“Trauma is for life”

David Culottes no longer really has the concept of time. Only 24 hours ago, he put a safe and healthy suitcase in Hungary after traveling over 1,000 km in Ukraine for five days with his small family. Franceinfo met the 51-year-old Frenchman at his home in Kharkov in the eastern part of the country in early February, before the invasion of Russian troops. We contacted him again on the sixth day of the war so that he could tell us about his flight envisioned on Tuesday, February 22nd.

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That day, He felt that things would speed up and resigned, just like any other Frenchman. “The atmosphere around me changed, so when I picked up my son, there weren’t many people at school,” he said. Recount This IT entrepreneur has settled in Ukraine since the 2000s. Anna, his Ukrainian wife, does not believe in him. Together with his sister, they gently tease him and take him to the unhappy bird. For them, talking about war means that it will happen.

Next, David asks his wife to collect all the necessary documents so that he can cross the border by car. He holds two 20-liter diesel cans and groceries in the trunk. With a full tank, he calculated that he could do more than 1,000 kilometers. “I grew up together Mad Max“”He smiles to justify his preparation for the worst.

David Culot's car used to cross Ukraine, end of February 2022.  (DAVID CULOT)

After Wednesday devoted to preparation, Culots slept more or less enthusiastically and was ready to leave the next day. Outside, the harsh winters have been going on for weeks. Snow covered the roof of the building and the surrounding forest. At dawn on Thursday, February 24, Vladimir Putin ordered a major military invasion of Ukraine. He commands air strikes and the invasion of ground forces into the country. The bomb was dropped at 5 am in an army position 10 kilometers away from his parents’ home.

“The house shook and I heard the sound of death. It was heard in your soul, not in your body.”

David culottes

on franceinfo

David and Anna’s three children 1, 4 and 7 years old wake up at the start. “what?” They listen. “We told them to go back to sleep. After we heard the bangs five or six more times, it all stopped. We hugged our wife and ran around the house like chickens. started.”

In a hurry, David and his wife are in a hurry to collect their belongings, especially the children’s. Shoes, socks, winter clothes, “Pee Kaka”.. “I collect rugs. I got two things that are emotionally valuable and can be resold if I need cash.”He says. Two hours later he turned off the lights and closed the door of the house. At 7:09 am he is driving his car. Behind the scenes, the three children are still sleepy as Culots follow the west road and the sun shines behind them. In the distance, bombardment continues.

The time after that is endless and unforgettable. David doesn’t know how many kilometers he has traveled in total. “There was a lot of traffic. I had to use another route, a bumpy road.” He says.

David Culot and his children when they left Kharkov for Hungary at the end of February 2022.  (DAVIDCULOT)

Hundreds of vehicles escape the bomb along the route. Service stations are overwhelmed and people sometimes wait a few liters of fuel all day long.

“I drove for 19 hours without stopping, except for a three-minute pee break. I knew I would avoid Kyiv, so I headed to Vinnytsia.”

David culottes

on franceinfo

In the car, the children sleep, cry, Vickers, scream, and fall asleep again. “They broke down at some point, but they didn’t complain. We were all very interested in adrenaline.”Describes David, who never drives for more than 40 minutes at a time. He drinks a lot of water, but he seldom eats. No fat, no sugar, just enough to hold. The family arrived in the evening in Vinnytsia, a town southwest of Kyiv.

“When I arrived, I had a hallucination, I saw a shadow, the road was a kaleidoscope.”

David culottes

on franceinfo

Exhausted, David fell asleep for two hours. Then at dawn, the family wakes up again with a bombardment. “I grabbed the steering wheel and drove back for 13 hours to get to Ternopil.”A town located about 200 km from the Polish border in western Ukraine.

Upon arriving in Ternopil, Culots goes looking for a hotel, but it’s all full. It is impossible to find a room without a reservation. He goes to the hotel reception and explains that he is homeless at night with his three children. He refused again. But when he returned to the car, David heard his receptionist running behind him. “She told me she found two small and very basic rooms. For me, luxury was a service station sink.”

The family is tired and sleeps. After 7 hours, the bombs fall around them again. David, Anna and their children jump into the car. Head the mountain road to the town of Ouzhhorod on the border with Slovakia.

Traffic congestion to reach Uzhhorod (Ukraine) near the border with Slovakia at the end of February 2022.  (DAVID CULOT)

From the window, they pass through a convoy of military vehicles. A man in his twenties dressed in a uniform board army van.Family flock to the old Jiguri, these cars A typical Soviet-era Lada with a father, mother, grandchildren, and grandparents. From time to time, panicked and exhausted, the driver crashes into the post and tries to overtake everyone. “We were all on the same ship, David says. We weren’t moving fast, we wondered where we were going. I wasn’t nervous, but there was solidarity. If you break down, we can help you. “

In this asylum, not everyone is in the same boat. David insists: “I’m rich and I have friends everywhere to help. My story is ultimately simple, a white journey with a car, but racism for others.”He mourns.

“For North Africans, Syrians, Nigerians and Cameroonians who want to flee the country, that’s another story. Their buses stop at the border, so they have to wait for a very long time. “

After 7 hours, Culots will finally arrive Very close to Ouzhhorod, the border between Slovakia and Hungary.Their passport will be checked “Hour hours” By the army. “We stayed for two nights [à Oujhorod] Then we went back to Hungary. “, He continues. They finally crossed the border.

Today, David and his family are staying at Airbnb’s accommodation in Hajdúszoboslo, a tourist town in eastern Hungary. “The owner of the house deliberately sent his parents to welcome us. Angels of goodness and kindness. They brought us croissants and fresh bread.” Distracted by the screams of the child, I will explain the French on the phone.

David Culot's children at Airbnb's home in Hajdúszoboslo, Hungary, March 1, 2022.  (DAVID CULOT)

House is “Small paradise”, Has a nice garden.Not enough to make him forget him “House of happiness” From Kharkov “Where the children ran through the flowers naked”, Where there was a small pool for summer days. But it’s very good to start a new life. “I can’t see past photos, I can see the future.”, He sweeps in a solemn tone. Of course, this asylum will mark his head and body forever.

“I heard the suitcase fall and jumped. The car is too fast and I’m thinking of a rocket. I can’t imagine trauma. It’s for life.”

David culottes

on franceinfo

But David has already wage this war “distortion”, change, In his life. It may come through his work. Some of its employees remained in Ukraine and joined the hacking team against the Russian state. “Vladimir Putin is also strong because his aides are afraid and give him all the power, but everything we can do against them, we do it.”, He guarantees. He hopes to return to Kharkov someday to find his home and help the inhabitants rebuild the city. But when? “Of course there is nothing.”