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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Mariya Brusova

    “Until the last moment, I hoped that russia would not dare to launch a full-scale attack, but relying on 2014, I knew that someday it would happen,” – this is a story of a woman from Luhansk who is fleeing the war for the second time already

    Life under fire

    АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Iryna Kovalenko

    23 August 2022

    Mariya Brusova is fleeing the war for the second time. In 2014, a woman was trapped in hostilities in Luhansk. Because of one of the shellings, the “rebels” killed 8 people right in the middle of the street. It was a turning point, after which Maria decided to leave the city. After a couple of moves, the woman settled in Kharkiv, where she faced a full-scale russian invasion. When Maria’s house was cut off the electricity, and the explosions outside the window became louder and louder, she decided to evacuate. The woman spent six days reaching Germany, where she and her son are staying now. The story about two escapes from russian weapons Maria told especially for the “Monologues of the War” website.

    Before February 24, I lived in Kharkiv. In 2014, I left Luhansk, at first, I went to Kyiv, then I moved to Kharkiv. I lived there for 5 years. I studied at a Medical College. I graduated precisely in 2022. I worked as a teacher of English for adults. 

    In 2014, Maidan and Anti-Maidan began in Luhansk at the same time as in Kyiv – in November 2013. I am ashamed to admit it now, but at that time, I wasn’t interested in politics, and our desire to be a part of Europe did not concern me. But also, I didn’t support the aspirations of another part of the society, who sought rapprochement with russia. I always thought we should be, if not a part of Europe, at least on our own. But definitely, we should not ask russia for any assistance. No such persons went to those demonstrations or so-called “referendum” among people I knew.

    On April 6 in Luhansk, the building of The Security Service of Ukraine was occupied. The streets were closed, and since it was in the very center of the city, it was difficult to drive there. We were obliged to navigate through other ways to reach a needed destination. But we didn’t understand what would happen next. Everyone expected that all this would end in a way that someone would come and make them leave. However, in May, it became clear that this would not happen. The hostilities began. The so-called “rebels” took possession of weapons and attacked the Luhansk border post and military units. Then they started shelling from “Grads”. It became very loud and dangerous on the streets. In June, I decided to take my family (my mother and my son) away from this. I asked them to go to my father in the Vinnytsia region. After that, I lived in Luhansk for another month. At that time, gunfire was every day, people with strange pronunciations appeared on the streets, and some were standing in supermarket queues with assault rifles. Streets were a frightening place at that time. I just went to work and back. On July 18, there was shelling by the “rebels”, and as a result, 8 people died on the street. One of the locations of the shelling was where I worked. We didn’t know anything about it because we didn’t have electricity or any kind of communication. We learned about that only the next day in the morning. I didn’t go to work and bought tickets on the same day. The closest dates were only on July 23. It was also challenging to leave because “rebels” were also at the station. Trams and trolleybuses had stopped functioning since May. Minibuses and buses were still running, but only until 3 p.m., and the train was nearly at 6 p.m. I had to go to the station earlier and wait for another 3 hours. I believe I was lucky because I lived in an area with no heavy shelling.

    I moved to Kharkiv when I was already, let’s say, “in my right mind”, it was in 2016. For the first two years, I lived in Kyiv, I came here in September 2014. Compared to that, in Kharkiv, it wasn’t difficult. Kharkiv is a very comfortable and modern city. Science, students, everything is developing… But, the problem is that Kharkiv is the most “vatne” city I’ve seen. (“vatne” – from the word “vatnik” means quilted jacket, a very poorly made one, there were a lot of them in the USSR. Now the term “vatnik” is used to name people who blindly believe all putin’s and kremlin propaganda – translator’s note). The first taxi driver who drove us from the train station to the apartment told me how good it is to live in Luhansk. National self-determination in the city just was out of the question. Although there were patriots and a patriotic movement in Kharkiv. Many of those who stood on the Euromaidans in Luhansk and Donetsk moved to Kharkiv and helped to create this patriotic movement. But everyday life in Kharkiv was normal, so problems never evolved.

    “The whole day, we sat without electricity and listened to the sounds of explosions”

    I didn’t want to believe that a full-scale invasion could begin in 2022. Even from a psychological point of view, it is difficult to absorb. Until the last moment, I hoped that russia would not dare to take such a step. But, relying on 2014, I knew that it would happen someday. The difference is that in 2014, everything happened gradually — city by city, village by village. The fact that I fled the war in 2014 helped make the decision to leave in 2022 easier. Stress, of course, did not disappear anywhere. But understanding the situation and deciding to go was easier this time.

    I don’t know if it was related, but this uncertainty — “they will attack, or they will not attack” was palpable. In the evening, right before the russian attack, I could not fall asleep for a long time until 3 o’clock in the morning. And then, very soon, at 5 in the morning, I woke up to the sounds of explosions. I started to read Facebook chats. Svatove, Kyiv, Dnipro – all my friends were writing to me. I did not leave the house on the first day of the war because it was scary. I sat in the corridor all day. Of course, we went out of it and back again, but I felt we stayed there for 24 hours. Because at night, shelling was even more intense than during the day. All this time, my heart was pounding, I couldn’t sit, lie, or stand… I didn’t know what to do. However, immediately that day, I collected documents and some things.

