Julia Temchenko and her two young children were in their living room in Kyiv, Ukraine when a rocket flew past, shattering the window. For so long, she believed Russia wouldn’t actually invade. Then it was reality.
Temchenko, who moved with her family to Kyiv from Bucha, is a lawyer and human rights activist who worked near her former home.
“I was out with friends in the restaurant and I didn’t expect that it would happen. I said it wouldn’t happen,” Temchenko recalled of Russia’s invasion in a recent conversation with CNN. “I went to my balcony, I opened the window and my window is shattered. I just saw the first explosion myself. So I understood that I was extremely wrong because I tried to say to everybody that it is not possible in the twenty-first century.”
She was forced to flee their home with her children Milan, 5, and Edward, 3, while her husband remained in the Ukraine in order to continue working. Temchenko and her kids took refuge in a subway station, where the sounds of blasts and sirens pierced the air.
“We spent two nights when everything was happening, two nights in the subway. It is really difficult to run when you hear the sound of sirens,” she said.
A teacher and friend
A teacher from Maryland named John Broadwater, who had taught Temchenko and her children English on Outschool, a virtual learning platform, was in regular touch with her.
Over the many miles and years Broadwater had been working with the family, he had built a connection with them, especially Milan. He wanted to help somehow. When he learned the family had been uprooted from their home, Broadwater started a GoFundMe to provide food, shelter and transportation for the Temchenkos.
“I’d say about a week or 10 days before the bombings took place, I was saying, ‘Hey, the media in America’s reporting this. There could be some big, you know, concerns to worry about,’” Broadwater told CNN. “Basically the day after the bombings, Julia’s like ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ We keep in touch and speak about every other day.”
Temchenko found a brief window to flee on Feb. 27. The family made it on a train to Romania, then got a ride to Poland. They are currently in Denmark, where Temchenko hopes to find work as a translator.
“When I crossed the border I hadn’t any plans,” Temchenko said.
Volunteering and looking for work help to keep her sane, she said, because she doesn’t “think about my destiny” and worries for her husband still in Ukraine.
“For a couple of days I had some like anger or I hate them, but then I decided that why should I hate them? I don’t want to, I want to save my soul,” she said of Russians. “They destroyed our country. They destroyed our lives, but they destroyed their souls.”
Temchenko is expecting a work permit to come through soon. She says she will take any work she can get.
In the meantime, Broadwater is staying in touch with her and her family.
“If people see their story or even others that are in this situation, if they feel moved by it to really give good thought to, to making a donation it helps,” he said.