What were you doing in the early morning on February 24th? I am pretty sure it is hard for many of you to even recall. But Ukrainians will remember that exact time forever. At 5 a.m. Kyiv time, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, announced a massive invasion of Ukraine from the Russian border, Crimea, and Belarus. That morning, many Ukrainians woke up to the sounds of explosions and screams. So did the heroes featured in this article, Nastya Novikova, 33, and her brother Nikita Novikov, 21. They are going to tell their stories about living in war, fleeing Ukraine, and new life in Europe.

“There is an institution of foreign affairs; what war are you talking about?”

It was hard for many people to even imagine that Russia was going to start a war. I personally did not believe in the USA’s predictions about possible invasion dates. It seemed impossible that Putin was going to make such a huge mistake. Ukrainians also had hoped for a better situation. Many believed in diplomacy, “there is an institution of foreign affairs; what war are you talking about?”, frowned people. “We thought that people are ruled by their fears”, say Nastya and Nikita about those who turned out to be more realistic. The siblings are originally from Donetsk, a Ukrainian region where in 2014 the Kremlin stimulated a civil war between Ukraine and Russian separatists. Under flying bombs, the Novikov’s were forced to move from their hometown to Kyiv. Right before the war, Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republic were proclaimed independent from Ukraine. For our heroes, “it hurt to tears”. “There has always been hope for returning things back as they were”, admits Nikita. 

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A resident walks past a conflict-damaged building in Donetsk on February 15, 2015. AFP via Getty Images.

According to the siblings, only the very minority of the republic’s citizens are pro-Russia. “We do not know anyone who supported Russian authorities”, emphasizes Nastya. Thus, it was hard for them to believe that history can repeat itself. While Nikita, luckily, was in Poland on the 24th of February, his parents and Nastya woke up to sounds of distant explosions in Kyiv. Instant flashbacks got into their minds. “That bum is not like a firework, it is like a cold going through your whole body”, tells Nastya with shivers on her skin. That morning for every Ukrainian has become a nightmare that they still cannot wake up from. As usual for human nature, people started panicking under the threat of danger. Bomb shelters, metro stations in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and other big cities had been filled with people in a matter of hours. In the heat of it all, Nastya and her parents also began packing everything they might need for leaving their home for a long time but after a couple of hours, they came to their senses. Living right in the center of Kyiv near the authority’s area, relatively far from the war, allowed them to calm down. “We had some kind of trust”, admits Nastya, so they did not go to a bomb shelter. 


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Ukrainians traveling in the Poltava-Lviv train. 12 March 2022. t.me/operativnoZSU

“It is not an ignorance; it is just panic”

However, after a couple of days, it became clear that life in Ukraine is not going to be the same for a lot of time. Realizing that Russia has forever changed Ukraine, millions of Ukrainians decided to leave the country. Nastya was not an exception. Unfortunately, her parents had to stay. The father could not flee Ukraine because of martial law, and the mother, as a loyal wife, could not leave her husband alone. So, Nastya had to travel alone. 

Having Nikita in Warsaw let her at least have a destination. The only thing left was to find a way to get there. Many Kyiv citizens decided to travel by car which created huge traffic on highways. So, Nastya chose a faster way, train. Waiting for it, she had to spend a night at a railway station. Yet, she did not manage to board on that Noah’s Ark. The train was full of women fighting for a place, pushing each other. “I realized that I had no chance of getting on that train”, says Nastya with desperateness. Fortunately, on the 28th of February, she got a chance to get on an Intercity train that was going to Lviv. There she saw the same hustle. “It is not ignorance; it is just panic”, explains Nastya, “once you are in the train’s atmosphere, you see that everyone is helping each other”. She was sharing space with some women traveling from Kharkiv, a city in the East that is now almost destroyed but still held by Ukrainians. They told how hard their way was, as the train was going slowly. “It could have got under fire; there were three people on each bed, they took turns in order to sleep”, retells Nastya with some tears gathering in her eyes.

