АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Nataliia Zadorozhna
16 July 2022
Bravery knows no age or gender. 23-year-old Daria Kartashova proved this by her example. The girl worked in the ranks of the police patrol for only four months, when the first russian missiles were fired at her city. She calls her experience in engulfed in flames Sievierodonetsk a cruel but valuable one. Now Daria knows for sure what is worth fighting for and what to live for.
My birthday is on February 24th. The day before, I arrived at the Lysychansk police department, where we were gathered because of the alert. At night we celebrated with colleagues, and in the morning the first missile was fired at the city. The girls were ordered to surrender their weapons and were allowed to go home, but I didn’t manage to evacuate then.
My grandmother is 84 years old, and she is non transportable. In order to evacuate her, we had to prepare everything and find suitable transport. However, she didn’t want to leave home, so we didn’t leave the city.
I stayed in Sievierodonetsk. When I found out that the Humanitarian Center, organized in the city, was looking for police officers to help, I went there and worked there until the end of March.
What about the city? There was complete chaos: long queues at gas stations, people were panicking. Most of those who had their transport left the city, whereas those who did not want to leave sought shelter in bomb shelters and basements of schools. There could be up to 200 people in some of them.
During the first days of the war, principals of some educational institutions together with their employees organized free meals. It lasted, until the shops were open, there was money in the ATMs, and the volunteers did not start delivering products to the addresses.
The situation was getting worse and worse. People from the new areas of the city, which russians shelled first, moved to the old ones. There was still electricity, water, and gas, although not for long.
Together with other police officers, I began to deliver humanitarian aid to the apartments of lonely people. It was morally difficult, when you come to some grandmother and realize that she doesn’t need a pack of cereal, but you, because when she is alone, she is so scared. All the relatives, as well as the neighbours have left, and she is alone in such a big house! She holds your hand and asks you to come at least one more time to see us again.
I remember the case when we visited an elderly woman. She could neither walk nor cook for herself because she was blind.
I visited her with the other girls every morning in order to somehow help her and feed. In her apartment, the glass from the window was blown out by the explosion. It was cold outside, but she looked out of the window to at least hear someone’s voice…
She died at the beginning of March. No matter how terrible it may sound, after that I felt relief. We could not help her in any way then, because the woman was non transportable. We couldn’t take her to the hospital because it was full of injured people. As time passed, we had already found a temporary shelter for such elderly women; we began to bring them from all over the city. There, the man agreed to feed and take care of them until it was possible to evacuate everyone. But those women could move independently and at least somehow cope with something on their own, but this old woman could not…
Or here is another case. I was accompanying the car then and we heard screams from some apartment on Mendeleeva Street. The voice was like a child’s. Our volunteer reported that she was there.
When we arrived, there was an elderly woman, who was over 90 and bedridden. We noticed that someone was looking after her, but due to some reasons stopped visiting. Locked in the apartment, the old woman screamed because she desperately wanted to eat…
Even I, a police officer, felt completely helpless at that time… I could do nothing for her… There were no opportunities to take her somewhere, because no one would take care of her… We agreed with the girl who lived next door that she would come and at least feed her, and we would bring food and adult diapers.
I don’t know anything about the further fate of this woman, because events moved quickly.
When the shelling of Sievierodonetsk began, the only way to evacuate was by train. And then there was such a rule that young people and children were taken out first. There were so many people who wanted to leave that not all of them managed to get on the trains. Police officers even asked the drivers to take someone to their cab.
“People rode the train standing in the aisles, sitting on their bags. And we couldn’t afford to take out a bedridden elderly woman, which would take up so much space that 10-15 people could fit there”.
We faced hard moral choices…
We had the opportunity to take out bedridden elderly or people with disabilities later, when young people left by train, and the city authorities found vehicles where we could accommodate each person sitting.
For some of them, it was possible to arrange something like an ambulance when a doctor was driving nearby. But there were very few of them left in the city, and they were under such a burden that not everyone could handle it…
My boyfriend and the boyfriend of my colleague also volunteered. They came to the Humanitarian Center, helped deliver goods, and took elderly people out. Thus, with joint efforts, we evacuated many elderly who could not walk independently.
