People story


Story 16: Yulia

Yulia, a mother of four, lived in the town of Rubizhne in Ukraine’s Luhansk region with her two young sons, Ivan, 5, and Matvii, 11, leading up to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Rubizhne, which was on the frontline between the territories occupied by Russian forces in 2014 and 2022, suffered continuous and devastating attacks. Yulia worked as a saleswoman and was tasked with protecting her two youngest children, as her older daughters had already started lives of their own.

On 6 April, after Russian forces took over the city, Yulia and her family were detained by Kadyrov fighters. Given just five minutes to gather their belongings, they were forced onto a bus heading to Milove, a critical checkpoint on the Ukraine-Russia border. The bus didn’t take them all the way to the border, requiring the family to walk a strenuous 6 to 7 kilometres to reach the Russian checkpoint, where they faced hours of gruelling interrogation.

Once in Russia, they were placed on another bus destined for the House of Creativity in the Rostov region. There, the interrogations continued, with Yulia’s husband being questioned for 15 to 20 hours. Fearing for her husband and unwilling to stay in Russia, Yulia decided to seek refuge by heading towards the Estonian border. The family undertook a taxing 36-hour train journey to St. Petersburg.

Upon arrival, the family faced yet another round of questioning at the train station. Yulia falsely claimed to have family in the city who were coming to pick them up, a lie she crafted to avoid being relocated again.

In reality, Yulia had contacts who helped her reach the Estonian border. After enduring double interrogation, the family was finally allowed to leave Russia. Despite the hardships of filtration camps, extensive interrogations, and a journey spanning thousands of kilometres, Yulia managed to escape the country she had been forcibly deported to.


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