“In this whole trip, I just lost sense of time”

Through mental and physical pain on the 1st of March, our hero came to Lviv, a town in Western Ukraine that is relatively safe to be in nowadays. Lviv became a final frontier for many Ukrainians from the West and central regions, but even for a bigger number, it is a temporary stop on the way. From there buses and trains take people to borders with Poland and other countries. As Nastya’s destination was Warsaw, she needed to get on the train. She had to wait for 6 hours in line to access it. Her friends were less lucky and were waiting for about 10 hours in the cold with their kids. “Their children could not even cry anymore; they were just wheezing”, utters Nastya with her voice trembling. Innocent babies became victims of the bloody war. Some of them are spending their carefree life in the metro, others were left without parents, and the rest, 191, were killed. But all of them are forever traumatized by the war, its sounds, and its scenery. 

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People waiting for trains to take them from Lviv to Poland. Vincent Haiges/Avalon.

Nastya’s way from Lviv to the Polish border was the hardest difficulty she had to overcome. “In the train, someone was standing, others were sitting; it was impossible to breathe; it felt like in a barrel”, she talks about the experience, “your whole body is aching; you’re falling asleep while standing; you’re hungry; children are crying, screaming”. Nastya admits that in this terrible reality people just lose the sense of time. 

“All the people we meet on our way are angels”

After this nightmare and 10 hours of waiting at the border, Nastya was in Poland. She became one of 4 million Ukrainians who were forced to flee their Motherland. Foreign land seemed like another world to Nastya. Thankfully, there are always big-hearted people like volunteers, or angels, as Nastya calls them, who try to help. “People were meeting us right on the platform; they provided food, care, clothes, toys for children, everything for one’s comfort, and helped to find a host family”, utters Nastya with deep gratitude. “I have never seen so much care and love”, she admits. 

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People waiting at the border in Medyka, Poland. 07 April 2022. Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP.

From the border, our Nastya took another 8-hour train to Warsaw to finally meet Nikita. “I was incredibly happy”, with a wide smile tells Nikita about their long-awaited reunion. Siblings call themselves a team who always work together. Their duo is iconic not only in personal life but also in career terms. Nastya and Nikita are DJs, musicians who were gaining popularity all over Ukraine. “We have just recorded a new set, videos and were planning to post it on YouTube”, says Nikita with disappointment. Their unusual techno, indie dance, and lounge sets are perfect for nightclubs and people who value high-quality music. “We make our own music and pass it through ourselves”, the Novikov’s explain. For them, it is not a job, it is art, a hobby. “Music helps us to get through life difficulties”, admit siblings. So, once Nastya recovered from her long and exhausting trip, they started thinking about career perspectives in the new reality. 

“Here are your refugees’

Since the German capital is famous for its techno lovers, from Warsaw Nastya and Nikita traveled to Berlin by train which is free for Ukrainians. Nowadays, many European countries provide refugees from Ukraine with free transportation inside and outside of their territory. At the railway station, the siblings were met by volunteers who connect refugees with Germans ready to accommodate them. “In Berlin, our hostess, Marlin, was waiting for 5 hours in line to help someone with”, tells Nastya with astonishment. She received Nastya and Nikita with the words “here are your refugees”. Marlin used a small but cozy space in her house at the first opportunity to help victims of the war. Wondering about the generosity of people like Marlin, Nastya admits that she would not do the same. But after remembering everything she has been through, she changes her opinion and says, “yes, I would definitely do”. Such awareness made Nastya realize that her trip made her a better person, and more grown-up morally and spiritually.

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Nikita and Nastya in Barcelona. 11 March 2022.     

