АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Violeta Shenkariuk
7 July 2022
Residents of Cherkasy call Anna Sakun a superwoman, and she describes herself as a crazy pregnant volunteer. Since the beginning of the full-scale russian invasion of Ukraine, Anna actively joined the volunteer movement in the Cherkasy region, despite being in the last trimester of pregnancy. In peacetime, she was engaged in the organization of events. The acquired experience and contacts were needed to provide assistance to the military, territorial defense forces, and displaced persons. And her husband, Timur Shapoval, was always there to take care of his irrepressible wife and the future mother of their daughter.
Anna Sakun: February 24 became the most incomprehensible day in our lives. Mom woke us up and started telling us which cities of Ukraine are currently being bombed. At first, it was a shock, we couldn’t believe that it was true. Then we went to social networks, read the news, got together and went to the coffee shop “Sova“, which is located in our area. We meet there every day with our mini staff of regular customers and friends. And we started thinking about what to do. And I was 8 months pregnant.
Timur Shapoval: I offered Anna to leave for Germany or Switzerland or Poland. We had such an opportunity. And the closest friends advised us to leave, but my wife was adamant and we decided to stay at home.
Anna Sakun: I think like this: if you and your child were destined to die, the war would catch up with you everywhere. And we decided that we will do something to bring victory closer, and not run away from the war.
When air-raid sirens sounded for the first time in Cherkasy, we grabbed alarming suitcases, cats, and dogs and ran to the shelter. But that was the first and only time I ran away. After that, I said that I would rather go somewhere and do something useful, for example, give coffee to the boys at checkpoints, but I will not hide and I won’t be able to.
Also, I was sure that the more the mother is afraid, the more the child will receive the fear hormone, and I did not want her to feel this before she was born.
Everyone said: “Stay at home, lie down, take care of yourself. You can’t shake in the car, drive around warehouses looking for fabric for insoles. Why do you go to checkpoints at night?”. Everyone was worried and did not really understand why we were doing this. Especially my mother. And then she came to terms with the fact that she could not hold me at home and began to help us.
We had such a schedule that we volunteered with my husband all day and almost half the night, and then we came to future grandmother for dinner. And she proudly said: “I feed my battalion”.
Anna Sakun: This period was supposed to be the happiest and most carefree of my life. Extension of housing, selection of nice things, photoshoot… Instead, we started with free coffee and tea in the mini-cafe “Sova“ for servicemen, national police officers, men from territorial defense forces, and journalists.
Then, thanks to caring people, thermoses were collected and, while field kitchens were being set up at the checkpoints, together with the owner of the coffee shop Serhiy Kornienko, we delivered hot drinks for the boys. We supported brigades that welded Czech hedgehogs and poured sand into bags.
“All the time it seemed that we were not doing enough and critically little. But we still continued and began to be more active in social networks in search of like-minded people“.
Timur Shapoval: People started offering us help. Some have fabric, some have hygiene products. Someone brought uniforms, and someone brought boots, and fabric for camouflage nets, but they didn’t know what to do with them. Or they simply came and said: “Here I am and my hands. “Find me a job so I can be useful.“ And Anna dealt with all these issues.
Anna Sakun: My last 45 days of pregnancy consisted of questions like: “Do you know where to find? And tell me, who can help? Or maybe someone needs it? Can you give me a number? Can you pick it up/take away? And how to organize the collection of money? And do you sew assault vests? And plate carriers? Are there still neck warmers? And is there an apartment to rent?”.
And more than a dozen such questions every day. Later, we joined forces with Cherkasy volunteer Viktoria Khmaza to cover the operational needs of the fighters, territorial defense, and the victims. Thanks to incredible people, we managed to find almost a needle in a haystack.
Anna Sakun: We have such a cool designer of biker clothes in Cherkasy, Andriy Bolilo. He is the author of the idea that our military and territorial defense often lack such small things as, for example, a warm insole: “Everyone is looking for army boots and few people think that in those army boots, the socks themselves will be uncomfortable.” And he began to sew them, and we distributed them among other volunteers. When Andriy ran out of his fabric, we started looking for it from people and buying it.
In social networks, we got acquainted with the local sewing production and managed to set up the sewing of bandages for territorial defense, because yellow tape quickly became as scarce as unicorn horn powder. They helped us in making neck warmers. Mom sewed them, balaclavas, and warm hats at home.
People provided fabric, foam rubber, sintepon, fishing nets, medicine – everything was delivered to volunteer points for weaving nets, sewing sleeping bags, mattresses and assault vests. There were days of what seemed like endless pick-up-and-drop. I don’t know how Timur didn’t tie me up somewhere in the bomb shelter. Apparently, he believes too much in what we are doing for a common victory.
Timur Shapoval: Of course, I was worried about Anya. As in the joke: you take my bags, and I’ll take you. I probably had the same story. Anya took on the lion’s share of responsibility, and I watched over her health and well-being. My task was to make it as easy as possible for Anya to find time to eat at least.
Anna Sakun: Little by little, we began to join the collection of humanitarian cargo, which was delivered in large trucks to the east. We bought something at our own expense and found something from people. In our mini staff, which met in a coffee shop, there were people with military experience and, accordingly, with live contacts, knowledge, and understanding of what, who, when, and where is needed. And then our relative from abroad, Tetyana Kuznetsova, got in touch with us.
“She asked, how much more will I be looking for a pack of napkins in my Instagram Stories? And she offered to activate her community in Germany to collect humanitarian aid for us“.
