In the early hours of Feb. 24, Fort Worth native Kyle Mims woke up to the distant sounds of shelling and bombs outside his home in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
After 30 minutes, the sounds stopped, and all that remained was a cloudy sky.
“You could hear more air traffic, but air traffic was supposed to have stopped,” Mims said. “Something was off.”
Mims is a humanities and Advanced Placement high school teacher at Quality Schools International, a group of non-profit international schools that teach in English. He has been teaching abroad for over 13 years in Kazakhstan, China, Bosnia and now Ukraine.
His wife, Amy, is an elementary teacher at the same school. The Mimses have two children, 7-year-old Lorelei and 4-year-old Rhys.
Mims’ parents, Wayne and Karla, said their son has always had a passion for traveling. Mims started traveling when he was 8 with the Texas Boys Choir. He also attended university in Germany.
Warnings from the U.S. State Department urged American citizens to leave Ukraine weeks before Russia invaded. The family came down with COVID-19 early on, canceling their vacation.
As threats of an invasion got more intense, Mims and his wife decided to stay.
“We still had students in class and didn’t want to leave them,” he said. “We just transferred from Bosnia to come to Kyiv in July, and we planned on being here for seven or eight years.”
On Feb. 25, the bombing and shelling sounds Mims heard a day before grew louder — and closer. As fighting neared, the family hid in their school’s basement before hopping on a bus heading west out of Kyiv.
“I looked at my wife and I was like, ‘We need to go now.’ My kids were sleeping. I just went and laid down with them, gave them a hug and said, ‘I love you,’ not knowing if something was going to drop on us then,” Mims recalled.
The Mims family headed to Lviv, one of Ukraine’s larger cities west of Kyiv. As a bus drove them away from the capital, Mims saw rows of cars and trucks congesting the highways for miles as people attempted to move away from the incoming Russian troops. Mims spotted tanks rolling in and heavy machinery.
“I actually had a panic attack and passed out in the car,” Mims said. “We thought that Lviv would be the safest place being the farthest west.”
The trip should have taken about eight hours. Instead, the drive to Lviv ended up taking 18 hours.
Once in Lviv, air-strike sirens were already a common occurrence, despite ground Russian forces not yet close by.
Mims recalled how he and his wife tried their best not to scare their children. Still, Lorelei and Rhys could hear the siren warning people about potential bombings. Between that and televisions broadcasting the war as they were leaving the country, the children were frightened.
“Why are they destroying the world?” Rhys asked his father, who explained that what they were seeing and experiencing was a war.
On Feb. 28, the United Nations reported 520,000 Ukrainian refugees have already fled the country and that the number continues to grow hourly. An estimated 4 million refugees are expected over the next few days, according to the UN.
Mims and his family were finally able to find refuge in Bratislava, Slovakia — over 800 miles from Kyiv. They crossed the border along with a group of teachers from Quality School International at 3 p.m. local time on Feb 28.
“We finally got to FaceTime with them, and that gave us a lot of peace of mind. We could see that they’ve been through an ordeal,” Karla Mims said. “Especially now that we have grandchildren — when you become a parent, you automatically worry, and the worry never stops no matter what.”
“It’s very hard when you’ve got loved ones in harm’s way, and you can’t help them,” Wayne Mims added.
Mims can’t help but feel as if he’s abandoned some of his students and colleagues by leaving Ukraine. He hopes to return soon.
“We’re glad we got out for our own sanity,” Mims said. “ Even if (Russia) was definitely positioned for a full-scale invasion, I just couldn’t imagine it happening in 2022.”
On March 5, the family will be relocating to Macedonia, where Mims and his wife will continue virtually teaching their students in Kyiv. Mims hopes this offers the kids a chance to process what is happening.
“It’s more of an escape for them so that they have a window to the outside world,” he said.
Fort Worth Report fellow Sandra Sadek may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.