THE NURSING HOME
“I know what to do: start stockpiling food”, said Ivan Oleksandrovich, a Second World War survivor who lived in the nursing home near Vasylkiv, when the Russia-Ukrainian war started.
Maryna, owner of the Vasylkiv Nursing Home, was awakened at 4:30 AM by the sound of five gunshots. She rushed to check on the residents – 28 men and women, who were all spending their sunset years in Maryna’s facility, living a peaceful and quiet life.
She decided to take the forest road to avoid being fired upon; Russia had just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and had attacked Kyiv from the sky.
When she got there, at first the residents couldn’t believe what was happening. Maryna started planning the evacuation of the residents. The only option within a building was a small 12-square-meter basement, so she started calling relatives of the residents for help. Unfortunately, the majority couldn’t help as they were either too far away or abroad.
Only three were picked up by their next-of-kin, leaving 25 behind.
“We couldn’t leave them on their own. We had to do something, “recalls Maryna.
The situation was familiar to the residents. Some of them had survived a war already – WW2. They were calm and spoke from experience. Ivan, who lived through the Nazi invasion, kept repeating “I know what to do: start stockpiling food.”
Maryna, together with her husband, Sergei, continued working on the evacuation plan. They realized that they would need to convert the basement into a shelter: so they brought blanket, food and water supplies down.
The nurses were anxious. They had their own families to take care of and they desperately wanted to get home to them.
The day-shift staff couldn`t get to the nursery home due to military action on the roads. The country was at war. One that looked just like the WW2 they’ve seen in movies.
Maryna, with the help of her husband and the nurses, took some of the elderly to the basement, while the bedridden residents were relocated down to the first floor. Maryna and her husband spent the rest of the night at the nursing home.
“We could hear the gunshots – the local airfield and the military academy are right next to the house. We couldn’t make out what was happening. The following night, the neighbouring village Kudrivka was shelled by saboteurs. There was no rest,” elaborates Maryna.
The next morning, some relatives of the nursing home residents who had remained in Ukraine drove to Vasylkiv despite the risk of running into Russian troops and saboteurs and took nine more residents with them.
“I still had 16 people to look after,” says Maryna.
The military activity near Vasyliev was escalating. Fierce battles were fought over strategic military objects.
“We were on our own and we knew help wouldn’t come, so we had to do something. No one knew what was going to happen. We believed in our army, but what were we to do if a Russian soldier or saboteur broke into our facility?” asks Maryna.
Maryna got in touch with a state nursing home which was further away from military action.
“Kudakov is further away, and I believed a large state-owned facility would be a safer option.
Fortunately, Natalia Alexandrovna, Director of that retirement home agreed to accept our residents. We carried them into our car on stretchers and mattresses; took diapers, medication, food – essentially all that we had left and drove them to the new place,” recalls Maryna.
According to her, it is becoming increasingly challenging to provide further support to the nursing home. While the Ukrainian army is holding a strong defence against the Russian army’s advances and heavy shelling, Maryna is unsure of the fate of the residents.
“Caring for the elderly is all about the right diet, right medication, treatment and support. They ran out of bread. They still have some frozen food and cereal, but will that be enough?” wonders Maryna, who continues to find ways to deliver supplies without coming under fire.
“Our nursing home is just five kilometres away from the military action at Vasylkiv airfield. Today, Russian missiles hit and blew up the oil facility just three kilometres away, making this an environmental catastrophe. I am so grateful to God that we managed to evacuate our residents on time,” sighs Maryna in relief.