Ukrainian mother recalls struggle escaping Russian invasion

As Zhanna boarded a train to Poland, there was a moment of realization that it may have been the last time she'd ever see Ukraine.

Zhanna Petrusheva and her daughter Alina Sciorrotta talk about the devastation in Ukraine. (Alpha News)

A Ukrainian mother sat down with Alpha News to look back on her traumatizing journey of escaping the Russian invasion in Ukraine.

‘I woke up to the sound of bombings’

Zhanna Petrusheva wiped away tears as she described her war-torn homeland. Zhanna is a U.S. resident who visited her family in Kharkiv, Ukraine, in January. The plan was to stay in Ukraine until May, but her trip was cut short after the Russian invasion intensified.

“On the 24th of February, I woke up to the sound of bombings at 5 o’clock in the morning. I ran up to the window and I [saw] fire on the horizon,” Zhanna said.

She noted that the sky was red with flames and smoke. Zhanna, her sister and parents hid in the basement of their apartment complex during the night when the bombings were more frequent.

Zhanna’s family’s apartment in Kharkiv was destroyed by bombs shortly after Zhanna returned to the U.S. (Zhanna Petrusheva)

Zhanna said there had been rumors within the Ukrainian and Russian communities of the Russian attacks, but nobody believed it would actually happen.

“At some point we lost power and running water; we were not able to charge the phones. We were not able to get the water from the drinking faucet,” Zhanna explained.

Eventually neighbors brought generators for electricity and Zhanna was able to contact her family in the U.S. Volunteers filled up buckets from water reservoirs to drink and food was shared among families.

Escaping the war zone

Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 to 60 were ordered to stay behind as tens of thousands of civilians fled the country. Zhanna explained that all of the women and children tried fleeing across the border to Poland and Romania.

“I fled to Poland; I was fleeing by train and it was the longest train I had seen in my life. It was all filled with females and children,” Zhanna said. “It was the most devastating time seeing the separation in the train station … the pain was very thick and it was hard to see the families separated.”

Information on how to escape the country wasn’t available publicly. Instead, families waited hours in hopes that trains would arrive to take them out of the country. It was only on the train that they were given more details on how to reach their destinations.

Separation at the train station

Zhanna was forced to leave behind her sister and parents because they did not have any visa or residency anywhere else.

“It was the most difficult decision in my life to separate from my sister and to go to Poland. From Poland I could get on a flight and get on a plane to fly to America,” Zhanna explained.

Zhanna with family and friends in Ukraine. (Photo provided to Alpha News)

As Zhanna got on the train, there was a moment of realization that it may have been the last time she’d ever see Ukraine.

Since coming back to the states on March 11, Zhanna has been in constant contact with her sister.

“We can spend hours on the phone talking. [My sister] is on the outskirts of Kharkiv, which supposedly people talk is supposed to be taken over very soon and in a very aggressive way, so they’re trying to see where next she can travel,” Zhanna said.

Reaching safety

Zhanna’s daughter Alina Sciorrotta lives in the U.S. and recalled the moment she picked up her mom from the airport.

“It was good to have her physically, very good to have her mentally knowing she’s safe, but it was still kind of hard to know that the war is still on. We still have a big issue,” Alina said.

Alina and her family are asking for prayers for Ukraine.

As of April 3, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights had recorded 3,455 civilian casualties in the country: 1,417 killed and 2,038 injured.

Despite the unknown, Zhanna remains hopeful that Ukraine will defeat its enemies.

“We’ll be strong as a nation and Ukrainians will still be alive and we’ll continue the generations and we’ll be in history as a very strong and family-oriented nation,” Zhanna said. “This war is not only between Ukraine and Russia, it is a war that everybody should be concerned about.”