Photographer Anna Gusakova tells how she escaped from Ukraine before the war - Blog Rozumiju

Hi, it’s Anya! Escaping the war in Ukraine

On the 24th of February 2022, the war in Ukraine began. Me and my boyfriend Stan were dreaming side by side in Odessa, when around 5 AM, a massive shock wave woke us up.

What happened next? Disbelief, terror. When we shook off the initial panic, at around 8 AM, we went out to see what’s going on in our neighbourhood. The city was empty. Only the roads were filled with cars and people inside them. The traffic was crazy. We went to a park, our favourite chill-out location. There were hardly any people around. Only a man painting a sculpture as if nothing was going on around him. When we got to our favourite coffee shop, which was usually pretty crowded, no one but its owners and some of their close friends were talking. Everyone was scared and didn’t know what to do, the entire city was only whispering about the news.

We got a coffee, bought some food in the supermarket and started to think about what to do. Stan was trying to convince me to go to Prague because his company had an office there. I didn’t want to leave my home, our apartment, my parents and our cat. My parents didn’t want to leave Odessa because they had built their whole life there: work, apartments, friends and connections. There simply weren’t ready to start over in a new place. At the same time, they were also worried about us. They weren’t sure we would manage to rebuild our life in an unknown country with a different culture, language and a way of life. But eventually, they understood – and said that if we wanted to leave the country, we ought to do so quickly.

Photographer Anna Gusakova tells how she escaped from Ukraine before the war - Blog Rozumiju
My parents in Odessa. This photo was made by me on my father’s birthday last year.

The airspace above Ukraine was already closed and we don’t own a car, so we didn’t have much choice. My parents’ good friend Sveta, an owner of a clothing shop, said she is about to escape and has two spots left in her car. We took them immediately. Perfect timing. Time to say goodbye.

My dad prepared some food for us (I miss his food a lot!) and agreed to take care of our cat Simba (by now, they have even become friends!). We bought many bottles of water and took everything essential knowing that there was a difficult and long journey ahead of us. Then we set off to the border with Moldova.

Photographer Anna Gusakova tells how she escaped from Ukraine before the war - Blog Rozumiju
Simba, the fluffy family member. I miss him a lot every day, but it’s good that he is with my parents now. Taking care of Simba helps them a lot mentally.

The long, long road from Odessa to Prague

We left everything behind in our beautiful city by the sea and began our escape. First stop? Moldova. We drove to Chisinau for around 15 hours, there were huge queues on the border. Of course, there weren’t any facilities along the road. We barely slept and ate. And we knew that this was just a small part of our journey.

Photographer Anna Gusakova tells how she escaped from Ukraine before the war - Blog Rozumiju
The road to the border between Ukraine and Moldova.

When we arrived to Moldova, we started to look for a hotel or an apartment so that we could sleep normally for a few hours. Couldn’t find any. They were all either booked, or the prices were crazy high (around 300$ per night). So, we decided to take our chances and asked Sveta to drop us at the first hotel we saw. Luckily, some people had just left and we managed to get a room to sleep in.

How much time did we spend in each country?

Ukraine (26 years) Moldova (less than 24 hours)Romania (less than 24 hours)Bulgaria (two and a half days)Poland (one hour)Czech Republic (who knows?)

At that time, we didn’t have any idea how to get from Moldova to Romania. We only knew that a friend of my boyfriend, Dennis, should pick us up on the Romanian-Bulgarian border.

Suddenly, I remembered Tania, a photographer from Chisinau I got to know via Instagram and I sent her a DM hoping she could help us. To my surprise, Tania decided to drive us to the Romanian border herself. She asked if we needed any food or anything else. It was a very strange moment for us – we were never used to asking others for help. Tania was so considerate, she even stayed with us at the border until we found a ride to cross it. Romania, here we go.

Half of the road behind us

When we finally reached the Romanian border, Dennis was already waiting for us on the Bulgarian side with a lot of snacks and water. He drove for more than 8 hours, all the way from Sofia to the Romanian border, so he was completely exhausted and falling asleep. We decided to spend the night at a hotel.

In the morning, we finally felt safer. We slept for 5 or 6 hours, had a breakfast and we were headed to the next country on our map – Bulgaria. Ever since we had left Odessa, we were checking the news 24/7, because we were scared for our families and friends, not knowing what to expect from Russia.

The road to Bulgaria was tough. As we were approaching Sofia, it started to snow heavily. We were hungry and very tired. We had already travelled more than 900 kilometres. When we arrived to an apartment we had chosen for the night, it was extremely cold. I was sleeping near an electric heater and I wore my summer pyjama with warm socks, my boyfriend’s shirt, another shirt, and a blanket. Suddenly, I started crying. Our home was so cosy, warm and welcoming, and this one was the exact opposite. I had no clue when I could sit on my comfy couch again, see my beloved parents and Simba, drink some wine together in our kitchen and have my normal life back.

On the next day, we’ve decided to do a bit of exploring in Sofia, because our flight to Prague with a transfer in Warsaw was in two days. We were walking the streets, but we couldn’t concentrate on anything: the architecture, museums, restaurants, the atmosphere of the city or the people. We had lost our heads in the news that we were reading non-stop on our phones.

On the 1st of March, we flew from Sofia to Warsaw, and then from Warsaw to Prague.

Photographer Anna Gusakova tells how she escaped from Ukraine before the war - Blog Rozumiju
Prague has not only been welcoming and safe for us, but it has also provided us with new opportunities, like moving on with our careers. We even plan to stay once the war is over.

Colleagues of my boyfriend met us at the Prague airport and took us to the hotel rented for us by Stan’s company. They said we would enjoy Prague, and they weren’t wrong. I appreciate the city a lot, all the tiny streets and lovely cafés, even though every now and then, I get notifications on my phone about the explosions and rockets in Odessa. In such moments, I try to calm myself down and stay positive – even though it gets really difficult. Every single time.

Anna is a photographer, here are some of the pictures from her portfolio.


Are we missing something?

Share with us the topics you would be interested in.