How an Indian lawyer and a Ukrainian woman trumped geographical barriers, COVID-19 and war to be together

Anna Horodetska and Anubhav Bhasin met at a bar in 2019 in Delhi and continued to build their relationship through the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.
Anubhav proposes to Anna at the airport.
Anubhav proposes to Anna at the airport.

The sound of explosions interrupted Anna Horodetska’s sleep in the wee hours of February 24 in Kiev, the war-affected capital of Ukraine. Thousands of miles away in Delhi, Anubhav Bhasin tried convincing her to get out of her hometown immediately.

As it turned out, the ongoing war, the geographical distance and the COVID-19 pandemic failed to dispirit the Ukrainian national and the Indian lawyer from coming together.

Horodetska, 30, flew down from Poland after leaving Kiev to be with Bhasin, 33, who practices in the Delhi High Court and subordinate courts in the capital.

When she arrived on March 17, Bhasin wasted no time in going down on one knee for Horodetska, who said yes.

I just hugged her and asked her to marry me. I proposed at the airport so technically that’s the date of our engagement as well,” he recalled the time he saw her at the airport.

Anna and Anubhav
Anna and Anubhav

Love in the time of COVID-19

The couple met at a bar in Delhi in 2019, when Horodetska was exploring India on a solo trip. The meeting resulted in the exchange of numbers and frequent communication courtesy social media platforms. Apart from her affinity to India, Horodetska now had another reason to visit the country.

On her subsequent trip in March 2020, right before India went into its first COVID-19-induced lockdown, Bhasin had plans to go on a road trip with her and another friend who had flown with her to the city.

We celebrated Holi and then headed out for the road trip. The news came in that flights had been cancelled while we were in Jodhpur. So both Anna and her friend were stuck for another 10-15 days. In Delhi, when we grew a little closer,” remembered Bhasin.

Horodetska took advantage of the small window during the pandemic to return to Ukraine. They made a promise to meet again even as their respective countries restricted foreign travel.

We both knew we had to see each other again but we did not know if it was going anywhere. When two countries are involved, you don’t imagine it is something you can take forward. But then we met in February 2021, in Dubai,” shared Bhasin.

Ironically, a foreign country, unfavourable circumstances, and a raging pandemic cemented the relationship.

During the pandemic, phone calls and messages became the only means to communicate, and to get to know each other better.

We called, messaged each other everyday. There was continuous messaging, talking. But COVID-19 and the lockdown were something new, so we tried to adjust to that life without thinking, 'Oh! we have needs'. But, at some point, we were like God, this is taking too long,” she thought.

Bhasin, intervened,

Exactly, if you remember, we had a lot of time in the first lockdown to know each other.”

Frustration gradually started to creep in when they realised they couldn’t travel - a hobby both of them cherish.

For us, the world had become very small, but suddenly during Covid, the world became really big with the distance. After Dubai, we had to wait for another six moths as there was a lockdown again. But Dubai made us realise that we were dating,” he pointed out.

Taking forward steps, Bhasin travelled to Kiev to meet her in August 2021. He was put in quarantine though vaccinated.

So every trip we have done together is a story in itself,” he beamed.

The Indian Embassy in Ukraine gave him a letter of safe passage in the event he was ever apprehended in the foreign country.

But that trip also got a little confined as we couldn’t go out of the city. If somebody caught me, I had to be close to the Embassy,” said Bhasin.

To meet Bhasin’s family, which included his sisters, mother and close relatives, Horodetska came to Delhi in December 2021. She worked extra days at her Information Technology company so that she could spend more time with Bhasin in India.

With a new variant of COVID-19 in the air during the third wave of the pandemic, India had announced another lockdown.

Before Horodetska came to India, Bhasin had revealed his relationship and future plans to his mother in October. The Bhasin household welcomed Horodetska and spent time with her.

There were a good 14 days we spent together. So lockdowns actually helped our relationship a lot,” the lawyer recollected.

Memories of war

Her return and subsequent days in Kiev triggered emotional turmoil for Horodetska. The unexpected Russian invasion of her country not only meant making life-altering decisions, but also left memories that will last.

Not a situation one would ever want to be in. In the beginning, the worst part about it was that you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. You can’t plan because you don’t know what is going to happen in a few hours. There was panic. People were running away from cities, from whatever they were bombing,” recalled Horodetska.

At some point, some smaller cities faced a humanitarian catastrophe as there were no supplies, people couldn’t evacuate and the whole city was surrounded.
Anna Horodetska on the Russian invasion

On the first day of the attack, she remembered, many people took their belongings and left Kiev. Residents remained on the the road for several days without fuel in their vehicles because of beelines at gas stations.

So the initial probably two weeks were about that. Things happen and you try to escape. At some point, some smaller cities faced a humanitarian catastrophe as there were no supplies, people couldn’t evacuate and the whole city was surrounded. So at that time, they tried to negotiate with the Russian government to let people go. People were evacuated, but it is an unfair fight,” she said.

