For months, Viktor and Svetlana Maximchuk watched many of their friends and relatives pack up and leave their hometown of Mykolaiv.
They stayed put, even as the war kept edging closer to the southern Ukrainian city.
“We really didn’t want to leave,” Svetlana said. “We hoped everything would be fine. Every day, we hoped there would be peace. Every week, we told ourselves, ‘just one more week, one more week and it will be fine.'”
Earlier this week, after days of heavy shelling, the bombing got worse yet again. They had no choice anymore.
They stuffed their most important possessions into a few backpacks and headed for the border.
“It’s not safe there anymore; there’s shooting and there are explosions all the time,” Viktor told CNN on Wednesday at a refugee assistance point at the Palanca border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova.
“Russians came to our neighborhood, and there was a fight between the Russian and Ukrainian soldiers, and the Ukrainian soldiers saved us. One of our friends died there,” Svetlana said.
While the family survived unscathed, their car was damaged in the attack. Viktor managed to sell it, raising just enough money for their journey.
The fighting around Mykolaiv has ramped up in recent days. Twelve people were injured and several homes were destroyed in heavy fire on Monday night, officials said.
Another assault came on Thursday. According to reports from officials on the ground, the city was shelled by “more than 10 missile strikes” from a S-300 surface-to-air missile system. One person was reported injured.
As the fighting got worse, the Palanca refugee center was getting ready for another big influx — a bus carrying 70 people was on the way to the border.
The Maximchuks have two young children together, and Viktor has another child from a previous relationship. As a father of three, now out of job because of the war, he got permission to accompany his family and travel abroad. Most men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine.
As the hot sun bore down on the refugee center, the couple recounted the horrors of life in Mykolaiv — the constant bombing and the front line moving ever closer to them. Their children were waiting inside a UNICEF playroom nearby.
“We don’t tell the children much. They hear the explosions and they see the explosions and they know there is a war, but we try not to show them too much,” Svetlana said.
In a few hours, a bus will take them toward Germany, where they have family and relatives.
“We told the kids we’re going on holiday. Our youngest didn’t want to go, but now, after two hours here, she is fine; she likes the toys here,” Svetlana said.