Staying in Ukraine Before the War Started

This blog post is about my own experience in leaving Ukraine after the Russian full-scale invasion. I suppose putting myself out there for all to see might seem counterproductive, but I know only one way, honesty. In April of 2021, I flew into Odessa International Airport. I had 2 large pieces of luggage and 2 carry-on bags. Turkish airlines are good about all that free baggage! I rented an apartment for $400 a month that was about a 10-minute walk to Arcadia. I am not a fan of the Arcadia lifestyle but the apartment was new, big, and well appointed. It was there that I met someone I will call Katya (not her real name obviously). She is younger than I am by about 13 years. I don’t find this age difference to be a deal breaker. Guys, if you are reading this and wondering about the age difference dilemma… stop worrying about it! It feels like our native western countries place these unfair stereotypes on women that are younger than we are. She is a massage therapist, dietician, and nutritionist. I lost 28 pounds in 2021 and I can credit it to a healthy lifestyle that Katya reintroduced into my life.

I stayed in Odessa and became a tutor and mentor to a young man that was headed to the USA for his final 2 years of high school. Daniel is a good kid, smart, kind, and one heck of a soccer player. Katya and I dated for about a month while I taught English to Daniel and a few professionals that needed to sharpen their English.
Looking back now, it all happened so fast. I quickly fell into life in Odessa. Hot chocolate from Lviv Chocolate, pizza and wings from Chili, and Indian food on Havanna Street.

Katya and I also quickly found a rhythm with her staying with me at night more and more.
Those long walks, me in the kitchen making Mexican food for dinner, and nights watching Netflix were maybe some of the best days of my life. Time just seemed to fly by. I met many western men. Kiwi Mike, my business pal from New Zealand (thus the word Kiwi in front of his name), and my good friend Brian from Utah. They are older than I am by 5 and 8 years. Katya worked during the day, I taught English and mentored young Daniel, and we all just stayed in each other’s orbit so well. Thanksgiving rolled around and Brian was gone and that left me, Katya, Kiwi Mike, and Katya’s friend to celebrate Thanksgiving. They had never celebrated Thanksgiving so I enjoyed all of the holiday spirits!
Right around this time is when things began to become pleasantly more serious with Katya and I. We talked about family and children, girl and boy, and where to raise children.

Yes, it happened rather fast. But it all felt so right. At this point, I knew that I had overstayed the 90 days that Americans can stay in Ukraine visa-free. Katya and I talked about this a lot and we agreed that I would help support her while I left Ukraine to go back to the USA.

December 7th rolled around so fast and it was my time to leave Odesa and seek some form of visa so I could return to Ukraine before the mandatory 90 days out of the country time limit. Leaving was such a painful thing to do but I swore I would return. We talked every day and made plans. I found an attorney that also had an NGO based in Kyiv that worked with Poland on relationships between the 2 countries. This was my way back into Ukraine. First, I had to pay a penalty. It added up to about $250 US Dollars. I sent the money back to Katya to pay this fine and I also paid the attorney to begin the process of getting me back into Ukraine with his NGO. All of this happened in the first 10 days I was back in the USA. I remember dreaming about a big family, and the joy of raising more children. Two days later I asked Katya why she looked so pale…her color was a little off like she was nauseous. Right then I knew she was pregnant and I jokingly, but also kinda seriously, asked her to go buy some pregnancy tests and to use the tests 2 days in a row.

She used the 1st test and quickly told me it was positive, but that she didn’t trust the 1st test. I laughed and told her with a smile YOU ARE PREGNANT BABE! She used the 2nd test and it also came back positive. We agreed that she would go and have an ultrasound to confirm she was pregnant and also a blood test. The blood test showed us all of the hormones were there and the ultrasound showed us that she was indeed about 4 weeks pregnant. The day she had the ultrasound was so beautiful. She sent me a message via Viber that simply said look at what we made! You’re going to be a Daddy again. I had left Ukraine because I had to legally do it the right way, but I had left my now pregnant partner behind.

