АвторAuthor: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Yuliia Demchuk
21 September 2022
23-year-old Mykola from Fastiv, Kyiv Oblast. He was running a small business, a cozy coffee shop in his hometown. When the war began, he realized that he could not sit around. He wanted to help people in need. It all started with the delivery of humanitarian aid, but it was not enough. Today Mykola is evacuating people from hot spots in Donetsk Oblast under fire. During his volunteer activities, he visited almost every settlement in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Chernihiv Oblasts that suffered from russian aggression. He became the first volunteer to witness the consequences of the war in Makariv, Kyiv Oblast. Mykola told Monologues of the War about shot down civilian cars and hit enemy vehicles in Kyiv Oblast, about a killed couple in Sloviansk, about abandoned people in a village near Bakhmut. About Siversk, Soledar and Lysychansk.
The war began. For the first four days, I was going about my own business, buying food and medicine in advance. I bought medicine for all occasions, spent about 1,500 dollars. I understood that soon nothing would work, so I had to stock up.
When the hostilities began to approach our city, the workers of my cafe began to refuse to go to work out of fear. So I worked alone. Later, acquaintances began to tell that the fighting was already going on in Borodianka, in Makariv, and if they reached Fastiv, real anarchy would begin there. I decided to close. On the last day, I sold all the perishable products. I started taking out the equipment, and everybody looked at me like I was an idiot. All the shops were still working, no one was taking out their equipment, I was the only one fussing.
I stayed at home for a while. At this time, my friends began to actively sign up to the territorial defense, the army, and volunteers. I watched it and realized that I couldn’t do it anymore. They are going to help, and I will sit and do nothing? It’s wrong. I felt ashamed of it. I remembered the city of Makariv, it is located 50 kilometers from Fastiv. I thought about the people who stayed there. I knew that there was a humanitarian disaster, and I decided that I would take and organize a bus where I would load a lot of food and send it to the people. None of the volunteers went to Makariv before me. There was only one safe road there, because in other directions there were hostilities. This road was controlled by our military. I contacted the military there through the local territorial defense. They explained how to get there. I organized the collection of groceries, found a driver and a bus, and off we went.
I saw the consequences of the war for the first time and it was shocking for me. I have never seen cool foreign cars shot without wheels. I would never have thought that I would see a crashed Toyota Land Cruiser 200 in the middle of the street. Someone was killed there — it was obvious.
Empty streets, abandoned and lonely pets. We were driving, and there were crushed cars and houses all around, hit russian equipment: here is a tank, here is a Grad, here is an armored personnel carrier. Before reaching Makariv, in a nearby village, a woman came out to meet us. We gave her food, and she told us about an enemy convoy with Kadyrovites. They stopped near her house and started shelling Makariv. She said: “Scoundrel, set up its mortar and fired in front of my yard for half a day.” At that time, two small children were hiding in the basement of the house.
We drove on. And the closer we were getting to Makariv, the less traffic there was on the streets. Everywhere is empty, as if after the Apocalypse. Not a single car, not a single person, not a single security checkpoint, the connection disappeared. It’s like we got into a parallel world. At the entrance to Makariv, we stopped at the security checkpoint. One military man came out to us with a machine gun. The driver began to explain to him who we were and why we had come, while I was looking around the street. There was a fence on the left and right, and machine guns were directed at us from every yard. Those were our soldiers in an ambush, waiting for the command, what to do next. The soldier who came up to us passed our words to the commander on the walkie-talkie. The commander came out, we once again explained what we were doing there. He also started talking to someone on the walkie-talkie, we were waiting. After 20 minutes, he approached and said that in Makariv we would be met near the hospital.
We drove up. There I met a military man I knew from my city. Suddenly shelling started. I just got out of the car and immediately dived under it. He smiled and reassured me with the words that it was far. And at this time the “orcs” were standing near Makariv, only on the other side. The military refused to take the products, and called a guy from the territorial defense, who dealt with humanitarian issues in the city. We unloaded everything in one place, and then Andriy, an acquaintance of mine, said: “I need a drone.” I assured him that we would buy it.
I walked around Makariv for some time, took pictures of the city: abandoned shops, coffee shops. It seemed as if in one moment people abandoned everything and ran away. While we were unloading the humanitarian aid, I saw two men walking with sticks (branches for support — ed.) for tomatoes, and they tied white armbands on top of them. I greeted them, said that I was a volunteer. And they answered joyfully, saying that they came from Lypivka. That village is located right after Makariv, it was under occupation at that time. I asked them: “What are you doing with sticks and white armbands?” And they answered: “The russians told us that if we walked like that, they wouldn’t kill us.” And so they came on foot, just like this, with white armbands, to the city, which was under control of Ukraine.
They came to find out if their relative was alive. I asked where they were from, and they said they were from Kyiv. At first I was confused, I couldn’t understand what they were doing here. And here they said, that before the war, they came to the dacha for barbecues, and thus remained in the occupation, because it was impossible to leave after it. I asked what they ate all this time, and they said: “In the beginning, what we brought with us, then onions and potatoes.” Then I directed them to where we unloaded the products. I never saw them again.
