Ukraine-Russia: ‘Every day a so-called roll call of my friends tells me everyone is still alive’

When Valeriia Yas wakes up every morning, she carries out what she calls a “roll call” of her friends across Ukraine.

Valeriia Yas used to compete in international adult figure skating competitions.
Valeriia Yas used to compete in international adult figure skating competitions.

"Every day, I have communication with my friends from across Ukraine: this so-called roll call tells me everyone is still alive,” she says. “Thank God my friends are OK. They are in different locations in Ukraine, some of them moved to another country.”

Ms Yas who has continued to work in her job in clinical trials for a US firm throughout the conflict, fled Kyiv earlier this month, taking her parents, elderly grandmother, dog and four cats more than 500km across the country to a village outside Chernivtsi, amid fears that the capital could be hit with heavy bombardment from the Russian forces.

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She says: “Together with my family, I finally came to Western Ukraine to be in a more safe place, I’m living with my family and pets in village near Chernivtsi city. It was quite a difficult decision to leave our home – we left everything there, we just took one bag for four people (my parents, grandma and me), our dog and four cats - but we did not know what to expect in Kyiv, each day it's more and more dangerous to stay in my native city, taking into consideration what Russian invaders did in other cities.

Valeriia Yas on holiday last summer, before the war broke out.

"The trip was a bit challenging, because my grandma has problems with her legs – she almost cannot walk at all - but we overcame this and got to the destination. We want to move to Chernivtsi city, but here there is a real problem with accommodation, there's no free flats or houses. Also, because we have pets, not every facility can offer us accommodation.”

The United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration states that 6.48 million people have fled within Ukraine as a direct result of the war. Many have settled in the west of the country, which up to now, has not seen the level of attacks that have hit towns and cities further east. A survey published this week by the IOM found that over 53 per cent of internally displaced people are women.

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Ms Yas, 32, says it took her family a week to find somewhere to stay with her pets, one of which needs regular medication, although local vet surgeries are closed, making it difficult to continue treatment. She says social media posts have urged people to take animals with them when they flee, amid reports of hundred of abandoned pets at Ukraine’s train stations.

She says: “A big problem is in principle finding something free in Western Ukraine, but even those options that we come across us fall away when they [the landlords] learn about the number of animals we have. There is obviously an option not to leave home at all, but to be sentenced together with the animals if there was shelling.”

Since Ms Yas left, Kyiv has come under heavier attacks from Russian forces. Earlier this week, a shopping centre was hit in an airstrike, killing eight people. In the past few days, attacks have intensified even in the west of the country, prompting Ms Yas to consider leaving Ukraine. However strict rules forbid men and between 18 and 60 to leave Ukraine.

She says: “We are in a hotel now with not good living conditions, but here is a safer place in comparison with Kyiv. However, this is the second day that we have received alerts about air attacks in the Chernivtsi region which was quite calm and safe place previously, so it feels there is no safe place in Ukraine at all. Now I'm considering to relocate temporarily to another country, but it will be a difficult decision as well, because in this case we would have to leave our father.”

She adds: "What we can do for now is just hope, believe and pray that the situation will become better and we can come back home. I get up each day with hope that war will end soon, but unfortunately, our reality is different.”

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Despite the conflict, she has continued to work in her job as a regulatory affairs specialist on clinical trials.

"I'm so grateful to my employer, who has supported employees during this difficult time,” she says. “We didn't lose our jobs, currently I am the only one in my family who has a job. I was the last person from my company in Kyiv who relocated.”

She has received messages of support from friends all around the world. Before the invasion, Ms Yas competed for Ukraine in adult international figure skating competitions. She was due to travel to a competition in Lithuania the day after war broke out to compete.

She says: “It's very difficult to talk about skating, because I miss it so much and have no idea when I can be back on the ice. Everyone from our Sosnenko Figure Skating Club in Kyiv is now in different places and countries. We miss each other and talk each day. I hope I will have opportunity to participate in competitions in future.

"Before the war, I was a completely happy person, I had a very active life with work, hobbies, the possibility to travel, with goals, dreams like many other Ukrainian people. I can't even imagine how happy we will be when Ukraine win this war, we expect, hope, believe and pray for this each day and this will be just matter of time

She adds: “I have received huge support from friends all over the world who worry about me and my family and I'm so thankful for all warm and kind words from them and their beliefs that Ukraine will stand all this hell and win this terrible war.”

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