As Russian soldiers closed in, she was forced to pack up her life and find a way out of the country in the middle of terrible grief as well as attempting to make preparations for her father’s death.
“While many people were leaving Kyiv, my husband and I were trying to sort out funeral documents from all over the city in order to bury Dad,” she explains.
“We went from morgue to funeral agency to prosecutor’s office to registry office to morgue to funeral agency. The siren was sounding all sides and tanks drove around the city.”
Teptiuk was fortunate in that, as a programmer working for a German business, she received help from her boss in making travel arrangements to Poland.
So she piled into a small Peugeot 307 with her husband, seven other family members, and two huge dogs and made the roughly 100-mile drive to the Ukraine border.
After 16 hours on the road, the family arrived in a little town with just over 10 kilometers to go before reaching Poland.
“We decided to leave the village later in the morning because it was dangerous, even there,” Teptiuk relates. “Near the border with Poland there were a lot of cars, and we couldn’t stay in the car for the next three—or five—days, so we decided to walk the last 17km (10.5 miles) to the border.”
“We left at 4 am—it was minus seven degrees. It was a hard trip around mountains and rivers. My kids were crying because of the cold. I wanted to cry too, but I couldn’t give up…it was my idea to go to the border.”
One of her dogs soon started to struggle as well. Pulya, a large 12-year-old German shepherd, was having difficulty walking and would occasionally fall down without being able to get back up.
Teptiuk would stop vehicles and ask for assistance as they passed, but the already overburdened passengers were unable to accommodate them and even advised that they would be better off leaving the dogs behind.
Even as the elderly dog struggled to walk on its own, the loyal mother and her family could not fathom such an act.
“We couldn’t leave her behind,” Teptiuk says. “Pulya is family…she is old and grey after a lifetime with us. We bought her on the first day of my maternity leave when she was almost four months old.”
“She has been through the happiest and saddest moments of life with us. She understands us and loves us and we love her very much and will do everything to look after her and keep her safe. No one could convince us that Pulya could be left behind. It was not possible, we didn’t even think about it.”
Instead, Teptiuk and her husband took turns carrying the sick animal on their shoulders for the last 10 km to the Ukrainian border. The heroic gesture was later recorded and posted on social media.
“I took a photo without thinking about it too much,” Teptiuk says. “I suppose I just wanted to capture the moment. But now I know how special it is. It shows the world our love and devotion. We’re just an ordinary family who love each other.”
Fortunately, Teptiuk and her family arrived safely at the border, along with their pet Pulya, who has become their “one constant in all of this madness.”
Despite this, their struggle is far from done. “A lot of my friends are still in Ukraine, in Kyiv,” she explains. “Some of them are in Kharkiv in bunkers with little kids. I can’t even imagine what they’re feeling now.”
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