Mrs Angela is 94 years old. She survived the Holodomor, as well as Hitler’s and Stalin’s regime. On the 10th of March she fled from Irpin, which was being bombarded. She took one bag with her, but lost even that while crossing the river. Her last memory of her town is of heaps of rubble and mangled steel bars. These no longer bore any resemblance to a bridge. The main crossing towards Kiev looked as if it had been made of porcelain and had fallen out of someone’s hand. Irpin is like Kiev’s Łomianki, 20 kilometres from the centre of the capital. The only escape route led to the city which was still trying to hold off the enemy. She remembers the faces of the men who carried her to the other side of the river. “I forgot to thank them.” It was only thanks to them that she got to Kiev, and from there near Lviv, to Brychowice. This is where we met her.
Mrs Angela lived on the second floor of an apartment building in the centre of Irpin. Mr Andrzej lived two floors up from her. They had been neighbours for years. They knew each other well. Mr. Andrzej helped Angela to do the shopping and to carry it up the stairs. In return she helped him to treat all kinds of ailments. Her knowledge of herbs was second to none. All the neighbours would knock on Mrs Angela’s door instead of going to the pharmacy.
When the shells rained down on the city, Mr Andrzej did not know where to run. He knelt by his bed and prayed out loud for it to stop. He was jolted out of his shock by a phone call. His mother called from Zhytomyr. “Son. Get out of here.” Mr Andrei took the cross and fled. He clutched it in his hand, asking God for this hell to end. He didn’t know what could have been of more use to him.
He was taken to Kiev by a team of journalists. As he was being taken from the agreed meeting point towards Kiev, he once again passed his neighbourhood. He did not recognise it. Only one single wall was all that remained of the building he had left a few hours earlier. “The rest of it was just a pile of rubble.”
Two days after fleeing Irpin, Angela and Andrzej met in Brychowice near Lviv. Father Władysław Biszko takes in the people fleeing from the front line at the pilgrim house in the Seminary of the Archdiocese of Lviv in Lviv-Bryukhovychi. He gives them shelter, feeds them and arranges for friends from abroad to take them to a safer place, to Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Switzerland. Mrs Angela and her neighbour are not going anywhere further. “Someone has to stay here,” she says.
They told us their story over lunch in the canteen of the pilgrim house. The Good Factory arrived with humanitarian aid in Lviv. Pasta, porridge, tinned food, modified milk for children, jams, flour and sugar. Thanks to you, we are here with people who have managed to flee from hell. We have restocked their pantry so that amidst all their worries, they can at least have peace of mind about not running out of food.
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