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Sveta and I heard a most amazing story the other day. A woman who lived on the east side of the Dnieper river in a village near the city of Kherson told of her escape. Kate lived under Russian occupation in her village for one year. In March, 2023 she decided to liberate herself from this life of captivity.

Thirteen month before, the invasion of Russia had begun. On February 23, 2022 everything was normal in her village. At 5 AM February 24, 2022 everything changed. There were missiles and planes flying overhead. Later that day, a spectacle of fear proceeded through the village. Two hundred eighty Russian military vehicles drove through her village east-north-east, paralleling the Dnieper River.

On March 2, 2022, the village that Kate knew as home was occupied by the Russian military. Kate had been the chief cook at the local school, but the schools were now closed. She was given a job as security guard of the school. One day a Russian soldier asked to inspect the school. She showed him everything. In amazement, his only comment was, “This school is so nice! I have relatives in Belarus, and Ukraine.”

By September 2022, Putin declared four regions annexed. With this in place, everyone in these regions had to register to receive a Russian passport, and change their currency to Russian rubles. Phones would not operate without the Russian SIM card.

The new normal for Kate included her house being inspected twice a month. Two military trucks would block the street on either side of her house. Eight soldiers would appear. One would stay with each truck. Two would go to the back of the house. Two would go to the front of the house. The remaining two would enter the house. Every inch of the house and the yard was inspected. This included the root cellar and the outhouse.

In March of 2023, Kate could not live this oppressive life any more. She could not communicate with her relatives. There was no electricity. She was tired of this invasive life that she had lived for 365 days. She had to evaluate the risk of escape.

It had been made clear to the villagers that they were free to leave. They were not hostages or prisoners of war. On the other hand, history reminded Kate that she could easily be shipped to Siberia.

If she did decide to go, this is what she would have to deal with:

She would request permission to visit her sister in Poland. (She had no sister in Poland).

To get to Poland, her travel route would be:

Kherson to Kerch, inspection at the Kerch check point, (Bridge built by Russia)

Across the Kerch bridge, and travel north to Moscow,

Moscow to Latvia,

Then south through Lithuania to Poland,

And finally, across Ukraine to her cousin in Mykolaiv.

This trip took five days, or one hundred and twenty hours. It cost $350. Yet, Mykolaiv is only forty-two miles north west from Kherson. It would cost $17. Unfortunately, this route was forbidden. That was a big decision.

Kate shared with us other factors that she knew she would have to deal with. She could take as much with her as she wanted, but at one of the border crossings, she would have to carry, or wheel, her things 800 yards by foot to the next customs check point. The final concern was that toilet stops were every four hours.

When I asked Kate about her comfort level traveling through Russia, she said, “I felt pretty good. There were no planes, missiles, or bombs, flying over head!”

When I asked her if her relationship with God had changed because of this journey, she though for a minute, and then said, “I think that it is the same. I had the same faith before the war, and I have the same faith now.”

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