Part 2

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Anastasia Vishnyakova and Iana Guselnykova along with their dog Cuba made their way to Zagreb, Croatia as the war progressed in Kharkiv. There, they are now restarting their business to help out fellow Ukrainians.

But it is the story of the journey away from war they want to share, a story that begins in the pre-dawn hours.

It was February 24 around 4 a.m.

Iana was in Rome, Italy, she had left just two days before the attack for a quick visit.

A call came from Anastasia saying she could hear the bombs coming from somewhere on the outskirts of Kharkiv, a city in Northeast Ukraine bordering Russia where she and Iana live and work.

Just before Iana had left for Rome, they talked about moving west because the talks of Russian attacks had been in the news for several months by then.

After Iana was supposed to come back, they would pack up and leave, however, that didn’t exactly go by plan.

On the first day of the attack Anastasia left her apartment which is near the Kharkiv airport which Iana warned her about saying it might be a target for attacks.

At first, Anastasia said, she couldn’t grasp the severity of the situation. She was still thinking about delivering their ceramic plates they sell on time.

Once she noticed the post office had shut down for the day and possibly unforeseeable future, that’s when reality came knocking, or in this case, bombing at the door.

“I don’t know how you can describe this feeling when you know that the war started,” Iana said during the interview.

For her, it was difficult to be so far away from her partner, dog and her home, but she had the ability to coordinate Anastasia’s evacuation and that’s all that mattered, to get her as far West as fast as possible.

Anastasia spent the first night at the metro station, hiding from falling bombs. She describes it as a traumatic experience.

With the curfew starting at 10 p.m. she had to wait until the next morning to go to their workspace and get some rest.

Their workshop where Anastasia and Iana operate their company – Morra Ceramics – is in central Kharkiv, where Anastasia thought it would be safer to take a few hours of rest.

Iana booked all the train tickets for that day to make sure Anastasia would make it to one of them.

After taking a nap at the workshop, Anastasia proceeded walking to the train station.

She said at that point finding a taxi was nearly impossible and the prices surged quickly.

With another friend and her dog, she walked to the train station. Then the bombs started falling.

They hid in a nearby church and waited for it to stop. By that time, she described, she could already recognize different military vehicles, different rockets, bombs and shelling.

It was not something she hoped would become a part of her general knowledge.

Getting to the train station was a culmination of all the stressful events she had encountered by that point.

The trains would come and go scarcely, people were pushing each other, and some even became aggressive, she described.

It was a switch for the survival instinct and for her – a feeling of hopelessness.

“They  just start bombing somewhere near the train station. So people started panicking. It was the first time when I was really depressed and I just started to cry. I called Iana and said: Oh my god, I just have no idea how to escape, how to evacuate,” she said.

“They just started bombing somewhere near the train station, so people started panicking. It was the first time when I was really depressed and I just started to cry. I called Iana and said: Oh my god, I just have no idea how to escape, how to evacuate.”

Anastasia Vishnyakova

After five long hours of waiting, she never got on a train.

She changed her route to a friend’s apartment, further from the area where bombings were reported.

“I needed to sleep and eat and relax for a day,” she said.

On the second day, she was finally able to evacuate by bus.

Despite being in Italy, Iana managed to reach out to numerous people via social media and arrange for Anastasia to be picked up and put on a bus to Lviv, five days after she started her evacuation.

“People understood that they had to help each other. It was like a net in between everybody,” Iana said.

It was 24 hours of non-stop driving until Anastasia was finally in Lviv.

She crossed the border through Hungary and proceeded to Zagreb, Croatia where a family friend offered to give them accommodation in an apartment.

After a train ride from Budapest, Hungary to Zagreb finally felt safe.

That was March 2, and Iana joined her on March 6.

Since then they’ve continued helping their friends, family and anyone who was asking to evacuate.

Iana explained that social media has been a crucial tool in coordinating evacuations.

“Even though you are helping it seems like not enough,” said Iana.

They restarted their business Morra Ceramics on Etsy by offering “virtual plates” and they’re sending all the proceeds straight to fellow Ukrainians and the Ukrainian army.

So far, they’ve made numerous contacts among local artists who will help them provide space and materials to make their ceramic plates.

Once they are able to make them, they will start shipping out all the orders, which they expect to be soon.

Helping out from a distance and keeping up with current events in Ukraine, they want to share stories of horror, the ones that changed the lives of Ukrainians forever.

Just one of now-typical stories coming out of the war zone involved their friend, who was sheltering with her parents and dogs in their basement, when the bombs found them.

“She was hit by a piece of bomb and they were trying to evacuate her, but Russians didn’t let her evacuate with her mother. They called the ambulance, but they didn’t come and the next day mom died. They had to stay with mother in one place for three more days.”

Iana Guselnykova

Anastasia was born and raised in Moscow, before she moved to Ukraine, but she doesn’t feel close to her country of descent anymore.

“I was born in Russia, but in my soul I’m truly a Ukrainian person now,” she said.

Many of her friendships have fallen apart since the attacks. She described losing connection with her Russian friends she’s known for years because it seems as if they live in different worlds.

“They just don’t live in the reality because Russian propaganda works quite good,” she explained and said even her father didn’t believe her over the phone that she was evacuating while bombs were falling around her.

Despite putting some of the blame on people of Russia who, she said, could have stopped Putin’s regime, she understands that not every Russian supports the government’s decisions.

With all the hardships they have faced and are facing at the moment, keeping up their business and their positivity gives them a ray of hope that their country will persevere.

“We are taking on the biggest army in the world, we are this small, Russia is this [big] and we are kicking their a**** so good.”

Iana Guselnykova

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