After some days in Berlin, the siblings decided to move to Spain. “I admire Spain’s food, climate, people, music”, says Nastya who has already been to the Iberian Peninsula. Through Paris, Nastya and Nikita got to Barcelona on the 10th of March, where they enjoyed time by the seaside and then went to Madrid. First days in the Spanish capital they spent in the bustle of documents and other life issues. However, the siblings were lucky with their hosts again. After meeting so many amiable people on their way, Nastya acknowledged that kindness will save the world. Initially, they were accommodated by an old lady, Rosa who “is too pretty and energized to call her old”. She asked them to call her mother and let them stay as long as they wanted. Once they received the refugees’ documents, the Novikovs started browsing websites with phone numbers of people who can accommodate refugees. On Prykhystok, a Ukrainian website with information about accommodation for refugees, they met a family consisting of a mother, a father, and two sons who happily agreed to help with housing. Now, Nastya and Nikita live in the family’s house, in their own room with their own bathroom. The family helps them with getting anything or going anywhere. But most importantly, the siblings finally got a feeling of home and familiarity that helps in a moral way.

“Not only has Putin put himself in a very complicated situation but also the whole Russia”

Russian-Ukrainian relations have been complicated for many years. But on the 24th of February, they have come extinct. Two brother nations, Russians and Ukrainians, became rivals who will continue to resist each other for many decades. It will take several generations of Russians to restore friendship with Ukraine. Nowadays, speaking from my personal experience, being Russian feels weird. On one hand, I did not choose my nationality, and there was nothing I could do to stop Vladimir Putin. But on the other hand, I feel individual responsibility, shame, and fault for every killed Ukrainian and every bombed kilometer. It is hard for me to even look into a Ukrainian’s eyes. I can never guess their reaction to my nationality. Fortunately, Nastya and Nikita understand my innocence in the whole situation. They call me an example of adequate Russians who see the real picture of the war. “I know many Russians who care about me, always ask how they can help”, says Nastya who has been to Russia several times and enjoyed her time there. But the siblings do not understand those who stand for Putin and his intentions. It is obvious both for me and the Novikov’s that “not only has Putin put himself in a very complicated situation but also the whole Russia”. While one country is being destroyed physically, the other one is bearing defeat. “I think that those who support the war are unaware of their own actions, they live in the Matrix”, compares Nastya. Indeed, I personally know enough pro-war Russians to tell that they seem to wear propaganda-tinted glasses and try to deny the reality. I try to minimize my contact with these kinds of people since I am not sure if I will be able to hold my aggression. “You can be apolitical, ignore news but there is a simple human’s perception that a war is bad”, Nastya speaks my thoughts out loud. How can a person be so inhuman? 

“Everything is just beginning”

Right now, when Ukrainian soldiers are still fighting for their land, Nastya and Nikita are proud of their country. “We have always admired our nation, but we did not expect so much willpower from Ukrainians”, they say with delighted smiles. While settling down in Madrid, the siblings keep in touch with their parents on a daily basis. The mother and the father still live in their apartment and leave it only to receive humanitarian help. Nastya and Nikita dream of taking them here, to Madrid. “We are all afraid of a repetition of the Donetsk scenario, of a lingering war”, scarily utters Nastya. Truly, many experts predicted a short military conflict, but it has been almost two months and there is no sign of ending.  

Nikita and Nastya playing a set at the Mir4Ukraine party. 18 April 2022. Jasmine Sharapova

The Novikov siblings spend their days looking for a job in Madrid clubs. The Novikovs played their first DJ set on the Spanish soil at a charity event organized by Mir4Ukraine. It is a charity campaign founded by IE students that you still can help. Its group of volunteers has received supplies from kind people in Madrid and raised money. All donations have been handed to refugees on borders in Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary by some brave IE students. Mir4Ukraine has also collaborated with courageous initiatives that travel right to Ukraine. Students organize events and on one of them, the Novikov’s showed their professionalism and unique music taste. I personally recommend you invite Nastya and Nikita as DJs for any next occasion. You can listen to their sets here and here and get in contact through their Instagram pages (Nastya, Nikita). Nikita is also in search of a university where he can study Audio/Sound Engineering to make even more professional music. I believe that we all can help Nastya and Nikita in assimilating to Spain and looking for a job. Let’s all turn on our networking skills and help people who sincerely need it. 

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