When 14-year-old Fedote Garbuz, a member of Scouts BSA Troop 980B in Kyiv, Ukraine, awoke to the sound of explosions one morning earlier this year, he knew he was going to have to act fast.
Indecision and hesitation would not be options.
This is what it means to Be Prepared.
You hope you never have to use that first-aid training you got a year or so back, or those lifesaving methods you learned at summer camp, or the knowledge you got from that one wilderness survival class.
But you also know it’s there, just in case you need it.
Sometimes, just having those skills in your back pocket can give you the confidence to act in an emergency, instead of panicking and making a poor decision that could make everything worse.
Sometimes, a single decision — like knowing when to stay or when to go — can make all the difference.
When Fedote’s family turned on the TV and saw reports that Russians had entered their country, they knew right away what they had to do. In the most critical moment of his young life, Fedote immediately fell back on his Scout training.
“I instantly started packing,” Fedote says. “I grabbed my backpack and gathered the 10 essentials.”
A quick decision
Fedote was living in Ukraine with his mother, father, younger sister and two cats. All six of them needed to get out, and fast. Only they didn’t know exactly how long their journey would take, and how much access they’d have to basic necessities.
“I grabbed my 10 essentials because that is what I have been told to do for survival since I was 6 years old and a Tiger Cub Scout,” Fedote says.
The family picked up Fedote’s older cousin, then headed for the border.
Fearing the major highways would be dangerous, they chose to travel on the back roads. They quickly realized that everyone else was doing the same, causing a major traffic problem.
They spent that first night in a hotel, disturbed at one point by emergency sirens wailing nearby.
“One thing you do not want to hear are those sirens, because in most cases they mean someone is going to die,” Fedote says. “Thankfully, the sirens ended after a minute or so, which meant they were just there for people to stay alert.”
The next day, they joined up with more members of their family. The men — who they knew would not be allowed to leave the country — went in one car. The women and children — including Fedote, his mother and sister — went in another.
About 20 kilometers from the border, they got in line. And then they waited.
Multiple days in the car
Slowly, the line trickled forward. Sometimes, it would pass through a settlement where food was available. Most of the time, they had to rely on what they had with them.
Sometimes there were bathrooms nearby. Often, there weren’t.
“As a Scout, I know about the risk of ticks,” Fedote says. “I spotted one on my sister’s pant leg, so I removed and disposed of it. After that, I made everyone check for ticks.”
Eventually, the other members of Fedote’s family joined back up with them. They would take their chances together.
At one point, Fedote and the other men ventured into a nearby village to find food. They found a store, and the owner gave them free sandwiches and tea.
After another several days of waiting in line, they finally made it to the border. Heartbreakingly, the adult men — including Fedote’s father — and all of Fedote’s cousins were forced to stay behind. Fedote and his mom, sister and two cats walked safely across.
“After five days, we had escaped Ukraine,” Fedote says.
A new start
Fedote is currently living with his mother and sister in Berlin, Germany. He has been participating in Scouting with Scouts BSA Berlin Troop 46.
“Scouts was one part of my schedule that I could maintain in Berlin, so I wanted to stay active,” he says.
The cats are doing fine, but Fedote, his mom and sister remain separated from several members of the family. His mother, Helen, says they hope to return to Ukraine when it is safe.
“We are all desperate to reunite,” she says.
During their evacuation, they might not have needed every single one of those 10 essentials, but it sure was comforting to have them.
“I wasn’t really stressed because I had a clear idea of what I needed to do,” Fedote says. “We didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that the contents in my backpack would prepare me for anything.”
UPDATE: Just hours before this story was published, I received an update from Fedote’s mom, who reports that the family has indeed been reunited in Ukraine, living together out in the country, and only venturing into Kyiv when they have to.
She reports that the cousins they were traveling with made it to Poland, though the cousin’s husband had to stay behind.
“We grow organic fruit and vegetables at our cottage, and have been donating them to feed the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” she says.