‘God, for sure, held me very tightly in His arms’

Ukrainian troops on the march, August 2021. Photo: Bumble Dee
By on June 1, 2022
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A Ukrainian Anglican on surviving the siege of Kyiv

Alla Gedz is a member of Christ Church, Kyiv, part of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. As the Russian army invaded her country, Gedz documented her experiences on her Facebook page—lying low through artillery bombardment and travelling cautiously back and forth between her home in the city and her dacha, or summer cabin, on the outskirts of town. Amid regular threats to her life, challenges from a pre-existing health condition and shortages of fuel and food, she says her faith and the prayers of her fellow Christians have sustained her through the crisis.

As the main front of the war shifted east from Kyiv to the Donbas, in eastern Ukraine, the Anglican Journal reached out to Gedz to get the story of her experiences through the most dangerous days of the fighting in her home town.

This interview has been lightly edited.

Tell me about the experience of living through the fighting. How close did it come to you? What was it like trying to keep safe?

Illustration
Alla Gedz stands in front of a building in her neighbourhood damaged during the siege. Photo: Contributed

Until February 24, I understood that hostilities could begin at any time and no one would save me. So I was praying and preparing mentally for this as best as I could. But, at the same time, I tried to live a normal life. We grow fruits and vegetables at our dacha. And knowing that our dacha could be bombed, we still put things in order there, preparing for the new season.

American President Biden constantly shouted: “Be careful! There will be the war! Do something!” Our president constantly said: “There will be no war! Don’t panic!” I still clearly remember our president’s speech late on the evening of the 23rd: “There will be no war! Sleep calmly!” That night, many woke up from explosions. Thus began a new life. A new countdown. Realizing that every day can be the last one, live it to the fullest, trying to support those who are nearby. Because tomorrow we may not see each other again, or the morning just won’t come.

I live near the Kyiv (Zhulyany) airport and understood the danger of what was happening. When tanks appeared near my home, and the explosions did not stop even for a short time, I begged all my Facebook friends to pray. Then [Ukrainian soldiers] made a checkpoint near my building, just adding concrete blocks to my building. There were always soldiers under my windows. During the day, we peered cautiously out the windows and watched the gunfights. We live on the first floor. And the windows are low enough so that you can enter the apartment through them. My building remained intact—and this is a real miracle! Soon we boarded up all the windows, taking apart all the furniture and cabinets in the apartment.

When the fighting started, I was bedridden and could hardly get up. Having some health problems, I constantly need outside help. When the explosions started and the sirens sounded, I just prayed. I couldn’t get up, and we didn’t have anywhere to go, there was no bomb shelter near us.

From shock and trauma, my body quickly grouped up and I began to move around a little. We learned that the neighbours from our building were hiding in a neighbouring building in the basement. And when we realized that our building could be blown up at any moment and it was at the epicentre of events, we collected documents, took a few T-shirts and other things to change clothes and also took some baby food, which I need for life, and went to the basement.

The basement was dark, wet and cold. The floor was earthen, and it was obvious that the moisture there never dries up. We climbed under the sewer pipes and stayed there for many hours. It was constantly dripping from the pipes, but it was really quieter and calmer there.

No wonder that I now have an exacerbation of asthma and bronchiectasis. I have spent the last few weeks in hospital but still have some trouble breathing. My husband has already contacted various volunteers about an oxygen concentrator, but so far without success.

Based on your Facebook posts, it looks like you left Kyiv for some time and you’re back now, is that right? Where did you go, and what was travelling like?

When we had the opportunity, we went to our dacha, which is located 100 km from Kyiv. Our dacha is a small piece of land with a wooden wagon where we usually live in the summer. Thanks to kind people, we were able to buy some food and fill the car with fuel.

It wasn’t very safe there. Explosions were constantly heard and our little house periodically bounced. But no one ran around with machine guns and there wasn’t shooting near us. The closest town that was bombed was 15 km away from us. I was able to sleep. The feeling of inevitable death and horror began to leave me little by little.

Our dacha is almost in the middle of the field. There is no water or gas there. But there is electricity, so we could use an electric heater to heat our small cabin and an electric stove to cook our food. After a while, we ran out of food and needed to fill up the car again. And since food and fuel became a big shortage, we decided to go to Kyiv.

We periodically travel to Kyiv when we need food or a doctor’s consultation. Being able to take a shower and feel like a human being, and not just an incomprehensible being, is also one of the main reasons for returning home. Thank the Lord for saving our apartment, where we can take a shower and wash things, until this moment. (We don’t have a washing machine; we wash by hand). Every time we leave, we realize that we may never come back. Traveling is very dangerous. All the way I usually pray, but my body does not leave the state of freezing and tension.

I am not yet ready to share the details of what is happening on the roads. But passing shot and crushed cars, multiple roadblocks with incomprehensible people who rudely checked our car and threatened to shoot us, I understand that life is a very fragile thing. [Editor’s note: One of Gedz’s Facebook posts describes an argument with Ukrainian soldiers at a checkpoint over whether they were allowed to take her passport away to look at it. The soldiers, Gedz wrote, said they could do whatever they wanted, even kill her.]

I hear most of the fighting has moved to the east. What is it like where you are now?

Now we are at our dacha. It’s quiet and calm here. Birds are singing. And outwardly, nothing reminds you of the war. Kyiv is quite calm, despite the constant sirens. Military operations are still taking place in the north (Sumy, Chernihiv … ) east (Mariupol, Donetsk, Luhansk …) and south (Kherson, Odessa …) of Ukraine.

Many cities are bombed and many people die every day.

How are the rest of the congregation of Christ Church, Kyiv, doing, if you’ve heard from them? Have you been to any services since the invasion?

It’s hard for me to say how all the members of the church are doing. I hope they are safe. I kept in touch with one sister. She lives alone and has major health problems. She was in a very dangerous situation. But she hasn’t responded to messages for over a week. I want to believe that everything is fine with her and she has evacuated.

What role has your faith played in getting you through these experiences?

I sincerely believe that I am alive and my home is not destroyed because precious people have been praying for us. And, God, for sure, held me very tightly in His arms.

As of April 28, donors to the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) had given $630,000 for humanitarian needs in Ukraine, PWRDF communications coordinator Janice Biehn said.

In Vancouver, a charity hockey match between the British Columbia Regiment and the Seaforth Highlanders was organized in partnership with Christ Church Cathedral, regimental church for both units. The game, which took place March 25, raised roughly $7,000 for PWRDF’s humanitarian work in Ukraine, said Alicia Ambrosio, the cathedral’s communications director.

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Author

  • Sean Frankling’s experience includes newspaper reporting as well as writing for video and podcast media. He’s been chasing stories since his first co-op for Toronto’s Gleaner Community Press at age 19. He studied journalism at Carleton University and has written for the Toronto Star, WatchMojo and other outlets.

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