АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Nataliia Herasymova Gronskaya
26 September 2022
The village where Anna Mozul lived is only 80 km from the demarcation line with Crimea. The boot of a Russian soldier entered his street on the morning of February 24. The only solace in the conditions of terror, humiliation and fear for the mother of two daughters, Anna Mozul, was cross-stitching. During the 5 months of occupation, she created five patriotic canvases, on which she embroidered war-mutilated Ukrainian cities depicted as female characters. What was happening in the Kherson region and how the embroiderer saved her treasure, she told the project “Monologues of War”.
Our grandfather died a few days before the full-scale war, and on February 23, it was exactly 9 days. When my mother called at 6:45 a.m. the next day, I was afraid that someone in my family was sick. I learned from her that the war had begun…
I’ve been petrified. We live 80 km from the demarcation line with Crimea. It’s very close. I went outside and heard distant shots. It became clear that the Russians would be here in an hour. We don’t have a basement, so we decided to go to my mother, who lives in the same village.
I woke up the youngest daughter, she was 2.5 years old at the time, the oldest one, 9 years old, had already gotten up at that time. And I said: “Uncle Putin decided to come.” The children had heard this name a lot, so they understood everything. We packed and went to my mother’s.
Our village is on the highway. Distant explosions were heard on the street. As I remember now, the teacher gave children a task in the Viber group in order to distract them. Mom started kneading bread, because we didn’t know whether there would be electricity and gas. I sat my daughter down to do homework. It was 9:20 in the morning, I remember well, because that’s when I heard a plane flying very low. I opened the door and said: “No way”. And in a moment there was a very powerful airstrike.
It happened 2 km from the beginning of our village, there is a litttle field area, we call it Polyana. It was always crowded there, diesel fuel was traded and coffee shops worked there before Crimea was occupied. Later we learned that the Russians destroyed a convoy of our guys retreating from Kalanchak to Polyana. It was the first airstrike. Then the plane flew in again – the second airstrike… The children ran outside and hid in the basement. They stayed there until everything was quiet. And so the whole day went like that: ran in – ran out, ran in – ran out.
The Russians flew across our village very quickly, it’s only 4 km long. And went on to Kherson, which is only 60 km away from our village. There was no light after the strike. We didn’t have it for 7 days.
It was terrible in the evening, because we could hear all the battles that took place in Oleshky and on the Antonivsky bridge.
That day the neighbors came to my mother’s and spent the night in the basement, because they didn’t have one, and the children and I slept dressed in the house. Husband didn’t go to bed at all, he sat in the car with the neighbor all night. We patrolled because we did not know what to expect, whether there would be an attack, whether the Russians would destroy villages or not. And a tank drove by at night, they were looking for our soldiers who escaped from that convoy. There were not many of them, only 5 people. The villagers managed to save them and take them away.
And then the next day we heard how in Brylivka the Russians drove by and just shot our soldiers. We have heard and known.
The Russians came on March 10. By that time, we had already returned from my mother’s home. We can see the road from the windows of our house. We were having lunch when tanks rolled into the village. It was very creepy. We didn’t know what to expect from them.
The Russians immediately began to set up posts, put up their “aqua freshes” (derogatory name for the flag of the Russian Federation – ed. note). They settled on the outskirts, occupied mini-hotel and the neighboring 2-story building. They started behaving as if they had lived with us all their lives: they greeted everyone, shopped in stores, walked around with automatic weapons, like nothing happened.
We had people from the DPR standing at checkpoints, they looked so miserable. And it was very scary. when the Russian Guard was coming.
When the Russians brought the first humanitarian aid, everyone started grabbing it, even those who didn’t need it. In social media people began to discuss why they took it, who took it. Well, like people in the village. Then the Guard visited those who spoke out the most. They took three men, beat them, kept them for 2 days, and have been doing endless check ups after the release. So they had to leave.
The Russian Guard visited the women who were the most outraged and outspoken on Facebook. They were intimidating them.
