HARROWING details of a Durham student’s dramatic escape from Kyiv as Russian forces closed in have emerged as fighting in Ukraine intensifies.

Alyona Fedulova, 22, rescued her cat and seven kittens as she fled for her life with her aunt and young cousins following the attack on the capital city of her homeland.

The Durham University languages student went to Kyiv to sort out a visa for her foreign placement in Morocco five hours before the war started.

Shortly after she arrived at Boryspil International Airport, it was hit by missiles as Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the unexpected all-out air and ground assault on his neighbouring country.

The Northern Echo: Russian strikes hit Kyiv hours after Alyona arrived. Picture: UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT'S OFFICE Russian strikes hit Kyiv hours after Alyona arrived. Picture: UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT'S OFFICE

Alyona said: “I had discussed the political situation with the taxi driver and we thought this was inconceivable.

“I got to my aunt’s and did not unpack anything. I went straight to bed because I was tired.

“At 5am she woke me up with tears in her eyes and she was shaking me.

“She said: ‘I have just heard an explosion outside the building.’

“We looked through the window and outside we saw the sky was orange. There was so much smoke.”

The women, along with Alyona’s cousins, Ziya, who is six, and 12-year-old Evelina, collected their documents, dressed and sheltered in the hall to stay away from the windows.

Alyona said: “An hour later it had calmed down and we went to the supermarket and bought lots of food to put in the car.

“We left Kyiv and got stuck in traffic. There was traffic 40km long. It was very unsafe to be on the road because we were stationary. We were not moving which just increases the risk.”

That night, Alyona and her family stayed in a makeshift bomb shelter at a school with other Ukrainians trying to escape the violence.

The Northern Echo: People in Kyiv in a makeshift bomb shelter. Picture: Emilio MorenattiPeople in Kyiv in a makeshift bomb shelter. Picture: Emilio Morenatti

She said: “The whole floor shook every time I went upstairs to try to get a phone connection to get hold of my parents and grandparents.”

The following day they drove to the outskirts of Kyiv and decided to head for the border, but were advised to avoid main routes and travelled through villages.

On the way they saw military personnel and vehicles carrying bombs as well as aircraft operating in the area.

Read more: Unlikely background of defiant Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky 

Alyona said: “I was genuinely scared for my life and there were moments whether I wondered if we would make it or not.

“It was very dangerous because you never where the rocket is going to land.

“That could be your car, your house, or the pharmacy you are at.

“I had to keep it together, because you cannot show fear to young kids and the people in bomb shelters.”

The Northern Echo: The queue for petrol was at least 1km long The queue for petrol was at least 1km long

The journey to the Moldovan border took three days, and when they arrived they were told: “Cross quickly, the Russian vehicles are behind you”.

They headed for the capital, Chișinău, where they spent the night, before travelling to Bucharest.

Alyona said: “It has been the saddest time of my life.

“We have to remind ourselves that we are one of the few lucky ones who actually escaped.

“There are people I know who are still in bomb shelters who cannot make a warm meal. It has been horrible.

“I had to hold together and keep on top of my emotions because you can’t be in a state of panic.”

Alyona’s grandparents, another aunt and some of her cousins are still in Ukraine with some of her loved ones fighting Russia alongside the military.

The aunt and two cousins she fled with are going to stay with her parents in the UAE, while Alena is flying to Newcastle from Bucharest on Saturday.

Read more: Ukrainians in Durham tell of their parents' brave fight against Russia

She has arranged new accommodation in Durham with her friends who have been supporting her with news and updates from the North East while she made the perilous journey.

The Northern Echo: Alyona Fedulova rescued her cat and seven kittens from Kyiv Alyona Fedulova rescued her cat and seven kittens from Kyiv

Alyona, who is studying Arabic, Persian and French, said: “I am going to the UK because I don’t really have a base I can return to.

“I am a Durham student, but this was my year out, and I have another year to complete.

"The university is going to help me with my studies and I have arranged accommodation.

“Where we are staying right now the people have been so wonderful and kind.

“My cat has just had little kittens. They are three weeks old.

"People are helping me find cat lovers who can adopt them so hopefully I don’t have to bring them to the UK.

“They are so dehydrated and stressed after such an awful, awful journey.”

Read more: Ukrainian doctor in North East issues plea for supplies


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