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I Escaped Kyiv for Safety. Part of Me Is Still There

4 minute read
Lana Niland is a dancer and the owner of several enterprises in Kyiv connected to arts, culture, and human empowerment. She is the founder of Ukrainian Patriot, a new NGO raising funds to help protect the country’s volunteer battalions and civil volunteers.

Shelling and bombs in the distance reverberate against the buildings on my block in the middle of the night, waking all of the animals in my care. A few cats are mine; others, more cats, a dog, and some birds, have become my responsibility since their owners evacuated. No matter who they belong to, some whimper, others scratch at my door, all shake and cannot understand the madness that creeps through the sanctity of our safe space.

The sirens in Kyiv ring daily. Sometimes two, three, five, six times. They are a warning to take cover, that something untoward is approaching. I have yet to go down to the shelters and the babushky ask why. I say, I am not afraid. Whatever happens is meant to be.

Read More: A Ukrainian Photographer Documents the Invasion of His Country

While I believe this, I also want to live. I want to be able to sleep more than an hour or two without being slammed into consciousness by bombs and the terror of beings I cannot calm with logic. Whether animals, or children, or women, or men, no one deserves to live in statements that constantly end in a question mark.

After nearly two weeks of trying to come to grips with what is really happening in my country, I take some of these creatures over lands that have seen fire in the sky across a geographical border to find their owners. A trip that should take six or seven hours takes three full days. We drive along country roads with holes so deep from the tires of tanks and tractors that one could disappear forever if moving slowly enough. We aren’t. We fly, like – and with – the wind, so as not to be seen, smelled, or sensed by the beings that would steal our lands.

Despite the fact that we are on the run, the drive is like a meditation and the scenes I pass take me back to childhood. Car rides with my dad behind the wheel and the prairies of Saskatchewan, where I grew up: beautiful blue skies, rolling hills, and incredible wheat fields. Here, Ukraine’s famed black soil may well see more shrapnel than seed this year. Likewise, Canada’s Yellowhead Trail features no such thing as a checkpoint. On this trip there must be 30, at least. The men who stop me, many of whom are good, salt and bread of the earth kind of people, want to know if I have any weapons. “Just those with four paws,” I reply.

Through the kindness of strangers and sheer adrenaline, my nine traveling companions and I make it to Poland, to what we hope is a blanket of safety. I think for a small moment that I too have crossed some sort of threshold. The truth is, however, I have not escaped, as some might say. I may have departed physically, but I am still there, and I am fighting the powers that be in the best way I know how. I find roofs for those in need of them, connect healers with the traumatized. If I can get the beads I left in Kyiv, I will resume a project I started with others after the revolution in 2013 and 2014, beading bracelets that send a message – “F-ck U Putin” – and raise money to send an even bigger one.

Read More: ‘I Have No Other Choice.’ The Mothers Returning to Ukraine to Rescue Their Children


Others I know and love, people I have shared time and parts of my life with, remain. Their fate is not yet known and yet they cannot or will not leave. Like a fish gasping for air, I flip-flop, feeling grateful to be safe and able to sleep without sirens, while wanting – needing – to be back in the capital, to cradle Kyiv in my arms.

And yet, who am I at the end of the day? A small drop of water, slipping and sliding, eagerly searching for other similar drops. Coming together to create some kind of puddle, then a pool, then a lake, a river, and only if I close my eyes so tightly, does the ocean come into view. I can smell it. I can taste it. I am a part of it, and we are moving together, as one, making change we never thought possible.

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