The Russo-Ukrainian war is changing the life of every Ukrainian student. They have to leave their homes, suspend their studies, and reconsider their position or life view. In the 21bis series How the war affects young Ukrainians, we portray four people who share their emotional experiences and periodic reset in times of war. Part 1: Moving from Ukraine to Poland turned Tania’s life upside down.
Tania Goshko (20) studies at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. She is in her third year of the Publishing and Media Editing program. Now she lives in Szczecin, Poland, and her full-time job is to take care of her younger sister.
What is your last memory before Russia invaded Ukraine on February the 24th, 2022, and after the war had started?
‘Before the war, I believed that something could happen. So I constantly went to work with a go-bag. The last memory I have is from the evening before February the 24th. My neighbour came, and we watched speeches of American president Joe Biden, Ukrainian president Zelensky, and a man from the Kremlin. I do not want to call his name; I hate him.’
‘I remember telling my neighbour: ‘I have one frame left on the photographic film of my camera. Let’s take a picture of how worried we are here. Then we will laugh at how worried we were’
‘I remember telling my neighbour: “I have one frame left on the photographic film of my camera. Let’s take a picture of how worried we are here. Then we will laugh at how worried we were”. After the war had started, I remember most things being only ironic. When the first siren sound was turned on, everyone in the dormitory got dressed, packed up, and ran downstairs. There was panic. I had two backpacks: one with a laptop, the other was a go-bag. There was a six litres water can in one hand, in another McNuggets from the evening before. Stupidly, I didn’t have any food. I ran out in my slippers. I looked at all this panic and understood that I needed to run and change my shoes.’
Where are you at the moment?
‘Now I am in Poland, in the city of Szczecin, almost on the border with Germany. In northern Poland, yes. (sighs heavily) I’m here with my younger sister, thirteen. My mother took her out of Mykolaiv, the city in the south of Ukraine, at the beginning of March. Now my mom has moved to Kamianets-Podilskyi in the west of Ukraine. Dad stayed in Mykolaiv in the south of Ukraine, our hometown.’
‘I can’t find a remote job now; I only get refusals. Either I have no experience, or I do not know Polish, or something else is coming up. I can’t find a job yet. That’s why our parents are paying our bills as much as possible, and I want to find a job to make it easier for my parents.’
So you are fully responsible for the life of your sister? How do you feel about taking up that duty?
‘I can make decisions for her education and so on. The Polish court gave me temporary custody. I feel responsible for her; I am like a mother. She keeps telling me the same. “Tania, you are like a mother to me”.’
‘Honestly, I have much more responsibility now. Until the beginning (of the full-scale invasion, editor’s note), we saw each other once every few months when I returned from Kyiv to Mykolaiv. We called each other, wrote to each other, and sent funny videos from TikTok. Now we live together, and I act like a parent and a bit of an educator. I had to become an adult at the age of 20. It is probably good that I’m currently not working, which would drive me crazy.’
‘There is an even more complex internal responsibility to teach her to love everything Ukrainian. I have to teach my sister about life, and I need to explain the war and why we now have to refuse everything Russian. As long as she’s in my hands, I will make sure to raise a patriotic little girl.’
Tell us what other internal changes have taken place?
‘The most important thing is the awareness that nothing is impossible. This is because katsaps* and scoundrels use all the weapons prohibited by the civilized world and do terrible things. And because I came to Poland myself, I stood at the border for eight hours.’
‘I broke my feelings of anxiety when I had to run out of the bunker and leave Kyiv. I broke myself when I had to take matters into my own hands and stay alone with my sister. It was quite difficult morally’
‘I broke my feelings of anxiety when I had to run out of the bunker and leave Kyiv. I broke myself when I had to take matters into my own hands and stay alone with my sister. It was quite difficult morally. I realized that one Kremlin devil had ruined all my dreams and plans. But yes, then the awareness came that I could do anything.’
What do you miss most from your past life?
‘I probably miss hugging my beloved ones the most. In fact, for the material stuff, I do not care. Absolutely not. I don’t get attached to things quickly, and I now understand that this is good.’
How did your relationship with your relatives change in the background of war?
‘Our relationship with our parents is quite complicated because the relationship between my parents deteriorated before February the 24th. They are currently divorcing. That is why now we, as children, often feel that our father is dissatisfied with our mother’s decisions. And mom is unhappy with the decisions that dad wants to make. We suffer a little from it. I made a coming out for my mom. And my mom made a coming out for my dad for me, instead of me. But still, it’s fun. Everything is very good with my parents. I miss them very much.’
How did the plans for the future change?
‘Fortunately, I am only 20 years old, and I had no big plans for the future. Everything depends on how the military actions on the territory of Ukraine will evolve. We’ll see what happens next. I have some plans, but these are still thoughts. I reconsidered my civic position a bit. I realized that freedom of speech is not just given to us. And it must be used. I realized that I should not listen to my mother, who says that freedom of speech does not exist. It exists to a certain extent; something can be done. With this in mind, I will plan for myself what to do next, if on a global scale. And if not, then in late May, I will do an art performance video at a local gallery. Honestly, I had no such attraction to art before.’
‘But I want to express my emotions and thoughts not only on paper, as I did before. It’s not enough for me now’
‘But I want to express my emotions and thoughts not only on paper, as I did before. It’s not enough for me now. I want to do something that will have an impact on others. I met guys who will help me arrange it. It will be sad, but it will be a funny video for my friends. Then you will see why. It’s good that there are plans. You have to continue to live.’
*Katsaps — the derogatory colloquial name of Russians, is used mainly by Ukrainians and Poles and Belarusians.
Curious about the other stories? You can find them following the links below:
Text: Anastasiia Kerpan & Nataliia Huchok
Photo: © Tania Goshko