The crisis in Ukraine has affected Amazon employees in many different ways. It hit home for Daria Sokol, a technical account manager at Amazon Web Services Enterprise Support, and her family. In an effort to help her parents escape the war in Ukraine, Sokol connected with her Amazon colleagues around the world for help. Below is Sokol’s story in her own words.
February 24. It’s a date that every Ukrainian will remember until the end of their lives. It turned our world upside down.
At 11 p.m. on February 23, I was at my home in New York City, getting ready to go to sleep, when my cousin in Ukraine called me. I thought it was weird that she would call me so late, or rather so early because in Ukraine it was 5 a.m.
“We are getting bombed. If this is the last time that we speak, I want you to know I love you very much.” She was in total panic and could not control her fear and emotions. I tried to calm her down, saying that everything is going to be OK, even though I was now super scared myself.
Meanwhile, my fiancé was checking the news and finding out that Russia just bombed major cities in Ukraine—Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kherson, and Mariupol—and my hometown Kharkiv.
I called my parents. They sounded calm, not because they were not afraid, but because they did not want to worry me. We talked for a few minutes, and then they ran downstairs to a bomb shelter because an air-raid alert had sounded again.
In the following days as the bombing continued, the lives of civilians in Kharkiv mainly consisted of running up and down the stairs to the bomb shelters of their homes, calling relatives to check if everything was OK, and experiencing a feeling of complete absurdness at the whole situation.
Russia and Ukraine are two neighboring countries that have been tied together for years. My mother is Russian and my father is Ukrainian. My first language is Russian. I have many friends living in Russia. All of the above would apply to most Ukrainians. Can you imagine how absolutely nonsensical this situation is to all of us? Being bombed by our friends, brothers, neighbors.
On the fifth day of the Russian invasion, I insisted that my parents leave the city. By then, some of the people I knew in Kharkiv were already dead or missing.
The decision was made very quickly. My parents gathered two small bags within 30 minutes, grabbing documents, some clothing and food, and my wedding dress (I was getting married, and we were doing some dress alterations in Ukraine). The scariest moment was when they were escaping the city, as we learned that families were shot while trying to leave in the cars. But staying in Kharkiv was even more terrifying.
Kharkiv is in eastern Ukraine, and my parents' plan was to travel all the way to the west and to further cross the border and get out of the country. My parents’ journey from the east, until they crossed the border to Romania, took two weeks total. This was the scariest and most horrible period of our lives.
I stayed up every night coordinating their journey, checking where the fights were going, which roads were safer, and looking for places for them to sleep. As hundreds of thousands of civilians from the east fled to the west, lodging was almost non-existent.
That’s where the Amazon community helped tremendously.
We have Ukrainians at Amazon, and as I posted requests for accommodations for my parents, suggestions came in within minutes.
As my parents headed toward Vinnytsia (a city in west-central Ukraine), I asked for help in a Slack group. Alex Bystritskiy, a fellow Amazon employee living in Canada, suggested that my mom and dad stay with his parents.
One of the amazing things about this whole crazy situation is the wonderful people we got to meet along the way. Halyna and Yevhen, Alex’s parents, extended the warmest welcome one could imagine. They greeted my parents with great care, kindness, delicious Ukrainian food, and a comfortable room to rest in after a long and exhausting journey.
After leaving Vinnytsia, my mom and dad traveled to the Ukraine-Romania border. They spent a few days there, in safety, exhaling for the first time since that horrid first day of war. I met up with them in Budapest, Hungary.
We had to decide where to go next. I am an only child, live in the United States, and my parents did not have U.S. visas yet.
We decided on Barcelona, Spain. We traveled together to the city and started looking for a place for them to stay. The availability was very limited, and hosts were asking for six or more months of rent in advance, while we were only looking to rent for two or three months.
This is where the Amazon community helped once again. A dear colleague of mine, Alison Graham from the Global Financial Services team, reached out to colleagues in Europe, and Raimon Pou, an Amazon employee who lives in Barcelona, saw my request and responded.
He offered to put my parents up in his 350-year-old family home about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Barcelona. We will always remember the kindness that Raimon and his family extended to us during these incredibly hard times.
We could not have asked for more accommodating hosts—every person we met showed so much love, care, and empathy for our situation. It is absolutely amazing how much people can care for other human beings they haven’t met before, from countries they don’t know much about.
It was Amazon that connected us and made this a reality.
I got tremendous support from my managers and colleagues, allowing me to take time off during the most challenging experience of my life.
As Amazon employees, we are very fortunate to be a part of a very large, caring, and loving community. It’s OK to ask for help in trying situations. It’s OK to be vulnerable. And it is absolutely wonderful to be able to help others.
Update: My mom and dad got their U.S. visas and will be traveling to New York in June.