“After the first bomb fell by my house, I grabbed my kids and we tried to shelter as best as we could in our home,” says Kshisya Tachanskaya, a Ukrainian surfer and refugee. “The bombs kept falling. It didn't stop. I looked at my husband, 'we'll leave at night,' he said. Not knowing if we were going to make it all was... horrifying. We had to make it. By the evening, we ran to the car, got in with just a bag of clothes. We drove west out of Kyiv and didn't stop for 25 hours straight. We got out.”
Eventually, Kshisya made it to Portugal with her daughter, Evdokia, 7, and son, Kornii, 11. Like all families with less than three children fleeing Ukraine, her husband had to stay at home. “He's still there, helping, doing what he can,” she told MSW on Tuesday.
Portugal was almost a home away from home for Kshisya, having spent the past five seasons out there working as part of a surf camp (along with Vasiliy Kordysh, president of Ukrainian Surfing Federation, and the rest of the surf community from Ukraine). “This time though, we arrived, we had nothing. As soon as we stopped the car, I said to my children, go, you must say hi to the ocean. They did just that and the smiles and joy on their faces... it's like, the war just melted away. Like we hadn't been hiding a day or so ago.
The kids arrived upset, then they surfed and they said it was the best time in their life
“And that's when it hit me; maybe I can put on surf camps for refugees. For mothers and children to come along to and try and escape what's happened in Ukraine. For anyone fleeing who may be feeling scared, lonely.”
A short time later, after a scramble for funding, the inaugural Good Days surf camp, out of Baleal – which is a couple beaches over from the raw power of Supertubos – was put on, featuring 10 families who have been forced from their homes due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“At first, the children were nervous, worried. I only gave them one rule; leave your phone at home. Connect with the ocean during this camp. And... it worked, for that short period of time, everything was left behind.
“The concept is simple, really, make friends in the surf. Connect with something if you can. The kids, as soon as they're in the water, go crazy over surfing. Honestly, it was my plan to run, you know, normal surf camps during this summer, I had bookings. And then, war. I lost everything. We all lost everything.
“When I got out of the country, it was so stressful, my parents were still in Ukraine, in this small pocket that was totally surrounded by the Russians. My husband was there. I wondered how many other mothers, daughters, families were in the same situation. All of us had lost our future. I was thinking oh my God, what do I do? Then I thought... 'I know the magic thing – to go surfing!' For me, it's really important how many good skills and the help it can give, just to get in the ocean.”
And how did the first camp go? “For me, this was all new,” she said. “I just posted a little video to my Instagram account that I was putting it on, and it went crazy. A lot of people started sending me support messages. Eventually, I took 16 kids out, we went surfing every day, worked on psychology, created art. The kids arrived upset, then they surfed and they said it was the best time in their life. It works because they switch their attention, teaching them to take care of the ocean, beach cleaning, a lot of good things.
“I posted another video and gave a lot of reasons to donate to Ukraine, I thought, 'ok, these families are not in the worst space now but they need some help too and the kids might need therapy'. Again, I asked the world to help! And then I found a lot of support in the surf community. But eventually Billabong came back and helped make that incredible video [below] that helped me create an event for 40 Ukrainian families."
But the worry of home was still there for Kshisya. “I know my husband is there, not fighting, but doing everything he can to help out. The scariest thing was I lost all communication with my parents for 10 days. The electricity went down, no internet, so a lot of people really had no idea what was going on. They're surrounded by Russian troops. Again, I turned to Instagram and posted a video asking if anyone knew if they were alive.
“Eventually, we managed to get in touch with someone who lived opposite them. He got on to the roof of his building just to get phone signal to contact me and said my parents were ok.”
From there, it was a race against time. “We knew we had to get people out, I couldn't sit back and do nothing. Lots of phone calls later, we managed to find a driver who knew a way through the Russian blockade and into safety. We made a plan. We got 35 families out in a car convey, including my parents. It was a miracle."
The situation in Ukraine is far from over. “Two weeks ago, people actually started going back," said Kshisya. "For people still there, the new reality is sleeping through sirens, not flinching when a bomb goes off. The past few days, there have been 47 rockets targeting the Ukraine, 14 in Kyiv, we are managing it but a lot of people, kids, were killed.
"There are a lot of kids without parents now. A rocket fell on a kindergarten, luckily it was empty, you don't know what the next days will be like. The things we know are happening... I don't know how to say it in English, but I think you know what I mean. When you understand what's happening there, it's hard to live with it.”
Despite the horrors of home, Kshisya has made it her only mission to do what she can from 2,000 miles away. “My plan is to host two more camps in July – each camp will have 10 families. I have me and two of my friends, all Ukrainian, they help out with everything for camp. We are three people and we know that bringing mothers and children the joy of surfing goes some way to forgetting what is happening at home. And that's the point – we need good days. I have my friends who help out with the camp too, Tatiana Lelitsa and Taya Golii, both from Ukraine. I've had 357 applications from refugees for the camps, they need them and are waiting, the more support we get, the more people we can help.”
When asked if there's anything else she'd like to add, Kshisya pauses, responds: “I want to say that, I've met so many people who have opened their hearts to me and our people, and that's just the best thing for all of us right now.”
For more info on Good Days, go here. Kshisya is still looking for support to raise more funds to put on more camps. If you can help, DM MSW via Instagram and we'll connect you through. You can also check out the Good Days IG page, HERE.