A Ukrainian woman forced to flee her home in the wake of Russia’s brutal invasion shared the emotional experience Tuesday during a special CBN News prayer event.
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Lyudmila Stebeneva, a former CBN employee, said she is one of the millions of Ukrainian citizens who awoke to the unthinkable last month when Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to invade her nation.
“[We] went to bed, and we were expecting a beautiful morning,” she said, noting that she and her family anticipated going to school and work like normal.
But that reality was shattered when Russia’s invasion began in the early morning hours of February 24.
“We were awakened with huge explosions at 5 o’clock in the morning,” Stebeneva said, her eyes welling up with tears throughout the interview.
At first, she assumed something was simply wrong with her home, though it didn’t take long for her and her husband to realize the sounds were coming from Russia’s deadly assault.
“I knew that something wrong was going on, and my husband says, ‘Well, the war has started,'” Stebeneva recalled. “It was very hard to believe. I thought, ‘It’s just a dream.'”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a dream.
Suddenly, Stebeneva, who has a 9-year-old daughter and an older son, said her family began thinking through hiding places and escape plans. At first, they didn’t plan to leave, but that dynamic shifted once it became clear the Russian onslaught would intensify.
“My daughter said, ‘Mom, I’m only nine and if my life starts like this now, what will it be like in the future?'” she recalled. “I just saw that it’s very hard on her, hearing all of those explosions.”
Stebeneva’s husband went out for gas, and the family remained at home the first day; the next day, they embarked on a journey to Western Ukraine.
“It took us 12 hours to get to Western Ukraine, and it usually takes three,” she said. “No one knew where they [were going] — just kind of lost. My daughter was just in her pajamas. All we had were documents and a few carry-ons.”
Amid the chaos, Stebeneva lost her passport — something that could have been disastrous to her quest to leave the area with her daughter. But her husband, by God’s grace, recovered the document.
During the journey away from Stebeneva’s home, one of the most challenging dynamics was the reality that she and her daughter would have to leave her husband and son in Ukraine, as any man 18 or older were forced to stay.
The family continued on their journey to the border, where they would separate. Before leaving Western Ukraine, they were told it would take 20 to 30 hours to travel by car to the border due to the volume of people fleeing.
But on foot, the family could make it in just seven hours. So, Stebeneva and her family walked all that way, some 14 miles, somberly relishing in the time they were able to spend together before parting ways.
“It was tough, but it was a blessing to spend the time together,” she said.
Stebeneva has since made it to America with her daughter while her son and husband remain in Ukraine.
As she reflected on the pain and suffering resulting from Russia’s invasion, she asked for prayers — especially for the kids impacted by so much death, destruction, and separation from all they know.
“Please pray for kids. My daughter was shattering for many nights,” she said. ‘Please pray for my children, for my country.”
Watch CBN News’ entire prayer event below (at the 36-min mark):
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