“We woke up to the sound of explosions in the sky. My friend tells me it’s just a car gone awry. I look at the ominous clouds in the sky and think it’s thunder. A phone call confirms we’re wrong: The war has begun.”
Krysten Boado recounts the first time she heard Russian airstrikes hit Ukraine on her travel blog, where she goes by the name Krysten Kaladkarin. The 25-year-old Pinay started her lifestyle of travel in 2017. Then 20-years-old and fresh out of college, she started hitchhiking to seek a sense of home and freedom. Later, she became more intentional in her mission to see the world, battling racism with her third-world passport.
During the height of the pandemic, Krysten hitchhiked to Ukraine, which was among the first countries open to travellers. “Back then, it symbolised a place where I could start anew, a place where I could do meaningful work while waiting for the world to fully open again,” she tells TripZilla Philippines.
However, things took a turn when the Russian forces struck Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city, which Krysten and her “adopted family” consider home.
“My life drastically changed during the war.”
What were once peaceful mornings in Ukraine — for Krysten, this meant waking up for morning meditations before heading to work — are now pervaded by sirens. “As early as 4am, I get notifications on my phone that indicate we’re under attack. The airstrikes usually happen in the evening, so my companions and I take turns sleeping in case we need to run to the nearest bomb shelter. Sometimes, we don’t even sleep at all.”
During the early days of the Russian invasion, Krysten had to sleep in basements or bathrooms as bombs fell in Kyiv. Once, a missile dropped at a shopping mall, approximately two kilometres from where she lived.
“We thought it was going to be a quiet night. My friend and I put on a film to watch; then suddenly, I felt the apartment shaking. The windows vibrated, and it didn’t take long before we heard a deafening explosion. I felt the apartment swing, and the cars outside started to sound their alarms.
The sirens started ringing, and we received notifications on our phones that we needed to take shelter. We rushed for the bathroom since it was the safest place in our flat and since we didn’t know if there would be more missiles falling from the sky. We squeezed around a small bathtub as we scrolled down our news feeds and Telegram news channels to see where the missile landed and if there were any more Russian advancements in our area.
My friend held me in his arms as I cried, and he kept whispering that all would be alright, but I was sobbing uncontrollably. I’m not gonna lie, I told him I wanted to leave and that I was so, so afraid. I didn’t want to die.”
“We survived the air raid that evening, and many more after that.”
Since air raids are unpredictable, and no one knows where the bombs might land, Krysten sees the war as a game of luck: “If you’re lucky and you win, your house still stands. If not, you’ll end up with a hole in your home, broken windows and shards on your bedroom floor, or worse, you’ll end up dead. Every night we play this game and hope we win. We’ve always won so far. I’m hoping our stroke of luck doesn’t wear out.”
But the acknowledgement of luck can’t dispel her fear. “You know, I’ve always been the fearless girl,” Krysten tells us. “But I would be lying if I said I’m not afraid now.”
When I ask her what her biggest fears were, she tells me her thoughts the night prior to our interview. “I kept thinking Russian forces would burst out our door and torture us. I fear being raped like their previous victims. I’m afraid they’ll come and shoot us dead. When I hear a car door slam, I shudder. I get nervous when I hear planes flying overhead.”
“Sometimes, I even play a game when I hear loud noises. Is it a drunk neighbour or a bomb hitting the ground?”
During the first weeks of the invasion, even grocery runs were difficult. Krysten tells us that they had to line up for hours to get food or medicine. Supermarket shelves were empty. There were long queues at the ATM, with residents fearing local banks shutting down. Most public transportation didn’t work as usual, and taxi cabs were expensive because of the rise in fuel prices.
“Walking became our best option,” Krysten says. But even as someone who loves walking around Kyiv, she faced the fear of soldiers and territorial defence forces stopping her during her strolls. Besides this, a curfew was set in the city, and restaurants and cafes closed down.
Despite the persistent threats, Krysten hasn’t fled Ukraine — and many wonder why. An only child, a solo traveller, a woman — what’s stopping her from seeking refuge?
She answers: “Ukraine is my home.”
“The country and its people have welcomed me and taken me as one of their own. Leaving it makes me feel like a traitor,” Krysten admits. “When I cross that border, I’ll get to have a new life. I’ll keep travelling, rent a new flat, meet new people. I’ll date a new guy, teach new kids. I’ll be safe. I’ll find a new home. Plenty of Ukrainians won’t.”