The New Year flew by, the overstay penalty had been paid, and the attorney had gotten all of the paperwork going for me. I won’t reveal this kind man’s name but I will say that he worked magic for me when Katya and I needed it most. She had all of the morning sickness, and all of the mood swings too 😉 but she was pregnant and it was magical. The news coming out of the western world was not good. Russia had been gathering its troops along the Ukraine border. My birthday flew by, on January 21st, and it was our personal deadline and goal for me to be back in Ukraine. I got the paperwork sent express by DHL in 3 days and presented it to the Ukrainian embassy in Washington D.C. The embassy representative asked me why I needed to go back, and again, to tell the truth, I did not mention that my partner was pregnant. As far as he was concerned I was going to Kyiv to try to calm things down and make preparations just in case of war, working with the NGO, waiting for what was to come. He double-checked all of my paperwork. The NGO provided travel insurance and an apartment, again this is what I presented to the embassy. I don’t
recommend doing this but at the same time, if any man reading this has any heart, courage, and any male fortitude…well, you would do exactly what I did to get back and to ensure the safety of my partner and our unborn child.

I had to wait for 5 days. During this time Katya got COVID very bad and she was so so sick. It was horrible news but she had the best doctors at the best hospital in Odessa.
Odrex is a great hospital and I recommend it to anyone. She got sick just after she took the train to visit her parents in Poltava Oblast, Gadyich to be exact. Her parents both got sick also and I felt so helpless. I just had to wait for the NGO visa to come through. It finally did on January 28th, 2022. Katya was very sick still and Russia had even more troops ready to invade Ukraine.

I haven’t really written about this before, but I have told small parts of this to my family and friends. Katya and I had agreed that I would bring a gender reveal kit with a black balloon and either pink or blue confetti inside. I bought maternity clothes, cool little t-shirts that said things like who your momma and call me baby, maybe! We were super excited!

She had another ultrasound this time in Poltava and we figured out that the baby would be due on August 21st. I packed warm clothes and all of the maternity stuff and off I went to Kyiv.
I was able to fly into Kyiv on February 1st, and I stayed overnight there before taking the minibus to Gadyich. It was pretty cold but I was happy to be near my partner, and proud as well. I was the first of Katya’s partners to meet her parents. We rented a nice apartment in Gadyich for 5 days but eventually, her family wanted us to move in with them for safety.

The farmhouse was just big enough for her parents and for us. Her brother lived in Gadyich with his wife and newborn daughter. Many of my friends and family worried about my safety. They also worried about food and the basics. This was NOT a worry! The cellar had wall-to-wall potatoes, onions, carrots, glass jars with fruit and duck, and vegetables. They had enough food to last a whole year easily plus about 40 ducks, 20 or so chickens, and 2 large pigs. I am an Army veteran and I know that during war small towns and cities tend to fall apart, but in Ukraine, the people are just so well prepared, or rather, they were well prepared in Gadyich. Let me tell you… Netflix became our best friend. We had plenty of food and water and the house was super warm. Her family was welcoming and kind and they enjoyed my cooking too!

Katya’s grandmother (baba) invited us over for a welcome dinner and a celebration of the pregnancy. Katya had her 12-week ultrasound in Poltava and the machine was not very new. From what the doctors could tell Katya had about 30% too much amniotic fluid in her placenta but it was close to normal. And of course, with COVID no one really knew if this was normal.

I could write about COVID and the registration and immunization process in Ukraine but that is a whole other blog that details corruption, superstition, and sadly some old-fashioned stubborn mentality. Katya did not have the COVID vaccine in real life but she sure did pay someone to register her on the DIA to show she was indeed vaccinated! I did not agree with this and I do not agree with it still. But what could I really do? I believe a woman’s body is her own. I believe that decisions about our baby should have been made jointly but it was too late… she was pregnant and had COVID already and she had recovered, or so we thought.

The story continues in the next post “Beginning of the Invasion of Ukraine February 24, 2022”

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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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