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A Ukrainian family flees Kyiv to safer ground


In January, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley introduced us to a Ukrainian family in Kyiv who were apprehensive that Russia would invade. She met them again just a few days ago in a small town hours west of the capital, where they went to be safer. As we hear in this report, their world has changed.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The last time I saw the Kluchnikov family was in their cozy Kyiv apartment.


BEARDSLEY: Now, as we pull up in front of Artyom's rental flat in the town of Vinnytsia, the air raid sirens go off.


BEARDSLEY: Should we shelter?


BEARDSLEY: Oh. So what do we do?

A KLUCHNIKOV: I need to bring out some stuff.

BEARDSLEY: Do it. Do what you do. You do what you do.

A KLUCHNIKOV: But usually when the siren goes off, I actually walk up the stairs.

BEARDSLEY: Eight flights up, he doesn't use the elevator in case the power goes out.

A KLUCHNIKOV: (Speaking Ukrainian).

BEARDSLEY: At the top, his wife Marina is waiting with 3-year-old Sasha. Eleven-year-old Olenka is down in the playground. The Kluchnikovs head for the shelter many times a day now, so they keep a bag packed at the door with their documents, computer and some snacks. They join a couple hundred other people in a concrete basement under a kindergarten. People sit on rows of benches, and little beds with blankets are set up in another room. Some have brought their dogs on leashes. Others carry cats in cages. Marina says she's thankful.

MARINA KLUCHNIKOV: I'm glad we have this place. It seems to be safe. You know, it's the only thing that matters right now. It's no use to think about what you left behind or what you got used to.

BEARDSLEY: The couple is worried about Sasha. They try their best to keep a calm environment for him.

A KLUCHNIKOV: (Laughter) OK.

BEARDSLEY: Back in the apartment, the tension dissipates. Marina prepares dinner. Artyom says people are living in bunkers now.

A KLUCHNIKOV: To me, that's unhealthy. Psychologically, emotionally, it kills you faster than any airstrike. So I think we need to live on and be present in life and enjoy it, and that's how we win.

BEARDSLEY: He says the numerous daily drills have been hard on Olenka, who misses her friends and her pole vaulting club back in Kyiv.

A KLUCHNIKOV: I mean, it's the first time when I see her scared, and today first time I see her cry because I might go to war and, you know, whatever. And that hurts deeply. I just condemn Putin and Russian military forces for my child crying today because she doesn't have to. She doesn't have to have this childhood.

BEARDSLEY: The couple's two older children are not with them. Twenty-one-year-old Nikita is with his girlfriend's family in a village outside the capital, and 18-year-old Masha is trapped in downtown Kyiv with her grandmother. Her parents take some comfort in the fact that the two are together and living in a Stalin-era apartment building with a solid bunker basement.

A KLUCHNIKOV: Prime Minister Shmyhal is here. The president is here.

BEARDSLEY: Artyom watches one of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's defiant videos. Though he didn't much like him before, he considers Zelenskyy a hero now. The Kluchnikovs also draw hope from videos and tales of the heroism of their army and regular citizens who are resisting the Russians.

A KLUCHNIKOV: Glory to Ukraine.

BEARDSLEY: Moreno reads an email from a friend in Moscow.

M KLUCHNIKOV: Dear Marina and our dear Kyivites, we are terrified at what's happening. Lord, why? What for?

BEARDSLEY: She says seeing many Russians protest this war also gives her hope. She knows the risks they face by opposing Putin. It's been a week since I left the Kluchnikovs, but I got this video update from Artyom and Olenka.

A KLUCHNIKOV: Hey, Eleanor. Yes, we're on our way.


BEARDSLEY: On their way to the Polish border, where they'll try to get Marina and the kids out of Ukraine. Artyom will most likely have to stay behind. Men of military age aren't allowed to leave the country. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.