Ukrainian mother flees Kyiv with her children, leaves husband, parents behind: Start Here

Nina Sideleva is featured on an episode of ABC News podcast 'Start Here'

March 16, 2022, 6:03 AM

Nearly three weeks after Russia's invasion of Ukraine began, more than 3 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes seeking safety. And while the number of refugees who have left the country has risen at a staggering rate, many others, like Nina Sideleva, have sought safety in the Western part of Ukraine.

Sideleva is a mother of two from Kyiv, who said before Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine, she was just like anyone else.

Nina Sideleva pictured with her children and her parents.
Nina Sideleva

"I had a family, I have kids, I went to my job," she told ABC News' Start Here podcast, with her brother Alex Sidelev aiding in translation. "We lived a regular life with our plans, with our dreams for the future."

Like many Ukrainians, Sideleva said she didn't believe the reality of war would come so close to her family's home. But on Feb. 25, when she saw so many others in the capital city fleeing their homes for bomb shelters, it began to feel real.

Initially, she hoped to stay in Kyiv with her children, her husband, and her parents. But in the early days of the Russian invasion, one of the blasts killed Sideleva's former boss. His death left Sideleva no choice.

"I need to leave my parents and save my kids," she said.

Nina Sideleva pictured with her older brother Alex Sidelev, who is a structural engineer in New York City.
Nina Sideleva

All Ukrainian men of fighting age are now required to stay in the country, so Sideleva's husband decided to remain in Kyiv to keep her parents safe. Through tears, Sideleva described what could be her final goodbye to her husband.

"I promised that we are going to see each other soon," she said at the time.

"But she thinks that she doesn't know anymore," Sidelev said, describing how the horrors of the ongoing war have shaken his sister's vow.

Sideleva's escape took her and her sons on a lengthy train trip, arriving first in Lviv, and later traveling to Vyzhnytsia, a smaller town near the Romanian border. And while she was greeted by an astonishing number of people prepared to provide help to people arriving from cities farther east, Sideleva said she struggles with accepting that assistance.

"It is difficult to think that she needs help because she feels that she can care about herself," her brother told ABC News. "But it needs to have settled in her mind that it's she needs help and people are helping her out while she wants to have everything back to normal."

Now, staying with people she knows in Vyzhnytsia, Sideleva feels safe, but knows that feeling could vanish as quickly as it did in Kyiv.

PHOTO: Firefighters extinguish a fire in an apartment building in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 15, 2022.
Firefighters extinguish a fire in an apartment building in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 15, 2022, after strikes on residential areas resulted in fatalities, Ukraine emergency services said as Russian troops intensified their attacks on the Ukrainian capital.
AFP via Getty Images

Sidelev, who works as a structural engineer in New York City, said hearing his younger sister's story left him feeling desperate and powerless, and that his ultimate dream is to be with his family.

"Every time I wake up, I want to wake up from reality, I want to wake up in a world with no war in Ukraine," he said.

For now, Sideleva and her children feel safe in Vyzhnytsia, with plans to celebrate one son's tenth birthday there. While it's not how any of them wanted to celebrate, she says, it is the best place for them to be right now.

Still, she knows she must remain ready in case the terror of war approaches her current reprieve. If that does happen, Sideleva said she would want to be with her brother in the United States.

"The only family member who she knows outside of Ukraine, any country, it's only me," Sidelev said. "I'm her brother. And she says that I want to be with my brother if I need to leave the country. I want to be with my family member."

Nina Sideleva's children pictured in Vyzhnytsia, a small town near the Romanian border.
Nina Sideleva

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees confirmed on Tuesday that the number of Ukrainians who have fled to neighboring countries, including Poland, Moldova, and Romania, has surpassed 3 million. The agency estimates that the war has internally displaced an additional 2 million people.

The fog of war leaves so much of what comes next in doubt. But Sideleva said she holds out hope for her country to remain a sovereign democracy, as it has been since the fall of the Soviet Union.

"I am a Ukrainian citizen. It's my motherland. I want to be free. I don't want Russia here. I really want to be free in my motherland, I want to be in Ukraine," she said.

That is a sentiment Sidelev echoes, saying, "Ukraine is our land. We don't need any of this. We don't need to go through all of this. It means we are Ukrainian, we want to be free in Ukraine. We don't need Russian involvement."

Listen to the interview on "Start Here":

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