АвторAuthor: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Anna Shliakhova
31 August 2022
18-year-old Valeriia Mala studies at Chernihiv Polytechnic University. Before the war she found a good job and started a traineeship there. As it happened, she couldn’t work, because Chernihiv was surrounded by the russian forces. Heavy fighting for the city lasted more than a month. Valeriia told the project “Monologues of War” about the situation in the city during the first days of the invasion, about her fears and worries, about her father who was captivated, about her evacuation and coming back to the native city.
On the first day of the war a phone call woke me up. My boy called me. I wasn’t panicking trying to be reasonable. I washed my hair and collected my things. We decided to go to my parents’ country house. We all went there: my grandparents, my aunt, my sister, and I. We were there only for 2 hours, then we thought that it would be safer to stay in the city.
We heard explosions immediately. They were somewhere far away. My parents and my dog stayed in the country house. We came back into the city to my grandparents’ house. There was a small cellar about 4 square meters in size, later we had to spend nights there.
Suddenly my dog was ill, and my mother took it to the doctor in the city. She was afraid it could have died without medical help, as its condition deteriorated. A half of an hour after she came to the city the bridge was blown up. She couldn’t get back to my father.
We placed everything we needed into the cellar. We arranged a place for sleeping with pillows and blankets. My grandparents slept in the bathroom. The first night was more or less quiet, after the terror began. The house was at the outskirts of the city, and the fighting was 2 km from us. Our district was erased from the ground. Somehow we were lucky and our neighborhood has survived. Only some debris was left as a reminder on the roof of our house.
Chernihiv was heavily bombed. Gas was cut off at the first few days: the gas supply was damaged due to the fighting. But we still had water and electricity realizing it wouldn’t last long. Everyday the local public announced cutting off water, fortunately it never happened to us. Just in case we stored water.
It was even impossible to go outside for smoking due to the constant shelling. We couldn’t even wash ourselves or cook something. My sister was only 10 years old and we worried about her the most.
When fighting intensified, we all were hiding in the cellar including my grandparents. I slept head-to-toe with my mother on a very narrow shelf. My aunt and my sister slept on another one. My grandfather slept just on the ground, on potatoes to be precise. My disabled grandmother couldn’t move freely, though she just was sitting in the cellar. She even slept sitting up.
Once we were outside, when the alert began. Suddenly there were two powerful explosions nearby. Everyone ran to some shelter. I ran to the kitchen where I fell on the floor. My mother and my aunt ran to the basement. My grandparents didn’t even realize what was going on. They were shocked. I wasn’t able to go outside the basement for 2 days after that. I even smoked in the basement to not leave the shelter.
When aircraft were flying over us, my boyfriend sent me messages with a piece of advice about how to prevent a concussion. One should close the ears and open the mouth. Then we heard the roar of aircraft. My sister started to cry, choking with tears. The last thing I remember was that I told my mom that I love her so much. Honestly, I already said farewell to my life. But soon it was over. We all remained alive. A bomb was dropped a little further.
Maybe, one of the worst memories of those days was about February, 27. There were so many explosions, and my mom was outside. I was constantly shouting to her asking to go to a safe place. There was one more explosion even closer to us and then I heard her screaming. She repeated: “My hand, my hand, my hand”. My first thought was, heaven forbid, that she got her hand blown off. I didn’t care about the explosions any more and ran to her.
We have 2 dogs, who jumped to the yard by chance and attacked a neighbor’s dog. That dog injured her hand. That moment I realized how much I appreciate my mom. Before the war I couldn’t imagine that I could lose her, because I knew she wouldn’t despair, I knew she was young and healthy and would live long. At that moment I appreciated her like never before.
The first two weeks I stayed in Chernihiv. It was so scary but then I managed to flee by accident. That day the electricity was cut off. My boyfriend called me and told me that I would flee by car with him and his parents the next day. I refused, because we heard a lot about shooting into civilian cars and mined areas along the way. It was hard for me to dare to flee. My mom also told me not to go anywhere. Then we managed to call my dad. He told me to go without hesitation. He told me that I had to pack everything I needed and go because it was already very dangerous to stay in the city.
In the morning on March 7 we evacuated at our own risk. We just drive in a column of other cars. We reached Cherkasy before the curfew started. We rented an apartment there for a while. My family was in Chernihiv. In the very center of the city it was quieter, but it’s never quiet near the front line. However, they moved to my aunt’s flat.
I had never left Chernihiv for a long period of time. There were some shot holidays, but it was different. Mentally it was hard for me to realize that my family was still there, and I was alone. They had no electricity or water. A tank was parked near our house. The fighting intensified. Not so many buildings remained intact due to the constant shelling. Once I talked to my mom when she was in a car. Then I heard bursts of machine-gun fire and I couldn’t hear my mom’s voice. She tried to tell me something, but these sounds were too loud, and I couldn’t hear her.
I pleaded with my family to flee, but they had no car at the beginning, then the bridge to Kyiv was blown up and it became impossible to flee. Of course, there was the option to cross the river, but it was too hard for my disabled grandma.
Then my father stopped calling me. I was so worried but I didn’t tell my mom about it. Her phone was discharged and we could call each other only once a day. I had to learn that they all were alive and had some food. It was enough for me.
One morning I was woken up by a phone call from my dad. I was so glad, because I thought the electricity was repaired so he could have charged his phone. When I answered the call, I heard: “My dear, russians have captured me”. I was horrified. His voice was very quiet, but calm. Firstly I thought he was still in captivity and he was allowed to call us. I was worried and wept a lot. I immediately told my mom about it. She was ready to swim across the river that separated them. She was ready for everything to save him from captivity.
My father was driving with a neighbor to the other end of the village, when russian came. They were held captive for 2 days. They were not fed anything and violently beaten on the head and legs. After that, they were thrown out 15 km from home. He didn’t get out of bed for a whole week. His fellow villagers brought him food, water and everything he needed. My father is “old-school”, but after everything that has happened, he is a real patriot. He even tries to speak Ukrainian, though he graduated from a russian school.
I came home by accident also. On the 26th of April a year before my great grandmother died. I had a very close and warm relationship with her. We held her wake that day. Despite everything, I decided to come back home. I got to Kyiv on BlaBlaCar. My friend’s father took me from there to Chernihiv.
Leaving Chernihiv, I had seen, of course, the consequences of shelling, but now I was shocked. The scale of destruction was much greater. I was very upset. Then I discovered that only the outskirts of the city were heavily destroyed, not the center of the city and bedroom communities.
My parents came to take me. My Dad rushed with hugs to me. Usually, he is not a tactile person and he never shows his feelings. But at that moment he barely could hold his tears back, because he was glad to see me.
We stopped on our way home at my favorite coffee shop. I kissed everyone I met and greeted my neighbors as friendly as never before. When I got home, I felt like I hadn’t been here for years.
The entrance to the cellar is in my room. Every time I see it, I feel ill. It’s scary just to glance behind it, because it reminds me about everything I’ve experienced there. I know there are no shelves, where we slept head-to-toe, there are no blankets that kept us warm in the freezing cold. As in peaceful times there are only jars with conservation, but I can’t dare to peek in.
Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.
Why is it important to share this story?
If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.
АвторAuthor: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Anna Shliakhova