Our volunteer group hardly managed to deliver the first humanitarian car from the town of Schwäbisch Gmünd. And we were already able to quickly respond to people’s requests. At that time, people helped us a lot with hygiene products, baby food, and diapers. Also, they gave many products with a long shelf life. And they handed over well-stocked first-aid kits and separate medicines – painkillers, antipyretics, bandages.
Anna Sakun: At first, we did not have enough of our own resources to invest in the purchase of ammunition or other things necessary for the military. And we served as a coordination center and were moderators. And then we delivered assistance to points: give someone a ride, find something in one place – take it to another, sew in a third place, unload in a fourth.
Later, my close friend Dasha Bunyakina, together with the 17th school, undertook the stew for the military. And we started helping her deliver this stew to volunteers, refugees, and boys.
We began to receive requests from the military, special forces, and displaced persons – all in parallel. A refugee from the Luhansk region was looking for a mattress, and we cooperated with an enterprise that reoriented itself from furniture production to sewing mattresses and sleeping bags. And we just had a mattress in the car.
And when we understood that we knew where the stew was made and where the displaced persons with their children lived, we passed it onto them once a week.
“And we were spinning so much that in the evenings we were wondering how and where do we get the strength from? And then we realized that we wouldn’t be able to do it any other way. Perhaps this is our mission“.
For example, last spring and summer we organized several festivals in Cherkasy, filmed a TV program and also visited 10 places during the day. So volunteering is actually our life, only in war conditions.
Timur Shapoval: The most important thing is that we did not give up halfway and continued this work. Whether we saw the result or not, the constant effort to help someone kept us on our toes, gave us hope, and stimulated us. And when someone sent photos with our insoles, neck warmers, or a humanitarian from the frontline, it’s actually a very big moral support.
Anna Sakun: The people of Cherkasy surprised us. Someone came into the coffee shop, saw that we were packaging, folding, packing, and collecting something, silently went to the store, bought what he thought was necessary, and silently gave us this package.
It happened that people saw a jar with the inscription “Putin – kh@lo”, understood what the jar was for, and put money in it. With these funds, we then either refueled or spent on something else necessary.
To my great surprise, my appeals for help were posted on Instagram for free. I am a PR specialist, I understand how much advertising costs and how it works. After that, even more people wrote that they could give something, or share something.
“Our collective work is impressive every day. Everyone we meet is working tirelessly on their own front“.
We were impressed by the old man, who gave 400 hryvnias with the words: “I will eat for it, and you will buy something useful for the boys.“
We were impressed by one young mother, who was one of the first to respond to the stories on social networks. She gave away a lot of fabric from her furniture production and bought a lot of tea, and disposable tableware. She was the first to bring a picture created by her child and asked to pass it on to the boys. It was only then that everyone picked up the flashmob and began to massively draw. Then it is strongly touched that the mother explains to the child what is happening in her country and how to understand it correctly, and who needs to be supported.
Timur Shapoval: I remembered the old woman, who was preparing a piece of black fabric for her death, but gave it to us because she heard on the radio that there was not enough fabric for camouflage nets. She is already experiencing the second war. I left her, tears came to my eyes. And, apparently, it shook me a lot.
I realized that we can’t stop: whether we are tired or not; when there are such people around, we can do anything. It is necessary. This is our country. This is our home. We live here and I don’t want to see anyone who is a stranger here. That’s why you have to work.
Anna Sakun: Difficulties occurred constantly, but we coped with them. And then, at the most unexpected moment, our car broke down. At first, we were rescued by my husband’s sister’s car. But later we didn‘t have a car. We launched an appeal on social networks because we don’t run around much on our own and volunteering was under threat. We got a lot of offers, and then the local car club gave us a training car.
The fact that we were constantly doing something, constantly on the move, I saw that even if the help was insignificant, it still found its destination, and reached hot spots through other volunteers – all this kept me in good shape and prevented tantrums. I could not lie down and do nothing. I would just get crazy and be afraid that missile would fly now.
Timur Shapoval: I tried to stay away from negativity. We received the main information in the morning while drinking coffee. We discussed what had happened during the day, decided what we would do today, and completely immersed ourselves in the process. Occupational therapy helped me a lot.
Anna Sakun: Now we have Mia in our lives. If earlier we did everything together, now we take turns. We have time to feed the child, change clothes, go for coffee, and review the requests that he and I received. And then he.
When I have time, I call people and collect information about what and where we can take, and to whom it is more convenient to pass on. Our volunteer group is very helpful.
My mother helps me sit with Mia. I’m trying to work, but I’m not very successful.
Timur Shapoval: We have no breaks. Changing a diaper in the car with a little more than one hand is a piece of cake.
Anna Sakun: We are already used to always having to take food and water in a thermos with us. We put Mia in a car seat for newborns and drive her in the car when grandma can’t look after her. We took the aid and drove the aid, talked, learned something valuable, and drove on. Humanitarian aid was just taken away from the USA today. We have already found who needs it.
And when victory comes, we will take our “Bun“ and go to our favorite fishing spot. Entry there is currently prohibited due to restrictions during martial law. And besides, we still can’t afford to just stop and rest, drink coffee for pleasure and contemplate the beautiful nature, when someone at this time gives his life for you and your child.
Timur Shapoval: And I would still like to sleep. I have been thinking about this for the last three months.
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: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Violeta Shenkariuk