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Ukraine wife living in Rutland tells of her husband’s battle on the frontline 2 years after Russia invaded





Aside from the physical devastation of lives lost and the wreckage of towns and cities, war leaves less visible scars, even for those living in safety.

It has for Olena Boiko, a Ukrainian wife and mother who has spent the last 18 months as a refugee in Rutland.

“I am not as strong as my husband - I get depressed and discouraged,” she admits.

Olena and son Illia are living in Uppingham while her husband Vadim fights for Ukraine's future
Olena and son Illia are living in Uppingham while her husband Vadim fights for Ukraine's future

Olena, a lawyer for a major international bank, is surrounded by the tranquility of rural life in a prosperous county, but her thoughts are anxious and never far from home.

There, her husband is recovering away from the frontline after being seriously wounded for a second time.

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Like many, many of his fellow soldiers, Vadim is a normal family man pitched from peaceful life into a hellish new reality, impossible for us to imagine.

Vadim has been undergoing rehabilitation after being wounded for a second time
Vadim has been undergoing rehabilitation after being wounded for a second time

“He doesn't tell me everything, but the most horrible thing I know is that in the summer, when it was very hot, they entered the Russian position,” Olena recalled.

“Because there was constant shelling, they couldn't take out the Russian corpses.

“They were covered with sand, but still the smell was terrible and they had to sleep on these bodies. Vadim also carried out the wounded and saw severed limbs and torn bodies.”

Vadim enlisted for the army the day after ensuring his family had crossed the border to safety
Vadim enlisted for the army the day after ensuring his family had crossed the border to safety

Etched on her memories is their parting back in the late winter and early spring of 2022 when Vadim drove Olena and their 14-year-old son Illia to the Polish border.

“There were a lot of people, but they let everyone in and didn't check anyone - you could pass without documents,” she remembers.

“But in this confusion, we didn't even have a chance to say goodbye to Vadim.

Olena and Vadim were married in 2000
Olena and Vadim were married in 2000

“During the next months of separation, I constantly remembered this parting with tears in my eyes. We didn't even have time to kiss.”

The following day, at the age of 52, Vadim signed up with the Army and was mobilised almost immediately.

He had kept his decision quiet, perhaps to spare his family more anxiety, or so they could focus on their escape to safety.

Olena works for the Credit Agricole Ukraine bank, while Vadim renovated apartments for a living
Olena works for the Credit Agricole Ukraine bank, while Vadim renovated apartments for a living

“When I found out about it, I felt even worse,” Olena said.

“I blamed myself for going to Poland and not being able to stand with him. I think most women think the same way as me.

“I understood that it was unclear how long the war would last, but Vadim was more optimistic. He believed that it would be over in a few months.”

Father and son together in happier, peaceful times before they were separated by war
Father and son together in happier, peaceful times before they were separated by war

Olena retained hope that her husband would not see action because of his medical history.

Vadim, who renovated apartments for a living before picking up a gun, was drafted in 2014, but was declared unfit for service when an army medical uncovered a serious liver problem which needed surgery.

As a volunteer this time around, the new recruit was accepted.

Since answering his country’s call to arms in March 2022, Vadim has suffered two serious injuries and several minor ones.

In October 2022, a piece of shrapnel passed through his neck, within millimetres of an artery.

And last November, Vadim was left with more shrapnel wounds and burns when a grenade exploded perilously close by.

Rehabilitation for his latest injury has offered respite, and Olena believes his faith has protected him from the trauma, but there are limits.

“My husband is quite stable emotionally,” she said.

“He is an optimist in life and also believes in God. This helps him to keep his head up and not go crazy.

“Now he's tired and anxious to get back to his normal life.”

With Vadim due to return to his battalion, Olena’s hopes for her husband of almost 24 years rest on a change in the law demobilising those who have fought since the war began.

“There are not many such people left,” she said.

“I personally would like to see them replaced by other people who did not fight.

“I really hope that such a law will be adopted and that Vadim will be able to return to us.”

Her family’s wartime experiences started like so many others.

They lived a settled life in a residential district of Kyiv until it was torn apart on February 24, 2022 by the whim of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

“I had a feeling that something bad was going to happen since the summer of 2021,” recalled Olena.

She began to prepare for the worst, researching what essentials to pack in case of emergency.

“It all scared me even more,” she said.

“I didn't want to believe that the war was real - I preferred to listen to optimistic forecasts.

“But I packed my suitcase and it stood in the corridor, ready to go.”

A week before the invasion, with tension heightening, they took Illia and the family dog to stay with her parents’ home away from the city, while the couple returned.

“I thought it was safer there than in Kyiv. As time has shown, it was a mistake.

“At that time, my anxiety level was already at an all-time high. I almost stopped sleeping.”

Vadim woke his wife at 5am on February 24 to break the news they had all dreaded.

“My father called us and told us that they saw and heard rockets and explosions not far from them,” she said

“My son was one of the first to wake up to the sound of rockets and explosions.

“My parents' house is not far from Vasylkiv, where a military airport is.

“Later on, there was an attempt to land an amphibious assault in Vasylkiv, which failed, but the shelling of the airport was active, and the explosions were very loud.”

With Kyiv gripped by ‘terrible panic’, the next day, Olena and Vadim withdrew all of their money and headed to join Illya and Olena’s sister and family.

“All the food was gone from the shops and we were afraid of being occupied, so we decided to go west, closer to the border with Poland,” she said.

Olena’s parents decided not to join them on their journey to Chernivtsi.

“When we said goodbye, we did not know whether we would see them again,” Olena added.

“When we got to Chernivtsi, it was a little easier, not so scary. There were no air raids and no missiles flying, but we were very afraid that we would be occupied.”

Her employers, Credit Agricole offered Olena a route out and a temporary place to stay across the border in Wroclaw.

“When we crossed the Polish border, we did not know what to do at all,” she said.

“I sat on a bench with Ilya and held the dog. We felt like homeless people.

“There were reporters filming it all. I felt a little bit like a caged animal and realised that someone would be looking at this footage at our terrible reality.

“I had a feeling that everything was lost.”

After finding a sponsor, Olena and Illia moved to the UK in August 2022, and last September they moved out of their hosts’ home and into their own apartment in Uppingham.

Olena continues to work remotely for her Ukrainian employers while Illia is studying at college and now has a part-time job as a chef’s assistant.

Trying to maintain some normality amid the chaos of what has gone before is crucial, and daily yoga has become an important way for Olena to deal with the anxiety over loved ones left behind.

She would like to return home, but with her son’s future in mind and the insecurity which hangs over Vadim and her homeland, she cannot know for certain where fate will deliver them.

“The longer we stay here the more we are making new connections,” she explained.

“Now my son is getting his own money at 16 and this encourages him to work harder.

“He wouldn't mind staying in England and we are considering it if we can.”

She added: “As for the belief in Ukraine's victory, I certainly want to believe in it.

“Hope dies last, and of course we believe that Ukraine will win.”



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