As soon as I returned to Fastiv, I started collecting money for a drone. I saw a familiar face in that devastation, and I thought: “How can I not help?” And in order to raise money, I needed people. I continued to transport humanitarian aid, posted videos and photos on social networks. And each time I wrote details for donations below and explained what we were raising money for. We bought a drone a month later.
During this period of time I’ve visited many villages in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv Oblasts. And when there were already quite a lot of volunteers carrying humanitarian aid in these regions and people had enough of everything, I decided to go to Donbas.
The first city we went to was Sloviansk. Through local social networks, I announced the distribution of humanitarian aid. We brought ammunition for the military and medical supplies for the people. At that time, I got a call from a volunteer woman I know, who said that we had soldiers there who needed sleeping bags, sleeping pads, etc., because everything they had burned down. This happened when the russians occupied Popasna (a city in Luhansk Oblast — ed.). 20% of the soldiers who survived there needed those things. That’s how I got to know them, and today we are friends and I communicate with them.
At the beginning of July, when the russians shelled the central market in Sloviansk, I was there. Two people were killed. They had children — 14 and 22 years old. They were in the house at that time, which saved their lives. I talked to the eldest son in the hospital. He was taken there with shrapnel injuries — he was standing in the doorway, and the broken glass cut his back.
In front of them, the missile hit the yard, where the parents were at that time. Mother was cutting her son and husband’s hair in the garden house. Danyil miraculously stayed alive, he went into the house to wash his hair when the missile hit. After the explosion, he went to the room, thought to lie down on the floor. But first he checked on his sister. She was standing by the wall in the room, and the glass from the windows didn’t reach her. The boy looked outside and saw the missing corner of the wall of the house and the crushed half of the garage. Where that half used to be, his parents lay. The projectile fell two meters from them, leaving no chance for survival.
I was driving through Donbas for almost 20 days. I was in Bakhmut, Sviatohirsk, Soledar, Siversk, Mykolaivka, Dolyna. A woman texted me once, asking if I could evacuate her grandmother. And I thought that I could. People took humanitarian aid, but they didn’t want to leave. Volunteers risk their lives every day for them, and they stay, putting themselves and the people that want to help them at risk. This really annoyed me.
During my stay in Donbas, I evacuated about 60-70 people. I also took out a few animals. Relatives of those who stayed in Donbas left applications, after which I looked for their relatives. Now I can stop, climb through the rubble, look into the basements to look for people who would leave with me. But in the beginning, I purposefully drove to the indicated addresses.
Many people refuse to leave. There were different situations. It happened that people were able to calmly pack their things and leave. There were situations when we were leaving under shelling, and people gave up everything just to survive and get out of that hell.
I was also in Lysychansk a week and a half before the russians occupied it. I met two boys on bikes there. The boys were 12-13 years old. They said that everything was normal and stable with them. They were already used to it. I asked where they lived and they answered calmly: “Either in the basement or in the corridor.” Unfortunately, people quickly get used to such a life.
When I was in Siversk, I saw different things. People have to bury their relatives in their own yards, because it is impossible to reach the cemetery safely. In 8 kilometers from the city, unattended livestock roams: cows, pigs, geese. Their owners were forced to leave the animals to save their own lives. Now they walk the fields in herds and look for food on their own.
None of the volunteers go to Bakhmutske (a village in Donetsk Oblast — ed.), the people who live there have not seen help since the beginning of the war. You can’t drive there, because the enemies will notice you right away. You can only get to that village by short dashes, as one of our volunteers did. He said that there were no roofs, half of the houses were completely destroyed. There was complete destruction. He said that he had never been to such a settlement. It could be compared to Popasna, when it was very hot there. People who stay in the village do not even open the door from the basement. The volunteer spoke to them in raised tones through the door. He was persuading them to get out of there, they were screaming hysterically and refused to go out. The volunteer knocked and shouted, but no one opened the door for him.
Damaged wires are hanging everywhere, there are large shell holes in the roads, and there are fallen poles. It’s very difficult there. People are hiding, running from basement to basement, where they are still holding on. Our volunteer had only twenty minutes, during which he managed to drive to only one address and no one was there. He found another shelter by accident, the people there refused his help.
Soledar is the most difficult place I have encountered during my travels. I have never been closer to death than there. Out of ten visits, only two of them happened without shelling. All the other times there was constantly shelling. Several times they adjusted the fire deliberately on me.
Once I went with an Englishman who indicated the direction of the road through Soledar. We drove down another street and missed the turn. “Orcs” noticed us and started shelling. The Englishman began to shout for us to return, he realized that he had made a mistake. I turned, stopped at the turn, and it saved me. First there was a hit somewhere 150 meters from me, then right behind. The military call it an “artillery fork” – we stood between the hits, but we were not hit.
The next time I went with a different guide. Then we turned where we had to. We hid the car under the trees so that the drones wouldn’t notice it, and calmly took the people out. At that time, shooting could be heard on the nearby street.
Every time I drove to Soledar, near the same turn, I kept thinking that I would never go back. And it was very difficult – to constantly overcome myself and go there. And every time I got under shelling, I was praying. I am very scared, but at the same time I get such a dose of adrenaline that I haven’t got anywhere. This is a kind of addiction.
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: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Yuliia Demchuk