'Worse than you think.' Stamford woman illustrates Ukrainian parents' journey toward asylum
A Stamford woman says the time she spent waiting for word that her Ukrainian parents finally reached refuge was "unbearable." Diana Portna sat down with News 12 Connecticut's Eric Landskroner illustrating the harrowing few days for her and her family.
Mark and Luidmyla Portna are now safe in Hungary and speak with their daughter countless times a day. But before their refuge, Diana Portna says she had to plead with her parents to leave their home in Kyiv.
"Of course, that's the image in my head. That the bomb would choose exactly their house," she said. "I just told them that if you don't do it for yourselves, do it for me. Because I cannot do it anymore."
"We were very, very conflicted. We didn't want to leave. But we felt the danger from the sky. It was just unbelievable, rain of shells," Mark Portna said through Diana Portna's translation. "It's inhumane. What they're doing is inhumane...and cruel and they're just annihilating the people."
The couple finally agreed to abandon their home. But rather than endure the crush of desperate refugees packing track platforms trying to reach Poland and Moldova, the Portnas boarded a bus, sending them on a grueling 40-hour trip to Hungary. The Portnas say they spent the entirety of the journey praying.
The route was classified for the security of everyone on board. The bus was arranged by Ukraine Chief Rabbi Yaakov Bleich and American Friends of Kiev.
While they made their escape, the Portnas' thoughts were brimming with who and what they left behind, wondering if there would be anything left to return to, especially after seeing images of other cities decimated by Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces.
Diana Portna has a message to the outside world that only views the grim and gruesome destruction from a screen.
"It's worse than you think," she warned. "I catch myself constantly having a dialogue with Putin. 'Why are you still here? You can't be here. You can't do this to people. Who are you?'"
Diana Portna says Putin's reign of horror is a chilling reminder of what her grandparents and so many others went through during World War II.
"I was growing up with these stories and I thought I was living in a world where it would never happen again. And it happens again," she said.
But with the enormous weight of grief and pain, comes immense pride.
"We are so proud of our countrymen. Never thought they're so strong. And so as one," said Luidmyla Portna through Diana Portna's translation.
The Portna family says the United States and NATO need to impose a no-fly zone to safeguard civilians still in Ukraine. To date, they have resisted, fearing it could lead to war with Russia.