Jessie and Jacob Boeckmann, an American couple, traveled to Kyiv last month for the birth of their daughter through a Ukrainian surrogate. But two days after the birth, Jessie woke to the sound of shelling as Russia’s invasion began.
They tried driving to the western city of Lviv to reach a temporary US Embassy there, but a massive gridlock turned what is normally a six-hour drive into a 27-hour crawl.
En route, they learned the embassy was closed — so they changed direction for the Polish border, as combat vehicles rolled past outside their windows.
About 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border, traffic came to a standstill. On a cold day, after hours sitting in the car with barely any movement, they had to make a choice: wait or walk.
“We decided that it was going to be the warmest part of the day, and the only opportunity to make it to the border before nightfall would be to get out and walk,” Jacob told CNN on Wednesday. “Our biggest concern, with our daughter being 4 days old, was hypothermia. It was really cold. But we felt like if we didn’t act then, then we wouldn’t know how much longer it would be until we would make it across.”
So they wrapped up baby Vivian tight and started walking. When they finally got to the border, it was chaos, with “thousands and thousands of people, all kind of packed on top of one another trying to exit the country,” Jacob said.
Since women and children are being prioritized, Jessie and the baby were able to get to the front of the line and enter Poland, with Jacob crossing separately hours later.
The family is now safely home in California, but they’re aware how lucky their escape was.
They’ve lost touch with their Ukrainian surrogate, who until then had been in continuous contact. And though they walked 8 miles with a newborn, many people across Ukraine are “walking so much further than that in order to get to the border,” Jessie said.