АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Nataliia Herasymova Gronskaya
7 June 2022
Dmytro Antonyuk is from Kyiv. In the first days of the war, he left for Podillya with his family. The man created a series of reports in which he shares the events that happened to him in the first days of the war.
Sometime in the morning I hear three powerful pops, like explosions. We are all nervous, because in the last month we have only heard about Putin’s attack on Ukraine. I check the news: war!
Viscous fear immediately binds me… What to do? Yes, I was theoretically ready for attack, but only in my worst nightmares did I imagine that bombs would fall in my city. What shall I do? We have a military unit next to our house. It will be bombed first. No one has been sleeping for a long time, the lights in the windows across the street are lit everywhere, people in the parking lot are hurriedly throwing things into cars and driving. For a few minutes I was overwhelmed and petrified. You must get out of here! But what to take? In part, I have already prepared an “alarm suitcase”, but not everything was collected. “Daughter, wash your face, collect warm clothes! We can’t stay here long!” I hastily take all the money, my wife puts medicine, some food and clothes in her bag… We leave the apartment, where we didn’t even have time to make the bed and water the flowers. I look again at the rooms, at my library, at the CD collection, at the photos on the wall. Will I ever see this again…? We all sit down according to family custom “before the travel”. May God be with us!
… I remember that in such cases, the whole city will probably chaotically leave. That’s right. It’s seven o’clock, and the avenue in the western direction is already completely stuffed with thousands of cars. We are moving to an empty apartment of relatives, further from the military facilities. It is almost impossible to cross the line that runs away from the city. Memories of disaster movies, when movie characters were forced to abandon their cars, swarm in my head. This is the worst. We pass and in a moment, we end up in another apartment.
“We listen to the radio and read the Internet news endlessly. They bombed Kyiv, Mariupol, Odessa, Kharkiv, Sumy and other places. It seems that these orcs have decided to attack us from all directions”.
What shall I do? I must get my family out of town first. Now it is impossible – everything is congested. After calming down a bit, I go to the grocery store at the building. People buy everything. Some shelves are already empty. I take water, chocolate, oatmeal, apples. They stiff have pet food! Perfect! Even sand filler for their portable toilets. I take everything. Cards are still accepted. The saleswoman releases the goods and at the same time speaks on the phone: “I don’t know. Kolya said that we are still working, but I don’t know how long. Do trains go to Malyn?”
I’m coming back home. On the way I meet mostly very concerned people, but there are also those who calmly, as if nothing had happened, walk their dogs, phlegmatically smoking cigarettes. I would like to have their endurance. A call to Father Mykola, a priest of the Roman Catholic Church from Khmelnytsky region, with whom I have been friends for a long time.
“Glory to Jesus Christ! Father, can we stay with you for a few days?”
Everything is resolved. They’re waiting for us in Podillya. It’s almost lunch. In the news they non-stop report about the shelling of almost whole Ukraine. There are fights. We listen to every loud sound. Neighbors hastily leave with large suitcases. According to Google, the roads remain congested, but a little less. I decide to buy a traumatic gun, protect myself from looters or thieves. After packing up we drive to the gun shop, it’s in the basement, and for the first time, we hear the howls of air-raid sirens near the closed door. We knock on the door and the owner lets us into the store, where the residents of the house are already sitting on the floor, some with animals. Many people are scared, some girl is crying – her boyfriend is in the army. There is vodka on the table. While the siren lasts, I choose the right gun. In peacetime, I used to tour our shooting ranges for foreigners, so I know a little about weapons. However, when I pick up the gun, the anxiety only grows.
We go outside, we are going to get in the car, and we hear sirens again. Dad calls, “Are you safe? We’re going down to the shelter… Alright, I can’t talk anymore, there are planes!” In a moment I see a fighter above us. Do not understand who it belongs to. I must go. I leave daughter to her mother. We are divorced and my ex-wife has already packed up and is leaving for central Ukraine, to the countryside. A few days before she, her husband and their little son fell ill with covid and asked me to pick up the daughter while they were recovering. Now they ask to bring her back. At first, I wanted to take my daughter abroad, but I remembered that this requires a notarized power of attorney. In addition, she is not vaccinated against covid. We can get stuck at the border. So I decide to bring her to mother. There, in the village they are safer.
