This article contains audio elements. Press the play button to hear the family in their own words.
When the explosions rocked Kyiv’s city center, Yana and Sergii Lysenko were stunned.
Like many Ukrainians, they had been listening to warnings about Russia readying an assault on their country for weeks. But the idea of the war reaching their city seemed just too far-fetched.
Now, it was a reality.
This is the story of their escape from Kyiv.
Thursday 2/24, around 6:00 a.m.
One hour after the start of the Russian invasion
At first, Yana thought her husband was mistaken. The loud boom couldn’t be an attack.
“(She) told me, don’t worry, let’s sleep,” Sergii said.
“But then we heard another explosion in Kyiv, and I told her that wait, for sure, it’s an explosion and it’s some kind of missile or something. And we started to listen, to read the news. And we understood that the war started and that a Russian invasion is ongoing,” he said.
Thursday 2/24, 10:05 a.m.
Five hours after the start of the invasion
By mid-morning, the situation was crystal-clear: Russian forces had invaded Ukraine from three sides and Kyiv appeared to be one of Moscow’s targets.
Still, Sergii and Yana decided to stay put with their three-year-old daughter, Liza, after hearing from friends that roads leading out of the capital were clogged with long lines of traffic.
Nonetheless, they decided to pack their bags, just in case.
“We are a bit in shock and trying to stay calm, not to show anything to our child,” Sergii said.
While little Liza didn’t understand what was going on, she seemed to know something wasn’t right because there was no kindergarten, they said.
Transcript: “The first question was in the morning why we don’t go to the kindergarten and what is happening? I said that…we stayed home for a while because we have some problems but I…for now I don’t want to explain some bad things for her.”
Thursday 2/24, 9:31 p.m.
16 hours after the start of the invasion
By the afternoon, Yana and Sergii had decided to leave their Kyiv home. They jumped in the car and started heading west to Ternopil, a town 300 miles from Kyiv and around 120 miles from the Polish border.
“We think it will be more safe in Ternopil. The last thing was when we heard the bomb, that’s why we decided to get out from the city because we are living in the center,” Yana said.
As the family drove out of the city, the gravity of the situation became clear. This was a war.
Transcript: “The situation is a lot of blog posts, a lot of our guys, our army is the best because they ask where we are going, everything is ok, they say that we will win.”
They drove through the night, but their progress was slow. With thousands of people fleeing Kyiv to the west, the roads were jammed with traffic.
It was impossible to find anywhere to stay and get some rest.
Transcript: “We didn’t stop because there was a lot of cars and our road was blocked. So we moved on, only 500 meters in four hours. With a little child it was very terrible.”
Friday 2/25, 1:00 a.m.
32 hours after the start of the invasion
The Lysenkos had been on the road for 12 hours. All of the hotels along the way were completely booked out, so they spent the night driving. Liza slept in the back as they crossed the country, curled up in her car seat.
Transcript: “We don’t know what we will expect but my dream is to have my home again and…to live peaceful with my family as it was earlier.”
Saturday 2/26, 12:18 p.m.
55 hours after the start of the invasion
Yana, Sergii and Liza made it to Ternopil. They’d been in the car for the better part of two days.
“With a child, the third day in the car is difficult, but we’re going forward,” Yana said.
They thought about trying to leave Ukraine, but decided this wasn’t an option, as crossing the border would mean splitting up the family.
Yana and Liza could go to Poland, but Sergii – like all Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 – wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country.
Instead, they decided to travel to a small village in the country’s most western region near Hungary, where Yana has relatives.
Transcript: “And another friends went to another point at the border, and there was a line of cars, around 20 kilometers, so they spent few hours and…now running to next point, trying to cross the border to send wife with a half-year daughter across the border to Poland.”
“And now we are going to the most western part of Ukraine to the mountains. My relatives live there and they are expecting us,” Yana said.
Sunday 2/27, 4:00 p.m.
83 hours after the start of the invasion
After three days on the road, the family finally arrived at their destination, Vynohradiv – a small town in the mountains, just a few miles from the Hungarian border.
“It was a difficult road, but we did it. Now we are near to the border, a very, very beautiful, small town,” Yana said.
Liza, too, has a smile on her face. No longer in the car, she is finally free to stretch her legs and run around, blissfully unaware of the disaster that has befallen her country.
Transcript: “We believe that Ukraine will soon win this war, but also we are worried because my…my…the biggest wish is to return home. I hope so.”
Audio clips courtesy of Yana and Sergii Lysenko.