Interview with Lisa Rubchynska about our humble beginnings.

Describe your morning of February 24th.

From 19th to 23rd in Budapest was “Zimnik,” a Jewish Agency for Israel camp for leading groups from CIS. We were having fun, and all was pretty cool, but we were a little saddened that the camp was over.

Even before leaving Kyiv, I was joking with my friend: “So, do we need to take all the documents with us?” the idea that we were not coming back was kinda in our subconsciousness, but nobody was taking it seriously, just joking around.

I was lucky. I went to sleep at 3AM. The people who continued to party and decided to check the news feed at 5AM couldn’t go to sleep anymore.

Around 8AM, I received a message from my sister in Kyiv: “We are being bombed.” I woke my friend up and was utterly confused by rockets being fired at my hometown in what was a time of peace. In the meantime, Kyiv was plunging into chaos, and people were terrified.

Stranded in Budapest were not only Ukrainians but also Russians and Israelis. Everyone was in shock for the first couple of days. Nobody couldn’t believe what was happening, and people were constantly crying.

I remember how one of the fund’s workers, who was with us in “Zimnik,” came to me, started weeping, and said: “I’m sorry for all that’s happening.” I didn’t know how to react; she personally didn’t do anything. The aggressor was the russian government. I wanted to hug her, but I didn’t know if it would be appropriate, so I just said: “Thanks.” She saw us; she saw that we were mentally broken. We were in shock, but then we started to act.

How did you start your project?

My friend Yulia from St.Petersburg met two Americans in Budapest. Sam – a historian who previously lived in Russia and came to Budapest to work with archives; he is currently writing a paper about Babyn Yar.

Weyland – a programmer who lived in Kyiv sometime in the past. The guys wanted to help refugees cross the border, and their acquaintances had already started donating money to them.

I’ve contacted a hospital in Kyiv, where I was previously working, only five staff members were left working there, and my friend had already worked 12 days in a row. So I found out what medicine they and a couple of other hospitals require, and they gave me a list of around 30 prescriptions, and we started searching for them. Our first shipment consisted of approximately 15 boxes of medicine, which were delivered to three hospitals and two maternity homes. 

At first, we were pretty lucky, so “more” became our favorite word. At the beginning of March, a woman in the pharmacy asked us whether we were from Ukraine. And then she told us that she had been traveling to Bukovel [a ski resort in Western Ukraine] pretty often because Bukovel has clean air and her son is ailing. So just like that, her husband was stranded in Bukovel, and they were in Hungary. She asked us how she could help us, and I didn’t know if it was “ok” to ask her for a donation.

In the end, I told her that we could buy some diapers and baby food. She bought a bunch of everything, 500$ worth of stuff, and then she and her son helped us load all this into our car. We were immensely grateful to her.

So, I’ve known Sam and Weyland for a day and a half, and we were going to Uzhgorod, where we should be met by Pasha, who’ll take the boxes and transport them to Kyiv. Guys rented a minivan, and the plan was simple: medicine goes to Uzhgorod, and from Uzhgorod, we take people and help them cross the border. For the whole duration of the road, we listened to awesome music, chit-chatted, and I sorted medicine and other humanitarian aid.

In the morning, we reached Uzgorod’s train station, met Pasha, and took with us back two orphans and three women (a babushka that was a guardian of the orphans and a woman with her elderly mother). Sam bought the “Kobzar,” and one of the women happened to be a teacher of the Ukrainian language. She recited Shevchenko’s poems from memory, and we all sang Ukrainian folk songs – it was an incredible experience.

When we reached the border, it turned out that they didn’t have valid passports, we didn’t know what to do, and it was getting late. So we went to an immigration facility to receive temporary papers that could be used instead of passports to cross the border. We all were weary and irritated.

The women asked us, “Are you going to leave us there?”

“Nope, we all will ride together,” We answered.

They went into the facility at 10PM and came out at 9AM. Meanwhile, we’ve tried to catch some sleep in a car. They wanted to fly into Hannover, and we booked them a hotel, but it turned out that the temporary documents that they received were not suitable for air travel. I was tired; I didn’t want to deal with this anymore. I’ve never planned to assume responsibility for someone’s life and wellbeing. Still, when you’ve made a promise and taken it upon yourself, you should lead people to the end. So we’ve contacted our friends and acquaintances and asked them for help, and in a couple of days, the three women were safely in Hannover.

— What do you live off?

I was saving up for an apartment renovation. I planned to take down one of the walls so that I could gather my friends around a big piano. I had around one thousand dollars on my credit card and a little cash, and friends sent me some money here and there. I don’t want to buy new dresses or phones. If I had an opportunity to give everything away for this nightmare to end, I would definitely do it.

— What will be the first thing that you’ll do when the war ends?

Go back home.

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