( Spanish) –– When Russia’s war against Ukraine broke out, Valeria Gryshchenko, a 28-year-old Ukrainian from Kyiv, never imagined that the conflict would drag on for more than a year and that her life would take a drastic turn in order to protect her safety.
Gryshchenko had to flee Ukraine with her boyfriend, Juan Manuel Patiño, a 20-year-old Ecuadorian. Both tell that they decided to leave there taking a long road to Ecuador, which put her love to the test at the most difficult moment for the country where she began her story.
“It was complicated because either I was going to live with my boyfriend or I was staying with my family. We Ukrainians did not think that the war would last more than three hours or something like that, because we think that it is a very stupid war. But he always told me: ‘No, the war will continue’”, says Gryshchenko.
It was precisely that presentiment of Patiño’s that prompted her to decide to leave Ukraine and undertake a complicated journey to take a humanitarian flight that would allow them to reach Quito, where her boyfriend’s family resides.
“All the Ukrainians were like: ‘What? Oh really? War? In the XXI century? War?’ Two brothers, one country. How can the Russians still say that we are a brother country? And I don’t understand how people can act like animals,” says Gryshchenko, recalling the questions she asked herself when the war started.
The hardest memories in the midst of chaos
Gryshchenko has studies in Art and Culture and worked in a clothing store in the Ukraine, while Patiño studied Architecture in Kyiv. The Ecuadorian assures that she was his main support during the days that they were destined to leave Ukraine. Both assure that they will never forget the images and news they saw and heard while fleeing. She is moved to tears when she recalls a situation that she “can’t stand.”
“I felt terrible when I found out that the Russian military took children and did bad things to them in front of the parents. This is… I can’t, I can’t Animals! This is the worst. It’s even better to kill them than to do that. Yes, ”Gryshchenko sobs, recalling what he considers the most heinous of the war.
Patiño remembers some of the images that he says marked him when he took the trains to get around on his way out of Ukraine.
“People began to leave desperate, but as a movie, I did not believe, people fell, they stepped on them, they hit each other (…) In one of the trains I saw how the fathers said goodbye to their daughters, to the mothers and they left they enlisted for war. I think that was the most painful, to see how they separated and how they cried, and how heartbroken it was to not know if they were going to see each other again or not, ”she recounts.
The power of love in times of war
Together they crossed various cities in Ukraine on foot, by train, by bus, amidst bunkers, chaos and the sounds of alarms. They arrived in Slovakia, then crossed into Hungary and Poland, made a stopover in Spain and finally arrived in Quito.
Patiño says that he implored the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry to allow his girlfriend to board the humanitarian flight. To do so, they presented evidence of their relationship and signed a commitment to the authorities.
“We were in front of the authorities, we signed the document, we kissed each other and everyone applauded, it looked like a wedding,” he says, smiling, remembering this moment that allowed them to fly on the same plane to Ecuador.
One year after the start of the invasion, they want to resume their professional projects. He is studying English and she wants to start a hairdressing salon in Quito.
“I loved my life in Ukraine. I had a good job, lots of friends, and then I had a good boyfriend. And I loved my life in Ukraine and I really miss it a lot,” Gryshchenko emphasizes.
Two days before the one year anniversary of the start of the invasion, Valeria received the news that her cousin, a Ukrainian soldier, had been killed in combat in the Donetsk region.
Jorge Patiño, Juan Manuel’s father, told that the war is leaving great pain to those who have had to flee and cannot be close to their families to offer comfort and support.
Amid the uncertainty, the couple hopes to return to Ukraine to visit the family she left there and tour various places, hoping to regain peace and security lost to a conflict that has left families hurt and separated.
Ecuador, the Latin American country with the largest number of citizens in Ukraine
Ecuador, as calculated by the country’s Foreign Ministry, is the Latin American country that had the most citizens in Ukraine, with more than 1,000. Many were students who had to modify their plans.
Of those Ecuadorians, 675 plus 56 people of other nationalities returned on humanitarian flights managed by the Government of Ecuador.