When war broke out in Ukraine, Svetlana Ward felt helpless watching from the other side of the world in her small town on the NSW Mid North Coast.
She was terrified for her elderly mother, who was refusing to leave her home in a village on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Eighty-year-old Valentina — half Russian, half Ukrainian — who lived through the fall of the Soviet Union could not accept that Russia had unleashed a full-scale invasion of her home.
"Like a lot of older people she did not believe it was possible Russia could attack like this," Svetlana said.
Civilians urged to flee eastern Ukraine as Zelenskyy warns of 'hard battle' to come
Ukraine is bracing itself for a "hard battle" to come as Russian forces continue amassing in the east of the country, with officials urging civilians to flee. © Reuters Civilians are being urged to flee eastern Ukraine as Russian forces prepare to refocus their war effort While the threat to the capital Kyiv has receded, it is rising in the east, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned."This will be a hard battle, we believe in this fight and our victory. We are ready to simultaneously fight and look for diplomatic ways to put an end to this war," he said.
Recently widowed and with both daughters living overseas, Valentina did not have the means, or the desire, to leave on her own.
"We were begging her to go," Svetlana said.
"She told us, 'Who would be interested in a tiny village with only a few people and no infrastructure?' … but then they started bombing everything."
With attacks on homes, hospitals and schools escalating, Valentina decided it was time to leave, but all routes to Kyiv had already been cut off.
"She would call me from inside the shelter and I could hear the bombing outside. I would just try to distract her because she was by herself there, and there was nothing else I could do. It was terrible."
With Svetlana in Australia and other family spread across Europe, it seemed there was no hope for Valentina to escape.
A massive US-Mexican effort to welcome Ukrainian refugees
Nadiya Ruyhynska had almost never left Ukraine, though her daughter lives in the US city of Seattle. But with the war looming in her hometown of Lviv, the 55-year-old former nurse set off on the long journey to the Mexican city of Tijuana, where a massive operation is helping thousands of Ukrainian refugees cross the border to resettle in the United States. Most arrive with mixed emotions. "I am 50-50," said the former nurse as she stepped onto American soil."I have happiness" at the prospect of being reunited with her pregnant daughter Christina, who has a young son, but also sadness at having left her own mother behind, she said.
But in a happy accident, Svetlana found a young man working for the Territorial Defence Forces who planned to evacuate his mother from the same village.
"We begged him to take our mum too," she said. "And he agreed.
"All mum took was her passport, her medication, some money and a few clothes.
"The 40km drive to Kyiv took five hours because of the road blocks and checkpoints. There was bombing along the way too."
Svetlana and her family managed to find several other volunteers to drive Valentina to Lviv and then to the Polish border, where Svetlana's sister and niece were waiting.
"When mum arrived at the Polish border it was still a 300m queue and a long wait ... it was very hard for her," Svetlana said.
"She nearly fell unconscious many times but she did it.
"It was all tears when they met her at the border ... when they saw her take a piece of bread and water from the Polish volunteers it was just ... tears from everyone".
Zelenskyy exclusive interview: The full transcript
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Ukrainian leader talks about the war in his country and what it will take to end it.The Ukrainian president also addressed the allegations that he was preventing civilians from using humanitarian corridors leading to Russia.
To stay or to go
Valentina's family took her from Poland to Luxembourg and finally to Cyprus where she is living with her daughter.
"We can all breathe now because mum is safe ... but there are still so many people left there," Svetlana said.
"The older people think maybe this will end soon... and don't want to leave their homes.
"The stress of leaving is also too much for a lot of people ... my daughter's friend and two-year-old child also escaped to stay with her in Berlin.
"When they arrived, her friend had a stroke and is now in hospital ... and my daughter is looking after the child," Svetlana said.
Regional town raises money to show support
With immense gratitude for the volunteers that helped her mother escape from danger in Ukraine, Svetlana is raising funds to continue supporting them.
Her small community of Rollands Plains, 20km west of outside Port Macquarie, came together to raise money and show their support.
"Around 40 people came to our fundraiser," Svetlana said.
"They did a raffle, some donated eggs, one girl made 50 bottles of kombucha, some brought plants and cakes to sell ... It was just unbelievable."
"I could feel they did it from the heart, some people were even in tears. They are so far away from what is happening but they still feel it. Amazing how it brings together people all around the world."
They raised $2,500, which will go straight to the Territorial Defence Forces through a bank account Svetlana and her husband set up specifically to send money to Ukraine.
"I feel so blessed to live here in this community that cares so much," she said.