Ukrainian refugee tells how vacuum bomb destroyed school near her home

‘My hometown was turned into HELL’: Ukrainian woman, 29, who escaped Chernihiv to live with her future in-laws in Scotland tells how she feared for her life as a vacuum bomb destroyed a school near her home

  • Natasha Matiusha fled Ukraine after vacuum bombing destroyed her hometown
  • She described hiding in her bathroom after a bomb killed 20 people in a school
  • Natasha is now near Falkirk, Scotland living with her boyfriend and is parents

A Ukrainian refugee living with her partner’s family in Scotland has spoke about how vacuum bombing had turned her hometown into ‘hell’.

Natasha Matiusha, 29, from Chernihiv heard a deadly vacuum bomb kill 20 people and destroy a school 800 metres from her home as she feared for her life on the bathroom floor of her house.

Natasha is now safe and living in Bonnybridge, Falkirk, with her future in-laws, Helen and Donald MacKinven.

Natasha Matiusha, 29, from Chernihiv heard a deadly vacuum bomb kill 20 people and destroy a school 800 metres from her home

Her boyfriend, Lewis Pantony, 26, helped her escape to Warsaw, Poland, where she stayed for two weeks before travelling to Scotland on March 28.

Natasha left her brother, Alexey, 44, fighting in Ukraine, and also had to leave her cat, Solomon, who escaped when he was spooked by bombing.

She described being in Scotland as feeling like a holiday, and is hopeful she can one day return to Ukraine.

Natasha said: ‘It’s extremely painful to see what people are going through and all a bit surreal.

‘They have destroyed my home, they’ve shelled the cemetery and destroyed my parent’s graves, destroyed my old school and my childhood memories.

‘What is wrong with these people? What they are doing to the people of Ukraine is genocide.’

Natasha left her brother, Alexey, 44, fighting in Ukraine, and also had to leave her cat, Solomon, who escaped when he was spooked by bombing

She returned to Ukraine in September last year after working in China, where she met her partner and had hoped to visit Scotland under different circumstances.

Natasha said her brother was sceptical about the chances of war breaking out, and it came as a surprise when she got a call from a friend who works as a police officer.

She said: ‘I hadn’t slept well that night, had terrible dreams about being trapped and I became aware of my phone ringing.

‘I couldn’t think who was calling me.

‘When I answered she said to me to ‘don’t ask any questions but this is really bad. Go to your cellar for shelter’.

‘I opened the window and heard the explosions.

‘I also saw neighbours packing up their cars to escape.

‘That’s when I ran to wake my brother and told him we had to shelter.

‘We didn’t have a cellar so we went into the bathroom.

‘We took my cat and our emergency bags that everyone had been encouraged to have since the invasion in 2014.’

Over the coming days there were constant air raids and the population were put under curfew, only able to light their homes with one candle when darkness fell.

A river runs through the city and as the bombing continued, coming from both Russia and Belarus, the bridges were destroyed making it difficult to move about.

After talking with friends including the contractor who was helping to renovate their house, Natasha finally convinced Alexey they needed to flee.

 

Natasha is now safe and living in Bonnybridge, Falkirk, with her future in-laws, Helen and Donald MacKinven

However, her cat Solomon, escaped when he was frightened by bombing and had to be left behind – although he has been well looked after by neighbours.

She described the terror of the vacuum bomb and said: ‘It was a different sound than I’d heard before and I was convinced that I was going to die.

‘They had been seeking shelter as one wing of the school was being used to provide humanitarian aid.

‘But that has gone now, as has much of where I grew up.’

Natasha said: ‘Although I didn’t want to leave my friends, family and my country, I knew that it was too dangerous to stay.

‘Hell was happening there.

‘We were in a convoy of about ten vehicles going down remote roads and constantly going through checkpoints.

‘I used to be shaking holding up my documents before they would wave us through.

‘I saw a small sign at the side of the road that said mines and when I said to the guy at the checkpoint he nodded and said ‘keep on the road’.

‘Normally the journey would take three hours but it took us 14.’

Only women and children were allowed to board the train and Natasha had to leave Alexey.

She said: ‘I had to say goodbye to my brother and I didn’t know if I would see him again.’

He wanted to go back and help with the humanitarian effort, as did her friend Anastasia, 20, who had travelled with them in the convoy.

Sadly, Natasha has since heard that she was killed.

Eventually after travelling by train and bus, Natasha arrived in Warsaw, Poland, where Lewis had managed to book her a hotel room.

She stayed there for two weeks, but had to move every couple of days to another hotel.

On March 28 she heard that her visa had been granted and she arrived at Edinburgh airport two days later.

She says the last few weeks have been ‘bizarre’ with so much changing.

Natasha said: ‘One minute I was in Ukraine, then Poland and now Scotland.

‘It’s a strange mix of emotions. I’m getting used to new realities but it still feels a bit like I’m on vacation.

‘I wanted to come to Scotland but didn’t plan on it being this way – and I do want to go back.’

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