I am 13 years old now. I was born and raised in Ukraine.

My year 2022 began very joyfully and creatively. In the New Year's musical of the Palace of Culture in my small hometown, I played the main role. This year it was the tale of Thumbelina. But the joy was twofold. Because my mother, who played Thumbelina's mother, was with me on stage. It was such a joyous time in my life.

But, actually, then we could not have imagined that this year the New Year's fairytale would become so prophetic for us. In our version, as in the original, the magical girl was helped in everything by the Swallow. It was Swallow who befriended Thumbelina went to the Prince's homeland. A country where beautiful elves live and it's always warm. And there, they found many good friends.

In my own world, the holidays ended and I noticed that my parents became very sad and worried. My mother began to collect documents and necessary things throughout the apartment, tears often appeared in her eyes. Grandma bought a lot of products. We received a video call from my Aunt Yulia and her husband Matvii, who live in Australia. They were very worried. Yulia cried a lot and asked everyone to pack their things as soon as possible because they said that there would be a war.

Yulia simply begged us to run away, and Matvii begged too. We all cried all day, it was very scary to think about such a thing, I wanted to take everything I love, but nothing fit in my small backpack. I was very sorry.

I thought about the homeless cats that live in our yard, and my heart sank, because how will they be here without me, who will feed them now? I thought that there are so many things that I still want to do here in this beautiful place and that this is my home, where I was born and raised. And what about my teachers, music, friends?

Then, at a family meeting, we decided that such a thing could not be true, that it is some kind of mistake, that this cannot happen in the 21st century - attacking an independent country in the centre of Europe.

We could not believe that this could happen. Nevertheless, we collected all the documents in a bag. We warned all our friends and relatives about what Yulia and Matvii told us. But most people didn't want to hear about it.

A few weeks later, at 6 o'clock in the morning, we received a call. "Get up! Pack your things, the war has started!" It was the second scariest day of my life. The first was when Aunt Yulia and Matvii informed us about the impending war, and also, when I realized what it meant.

At that time, February 24, 2022, I was still 12 years old. But I knew what the word war meant. I read many books, studied poems, and my mother explained what they were about. I studied history at school and the teachers told us a lot about it. But I never thought that war would come to my Ukraine. 

We didn't run away from our hometown right away. We sat at home and prayed to God. We hoped that Russia would stop, but every day it got worse and worse. My great-grandmother, who lives in the Kyiv region, said that she heard explosions. In our city, sirens were constantly wailing day and night. I am a musician, and for me this terrible, tearing sound is simply unbearable. There was no bomb shelter in our zone, and we just sat in the corridor with the lights off so that the enemies wouldn't see us. It was very cold outside. We slept without taking off our clothes, in case we had to run, and to avoid freezing.

I was itching all over because of my outfit. I never thought it could be so unpleasant to be dressed all the time. My parents were constantly fighting. My mother said to run away before it was too late, and dad said that running away was also very dangerous. A collapse had begun in our city. Medicines in pharmacies, products in stores, gasoline began to run out. We called all our relatives, because we have a huge family all over Ukraine.

Everyone had different situations, but everywhere was equally scary and dangerous. I remember them very well. That our neighbour Aunt Larisa was waiting for the birth of her twin grandchildren. Her pregnant daughter sat in the Kyiv subway 24 hours a day, because the city was bombed. It was cold and scary there. She had no food with her, and it was scary to go to the store and there were huge queues. That girl was constantly crying and catching a cold, she did not know how to get out of that dangerous zone. We also cried, prayed and begged the Lord to help us all to do the right thing. My mother asked for patience and faith. But her heart screamed "Run! Take the child and run!"

Aunt Julia cried so many tears. She begged us all to go to her place in Sydney. Because she and her husband Matthew will take care of us. Grandma categorically refused - she could not leave her old parents. Yes, Australia is very far and it will not be easy to return either. My dad, my dear dad, said he would stay and do his best to win and help anyone in need. He is also a volunteer now. And my mother, my own mother, who always loved our cozy home so much. Our comfort, our nest. The mother said she decided to go to save the children.

I will never forget the day we were able to leave on the evacuation bus. We didn't sleep all night before leaving. We just lay with my mother and dad, we hugged and cried together. My grandmother was crying in the next room. Sirens were wailing, but we didn't even go out into the corridor. In the morning, she looked at her room. A beautiful old piano, my own, such wonderful toys, I wanted to sit down and not go anywhere. My mother allowed me to take something necessary that would fit in my backpack. Oh, if I could take dad and grandmother Luda and my second grandmother Olya, but it was impossible.

We hugged and said goodbye to my grandmother. I still don't know when I will be able to see her again. When I taste her most delicious pies in the world and her borscht, her dumplings ... Dad went to see us off. We hugged and everyone cried. Everyone who entered this bus and who saw him off - everyone also cried. I have never seen so many tears. I thought about dad, whether we will see him again, or meet. What's in store for us all. Now we chat on Viber and I thank God for that. But I so want him to be with us.

I really want him and all my relatives, friends and acquaintances to be alive and healthy. And all those who were separated by the war were together again.

Our evacuation, the road to Sydney was 6 days long. This is a separate long story. Filled with pain, despair, when a woman with a child is just trying to survive... It was unbearably difficult both mentally and physically. My mother couldn't hold back tears all the way. But I was very obedient and very strong. I supported her as much as I could. All the people we met on the way were incredibly kind. The Lord never left us for a minute. I know that with our departure from home, my childhood ended. It remained there, in Kremenchuk.

Along with my toys, my drawings, my pretty skirts and new shoes I've never worn, now you have to be an adult, because of the war in Ukraine.

I turned 13 in Sydney. It wasn't like all my previous birthdays, but that doesn't matter. Now I'm an adult and I have to be serious. After all, I am the hope and the meaning of life for my mother. And for my father too, and for my grandmother. It's hard for me to think about all this. It hurts me a lot. But I don't want to forget about it, what pain war brings and what it has done to our happy, peaceful life.

For now, my mother and I live in a warm country. Where fairy elves really live, apparently. And Aunt Yulia, who is like the Swallow in Thumbelina. Who helped us come here and did everything to save us. And the good prince Matvii, who became so dear to us, and his entire large family.

By Anastasia Pyshna.