There was a situation when shellings and explosions were not far from us, but we had to take a person out, and bring them to the bus. They couldn’t do it on their own, and we were in a hurry. So, I grabbed them by the arms and dragged them into the bus. They looked at me with wide-open eyes, and I did not know where that strength came from.. I had no choice, but to help them.
One elderly woman I remember very well. She was so courageous! The men were crying and scared, but she walked 4 km and reached our Humanitarian Center. She left at 7 in the morning and arrived there to evacuate.
At first, we made address delivery. One car served about 10 addresses per day, and there were 3-4 of these cars. We used to cover broken windows for people because it was March, and it was still cold outside. We bought a bag of groceries for some elderly and somehow helped them not freeze at all. Then we realized that it made no sense because the shelling only increased.
I particularly remembered one case. When I drove my car, Zhyguli, a tire went flat. It happened quite often because all the roads were covered with shatters, and broken glass, so I asked the military for a special pump. When I was pumping the wheel, the guys started yelling: “To the ground! To the ground! Air raid Alert!”
We heard the rustle of “Grads”, fell to the ground, and the only thought running through my head was “If only the pump hadn’t been stolen! I have to return it back!”. In other words, I got used to the shelling and was no longer scared. It has already become my reality.
Then we started to deliver food to a large number of people. We immediately loaded food for 100-200 people and drove to the bomb shelters or to the entrances of the 9-storey buildings. People came out, we identified the main one among them, and they shared the humanitarian aid among themselves.
There were cases when people went crazy when they saw humanitarian aid. One time we brought personal hygiene products to the girls. It got to the point that some elderly grabbed them and ran away to hide somewhere. Whether they needed those pads or not, they wanted to have them. People wanted to take everything as much as possible.
That’s why the police had to maintain order, so that the distribution of humanitarian aid was fair. But there were times when we did not have enough moral strength. For example, when there was shelling and burly men were sitting in the bomb shelter.
I’m a 23-year-old girl, and he, a hefty adult man, won’t go upstairs to pick up products, because he’s scared. He also asked us to bring him something sweet: “You give chocolates to the children, and I want them too.” Because of that, I didn’t want to pity him, but to hit him with something. You’re scared, but I’m not? Or, if I get hit by a missile, what will I do? Will I die in a different way?
And we also carried goodies. I always had a bag with me full of cookies and candies. We handed them out to children in bomb shelters. And the daughter of Yulia, my colleague, wrote notes with wishes and attached them with tape to each candy. Even though she was still a child, she tried to help us.
When we drove past a checkpoint, we wanted to support the soldiers, because they had a hard time. They waved their hand, as the sign to drive by, we waved to them in return so that they would come up and we could hand them sweets. In front of your eyes, they melted into a happy smile. They eat field rations, but there they get a treat and attention. This raised their spirit at least a little.
And we also helped to take medicines from bombed pharmacies. The city authorities agreed on everything, they opened doors for us, and we took medicine to the Humanitarian Center and then took them to the hospital. It helped the sick and injured people a lot.
We also had to conduct outreach work with the so-called “Zhduns” (‘the ones who wait’). You go down to the bomb shelter, and they start telling you: “The police don’t understand anything. The shelling is the exchanging fire between the Armed Forces of Ukraine and battalions. But russia wants to save us”
“You listen to this and become offended to the point of tears because you risk your life for the sake of this person so that they have something to eat, but this person not only does not appreciate it but also considers you a traitor, as you don’t stand with russia”.
There were not many of them, but they were there. We talked to them and tried to explain something to them when we had the moral strength to do so.
I had another important mission, a personal one. I had to evacuate a horse that was in a stable in Metiolkine, near Severodonetsk. And there were fierce battles.
The animals were running out of hay. The straw, considered bedding, soon became food for them. It was impossible to release horses, as they would not have survived.
They were looked after by an 84-year-old man. The owner of the stable had already left the city, so he took care of 20 horses himself.
