Experience

Unnecessary Necessities: What Things Did Ukrainians Take with Them as They Fled Their Houses

We asked Ukrainians to show us things, useless from a practical standpoint, which they nevertheless took with them when evacuating.

According to the UN estimations, more than 4 million Ukrainians — 10% of the total population — have become refugees. Another 6.5 million were forced to flee their houses and move to the western parts of Ukraine. Of course, the actual numbers might be even higher.

Whether moving abroad or to safer areas within the country’s borders, few people had a chance to pack properly. In most cases, they took only grab-and-go bags with the essential things. But as it turns out, these essentials differ greatly. We asked Ukrainians, what weird but still important things did they take with them.

Oleksandra: “This is a silver copy of a button from the Kyiv school uniform of 1937. There is a text here, which says “Kyiv. Youth”. When I packed, I didn’t know when will I go back. This thing gives me hope that it will happen soon enough.”
Lisa: “This is a very expensive hairspray. I thought I would use it. But now I don’t even have a hairdryer and don’t feel up to a beauty routine.”

I took an expensive hairspray. But I don’t even have a hairdryer here.

Nastia: “For the last year, I’ve been hugging my 150 centimeters friend in my sleep. Having this thing with me gives me a homely feeling and fills my heart with warmth.”
Artem: “I took Taro cards with me. In times like this, it is crucial to find your guiding lights and practice mindfulness.”
Vika: “Swimming is a big part of my life. I took these things unconsciously. Wherever I was heading, I knew I would look for a swimming pool at some point.”
Olena: “I packed quickly and took these name tags for my newborn babies, for some reason.”
Katia: “My husband gave me this ring. Our anniversary is on February 28, but we exchanged gifts on February 25 before I left the country with our son. It took us a week to get to Warsaw. I wore the ring this whole time.”
Yulia: “When packing, I accidentally took a workbook instead of a foreign passport — they have the same covers. I realized that on the border and made Polish border guards smile.”

I took a workbook instead of a foreign passport. Realized that only on the border.

“When we were escaping the war, we all had a backpack. My mother and sister took almost nothing. But my grandma, who has dementia, stood her ground and packed her things in an old heavy bag. After crossing the border, we decided to take a look at her bag. It turned out that she took a lot of interesting things, including a 20-year-old cookbook and the parts of an ancient chandelier”

My grandma, who has dementia, took a lot of interesting things, including a 20-year-old cookbook and the parts of an ancient chandelier.”

Anna: “My family is scattered all over the world; my father stays in Ukraine. I wanted to take something that reminds me of the good times; something I can touch, look at and cry over. I bought this amulet in “Metrograd” a couple of days before the war. Thought it would help me to stay calm, but it didn’t”.

I bought this amulet in “Metrograd” a couple of days before the war. Thought it would help me to stay calm, but it didn’t.

Masha: “I had two walkie-talkies in my grab-and-go bag. I gave one to my boyfriend.”
Nastia: “I packed in a half an hour. Couldn’t leave my sandals behind, they are so comfy.”
Lyolia: “When I was leaving, I packed just a few practical things. But I also wanted to take something fancy; something that I associated with peaceful times and home. These accessories are made by my friends, Kyiv jewelers. Half of my friends received these handmade jewels as a present from me. They are not expensive. Their only value is in the memories of holidays and presents that they evoke. During the last month, I wore nothing but an ear cuff. Everything seemed redundant, however, back in the day, I used to wear every piece of jewelry from the photo.”
“On February 25 a Russian missile was shot down and its pieces fell on the house next to ours. We spent two sleepless, anxious nights, and decided to move to a safer place. Among weird things that I took with me were my make-up brushes and Lacoste perfume. Now we live in the countryside and I wear perfume only when we go shopping in the nearest city.”
Polina: “That’s a toy from my childhood. I still sleep with it because it reminds me of home.”

That’s a toy from my childhood. I still sleep with it because it reminds me of home.

Oleksandr: “I decided to evacuate those things, which are hard to find in a new place. This projector was my long-cherished dream. I saved money to buy it for too long to leave it behind. And velvet suits look so good, but they are harder to find than regular suits.”
Galia: “This penguin-satisfyer has never let me down. When I was packing, I thought that there was no time for orgasms during the war. But then I realized that the war can last for a long time and decided to take it with me.”
Olena: “I took these rocks, which I gathered on the beaches all over the world. Happy memories.”
Yaroslav: “Shortly before the war, I started collecting these Hot Wheels cars. Now my collection consists of about 50 cars. In January, knowing that the war was possible, I jokingly claimed that they would be the first to go in my grab-and-go bag. I like to carry them around in my pocket, show them to my friends, and give them as a present. I gave these two — Ford GT-40 and Datsun (an old name for “Nissan”) — to a young boy in a bomb shelter. That’s where the scratching comes from— collection toys turned out to be legit real toys for a child.”
Masha: “This impractical little purse is a New Year gift from my husband. Alongside documents, diapers, and kids’ clothes, this purse looked out of place, when we were fleeing to Switzerland. Another weird thing — my workbook, which I found amidst the rest of the documents. Finally, I took this perfume with me to wear when the war is over.”

Lisa: “We took a split-second decision to flee Kyiv and packed with the same frantic speed. I took this JBL because it’s small enough to fit in a backpack, where the single pair of socks already nested. My friends made a lot of jokes about that JBL afterward. I also took my friend Vladik’s favorite toy. For him, it’s a symbol of great power. My idea was to take photographs of the toy in different European cities and send them to Vladik. He enjoys receiving them”.

I took this JBL because it’s small enough to fit in a backpack, where the single pair of socks already nested. My friends made a lot of jokes about that JBL afterward.

Dmytro: “These are my grandpa’s cufflinks. He died right before the war. I took them with me, but not the shirt. Anyway, there is nowhere to dress up here.”

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