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Ukraine travel: This is what it’s like trying to get out right now

Ukrainian Kate Taylor, 38, has been on the road since 5am this morning. She’s driving a car full of friends, and they’re travelling in convoy with another car – more friends, and a cat.

“There are actually a lot of people around us with animals,” she says, speaking to me from outside Kyiv.

They have changed their route many times already, adjusting their plans as they find another road blocked by cars. When we speak, they’ve been driving for seven hours, travelling only 70km in that time.

They are aiming for Lviv, the western city where many countries have relocated their embassies to, and where Kate’s ex-husband lives.

“He will accept us until we decide what to do next.”

Their final destination is Warsaw in Poland. They don’t have a plan for what they’ll do when they get there.

“I have nothing in Warsaw. I just want to be safe,” says Kate.

“When she was calling me, I heard the explosions”

Kate, who is the founder of art agency Port, first became aware that war had come to Kyiv early yesterday morning. Though, she says, “it really started eight years ago. That’s the joke here.”

On Thursday morning, she was “woken by a call from my colleague. She was trying to reach me and I left the sound on [on my phone] for the first time in many years. And when she was calling me I heard the explosions. They were probably far away. I couldn’t see them.”

“But then I started to read the news. There was news from all over the country about invasions all over the place. I can’t say I heard a lot of explosions. Maybe two or three that morning.

“Everybody said we should stay at home. Don’t leave the house. But I had to go to the doctor. And the doctor was still working. So I drove there. Usually it takes me an hour and a half to get there but yesterday it took just half an hour because the city was totally empty. It was just unbelievable.

“After the doctor, I had to pick up some medication from the pharmacy. I had to queue for half an hour. The place was full.”

Long queues for petrol – and back to the old days of cash

“Then I tried to get some petrol for my car and it took me another 40 minutes to get that. A friend who is travelling with me now said that he was only allowed to put 20 litres of petrol into his car and could only pay with cash. That wouldn’t have helped me because I don’t have any cash. We don’t really use cash in Ukraine anymore. You can buy everything by card. So I still don’t have any cash. I’m travelling with just $300 and my credit card, that’s it.”

This may sound like a disjointed story, jumping back and forth in time. That’s because I got Kate’s story via WhatsApp calls and voicenotes – the only way we could communicate as her phone signal was coming and going as she drove between small Ukrainian villages.

A little while later, she picks up the story from last evening.

“Two friends then came to my apartment and we stayed there for a while. But my place is on the 14th floor and we decided it just wasn’t safe. So that’s when we went to a friend’s place.”

“This place was close to where Medvedchuk [pro-Russian politician and friend of Putin] lives. So we joked that it was the safest place to stay in town.”

Explosions and sirens

“We were woken around 4am by the explosions and we were like soldiers – it took me one minute to get dressed and run downstairs. We turned on the news, because it updates every minute with what’s going on. Then we heard sirens which mean you’re meant to go to a shelter.

“But since the shelter was right next to the house we were in, we decided to wait to see if there were more explosions. There weren’t any more so we decided to try and get some more sleep. I couldn’t fall asleep again. There was another explosion around 5am and we wanted to leave then but we couldn’t because of the curfew. So we waited until 7am when the curfew lifted.”

That brings us back to today. Hours on the road without much progress and with no idea what tomorrow or even tonight holds.

“I’ve left my parents in Kyiv,” Kate concludes.

“They fled Luhansk in 2014 and have been staying with me since then. I’m not sure when I’ll see them again.”

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