АвторAuthor: Inna Molchanova | Translation: Yurii Vitvytskyi
27 May 2022
Ukrainian broadcaster Anna Panova, along with her husband and young daughter, left Kiev on the first day of the war to wait out that hell in her home in the village of Kopylov, 50 kilometers from the capital. Unfortunately, the “Russian world” reached there as well. Unwanted “guests” knocked on the door of the house, and subsequently the family was forced to look for another shelter under shelling. More than a month of occupation turned the village into a fire place. The ruins themselves remained of Anna’s house. The woman told how she managed to get out and survive.
The war caught us in Kiev. I remember my husband Sasha woke me up at five in the morning with the words: “Wake up, it’s started! The anxious suitcase was packed in advance by his forces: until the last, I did not believe that Russia could attack. I woke up my daughter Milka, somehow we got into the car and drove to the village. We thought we would be safe there: it is 50 kilometers from Kiev on Zhytomyr highway. But we were wrong.
The shelling in the village was heard from the very first day. We saw the glow when the oil depot in Vasylkiv was burning, we heard the fighting for Gostomel airport, and then for Makarov. Planes were circling in the sky.
On the third day of the war, we noticed tanks driving along the country road at our home, 50 km from Kiev.
“Maybe in transit” we thought.
We were wrong. Tanks and APCs stopped.
“Maybe it’s ours?” we hoped. And we were wrong again.
“Put Milka on!” the man said to me.
My daughter was watching a cartoon on her tablet. I grabbed her, somehow put a sweatshirt on, and carried her into the bathroom. We sat and prayed. We prayed like we had never prayed before in our lives.
Two military men got out of the APCs and headed for the human huts, looking around. And finally they knocked on our wicket.
In those few minutes, to the frantic rumbling of my heart, my whole life passed before my eyes. It was impossible not to open it. We opened it.
“Good afternoon” said, smiling, uniformed men with machine guns and St. George ribbons. – We need your help. Can we put two cars on your lot here?”
We couldn’t find a way to say no. And immediately we realized that they were using civilians as human shields.
A few more minutes of panic and terror. Thoughts only of the small child, whom I managed to carry with the tablet into the bathroom. What is going to happen to us? What will happen to the baby?!
Still, I decided to ask my guests if we could leave the house. They let us go, to my surprise.
We quickly threw some things into the car and drove to our acquaintances in the same village. They took us to their neighbors who had a basement. And there – 20 people on 20 squares we spent the night under fire.
The children were wrapped in blankets. The adults were climbing up at their own risk, because it was impossible for everyone to fit into the basement. An enemy rocket was shot down right above our heads. We simply did not react to the sounds of explosions.
The next day we learned that the Russians had set up a roadblock with “hedgehogs” at the exit of the village and would not let civilian cars out. It was really awful. I realized that we couldn’t get out.
The stores in the village did not work, Milka’s stock of food and diapers was melting before our eyes. There was no help to be had. Another night of shelling was followed.
The sound of cannons was drifting from the neighboring village toward Kiev, but the occupants did not leave their “base” in our home. They also set up headquarters in a house in the center of the village, evicting the residents.
Sasha awakened me from my stupor. The next morning, on the first day of spring, he said: “We’ll try to leave right away.” I wouldn’t have dared to do it myself. My husband insisted, and I trusted his instincts. We waited for a pause in the shooting, hung a white flag on the car, I sat Milka on my lap and we drove to the checkpoint at the exit.
Not a soul on the streets of the village. It was as if it had died out. After a few minutes on the road I said goodbye to life in my head. What if they shoot us? But I couldn’t stand it any longer. Incredibly, there was no enemy checkpoint at the exit, and we drove off in a westerly direction unhindered.
We had never seen the Zhytomyr highway like this. No car, no bus, no breeze.
The first 20 kilometers of the road were like an apocalyptic movie. Twisted bumpers, craters in the asphalt. Two burnt tanks in the right lane. A burnt-out hail rig on the side of the road. Several burned out civilian cars. Destroyed private homes in roadside villages.
It was lucky that Milka immediately fell asleep in my arms and did not see this horror. We were terribly afraid of a sudden bullet from an ambush. But there was nothing to do. We drove forward. Then finally there was the Ukrainian checkpoint! Behind it and another and another. Under our flag! The happiness took my breath away. We were free, we were saved, we were alive!
At one of the roadblocks I asked a stout guy with a blue-and-yellow armband on his sleeve, “Are we going to win?”
“Don’t think to doubt it. We will win for sure!” he said.
When we reached the apartment in Lviv, where we were hospitably sheltered by friends, Milana cried. It was a stranger’s home again.
And then at the beginning of April I learned the news I had been waiting for. Our village is controlled by Ukrainian troops. The occupants had escaped. A few days after our eviction, the orcs deployed their infirmary here on the outskirts of the village and set up a command post. Then the orcs blocked the exit. They shot people who tried to escape. The rest – without hope remained under occupation. More than a month of horror. No food supplies. No light and almost no communication. And now the village is finally under our control.
The ruins of our house, pieces of a baby stroller, the remains of a swing. When I look at these pictures, I don’t believe that our Milka used to play in the inflatable pool here in the summer. I don’t believe we felt safe here for the first three days of the war. Until the Russian tanks came. No more related black and white photos that show a whole life. No more paintings of Ukrainian artists that Sasha collected for 25 years. There are no tears either. The main thing is that we are alive. I probably would have preferred never to go back there and not to see this horror with my own eyes. But Alexander Kamenetz said: “I had already put down roots, just like the garden I planted. And it survived. So we’ll definitely rebuild everything.”
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: Inna Molchanova | Translation: Yurii Vitvytskyi