OMAHA, Neb. (KSNW) — For English teacher and Kansas native Mickey Cesar, he dreams of one day returning to Kyiv—a city he worked and lived in for 11 years and from where he was forced to flee when Russia invaded Ukraine one year ago.

Mickey Cesar (KSN Photo)

“Waking up in the morning to bombs and everyone trying to get out, trying to understand what was going on. I was essentially in a state of shock,” Cesar said.

Later that morning, Cesar’s work supervisor made arrangements to get him to safety. The former Navy and Army veteran quickly realized he had a target on his back. 

“She said, if you can make it to the west side of the city by four o’clock, I can get you a ride,” Cesar said.

With public transit in Kyiv down, Cesar tried to get a taxi, but by the time he had some semblance of a plan, he was forced to stay in place. 

“That’s when the government issued a 36-hour curfew, and so, I became trapped,” Cesar said.

For the next two nights, Cesar endured what seemed like an endless barrage of bombs going off just miles away from his apartment. 

“It was scary,” Cesar said. “I slept in the hallway; I had taped up and put blankets over, over my windows.”

After the curfew, Cesar once again unsuccessfully tried to secure a taxi to the west side of the city.

“I had one friend who was still, on the fourth or fifth day, that tried to arrange a taxi, but I couldn’t get to him—we couldn’t make that connection,” Cesar said.

Cesar was left with no choice but to walk six miles in the snow to the nearest train station—taking him with only a backpack filled with essentials and his cat. 

“There were militia men with guns, automatic weapons insisting women and children only, so it took me 11 hours before I could find a place on the train,” Cesar said.

After a grueling 12-hour train ride to the Ukrainian city of Lviv, Cesar’s hopes of entering a less chaotic environment were quickly dashed. 

“When I exited the train, I looked, and there were tens of thousands of people, most, almost all just women and children out, out in the cold looking for any sort of shelter or Red Cross tent,” Cesar said.

From there, soldiers escorted Cesar into Poland on foot, but his journey was far from over. 

“I eventually made my way to Krakov, Poland, where I met a young German couple who gave me a ride to Berlin where one of my friends from KU lived, and she, she sheltered me,” Cesar said.

Cesar would return to the U.S. in June 2022, but he says his heart is still in Kyiv. 

“To see the damage done now, it, it breaks my heart every day,” Cesar said. “This is a war that Ukraine cannot lose, cannot, and by that, I mean it is not an option.”

Cesar currently resides in Omaha, Nebraska, where he works as a teacher.