As an positive outcome, the shootings and bombings imbued a sense of unity among the Ukrainian citizens, encouraging them help each other in a time of crisis.

"My company donated millions of the (Ukrainian) currency to other organisations. We also have people in the military from our company so we are supporting them greatly with anything they need, whatever equipment they need, we are trying to buy and donate. This united Ukraine so much and even those who have not been patriotic about that, we can’t, it hurts to see people in that situation,” Horodetska stated.

In her lifetime, she had not imagined people from other countries dropping missiles and destroying cities.

It is insane. Who does that?” she asked.

Horodetska’s family did not oppose her decision to leave Ukraine and be with Bhasin in a foreign country. Her moving to a safer abode mattered more.

Leaving a war-torn home

A week before the war, every local news channel in Ukraine reported about the country’s intelligence agencies warning of a probable attack first on February 16, then on the 20th and then on the 27th.

For Horodetska and others, that brought a spate of constant anxiety as the bombings hadn’t begun. She thought that even if they happened, the fight would be on the occupied territory.

And then on February 24 when I was asleep, at around 5 am, I heard blasts. I thought is it really happening. There was quiet thereafter. That’s when I started Googling, but there was no news. I slept again and then woke up to another sound of the bombings,” she recounted.

Horodetska wanted to escape and started packing her bags with the basic essentials - medicines, cash and important documents.

First day, she stayed at home only. There was complete disbelief how it was happening. At that time, we weren’t talking on the phone anymore. We were just messaging each other. I didn’t know what to ask her and she didn’t know what to tell me,” said Bhasin.

Bhasin revealed how the war also elicited conflicting emotions between the couple. He wanted his partner to leave immediately and reach him safely, but for Horodetska, leaving her family and her pet dog behind felt difficult. She recollected how her Shih-Tzu had helped her destress at home during the quarantine times.

Bhasin continued convincing Horodetska on the first day of the bombing, but she said no.

On the second day of the attack, spending the day in bunker exhausted her. Kiev witnessed several bombings in the two-three days that followed. That was the day Horodetska decided to get out of her city. She travelled via Poland to reach India.

For Horodetska, the bombing of a building where her friend resided cemented her will to leave Ukraine.

Anna and Anubhav
Anna and Anubhav

That area where my friend lived is 10 kilometres away. So as Kiev is divided into two parts by the river (Dnieper) and connected by a bridge, my concern was if they blasted the bridge, you couldn't cross over,” she said.

She witnessed the bombing sitting in her bunker, as the smoke billowed in the sky from the civilian site. As a rule, Ukrainians were supposed to take shelter in the nearest bunker on hearing the siren.

It was a small place with no ventilation,” she said, looking back.

Any loud sound made Horodetska turn her head and associate it with an experience triggered among soldiers who return from wars.

It can never be accepted as a new reality as it’s wrong and it shouldn’t be like that. Everyday, we read stories about what is going on and it is not like it has stopped shocking you at some point. It is still.. how can you do that?” she said, still in disbelief.

Anna’s mother lives in Mexico and other members of her family live in Central Ukraine. Her grandmother, who is in Ukraine, is old and won’t leave her city. The Russian attack first saw a Ukrainian air base being bombed, but ever since the attack turned towards civilians, escape was the only route to survival.

It is serious stuff. We didn’t sleep. At night, you go to sleep and people say wait for another attack, so you cannot sleep because you know it can happen at any time. And every time it happens you want to run away somewhere. I was spending the night just like that. Reading the news - we have 24-hour news channels. There was psychological propaganda. We were so tired and exhausted. I was so emotionally exhausted and numb that I just sat and said to myself whatever happens, happens,” sighed Horodetska.

Building a future

Back in Delhi, the Bhasins are preparing for a close-knit ceremony for the couple after the marriage gets registered under the Special Marriage Act.

My mother has taught us culturally everything she is supposed to. At the same time, we are very modern in our approach. My sister is in Bollywood, married to a Muslim. So there is no problem.
Anubhav Bhasin, Lawyer

The inter-faith, inter-continental marriage, had the potential to evoke mixed sentiments, but Bhasin felt fortunate to have a family with a “modern” outlook.

Anna and Anubhav in Delhi
Anna and Anubhav in Delhi

My mother has taught us culturally everything she is supposed to. At the same time, we are very modern in our approach. My sister is in Bollywood, married to a Muslim. So there is no problem,” he said.

The only concern was of a “family-centric” approach prevalent in our society.

I was a little concerned about that. But in December, she spent time with my family. She loves Indian culture and food,” grinned Bhasin, who also revealed his soon-to-be wife’s favourite actor is Ranveer Singh.

Horodetska added,

They make fun of me that I am more Indian than him.”

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