Hours after the sirens of the airstrikes first sounded in Kiev, Inna Kochetkova, who had traveled there with her family on a business trip, picked up her 5-year-old daughter Alisa and showed her a map of the world. The great eastern country, he said, has decided to attack Ukraine and take its land. They had to pack up and run away in order to “stay alive and healthy.”
The Kochetkov family woke up with a massive explosion on February 24, the day Russia launched its large-scale invasion. As the walls shook, Kochetkova saw a huge dark cloud rise from where a house stood.
Explaining the war to a girl was not as complicated as Kochetkova, 31, had hoped. The difficult part came weeks later, when he had to tell Alisa why his grandfather, who had been killed in the midst of relentless bombing at the Mariupol home, could not join them when they fled Kiev to Tijuana and then to Los Angeles.
June 20 is World Refugee Day and 117 days since the Kremlin launched a large-scale invasion that killed more than 4,000 people, including nearly 200 children, and injured 4,500, according to UN statistics. The actual toll is believed to be much higher. Nearly 6.4 million people have fled and 7.7 million residents remain, many of them displaced.
Kochetkova temporarily moved to Brentwood in a donated house with Alisa, her husband Oleksii Kochetkov, and her mother-in-law Olena Kochetkova. Adults are getting a driver’s license, looking for a daycare for Alisa and hoping to open a business to keep busy, especially Olena, who is grieving for her husband, Sergey.
After Sergey’s death, the bombing turned the once prosperous Mariupol into a ghost town. A mass grave it extends outside the city which contains about 9,000 civilians. With a population of almost 450,000, Mariupol is known worldwide as the city that has suffered some of the worst suffering.
During the attacks on Mariupol, Kochetkova’s in-laws spent most of their days in their small grocery store with their adjacent bakery. Food was scarce in the city, other shops began to close, and electricity was cut off in many homes.
“My mother baked bread and my father gave milk and yogurt to the children,” said Kochetkov, 33. “They didn’t want to abandon their neighbors.”
By the end of March, most of Mariupol was occupied by Russian soldiers. The internet was cut off and for three days the Kochetkovs were unable to get there with their parents by phone.
It was then that on March 28, Kochetkov began a harrowing journey with a friend from Kiev to Mariupol to beg his parents to leave his beloved hometown. He felt condemned at a time when Russian soldiers had beaten him and his friend, and then made them stand in a newly dug grave and let them go. “The only thing I thought about was my family,” Kochetkov said. “I thought they would kill me.”
What Kochetkov did not know was that on April 12, Olena and Sergey were in their tent, baking bread when Olena went outside just as a rocket hit the fire. Her father Sergey was killed inside the store. With the help of a neighbor, Olena pulled her husband’s body from the rubble. Later, the neighbor and a priest gathered in her yard, prayed and buried her husband there, in a shallow grave, while exploding rockets nearby.
The next day, Olena packed her clothes and passports and walked about 30 miles to a town where she was picked up by a motorcyclist who drove her to the border with Hungary.
Once in Budapest, Olena reunited with her son, Kochetkov, his daughter-in-law Kochetkova, and Alisa. The sad family took almost two weeks to travel from Ukraine to Tijuana and finally enter the United States on April 24.
As soon as the family arrived in Los Angeles, they shared a home with another Ukrainian refugee family, and began arranging a suitable funeral for Sergey, still buried in the shallow grave of his garden in Mariupol.
It took many phone calls and about $ 1,000 to find a coffin, a cross, and a place in the cemetery to bury Sergey again.
“A lot of people we know have died,” Kochetkova said. “It’s just a nightmare.”
The family recently celebrated 40 days since Sergey’s death. But Alisa still asks about her grandfather almost every day, wondering if he’s sitting in a cloud watching them.
“We miss him every day,” said Kochetkova, his daughter-in-law.
Although Kochetkova expected a culture shock in California, she did not have much time to process the change.
“I would like to get to know this county in different circumstances,” he said.
He was amazed that life in Los Angeles resembled scenes from Hollywood movies. The store shelves are full of unfamiliar products, and she is stunned to find a newspaper on the porch every morning. He recently met actor, film producer and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at a Brentwood gym.
“It all looks like you’re watching a movie,” he said. “Everyone seems so relaxed and busy with their own lives. No one seems to judge anyone.”
But he admits it may take some time before he can begin to appreciate the beauty of Southern California. Every time he runs, he listens to Ukrainian music and his mind returns to his hometown halfway around the world.
“I close my eyes and smell the chestnuts growing near the Sea of Azov,” he said. “For a few days you feel normal and then you look at the news and you get depressed again.”
But she tries to move on, getting her driver’s license and learning English. They need to vacate their Brentwood home in about a month to find their own place. Her husband’s optimism, she said, keeps her going.
“Without him, my mom and I would cry all day,” she said.
In Ukraine, the family had several thriving businesses, including a sushi bar and a car wash. In March, they were about to open a new cafe in Kiev called “Alisa Coffee and Friends,” just in time for International Women’s Day.
Now, they hope to open a restaurant in Los Angeles to help Olena not see her shop and bakery destroyed by a rocket, her husband dead. It helps to think about a future business, said Kochetkova. They hope to find investors in their planned restaurant, offering Ukrainian pancakes, or blini, dumplings or pelmeni, and sweet cheese fritters or syrniki.
They’ve already put the name of their restaurant: “Mom, please.”
“That name reminds me of the warm, carefree times when we dined with my family and my mother cooked me delicious meals,” Kochetkova said.
Although he dreams of returning to Mariupol one day when the war is over, Kochetkova said, he plans to work hard to build a new business and a life in Southern California.
“Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my purpose,” she says. “You may have a home, a business and a social status one day and then lose everything the next day. Life is short. We need to live our lives with joy and have a job that we enjoy and spend time with the people we love. “.
Ukrainian family mourns beloved granddad, buried in a shallow grave in his Mariupol backyard – Press Telegram Source link Ukrainian family mourns beloved granddad, buried in a shallow grave in his Mariupol backyard – Press Telegram