure! The Boston Children’s Hospital had emailed me their best medical advice, and my friends in the USA that are doctors also gave their opinion. We prayed a lot, and cried a lot, made love like teenagers, and cried some more, and in the end, we decided that our son would be better in heaven, on the right shoulder of God than suffering here on earth with many serious health issues. This was Katya’s 1st pregnancy and statistics tell us that 20% of 1st pregnancies end in miscarriage. Our unborn son was holding onto life for now 15 weeks. We talked about where to go to have this very serious surgery done. Poland has turned into a hyper-conservative country when it comes to abortion. In our case, the emergency abortion had to sole purpose of saving Katya’s life and womb and doing the most humane thing possible for our unborn child.

In Poland, abortion is nearly totally illegal. A court has to give their opinion on the necessity of abortion and in truth, we just didn’t have time to explain this entire situation to some strangers that didn’t know a single thing about our lives and future goals. Of course, I knew that the relationship could end, but I am a good enough man and human being to know that with me or without me, Katya would want a family one day and her womb had to be preserved. Our minds were 95% sure of what we needed to do but Poland was out of the picture. We agreed that we did not need ANY government body deciding the fate of our unborn son or Katya, his mother. The issue of abortion is not a black and white one. There is so much gray area that the one size fits all approach just does NOT work! We decided on a route, out of Odessa into Moldova and then on to an EU country. We chose Bucharest, Romania. The car rental guy (I can’t say his name) and I agreed on a price and we set off for the border. I knew this car rental deal was under the table because he wanted me to pay him cash when I arrived, and the contract being handwritten was a dead giveaway. I can’t blame the guy. He had a family to take care of. He was helping us in a huge way and I didn’t mind paying him the $300. We made it smoothly until we got near the Ukraine and Moldova border. I took some pictures and made a video of the chaos that we encountered. I can only describe the state of mind of those that we saw as truly desperate, angry, scared but most of all, nearly out of their minds. It felt like we were in the Twilight Zone, an alternate universe. One-way traffic coming and going, in and out of Ukraine, had turned into 4 lanes of traffic leaving Ukraine, only parting to let the few cars coming back into Ukraine pass through. The line of traffic 4 lanes across reached at least 12 kilometers deep. Women and children were being let out of cars with their luggage to walk to the border checkpoint. Young mothers pushed baby carriages and pulled luggage all at the same time. Little children were forced to walk that great distance with their own luggage, their entire lives now reduced to whatever would fit into their luggage or on their bodies. This was one of the saddest things I have ever witnessed with my own eyes. While the line was mostly women, there were also men, military-age men, making whatever excuse they could to leave and not defend their country like true patriots would. A rich young man, maybe age 26 was right next to us in his Porshe.

Anyone that has visited Ukraine knows that different regions have different car license plates. This rich kid was from Kyiv for sure. At one point I made a video of me raging angry that there were so many men leaving! There was a news crew from Bulgaria right behind us in traffic. I got so mad that I walked right back to the open window and told the female reporter what I was seeing. I told her “the real story is not the war now, it’s the men that are cowardly leaving their country.” She told me that military-age men were not allowed to leave. I sort of laughed at her and told her to open her eyes and turn on her camera. I had a D visa and an American passport. Legally I should have been allowed to pass but we would make a little headway only to see 3 or 4 men blocking the road. After this happened a few times I finally got out of the car! There was about to be a physical confrontation. I don’t get scared easily and I am protective of those I love and care for. These men were standing in the way of advanced medical care for Katya and our unborn son. The camera crew really saved me from having a fight. As soon as the men blocking the road would shout, she was there with a camera in their faces. Those cowardly men didn’t care that I had a sick partner or that I had a version of a diplomatic visa. They were just trying to get out and hide, like fat cockroaches, scattering when the lights come on. I give those men no thought at all now, as to their safety or if they are alive. They remain cowards and have to live with that. If Katya had not been sick, I would have taken her out of Ukraine and gone back to train medics on advanced battlefield medical techniques.