Saying goodbye to a child is very depressing. “I love you, my baby! Remember, you are dearest to me, and I will do everything for you.” I hug the child tightly, thinking about when I can see her again. But there is no time. The air alarm continues. We need to go. Let’s go. There are incredible queues at gas stations. Thank God that a few days prior I filled a full tank and another 10 liters in a canister. It should be enough to get to Podillya. I remember that I forgot a charger to my mobile phone at home. My wife has a different model, and her charger does not suit. All shops are closed. But on Sevastopol Square the gas station works. However, they do not sell fuel. Inside I find the necessary wire. Great, easier. We leave the city near the airport in Zhulyany. I’m trying to get through this as soon as possible. Then there are traffic jams again. It was already dusk. We waited for several hours, but even did not leave Bilohorodka – a large suburban village. Surprisingly, everyone is polite: they give the way to other cars, very few drove in the opposite lane, bypassing the traffic jam. Something flew loudly over our heads in the night sky. The cat sits quietly in the carrier, but the puppy whines all the time, until he falls asleep in my wife’s arms. I catch myself thinking that I hate. Yesterday I could not imagine what it was like to kill a person. Now, it seems real to me, and it’s most upsetting and shocking. This is a great sin and immorality, and it is prerogative of Putin and his orcs.
It’s scary to drive all night. In a few hours we will arrive in the city where I know Priest Victor. Last year I published my book “Roman Catholic Monasteries in Ukraine” and was here in the summer. Father Victor welcomes us for a night in the parish without any questions. My wife and I are very tired: almost sleepless second night and constant nervous tension are evident. Thoughts do not let us sleep. What happens next? Where do we live? Is all the former life lost and we will not return to Kyiv? Values have been instantly re-evaluated. You just want to live, go outside without thinking that someone will kill you with a rocket or suddenly enemy tanks will appear. I want to be with my family, tell them that I love them, appreciate them. I want to stop being annoyed by small things. Sometime in the morning I hear something flying, something very big. It sounds like a plane at low altitude. After a while I hear the same sound. Maybe it’s rockets? Later we hear an explosion, but we continue to lie down and go nowhere.
It is already becoming lighter. We went to the dining room. I do not want to eat at all. For more than a day we ate almost nothing. The wife cannot physically take even a crumb of something. I persuade her to drink sweet tea. The puppy is under my feet all the time and tries to chew the lacing of my boots. I look at his paws and realize that it will one day be a big dog, maybe a Rottweiler.
Father Victor comes. He takes the puppy and at my request blesses us for travel. I will miss this squeaky lump so much…There are a lot of railway roads in this town, and I am constantly afraid of an airstrike on them, because we have to cross all these tracks in the western direction. But we managed to leave without incident. There are a lot of cars on the road, all of them are from Kyiv. Some travel in several cars together. I deliberately choose secondary roads to avoid possible traffic jams. Local lore is very useful. I have been to these places many times and I know where better to go. Gas stations are all closed. There is no fuel. However, people stand in line even at closed gas stations. Probably hoping for a ride. Or maybe they just have almost zero gas…
We pass Kyiv region and enter Vinnytsia region. There is a long queue at the entrance to Koziatyn. I look at the map – gas station! We decide to get in and everything is confirmed: there is fuel. We waited for about an hour, the queue was slowly moving. A man ahead got out of the car, opened the trunk and threw garbage on the grass. I sit for a while, but I can’t stand it, so I go out. “Dear,” I say with contempt, “you have lost something here,” and point to the rubbish. The man crumples, points to other rubbish, tries to say that everyone does it, but after I insist on removing the junk right now, he cleans up. He is bigger than me, but I am so desperate that I am ready to rush into a fight…
It’s our turn. I insert the nozzle and suddenly hear distant sirens in the city. Everyone is confused, and do not know what to do. Some leave the queue and drive away, while others look at the sky. We stayed, while looking around for a place to hide. Finally refuel. And here our car refuses to start. The computer shows some nonsense. I am very bad at that. A friend on the phone advises to remove the terminals on the battery for a few minutes, reboot the system. But I don’t even have the keys to unscrew the terminal. People from neighboring cars help. However, rebooting does not help. We push the car to the side so as not to disturb anyone. The air alarm continues. The map shows that there is a car shop nearby. I go there, leaving my frightened wife with a kitten in my car. A powerful checkpoint is already a few meters away. I pass it and see the pit stop. I come in, explain the situation and the guy says he can help me. Soon he comes to us, and we together roll the car through the checkpoint to pit stop, delaying the flow of cars. The repairman rummages in the fuses under the wheel, takes out some detail and says that “this thing needs a replacement.” I have no idea what it is. At the same time, he asks how things are in Kyiv. What was bombed, what was heard? Quietly swears. He finally clings something to the wires and says that we can drive away carefully. And really: the car starts, although the computer continues to pop all the errors in a row, and the brake lights on the back do not turn off. We don’t know how to thank him enough. I ask how much we owe, and our rescuer modestly says “as much as you’re willing to give.” I give the biggest bill from my wallet, shake his hand firmly, then he and his coworker wish us a safe trip.