“It became clear that our own residents have been selling them out. We had hilfspolizei like in 1941. It hurts a lot. I did not think that we had so many collaborators in our village who were waiting for the “Russian world”…
Unfortunately, there were such people among our acquaintances. We are all from the same village, we went to the same school, and that’s it… I so dream that when everything is over, retribution will come to them all.
Colleagues shocked me. I worked as a teacher of musical art and artistic culture and a deputy for educational work. On July 24, the team of our school was gathered and asked: “If you cooperate, stay, if you don’t want to, leave.” I am so proud of our school team! People got up and left. I don’t know how events will develop further, a third of the team has already left (the interview was recorded on August 6, 2022. And later it became known that only the school principal and the history teacher agreed to cooperate with the occupier out of 30 members of the teaching staff – editor’s note).
Every day since the occupation, Z-vehicles have passed through our village. It was from 200 to 400 machines: rocket launchers, howitzers, tented KRAZs, MT-LB and fuel trucks. They were loud as hell.
Our products began to disappear from store shelves. The Russians brought theirs. But I say this: their sugar is not sweet, and their salt is not salty. We had one store that lasted a long time – they did not import their products from Crimea or anywhere else. We tried to buy as little as we needed, but if we really needed something, we went there. But then there was nothing Ukrainian left either.
The last time I went to Kherson was in May. There remained mostly people who were in favor of the “Russian world”. There are very few young people, the city center is almost empty.
In the queues “for help from United Russia” are people of retirement age. I understand that pensioners have nothing to eat, but how bad it is! They stood there every day… In the queues for SIM cards there were also those who were “for”…
We have such a character, uncle Grysha, in Kherson. He is Afghan. He drives around the city in a wheelchair and turns on the Ukrainian national anthem. I don’t know why he is not afraid… He has a strong spirit. And he is not the only one! For example, a boy was standing at the Dnipro market playing “Oh, there’s a red viburnum in the meadow.” I almost cried. And a little further on, “Stephania” was played on a mobile phone. This is what I saw. I stopped to at least listen to a Ukrainian song here in Kherson, until it was banned…
And Uncle Grysha is a great man. He set up a volunteer center near the Fabryka shopping center when the anti-terrorist operation began and collected funds for the anti-terrorist fighters there. I often saw him there and gave money.
The Central Market burned completely. Our shopping center “Fabryka” also burned down. Many shops have “Closed, Looted” signs on their doors. Many broken windows, they’re covered with something. The city is half dead.
And on the Dnipro market, there is a whole lot of drinking! Vodka is poured from a canister. It’s just horrible. It seems that our people all have animals, because the pet food is sold there, they drink and smoke. That’s all. The sausages, medicine, meat are lying in the sun as you go. Just on the road.
There was a lot of smuggling. Everything is expensive, I didn’t buy much, but the prices were very high. Sausage price started at UAH 400. Candy prices were horrible. I have children, I wanted to bring them some joy, but the price is UAH 350-450 per kilogram!
It was my daughter’s birthday and we went to get a bottle of alcohol for the celebration. There was one bottle of Ukrainian vodka “Vozduh” on the store shelf. UAH 800 per liter. We looked at it and left. But the vegetables we grew were sold for nothing, and how much work was put into them…
I wanted to leave in April, before Easter. But everything depended on funds. We had planted gardens, we hoped to sell the products and then live with this money. We sold onions and carrots, abandoned 3 potato fields and left…
On July 24, the youngest daughter turned 3 years old, and on the 27th, we packed our things. We left at 5 in the morning, at 10:20 we were near Vasylivka from the Dniprorudny side. And then hell began. There were a lot of cars, up to 350. And the Russians didn’t let anyone out, they marinate people in the sun. And the heat in the Kherson region is impossible! And imagine how much garbage is on the roadsides! Nobody goes far, because it’s scary.