We sat in a very long line at the Ukraine/Moldova border. I took the road that guided us to the left and away from the super long line of women and children along with thousands of cars waiting to enter Moldova. The site of all of those women and children, the Red Cross tents, the fences, and the pure panic of the situation left me with some of the most horrible memories of my life. I would not wish even my worst enemy to see and hear what Katya and I went through on that journey. Altogether we sat in a slow-moving line of cars and people filled with drama for 27 hours. Katya could get out of the car to empty her bladder, but I was not about to leave the 1-year-old rental car with Kate inside to deal with all of the crazy, sometimes aggressive people. The protector in me came to life. I switched to survival mode and while she got out to empty her bladder where the other ladies were doing it, I used a water bottle. Maybe this detail should be left out but we left Odessa fully prepared, with food and water, blankets and pillows, but nothing for me to empty my bladder in. Sorry to be so graphic in my description but it is part of what happened and maybe it will help someone reading this prepare in case they have to evacuate their home. My Google maps will show this border crossing.

Because I have an American passport with a Ukrainian D visa I was able to pass through the border crossing relatively easily. My partner was treated with dignity and respect, and then she was asked if she needed any medical attention. At the Moldova border from what I could see they were equipped with basic first aid, although I did see an ambulance ready to help those in need. We needed help but had decided that Bucharest would be the best option. No offense to Moldova, but it is the poorest region in Europe and that meant we had to keep moving. I was very tired when we crossed the border into Moldova at around 1 a.m. If I had stopped to sleep at that time I would have slept for too long. I vividly remember the snow rushing at the windshield of the rental car. Again, snow greeted us in a new place. This was the 2nd time it happened. The first time was upon our arrival in Odessa, our hometown, and the city where we met. Instead of rest, I decided to drive into the early morning hours to make it to the capital where we could drop off the rental car and buy bus tickets to Bucharest. I made it to the capital but there were no hotel rooms and no Airbnb rooms or apartments available either. I did find 2 or 3 for $300 to $450. This was capitalism at its worst. Instead of taking care of Ukrainians fleeing war, Moldovans had jacked the prices up in what we call in the west, “price gouging.”

The USA has many things wrong with it but our government officials do set rules and guidelines during disasters and disarray like what we were seeing in Moldova. Gouging is illegal and, in my opinion, immoral! I decided to park in a big parking lot of a luxury mall with round-the-clock security and to leave the car running to keep it nice and warm. As of that date in March of 2022, Moldovan government officials had set restrictions on Ukraine hryvnia exchanges and the maximum at that time was 1000 UAH per Ukrainian. I tried to exchange several thousand hryvnias but I don’t hold a Ukrainian passport and was turned away. I treated Katya to a good, nutritional breakfast at a French Cafe known for their big breakfast. I had crepes and she had crepes and a breakfast fruit salad. We had the entire day to waste while we waited for the night bus to Bucharest at 10 p.m. That was March 4th. I remember this date because of what we had to do the next day, March 5th. We agreed to meet the car rental manager that night at 9 p.m. I drove around for a while and then we parked and walked for a little bit. We were surprised to see so many very nice cars and SUVs from Ukraine. I got out of the car while Katya used a pack of baby wipes to take what my mother would call “a bird bath.” This refers to using baby wipes to clean all of the parts of our bodies that need to be cleaned every day without taking a full shower.

We took turns in the car taking our bird bath. She went first and then I cleaned up as well. I remember every detail of those days because of what was happening in our lives. We had pasta for dinner and some fresh bread. Night finally fell on the city and I drove near the buses all parked to pick up and drop off. The car rental manager met us there. I paid him in hryvnias and we walked to our bus. The bus was packed and cold. Few people wore masks but we did. We were 95% sure of what had to be done but there was still a small chance that all of the prenatal checkups were totally wrong. 5% with pregnancy is still enough to be super careful. We wore masks on the bus the entire time. The roads are not the best but we made good time to the Romanian border. All at once, we handed our passports to the front of the bus. We just sat and waited for Romanian border control to check our passports, then to stamp and return them to us. My passport was the only American one on the bus. There was a military-age Russian man sort of hiding among us. He got questioned for easily 30 minutes, delaying our 10-hour bus trip even more. They must have sorted out his story because they gave him his passport back. He was scared and embarrassed. It’s safe to say his journey out of Ukraine had been a scary one with that Russian passport.

The story continues in the next post “Hospital”

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Author: Andy Scoggins

Andrew has traveled extensively from his home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina having starting his journey through the former Soviet Union in Winter of 2012 to Novokuznetsk, then on to Ukraine's Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkov, and finally his second home, Odessa.  

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