“Refugee syndrome” made itself felt with high insulin, edema, and unremitting anxiety.

In peacetime, Alexandra Anisimova is a philologist, housewife, wife, and cat person. She loves embroidery, watercolors, and moderate, healthy-minded sports. And she was stranded in Vorzel for two weeks due to a blockade.

I read the stories of other Ukrainians, and it seemed to me that I got off lightly, that all was not so terrible. But this event penetrated everyone, activating a deep, hidden stress that is unique to everyone.

We were in Vorzel when the first attacks began on the morning of February 24th. It was perceived as unreal.

In the evening, the battle for Antonov Airport in Hostomel began. Strong explosions were heard. We took the cats and went down to the basement. The neighbors were already settling in. We took our UFO heater out of the closet into the hallway for everyone there.

As long as it was light and warm and the explosions were far away, it didn’t seem difficult to sit out in the basement, go back to the apartment, take a shower, and stretch out on the bed, cradling the cat in our arms.

We weren’t about to leave, especially since the entire Zhytomyr highway was filled with cars in the first few days. It was disturbing, but insensible… somewhere out there…

We couldn’t hear the alarm sirens, so we were guided by the noise from outside and went down to the basement. On the third day of the war, the electricity and internet were cut off; the only gas left was in the stove, because the boiler wouldn’t light up without electricity.

And again, it seemed like, “Okay, it’s turned off, but it happened in peacetime too.” I had some supplies in the freezer and some sauerkraut in the pantry, so we wouldn’t be lost.

But then it was as if a noose on my throat began to tighten. They bombed Irpin, Bucha, and Hostomel. There were arrivals in the center of Vorzel. The smoke from the fires covered the sky.

The heat came only from a gas stove. We could get some water only from the technical well in the courtyard of the apartment complex. It was a lifesaver.

When Hostomel Airport was bombed, we were sitting in the basement for a very long time, and I caught a cold. But my adapted keto immunity managed to reduce a really bad cold to mild symptoms of vaccination. In twenty-four hours, everything was gone.

Three days after the war started, we were really trapped in our apartment complex – Russian troops had entered the territories where we lived. We didn’t have strong incursions, but we were in a blockade with no electricity, no internet, and even no cell phone service – it was jammed. Once in a while, a weak signal broke through, and we could tell our family and friends that we were alive.

I lost contact with my beloved friend from Mariupol. It was the worst moment, which stretched for 40 days of obscurity (but we have already found each other, so everything is okay).

The photo on the left was taken before the war, in January. “Right there in the undergrowth, where I’m standing, orcs were sitting and shooting.”

Everything merged into one cold day and one cold night. We didn’t go to the basement anymore; we hid with the cats in the bathroom or out in the common hallway instead. We had to cover all the windows and use only tea lights as a weak source of light.

The fitness tracker on my arm showed the date and time, and the phone turned into a brick.


The only food I had was supplies in the freezer, some canned goods, buckwheat for my husband, and coffee. I was afraid the cats would be left without food, because one of them needed a special diet.

I used to wake up in the early morning and listen. There were explosions, then they subsided.

Every time I woke up, I realized that I was alive, my husband was alive, and my furry sausages were alive. So I tried to keep moving. I was able to exercise, cook breakfast, and transport water with my husband. My neighbors came to warm water and cook food on my gas stove because their electric stoves have become useless surfaces.

My perception narrowed to instincts; my hearing sharpened a lot, and there was a kind of slight agitation, like an inner readiness to fight or flight. It was not only in my head, it became a reality, like in animals.

Everything was changing day by day. We were living in an information vacuum. We knew clearly that we couldn’t go beyond the fence, otherwise… Terrible rumors were spreading about Bucha and Irpin.

жители Ворзеля заряжают телефоны от генераторов
We charged our devices from the generator, though we had almost no access to cellular networks.

We became friends with our neighbors. People wanted baked goods, especially some bread. We collected flour, yeast, baking powder, expired kefir, and eggs. I baked pancakes, stewed meat, and heated water. The big pot became one with the stove.

We had lost hope of moving out, but I was saved by the understanding that the past was erased, the familiar experience didn’t work and couldn’t be relied on, and the future was uncertain and changeable. The present moment remained, and I grasped onto it.

Without thinking about the past or fearing for the future, I said to myself, “I am here and now, I have a front to work on.”

Gradually, the freezers melted. We could keep food in the trunks, basement, or outside the window for a while. We were not allowed humanitarian supplies, medicine, doctors, or volunteers.

There were small children and old people among our neighbors. We shared what we could and how we could. There was enough food. They brought me butter in packets. My neighbor couldn’t believe that it was possible to eat butter without bread. I unwrapped the packet in front of her and started biting into it, eating it like ice cream.

At some point, the gas was turned off, so I had to cook over a fire. I made soup on the fire and ate only meat from it.

We were in a complete blockade. We often heard the roar of passing convoys to Irpin or Bucha, gunshots, and explosions. There were Russians stationed on the wasteland, and they were shooting at Irpin.

The worst thing was when a Ukrainian UAV was flying during the day and shooting at their positions – it was very loud. At that moment, we were staying in the line near the well to get some water. There were heavy explosions, and we were huddled on the ground. A knowing neighbor quickly ran and dispersed everyone to the shelter because the weapon was reacting to thermal objects, which crowds of people were as well.

On the 14th day of the war, the volunteers negotiated a “green corridor” that allowed the release of a large column of people. Those who couldn’t or didn’t want to leave stayed in the apartment complex. We left food for them.

I was worried about how the cats would survive the trip. We took the minimum of things, so that in case of an emergency, I would drag them, and my husband would carry boxes with cats.

We drove by the soldiers in silence, with the windows rolled down, on emergency lights, with white rags and stickers saying “PEOPLE CHILDREN” on the windows. There was an endless line of cars.

As we left the gray zone, I felt it was safe now. Endless tears welled up.

We were in a place where there were no wrecked cars or dead people. We drove quietly. Everyone was silent, it felt like even from a distance.

Then we began to pick up speed – we wanted to hurry away, to hide, to escape. We passed all the checkpoints, got to Kiev, and then to my parents. I could follow my usual diet and get food for the cats there.

But the “refugee syndrome” made itself felt with high insulin, edema, and unremitting anxiety.

Before the war, I played sports and did not go a day without activity. I could not run for a while because my pulse rate was at its highest, even though it was quiet and calm there.

I shut down this episode and decided that if I was alive, then I was fine. But I had to unpack it all in pieces. I had to relearn how to breathe. To let my emotions out, to be aware of them. I often snapped and started rustling around, looking for things to do. I’ve only been feeling better for a couple of days. Edema starts to go away, and energy appears.

War is terrible and senseless. Much has been said about it, and much more will be said.

But it’s living in the present moment, humanity, mutual support, the miracles of meetings, and the value of life. That’s important. It’s something that you’ll always treasure now.


Who are we? The Rebels Diet is a healthy living and nutrition coaching and education platform. We are coaches and journalists from Ukraine (that’s why sometimes our texts don’t sound native, but we are working on it). Our mission is to help people – to help you lose weight, to help our team get back to work (we lost it because of the war) and to help the people of Ukraine win and rebuild our beautiful country. Try us. We are cool!

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