On the first day, we drove 200-300 meters. That day, the Russians let out 90 cars. We calculated that at this pace we should leave sometime on the second or third day. We were 360th in line. We stayed until 7:00 p.m. and then went to spend the night in the neighboring village Skelky, because the Russians didn’t allow us to stay. They are not responsible for our safety. Fortunately, the people in Skelky accepted everyone, not for free, but at least there was a place to spend the night, shower and eat.
The next morning at 5 o’clock we were again in the column. We stood until 18:00 and by then they only let out 30 cars. Imagine how many cars gathered there! We went again to a nearby village. And the husband said, if they keep people like that, then it would be better for me and the children to stay here, in the spare room. That day only 30 cars passed. It was the 3rd day. On the 4th, the husband left again by himself, and in the evening he returned and told us to pack.
And that’s how the Russians do it: they form a column of 10 cars, launch them into the inspection zone, there you put all your things on the floor, open all your bags (and people go for more than one day!) and they start digging.
And right in front of our ten, they tell us that that’s it, they won’t let anyone out today. We again went to spend the night in a neighboring village. The next day at 5 o’clock in the morning we are already in the queue…
During these 5 days, we got to know our ten, we were already like family. They exchanged phone numbers, wrote down who was standing in front of you, who was behind you, so that you could then take the same place. So that no one gets through. But there were those who negotiated directly with the Russians and still passed through.
And when we arrived on the morning of the 5th day, at 8:20 a.m. we were driven to the inspection. We handed laptops, tablets, and other things. In the next car, even underwear was checked. Then we were released, we waited two more columns. They took us through two of their checkpoints and let us out in front of the “gray zone”.
We crossed the front line, where unexploded rockets were sticking out, drove through Kamianske, where the river bed had dried up, there was a dirt road and a big climb up the mountain. We were just driving up and when we saw two strikes 100 m from us! This is how they say goodbye. 100 meters from us! We hit the gas and voila…
When we saw our flag at the first Ukrainian checkpoint, we couldn’t hold back tears of joy. They’re so dear to us!
I have loved cross-stitching since school. I embroidered icons for relatives. Before the full-scale war, I started a new work for my daughter – Reverend Apollinaria. And I really wanted to embroider her eyes. I believed that when I did that, the war would end. I used to embroider all my free time. Bang, bang, a rocket will fly by, a plane will fly by, my hands are shaking, and I am embroidering. It was so much easier for me emotionally.
I finished Apollinaria and really wanted to do something else. The gardens are great, but you go inside the house and want to do something. And I started looking for schemes. And came across schemes from “Cunning Titties” (schemes for embroidery were developed on the basis of the patriotic series of drawings “Women’s Faces of War” created by Ukrainian artist, illustrator and writer Nataliya Leshchenko, – editor’s note). And I decided that I should embroider them all.
First I embroidered Kherson. Then Chornobayivka, because this is Kherson region. Mykolaiv, because it is our southern fortress that does not give up! Then there was poor Mariupol, Kharkiv, which is constantly bombed. Bucha has already been finished on the territory controlled by Ukraine. And there are plans to embroider all our cities.
I even hid these works at home. God forbid they sneak into the house with an inspection! And when we started getting ready to leave, the husband forbade me to take it with me. I promised, but I realized that I could not leave them! I did not take the icons, but I packed these embroideries.
I stuffed them in the pockets of children’s jackets and boots. I thought that they would not check children’s things! And already in the column, I saw how the Russians cut open the bag and shake out everything. My brother knew about the embroidery and called me to see how they checked. And I was numb with fear…
And imagine, I return to the car, pull out the bags, start looking for my embroidery… I couldn’t throw it away! My brother advised me to put it into shampoo bottles, and I had liter bottles with me. We shoved the embroidered work right there.
I was so worried something would happen to them!
I did not consider this act heroic. I thought I was sneaking these canvases out for myself. The fact that I was able to leave with them is very symbolic for me. This means that Ukraine will be able to. Because I was stitching and thinking about victory.
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 Herasymova Gronskaya