Photo of Ukranian film maker in the subway
Kateryna Vyshnevska spent three days in Kyiv's Golden Gate Metro station.Subject
  • A Ukrainian TV and film producer, sheltering in Kyiv, describes her experience in a subway bunker. 
  • She urges the world to keep investing in Ukraine businesses despite the risks. 
  • She's received messages of support from all over the world, but her Russian colleagues have so far been silent.

Last Wednesday night, Ukrainian film executive Kateryna Vyshnevska attended a premiere party for one of her company's films, a comedy called "Big Picnic." The next day, Russian forces invaded her country and began making their way toward Kyiv.

"I've lived through big moments of history. And I guess this is another one," she told Insider by phone from the Kyiv apartment where she's sheltering with her family.

As the head of development and co-productions for Film UA Group, one of the largest independent production companies in Eastern Europe, Vyshnevska worked as a co-producer on "Hide and Seek," a detective series for PBS Masterpiece that is streamed on Amazon. 

She's primarily based in London but when fears grew of a Russian attack on Ukraine, she said, she felt compelled to fly home and be with her family. She and her sister and brother-in-law spent a few days in a Kyiv subway station, where they were able to access news and connect with others via WiFi, before moving to the rented apartment. 

"I'm out of the bunker," she told Insider, "because to be honest, it's just so impossible physically to be there. I think both me and my sister and my brother-in-law just figured, we're going to risk it rather than, I don't know …"

Vyshnevska spoke for 30 minutes with Insider on Tuesday, several times breaking down in tears, about her experience in the subway bunker, why she went home to Ukraine when so many others were fleeing, and how other countries can help Ukraine

"There were so many moments over the past days when I was thinking, like, why did I make the choice that I made?" she said. "But I know if I were in London, it would be just the worst being away and not being able to help."

The interview has been edited for clarity.

What has your experience been this past week? 

So the war started at 5 a.m. on a Thursday and the night before we actually had a massive film premiere. It was great. We were out partying and it's just ridiculous, how in one moment the whole life has turned. Then the day started with basically these sirens and just the news, news, news that the war has started.

None of it actually felt real yet because you don't actually see it or hear it yet. And then you started hearing it and everyone just basically started looking for shelter and I didn't right away.

I guess it took me a while to kind of properly process that this is for real. So I was staying in a shelter from Friday morning, me and my sister and my brother-in-law, we were at the Golden Gate Metro station, which is one of the deepest underground stations in Ukraine. And above is the Golden Gate, which is a huge landmark in Ukraine. It's basically the gate of ancient Kyiv. So it's a bit symbolic.

Then at some point they sealed off the stations because there were continuous air raids. We spent three nights there and it's incredible how you lose track of time because you can't really sleep. We slept on the stone floors for three and a half days. I didn't take off my hat or my boots because it's just freezing. 

There are bathrooms there. This is one of the underground stations that was used during World War II when Hitler was bombing Ukraine. So it's just history repeating itself.  In these three days, you see the cross-section of humanity and you see people behaving extremely charitable and open-hearted — and people losing their shit, especially at the end of day three, when we were running out of food and water became scarce. 

I had this impulse in myself as well, because every now and then they would bring in people from above — like the people who were lost or whatever. These people would have no blankets, warm clothes, or food, so then you have to give your own. But then when we're looking at the food that we have left, you already have these feelings of like, "But we won't have anything left to eat." 

We had this guy with us, he basically kind of became our protector, this guy who no one calls him by his name but a word that means nurse. He's a veteran of 2014 — that's the last time Russia invaded Ukraine [to annex Crimea] — and so he really knows how to survive and he was taking care of everyone. 

It's just giving of what he's got. Sorry. (Breaks down in tears.)

I don't think I ever felt as proud as I feel now being Ukrainian. I know that we will survive, but I'm just hoping that we won't take too many deaths before this arrival.

In some ways you must feel like you are in a movie. 

