Jessie and Jacob Boeckmann felt relieved when they set foot in their Costa Mesa home last Tuesday. After a harrowing escape from Ukraine during last week’s Russian invasion, they had finally managed to get to safety with their newborn daughter, Vivian.
Their other daughter, 2-year-old Mary, greeted “Mom” and “Dad” with a jump of excitement. Grandparents from across the country took turns to pet little Vivian. There were coos, laughs and sipped bubbly in celebration.
But at some point, Jessie looked around. She stopped and thought, “I live in this safe house. I have something to eat. I will sleep in a warm bed and not worry about being woken up in the middle of the night by bombs.
Despite the joyful reunion, the Boeckmanns say they have “survivor’s guilt.” They can’t help but think of the people left behind in Ukraine, especially the surrogate mother who gave birth to Vivian, Lilya, who lives about 240 km southwest of Kiev. (Lilya didn’t want her last name published for security reasons.)
Around the same time, on February 24, that the Boeckmanns and Vivian left hospital in Kiev to begin their journey home, Lilya was discharged from the hospital to an apartment she shared with other mothers. carriers.
That night, part of his building, several blocks long, was shelled by Russian forces advancing on the city. His unit was not hit. She came out unscathed. On Saturday, she was at home with her two daughters, aged 7 and 14.
Since then, Russian forces have heavily shelled the village of Lilya, said Jessie, who writes with her and others in Ukraine almost daily.
In an interview last Thursday, Lilya told The Times that food prices were five times higher than usual. If the war doesn’t end soon, she says, she will likely have to dip into her savings to survive.
“How can we help you?” Jessie texted Lilya last week. “Can we help get you and your daughters to the United States?” Can you live with us?
Lilya didn’t answer. But she told The Times she didn’t want to leave Ukraine. She does not want to leave behind her husband, who has joined the fight, as well as thousands of other Ukrainians who are defending their land. She loves her country. Lilya said she would have joined the fight too. But she has nowhere to leave her children safely.
Most of the time, Lilya texts Jessie asking about Vivian and Mary. They communicate on Viber, a translation app. Lilya only speaks Russian.
“He’s the cutest child,” she wrote when Jessie sent her a photo of Vivian wrapped in a fuzzy pink blanket decorated with white stars.
“She’s an angel. She had a good home for 9 months,” Jessie replies.
It’s cold and snowing in Ukraine. Lilya said she cried every day. Her daughters are scared. Every time a helicopter flies over their house, her daughters tremble in fear. But they “wake up each day thankful to God that we are alive”.
Lilya said her 7-year-old daughter struggled the most. She is afraid of being alone in her room. She constantly talks about Russia and Putin.
“I have no love for Putin,” she told her mother. “What have we done to Russia? Why is Russia at war with us?
Lilya doesn’t know how to answer these questions.
Over the weekend, her 7-year-old son donned three sweaters. She prepared a bag in case she needed to “run”. She packed a small pillow and a bedspread. No toys.
“Mom, I’m ready,” she told Lilya.
Lilya hugged her tightly. The mom knows there is “nowhere to run”.
Their house is old and they cannot use their basement. It’s closed because it needs fixing, Lilya said.
Never mind, his youngest told him. She’ll run to the neighbor’s basement or just “run away when they shoot”.
“It’ll be fine,” Lilya told her youngest. “Our Ukraine is strong and we will end the war soon.”
Sometimes Lilya receives calls from her mother, who now lives in Russia with her Russian boyfriend.
“Putin is trying to save you,” his mother told him. Lilya stopped taking her mother’s calls.
During the day, Lilya tries to distract herself and her daughters from the war. At first, she and her daughters baked cinnamon rolls or cakes. But then they ran out of milk. Now her eldest daughter weaves or studies English. Lilya reads to her youngest.
They don’t walk around anymore. Sometimes they go out into their garden to get some fresh air, but they don’t stay long because, she says, her children are scared.
Jessie said it was hard to see the situation deteriorating in Ukraine. Other than giving to charity, she’s not sure how else to help. Lilya still hasn’t responded to Jessie’s offer to help.
On Monday, Lilya was worried about the length of the war. She has been looking for milk for the past two days without much success. And the cost of food is increasing every day.
She fears that she and her daughters will soon be hungry.
Los Angeles Times