Life underground in bombarded Kharkiv. A ten-year-old Ukrainian girl dreams of ballroom dancing — and of meeting Paddington Bear.28 June 2022
Vika Mats, aged 10, and her mother Liana, 36, are stuck underground again in a Metro station after a terrifying day and night of rocket bombardments from advancing Russian forces in north-east Ukraine.
They had enjoyed a five days of sunlight after Ukrainian troops pushed the Russian forces back toward their border and out of artillery range a few weeks ago, but the Russians have been striking again.
“We were taken to a sanatorium. But on the 6th day at night the building shook, so we decided to return to the subway,” Vika recalls.
(Fifteen died in a rocket attack in that region a week ago too.)
At least three people died on Monday in rocket attacks on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and a key target for Vladimir Putin’s ‘special military operation’. It’s called the City of Poets, and was recently awarded the title of City of Heroes by Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.
The Russians are mercilessly making progress. Outrage has been expressed worldwide at a rocket attack in recent days against a large shopping complex in a city about 150 miles from Kharkiv.
In Karkiv Vika, her mother and her two brothers would occasionally venture out into the near-empty streets.
“We were just walking on the surface this week when more rockets came in, ” Vika told Correspondent.World by phone. “As we rushed down into the subway the windows rattled and the ground shook. Our legs were shaking too.
“I’m so sad we’re back in here but the Russians are shooting more and more into the city.
“I was so upset when I heard today that the Russians attacked a school here — and a huge shopping centre in another town.
“I know there’s a war going on, but I have no idea what it’s all about. I just want to go back to my biggest love: ballroom dancing. It was great exercise, and the dresses they let us wear were so beautiful.”
She sends us pictures of her ballroom dancing days — and tells us she won medals for her prowess in it.
Vika with her ballroom-dancing troupe — before the war interrupted their training and performances
The first thing Vika did when she was safe downstairs was to clutch her teddy. She’s convinced it’s Paddington Bear. She says while in her Underground shelter she keeps her morale up by watching Paddington Bear videos.
“I sleep every night with Paddington Bear. Some aid workers gave him to me. I love Paddington Bear — in real life. I also love watching his cartoons.
“Today I’ve been watching an amazing video of how the Queen of England had tea with him in her beautiful palace. It was very funny!
“I even miss my old school – School Number 94 in my village near our border with Russia.
“I miss going out for a walk. I miss riding my bike. I miss swimming in the river now it’s summer. And I miss dancing. I even miss my tutor who teaches me English. But on the other hand it’s quiet and safe down here.
“I miss my home. I also miss the cosmetics which I left at home– my grandma gave them to me on my birthday, just 13 days before the Russians began their invasion.
“In the first days of the war my mum, me and my two brothers Artem and Sasha had to flee our village when the Russians were bombing. My mum was really scared. There were planes overhead and at 3 a.m. we decided to leave in our car.
“As we got in and bombs dropped, the whole car was jumping about. We drove at 170 kilometres an hour toward Kharkiv, and made it.
“But then soon Kharkiv also became dangerous and we spent 79 days stuck in this Metro. Then a few days of freedom — but now we’re back inside it again.
“I miss my best friend the most – she’s Russian. She’s had to move from our village to a Russian town. We speak on social media almost every day. Here’s a photo of us together, before the war. I’m not supposed to give you her name, in case that causes her some trouble.
“I don’t blame her for what the Russians are doing. I just blame Putin.”
Vika says not everything in life underground is negative. “At least I’ve got eight other friends — children inside the railway system. And we can play games in the train carriages, which have been stuck here for months.
“The highlight of our days is whenever we hear an announcement on the railway station’s public address system: ‘Attention, children under sixteen, come to the ticket office.’
“Of course there are no tickets — we can’t go anywhere. But the guy at the ticket office gives us presents that aid workers have brought for us. One of my friends even got a whole Batman outfit and he’s been sent off by his mother to ‘go do good deeds’.”
Vika (centre) salutes with her friends while at ‘school’ in the Underground shelter.
Vika borrows a press flak-jacket on a rare trip upstairs into the open during an brief period of quiet.
Vika loves dressing up — but that’s pre-war, not down in the Metro.
Vika with her tent and mattress in the Underground.
Vika pre-war with her ballroom-dancing outfit and her teddy– before she got ‘Paddington Bear’.
While downstairs in the Metro, Vika is trying to learn new skills — playing a guitar, and doing manicures for other bored underground refugees. When she grows up she hopes to be a manicurist — that is, unless she makes it to the top in her favourite activity.
“I dream of travelling around the world in a ballroom-dancing troupe,” Vika declares. “I just want peace.”
Vika adds: “As soon as this awful war is over, I would also love to go to London and there, I hope I can also meet your Queen — and the real Paddington Bear too! Maybe she’ll invite both of us for tea!”
At present though, she’s going nowhere.
Vika also appeared in Channel 4 Dispatches on June 27 2022, at 10 PM. It is available On Demand at