In terms of emotions, it's just basically a rollercoaster. At some points you don't feel anything. Just scrolling through endless images of war. Uh, just, yeah, it's horrible. 

What are you seeing online, on social media?

Ukraine doesn't really use Twitter. Everyone is on Telegram. Telegram is great because it has this capability apart from messages, there are channels. So people sign up to those channels and then it becomes basically like makeshift media. The issue is that you also get quite a lot of fake news but at some point you kind of learn to figure out what's true, not true. Like what matters. 

Are you seeing TV and the international response to what's happening?

We've seen all that and it's been incredible. All my friends in LA, in New York, in Berlin, in Paris, in Prague, in Frankfurt, in London, and in Australia, like everywhere. Everyone is sending photos. 

What has been really interesting is how Russia is always saying that we are brothers. I'm ethnically Russian. I have a lot of family in Russia. And at work we actually worked with Russia on productions.

So it has been kind of mind-boggling because all the people I worked with who are based in Russia, no one reached out. I don't know if they're ashamed or they are afraid, but it's just been one of those things like, oh, wow. I know they're scared because we have lived through that.

Five panelists sit on a stage
Vyshnevska, center, at a 2021 industry conference in Rome, where she talked about the burgeoning production business in Central and Eastern Europe.Subject

What are you going to do moving forward? Are you going to stay or try to go to the border?

For now I'm trying to keep busy. I am blessed to work for a company that is really humane and we're sheltering people at our studios and there are over 70 people at the moment that we are feeding and keeping warm. And everyone at work is involved and we're doing things like provision runs and delivering food to people — but going forward, I will try to go back to London at some point. 

Probably not soon because there are no flights obviously. And at the moment, even getting to the border is probably going to take two weeks and a lot of danger involved. When the country rebuilds itself, I will be of better use there. 

I will do what I was always doing, trying to set up co-productions with people, trying to get more business for our company because this is how we help the people who need work and salaries and all that. 

Have you felt like your life is in danger at this point? 

I honestly don't know how to answer this question because the way I'm processing this feeling right now, it kind of doesn't feel real. Like there were moments when adrenaline shoots up, just because of the whole panic, but I think like there's a bit of a lag behind between what my mind registers and what you feel emotionally and I guess it's a good thing because it keeps you still operational rather than freezing in horror. 

But I've seen people at our bunker who would be just completely losing it. So yeah, everyone is just different.

Is there anything else that you'd like to share more broadly that you'd like Americans to read or think about?

Yeah, actually there is, because it's one of those moments in time when — you know how they tell you to live in the present, cherish the moment, etc. But when this moment is just so dreadful, you only find hope in thinking about the future and that it's hopefully going to be better. 

I'm not going to talk about what everyone is aware of right now, and how it is everyone's war and you know, the values, etc., because I think everyone is realizing that. I'm going to talk about it from the perspective of Ukraine as a country. It's important not to throw the country under the bus economically.

And what I mean by that is that basically right now, there's a lot of business being withdrawn from Ukraine and that is the lifeblood. NATO is not coming to actually physically help us. So I don't know if you've seen the statistics of how small the Ukrainian army is in comparison to Russia. 

If American companies stop doing business with Ukrainian companies, because it's a bit too risky for them, these people are gonna be out of jobs. Their houses will be bombed. Like just please don't throw us under the bus. The best thing you can do is just, if you can give some more business to Ukraine, give it to Ukraine.

Do you see going through this experience and using art to process the emotional part of it? Could you see yourself writing about it or making a movie about it?

I hope to. This experience is not over yet. I know from my other life experience that you have to process whatever happens to you and art is a beautiful way to do that. And this is also what I do for work. But right now feels a bit disrespectful to be thinking about that. 

Please keep on donating, supporting, because this is like the big scare — even war probably is going to fade in people's minds soon. And we can't let that happen. It's a marathon. Please don't leave us alone. 

Read the original article on Business Insider