It was a difficult task, so I reached out for help to the city leadership and the military. I was desperately looking for someone to help me take my horse, Tamerlan, out. As a result, people from Zaporizhzhia agreed to come to Metiolkine and brought hay, oats, straw, a first aid kit for horses and medicine for that elderly man. Actually, no one wanted to go to Metiolkine at that time. Even humanitarian aid could not be brought there, because the shelling simply did not stop. Something was exploding and burning constantly, and everything went up in smoke.
The horse was scared, and its weight was more than 500 kg, so it was very difficult to deal with it. We then took out two horses and loaded them into the car for three hours.
In the meadow was a shell that didn’t explode, the stable was destroyed, because the missile hit into it… When I was leading the horse, everyone looked at me like I was sort of crazy.
Now my horse Tamerlan is with me.
Maybe I’m sort of crazy, but when I evacuated, together with my colleagues, I took out a bunch of animals that had lost their owners. In total, we rescued three cats, a dog, 4 kittens and 3 adult cats, and there were also 2 budgerigars, 6 amadins, 2 lizards and even a frog. We took with us everything that could fit somewhere in the car.
We left Sievierodonetsk at the end of March. We then came under fire. There is such a thing like a gut feeling. We often got together with the girls in the evenings, because we lived across the house from each other, so we came to visit Katia and brought some food. When the curfew started, we were about to go home, but the girls kept detaining me under various pretexts. Finally we left.
And as soon as my boyfriend and I approached the entrance door, the missile hit 10 meters near this door, and we were thrown back by a wave. We ran quickly to the basement. And then we realized that we were playing with death. There were high chances to lose, so we decided to leave the city. We have been lucky so many times when we stayed alive under shelling.
It was painful to leave our defenders, but I did not believe that we would be leaving the city for so long. In addition, I am a double immigrant. In 2014, we came from the city of Brianka, Luhansk region, to Sievierodonetsk, because that city was occupied. And I understood that the scenario was repeating itself, but I still refused to believe in reality.
I’ll be honest: we always were afraid of news from Sievierodonetsk. When we saw that someone was calling us, we were scared. So, there was a call from one of our 17-year-old volunteers, Misha. He said that he and another man were wounded. Later they were brought to Dnipro. We rushed to buy them clothes in stores and rushed to the hospital. We visited the older one in the first place.
You look at a strong two meters tall man, but now he is lying completely helpless after being wounded in the back, unable to move. And he looks at us ashamed that we see him in such a vulnerable state. We tried to cheer him up, even if you were scared.
Do you know what was the first thing a severely injured person asked me? “Dasha, did you take the horse out?” (crying – editor’s note). That’s how we were, that’s how we supported each other.
Mishka is a gem of a man. I have never seen such a kind and selfless person! He happened upon a pack of crab sticks, and there it was such a delicacy after the dried rations and stew! He did not take it for himself, but gave it to us.
There was a great need for food for the animals, so Misha would always bring a pack or two for them.
He is lying wounded, but still encourages us. When you look at him, you want to see him healthy and cheerful! He says: “I’m going abroad for treatment, what should I bring? Do you want me to bring you men?” (laughs – editor’s note).
“For these one and a half months, I have faced many challenges. I still can’t believe that all this happened to me. A day spent in Sievierodonetsk was equal to a week. So much was happening that it seemed endlessly long…”
When we were leaving the city, I was behind the wheel of my car Zhiguli. I drove along the highway at 120-130 km/h. My friends warned me, but I got into the car and felt that I would make it.
Some 150 km from Sievierodonetsk, and life is raging there, people are walking, shops are open. And I enter Dnipro by car, as if in a parallel world. The traffic light works, and does not hang on the wires. And you don’t think whether it will end up on the roof of your car or not.
It felt like you had forgotten all the traffic rules. And I drove along the Dnipro, clutching the steering wheel. Behind – a bunch of animals. And I said to myself: “Lord, if only I could get there safe and sound.”
I don’t regret anything. We managed to save people and help them. Let it be a trauma for a lifetime, but this experience is valuable for me.
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: Nataliia Zadorozhna