TO Ukrainian woman who fled Kyiv with her twin 13-year-old sons when the Russian invasion began and made an arduous journey to the United States by car, foot and plane says she is “hoping for a miracle” for her homeland.
Galina Bulygina, 44, escaped with sons Alex and Misha carrying just their passports and a few clothes as the Russian assault began on 24 February, among the more than 1.5 million Ukrainians to leave the country in the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II .
Ms Bulygina has a US visa and arrived this week in New York City, where she is staying with friends, and while she considers herself lucky, she said it was gut-wrenching to leave her husband – and homeland – behind.
“The worst feeling was waking up your kids with the words ‘the war has started’,” Ms Bulygina, a business development director for a US agriculture company, told The Independent.
“My heart was breaking because you feel like you’re betraying your country for leaving it. You’re leaving all your life behind, family behind. It was painful. I knew I had to do it for the kids.”
Prior to the invasion her husband worked as the head of a large pharmaceutical company in Kyiv that is now producing badly needed medical supplies.
He is managing the plant from an underground bunker along with about 100 workers and their families, who work in shifts to keep it running 24 hours a day in coordination with the Ukrainian government.
Ms Bulygina asked that her name be withheld to protect her safety.
“He’s not a soldier, but if he has to fight he will.”
She speaks to her husband every day, and says that his spirits remain high. He does not disclose his exact location of him in case the Russians are listening in.
Men between the age of 18 and 60 are banned from leaving Ukraine.
Ms Bulygina told The Independent the Ukrainian people would never allow a Russian occupying force to take control of the country.
“They didn’t expect to get such resistance from Ukraine. For some reason they believed they would be welcomed here.
“I don’t think they will be able to conquer Ukraine. Even if they take Kyiv, even if they kill the president, they will not win because they will have to kill every Ukrainian. We’re just hoping for a miracle. Ukrainians are prepared to fight to the end. It’s our land, it’s our country.”
Recounting her journey out of Ukraine, Ms Bulygina said she made the spontaneous decision to leave when the Russian began their invasion.
Ms Bulygina and her family drove 20 hours to western Ukraine.
“Everybody who had a chance just jumped in their cars. It was this animal fear that paralyzes you because you didn’t know whether they would start bombing the roads. We were terrified.”
The roads were full, and gas was in short supply, and they had a two-hour wait to refill the car at a gas station.
The border crossings were so busy that the left their car and crossed into Hungary on foot in freezing conditions.
From the border, Ms Bulygina made her way to Budapest with the help of friends and on to New York. She has an elder daughter who is at boarding school in Connecticut.
she told The Independent the enormity of the humanitarian disaster unfolding at home was difficult to take in.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m living a bad dream. I have only cried two times, it’s difficult to cry. You don’t want your kids to see. We have to be strong.”
Ms Bulygina said she had not been a fan of President Zelensky prior to the war, but had been amazed by the courage she had shown.
Her sons now tune in to his twice-daily addresses to the nation.
“I didn’t vote for him, he was not my president, but he has been remarkable. Nobody expected that he would be so brave, we expected that he would run away, but he didn’t.”
Last week, the Biden administration designated Ukrainians already in the US as having Temporary Protected Status, which shields them from deportation and lets them get work permits for 18 months.
Refugee agencies have called on the US to do more to help the more than 1.5 million who have poured into Poland, Hungary, Romania and other parts of central and eastern Europe.
During a visit to a refugee center in Poland at the weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN: “The United States is committed to doing anything we can, first of all to support the countries that are bearing the immediate burden of taking in Ukrainians , and then, as appropriate, if people seek refugee status in the United States, of course we will look at that and, I’m sure, act on that.”
* The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.