“It is quite difficult drive. We are constantly listening to the radio, which broadcasts disturbing news about the advance of orcs. At some point we turn off this flow, giving in to silence, but thoughts continue to swarm”.
I do not want to eat at all. We pass the resort of Khmilnyk. Sirens are going off again, but for some reason we don’t see anyone running to the bunkers. Maybe it’s a training alarm? On the way out of the city to Khmelnytsky, where all the main resorts are, a lot of cars are from Kyiv. We wonder why. It’s a way out of the city. There are two parallel roads on the direction to Khmelnytsky. For some reason everyone on our road turns around and goes to the other one. We do the same, probably succumbing to herd instinct. We stand for half an hour a couple of kilometers in the woods. When the next road is shown, it is full of cars and chaos reigns. Everyone says to go via Starokostiantyniv, which is good 100-150 extra kilometers. I can barely turn around. I decide to try the first option and – oh my! – there is no one on the road, although a few kilometers away everything is in an endless traffic jam. I can’t understand why. We suddenly hear on the radio a monotonous recorded voice: “Abort of air-raid alarm. Abort of air-raid alarm”. Finally, we cross the route to Khmelnytsky without obstacles and move along on secondary, sometimes very bad roads to the southwest. The sun was setting at the exit from Khmilnyk. Fatigue is more psychological than physical. The cat, which was screaming loudly all the way, was exhausted and just was sitting in the carrier. Our attempts to feed her or give her water do not lead to anything.
At about 10 pm we finally reach the place where Father Mykolay is waiting for us in his monastery. I really want to drink something alcoholic. Moreover, I remember how in peacetime I tasted the wonderful tinctures of our host. However, he does not offer anything, and I do not say anything. Right. The next day Ukraine will ban the sale of alcohol and I promise myself not to drink a single drop until our victory. Here we already learn that the airfield in Starokostiantyniv was bombed just at the time when we refused to go that way….
Father Mykolay puts us in excellent conditions: heating, hot water, food, internet. However, he says that other people are already leaving everywhere, and may have to move or relocate to a house where no one has lived for a couple of years, but there is a firewood heating, so we will be alright. We go to bed, but we check our mobile phones for a long time, reading endless news from the front…
The next morning, and then all day, new people arrive. We have already met some of them. This is a couple of our age with children, big but good dog and parents. The next family arrives in the afternoon and the man says that he will return to Kyiv with someone else the next day. I tell my wife that I should go with them too, but she gets frightened and says that she can’t stay here without me. Fortunately, her brother who fled from Dmytrivka just before the invasion of the orcs (that’s what we now call them) arrives a day later with his wife and young son. It’s only 15 kilometers away from the capital! I keep thinking about the return, which is actually very scary…
The brother’s wife is scared on arrival, and everyone is very exhausted. We are asked to go to the village council and register. These are new requirements. Men aged 18-60 are no longer allowed to cross the border. However, the borders are opened for children with their mothers, abolishing several formalities. Even pets without documents are allowed to other countries. However, we read and hear from acquaintances about the terrible queues at the borders, about people leaving cars and walking.
“In the village council I enroll in territorial defense. I honestly say that I have a traumatic weapon, which makes women very happy”.
The next day, there is no room for an apple to fall in the House of Culture: the first meeting of the territorial defense is being held. The head immediately asks non-locals to raise their hands. I raise mine, and a few more men. We are told that they will first recruit locals, and then visitors if necessary. Night shifts are formed with local hunters in cars. There is no talk of distributing weapons, although there are already rumors that saboteurs were seen in the neighboring village at night. Here? In the Khmelnytsky region?! Saboteurs?? At first it seemed unbelievable, but we have already read the news from other big cities, and from our Kyiv, about street fights with sabotage groups. It is rumored that these enemies have been renting apartments all over Ukraine in advance, reconnoitering the situation, and now they direct enemy artillery at various targets. Everyone begins to look with suspicion at the non-local license plates on cars, at strangers. Feel like a very strange and unnecessary deserter.
In the evening we hear the shrill alarm of the monastery bell: air-raid alarm! Father Mykolay rings himself, pulling the rope, because there are no sirens in the village. Meanwhile, we are hiding in a basement near the house. Our cat is very scared. Like other animals that came with other families of refugees, or more precisely, temporarily displaced persons. That’s what we are officially called now. An hour later another alarm and Father Nicholas asks me to be a bell ringer. The task is not simple, but I do everything, while looking at the northeast of the cloudy sky, waiting to see rockets or planes. Abort… and the rest of the night passes quietly. This is now our routine.
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: Nataliia Herasymova Gronskaya