Krysten wrestles with the idea of moving forward, knowing everything and everyone she’ll be leaving behind. “I came here to volunteer. I came here to help, to create change, to positively impact lives. Now that Ukraine is at its darkest hour, this is when I am needed the most. I need to keep teaching. I need to keep fundraising. In my own way, I need to keep helping the Ukrainians make sure they don’t lose their home, their education, the life they had, and the life they’ll have when all the war ends.”
All this said, Krysten seems to know how to keep herself safe — especially after facing several trials in her previous adventures. “I’m not fully shutting down evacuation plans should there be a bigger risk to my personal safety and should the situation call for it.”
Krysten keeps in touch with institutions that can help her in case of dire emergencies. She also has friends and family who have extended their homes for shelter, would she need it. But at the end of the day, Krysten believes that she is in the best circumstances to help. “What I do now is take the war day by day. I assess the situation to the best of my abilities and decide. I’m lucky to be healthy and able-bodied, so what’s stopping me from doing so?”
As the war continues to plague Ukraine, Krysten admits that she misses several things.
An alternative learning teacher in a school in Ivano-Frankivsk, Krysten never stopped meeting her students amid the war. However, the situation has brought about extreme challenges in education. Face-to-face classes are no longer possible, and even virtual ones are intermittent. Students sometimes have to evacuate in the middle of a class or end up in an area without stable Internet connectivity. With a 40-minute time cap for classes, Krysten also has to make do with sudden air raid sirens interrupting or cancelling their lessons altogether.
Before the war, Krysten would enter school and be welcomed with hugs from students. She took them outdoors every Friday, visiting forests, caves, rivers, and mountains. Combining learning with fun, Krysten would encourage her students to bake mud cakes for their pretend restaurants, weave flower crowns while learning ecology, and collect stones to understand a division math problem better. “We had a crazy hair day, a school slumber party, and even a spontaneous field trip to the city’s first McDonalds.”
Many of Krysten’s students have fled to other countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Austria, and Jordan. Some have decided to stay in their villages, dealing with unreliable Internet. Some still live in Ivano-Frankivsk. And while Krysten has met new students from families who have fled the heavy bombardment in the East, she wishes she could still see and be with them offline.
“I still prefer to teach face-to-face. It’s much more personal and effective, but we don’t want to lose the progress that they’ve made. They miss their friends. They still want to learn. We can’t let the Russian forces take away their education and their childhood.”
It has been over a month, and life in Ukraine goes on.
On her Instagram page, Krysten updates her followers on her real-time life in Kyiv. She shares snippets of a city brimming with vibrant landscapes and cheerful families, amid emergency alerts to take cover. She uploads stories of toddlers learning to walk, while also learning to protect themselves from bombs.
Krysten also tells us more about how the war looks up close: “Once, I tried to go for a run. I wanted to work out to maintain a semblance of normal life and develop a routine that can support myself physically and mentally. I was only a kilometre away from my house when the sirens rang. So I immediately ran back, scared for my life. I managed to make it safely and even joked about the situation: Does this count as a workout? I’m sure the added fear accelerated my heart rate.”
Krysten reveals that air raid alerts have become part of daily life in Ukraine. “As the weeks went by, everyone got used to the distant explosions and the sounds of sirens. Most of the time, we don’t even pay attention to them anymore. We’ve stopped hiding in bathrooms or basements and feeling scared about the bombs falling overhead.”
“This is what scares me. We’re already used to the war.”
“Now that Kyiv has been liberated from the aggressors, our situation is a bit better,” Krysten continues. “I can’t say the same for everyone in the city and for the whole of Ukraine. Plenty of places remain under Russian occupation and are constantly bombarded by the attackers, but the supermarkets in our region are now well-stocked, and there are no more long queues to buy the products and medicine that you need.
The curfew remains, so we continue staying indoors at night. We drink at home, especially after a month-long prohibition, but we don’t drink too much. Victory isn’t here yet.