    Missile shelling of Kharkiv

    Missile strike at the center of Kharkiv Photo by BBC

    We stayed in Kharkiv for another week and left on March 2. I made the decision to leave when the lights went out. The whole day we sat without electricity and listened to the sounds of explosions. The nearest bomb shelter was at the school where my son studied. And that was a 10-minute walk. In addition, stores in the district were closed. It was tough to leave. There were trains, but there were so many people on them. I called the volunteer in the morning and asked if she could take us out. She said she had already driven with another person, then was going for another one, and then she would call me. After 2 hours, she called me and, thank God, took us to the station. Although, when they shelled the center f the city, she wasn’t sure she would go back. When we were leaving, they also tried shelling at the station. They also hit the building of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration. But I learned about that when we had already left.

    “The German people gladly welcomed us, but they were confused and didn’t know what to do with us”

    Straightaway, I decided that we would go to Germany. But how and where – I didn’t know at all. I only knew we would leave Kharkiv for the Vinnytsia region, where my father lives. But those were just my hopes, I didn’t know which train we could get on. We were lucky we didn’t get on the first train to Rakhiv. We just couldn’t get inside. And the next one was heading exactly to Vinnytsia, and we miraculously got inside. Instead of the usual 11 hours, we drove for 16. We drove in total silence and darkness for the first 3-4 hours. My father met us in Vinnytsia, we spent the night at his place, and the next day I began to decide where and how to go further. There were no trains from Vinnytsia. My father took us to the train station, where we saw a bus going to Lviv. We saw it literally after 20-30 minutes when we arrived. And I believe that was also luck because people were standing in line for several hours at that moment. On this bus, for 800 hryvnias per person, we got to Lviv. We did not pay anywhere else during our departure. While going to Lviv, I wrote back and forth with the girls I knew. The sister of my acquaintance agreed to shelter us for the night before our bus to Krakiw. Although at that time, we did not even know about this bus. At the same time, I was looking for options to leave Lviv for Poland. One of my acquaintances gave me the contacts of a volunteer who made a direct free bus drive from Lviv to Krakiw every Saturday. But it was necessary to reserve seats. I did it when we got to Lviv, and at 8 o’clock in the morning, we went to Krakiw.

    I also didn’t know where to spend the night in Krakiw. While we were going there, a friend from Lysychansk gave me the number of a volunteer who received and provided accommodations for Ukrainians in Krakiw. He rented a room for us in a hostel for one night. In the morning, the question came – how to go further to Germany? There, a woman volunteered to receive us – also a friend of my friend from the Internet. People I didn’t even know before helped us. To find transportation from Krakiw, I wrote to a group of Germans who helped Ukrainians. Everyone talked about free tickets from Poland to Germany, but the closest available tickets were a couple of days away. Then, suddenly a woman commented on my post, she wrote that her husband was in Krakiw at that moment and was leaving for Nurenberg at 10 in the morning. He was bringing volunteer help and, on his way back, decided to take people with him for free. We met at the railway station in Krakiw, and we were on our way to Nuremberg after half an hour. He drove three other women and us. He dropped us off there, went with us to the station, and bought us free train tickets to Frankfurt. There we met an acquaintance of a woman who was going to host us in Giessen, which is about 60 kilometers from Frankfurt. In total, we traveled for 6 days.

    Read also: “I can’t bear to run away from the war for the third time“: Natalia Korol ran away from the war twice – from Donetsk, and seven years later from Cherkasy

    When we arrived, there were hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians in Germany. The German people gladly welcomed us, but they were confused and did not know what to do with us. The first week we lived with this friend of mine. She speaks russian, so there were no problems at all. There are very strict laws and regulations in Germany. So because of the apartment size, we were not allowed to stay at my friend’s place for more than a certain period. When we registered at the social service, I told them we would not have a place to live in a week and asked for help. They gave me the address to which they told me to write. From there, I received a letter that there was a family ready to host us. I called that woman on the same day, and she spoke English with me. In general, the fact that I know English helps me a lot. We arrived in Germany on the night of March 8, and on the 15, we moved into the home of this German family that hosted us. We lived with them for two months, and they still help us now. This woman’s mother spoke with the administration of a school. My child started school four days after we moved into this place.

    She also helped us a lot in finding an apartment. The town is small, and it so happened that the real estate agent knew the father of our landlady. Then we moved into this apartment and have been living here for three months. Social services pay for the apartment. I am studying the German language in the courses. My son goes to school, everything is free there, too, at the state’s expense. He is currently studying in an integration class. He will also attend this class in the next academic year because children are given 2-3 years for integration.

    “I am waiting for the liberation of Luhansk. If I return, then only to come back home”

    Now I’m planning to stay in Germany. In Kharkiv, I rented an apartment. There is nowhere to go back to because there is neither work nor housing. Even if I went to Kharkiv to work as a nurse, the money I would receive would not be enough to pay for the apartment. To be honest, I am waiting for Luhansk to be liberated. If I am going to return, then only to my home.

    During this time, I realized that politics is not something distant, but it is our everyday life. I don’t understand people who are not interested in it now. I even ended my friendship with my best friend because of her attitude – “what’s the difference?” The turning point of my life was not February 24, but 2014. Since February 24, my communication with people from Ukraine has been only in Ukrainian. Unfortunately, I still communicate in russian at home because, for some reason, it is difficult to adjust with my family. Nevertheless, with other people, I speak exclusively Ukrainian. This is what changed for me after February 24.

    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: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Iryna Kovalenko

    Life under fire

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