SAN FRANCISCO - It was a harrowing escape from a war zone. A Ukrainian American mother of four shares the details of her journey back to the United States.
She lived in the Bay Area and had worked as a waitress in San Francisco. She returned to Kyiv 11 years ago.
Olena, who asked us to not give her last name, said she and her children landed in California early Wednesday morning.
It was a journey that began Friday at a train station near Kyiv.
"A lot of people. It was unbelievable how many people got on that train," said Olena who fled with her family to Poland, "It was very difficult to get on unharmed."
A 15-hour ride on what she describes as a small inner city train not designed to go long distances crammed with people.
"People were taking turns sitting on the floor, standing everywhere. People get on in the next stations, so it got even worse," Olena said the ordeal was prolonged because the train was forced to change directions a few times to avoid bombings.
"It was scary. We couldn't turn use our phones, turn off our locations so nobody could find us. There were no lights sometimes riding the train in the darkness," said Olena.
She shared photos she took crossing the border into Poland.
"It was minus 3, minus 4 in the snow standing," said Olena but that the Polish people opened up their hearts and their homes to refugees.
OIena and her children stayed until Tuesday before they flew to the U.S. and arrived in Southern California Wednesday around 4 a.m.
She's grateful to have gotten her children out of Ukraine.
From her home here in the Bay Area, friend Kerry Cianciarulo told Olena over the internet, "The American people are praying for you."
Cianciarulo has been in constant contact with Olena and coordinating with another friend to provide help.
"How can I not help a friend who's being bombed," said Cianciarulo, "It's super frightening. The world is watching."
Olena said her heart is heavy, having left behind her 84-year-old mother and her husband, "I feel awful for the people there. The situation is getting worse. Very scared. Uncertain, just afraid of tomorrow."
Olena said she's still figuring out what's next, but wants to return to Ukraine when it's safe.
She's here in the U.S with the help of friends.
They said they now want to help others escape to safety.