We have lesser air raid alerts now, and the sirens don’t ring as much as they used to. I got used to seeing soldiers and territorial defence forces guarding our streets. They’re only protecting us, after all. The barricades are now a welcome sight, but I still keep thinking about what would happen when Russian forces come at us from the ground. I still keep imagining tanks and Russian soldiers bursting into our home. I still have these thoughts before I go to bed. No matter how hard I try, I still can’t shake them out of my head.”
“Every night, I still sleep with the question: If the bombs fall over our heads and we die as we sleep, will we feel it? I hope that when they do, we won’t.”
Indeed, the war is far from over. Cities across Ukraine are in a “humanitarian crisis,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on 17 Apr 2022. Soldiers are getting wounded, and civilians are getting killed. The news continues to cover the aggression in Ukrainian cities, and although Kyiv has been liberated, other areas in Ukraine remain under attack.
The port city of Mariupol is under siege. Krysten’s adopted sisters’ hometown, Kherson, has been occupied by Russian forces. “Our Grandma Lyuda lives there alone with another elderly woman who watches over her,” Krysten tells us. “Sometimes, when she wakes up, she forgets there is a war. It’s only when she hears an explosion or sees the news that she remembers. She called us yesterday to say that they have no more products on the supermarket shelves and medicine in the pharmacies. The Russians are blocking humanitarian aid coming to the city and are shooting at unarmed citizens who protest against the occupation.”
Across the country, essentials are getting scarce — food, water, electricity, and gas included. Fear continues to cloud Ukraine, and in these dreadful circumstances, the nation needs all the help it can get.
“There are many ways you can help Ukraine even when you’re not on the ground. Don’t think that you’re powerless even when you’re back home.”
“If you’re financially able, donate to respective charities that send help to several sectors in Ukraine,” Krysten suggests. “Every bit helps.”
Krysten shares a list of reliable charities here. “Some provide aid to our army, some to families escaping the war. Some to healthcare professionals who continue saving lives under fire, and some to volunteers who deliver humanitarian aid on the ground.”
On her blog, Krysten also runs a fundraiser for “refugees and families who chose to stay behind and cannot flee the war.”
“During the coming weeks, the donations will be used to purchase humanitarian aid for residents of commuter towns around Kyiv. The aggressors took away the lives of their providers and destroyed the shops where they can purchase essentials, so they rely on humanitarian aid in order to survive. We want to help them as much as they can.”
“Besides money, there are so many ways to support Ukraine.”
Krysten encourages everyone, regardless of career or status, to use their influence to help out. As travellers, even celebrating Ukrainian culture goes a long way.
“If you’re an artist, you can create art about Ukraine. Create content on your platforms that shed light on the genocide of these people,” she says. “If you’re a musician, maybe try learning a Ukrainian song. If you’re a dancer, attempt the lively hopak. If you don’t set your kitchen on fire when you cook, make a bowl of hearty borscht. Learn a few Ukrainian words. Watch a Ukrainian film or better yet, a documentary. Take a look at Ukrainian folk art on the Internet.”
She also reiterates the importance of spreading the truth. “Learn how to filter fake news and listen to reliable sources for information on the war. Share ways to stand with Ukraine. A comment of solidarity goes a long, long way. Talk about it at the dinner table. Raise this topic among your friends. Engage in discussions with Ukrainians who speak about the genocide online. Support Ukrainian content creators, artists, and businesses who are still trying to make a living while fighting for their motherland. Host Ukrainian refugees.”
Further, Krysten shares how Filipinos in Europe can contribute: “Find ways to send humanitarian aid at the Ukrainian border or our volunteer centre. Eat at a local Ukrainian restaurant.
Now is not the time to be silent. Remember that true power lies in the people. Like I said, the genocide of the Ukrainian people is also a genocide of their culture.”
“If you wish to support me, a simple message would do.”
Krysten shares with us the platforms where we can reach her: “Read the journal entries that I’ve written in our crummy basement. Take time to watch videos about the beauty of Ukraine on my YouTube. Follow my Instagram for war stories and on-ground updates that provide you with a bird’s eye view of what the Ukrainian people are going through.”
And if you wish to support Krysten financially, she also has a Patreon, PayPal, and GCash account — all of which you may see on her Instagram page. She notes, “Any amount you send to my personal account ensures that I can support the ones I love here, continue telling stories and keep doing good.”
Quotes were edited for clarity, style, and flow.