АвторAuthor: Iryna Semenova | Translation: Anna Shliakhova
21 September 2022
Oleksiy Merkulov happened to be in the right place at the right time: he was the person who took the footage of the evacuation of civilians at the Kramatorsk railway station when it was hit by Russian missiles. The entire world saw these pictures. He told the “Monologues of the War” project about the evacuation from his native town and his adaptation in Kropyvnytskyi.
He filmed everything: what was before the explosions, during and after them. He has kept these unique photos for history and as evidence for the Hague tribunal. Opinions can differ: some say it was just a coincidence, others see it as destiny, and some might be jealous of the fortune of filming such an event… All this is true. He was lucky to graduate with honours in welding technology but, lately, found himself in journalism. He worked at the regional TV channel, filming and editing stories about different sides of life in the Donetsk region. It’s good that he learned it during peacetime, but it’s even better he still does it during the war.
We didn’t know what to do after the 24th of February. We didn’t know where we could find armour and permits. Mainly, cameramen and journalists stopped working. They are confused, perhaps, but they don’t work, sadly… Somehow, I found strength in myself. I came round, took a phone and started filming. It was so scary. I was afraid of our Security Service who might think of me as a traitor.
But we kept filming till the 8th of April. This day divided my life into ‘before’ and ‘after’, because I saw death and celebrated my second birthday.
One of the channels asked me to film the evacuation of civilians at the railway station. I ended up there at the moment of the explosions. I took unique footage: before, during, and after the explosions. Even the BBC and Voice of America contacted me. Oddly, it was like I had a feeling beforehand and phoned all my closest ones.
The phone was charged and it had enough memory for everything. It was strange. I just took my phone and I was filming, and helping people, and calming them down… I was in shock. But because so many media channels contacted me, and I’ve told this story dozens of times, I’ve lived through it time and again, so I’ve gotten over the shock.
So the stars aligned. A close friend of mine called me and said that they had his wife’s car which had been left in a village. She had left for the West of Ukraine, and we could use that car.
I took the car, but its battery was completely dead. Of course, we charged the car battery and left with a friend of mine and his mother. My relatives stayed at home. Like many others, they hold onto their hometown until the last.
First, we headed to Dnipro, went through it, and stopped in a settlement nearby, in Sokolivtsi. We stayed there no longer than two days due to the military units nearby being shelled by rushists. We packed up and headed further.
The road took us to Kropyvnytskyi. As it turned out, my friend’s mother had a friend there. We stayed with her. My first impression was as if I had come to my father’s mother, that is, to a somewhat distant relative. The city is very similar to Odesa only without the sea. The architecture is similar to Odesa’s. The city is bilingual.
I have very distant relatives in Russia but, even before 2014, they were already rushists. We don’t keep in touch. Although my grandfather is a Cossack from the Don, he lived in Ukraine, so we don’t have any ‘mental connection’ with rushists.
I don’t speak with them and I have no desire to. Also, I have no desire to go there. If we could consider any city there if there is a change of regime, which one could we see? It’s better to go to a more civilized place.
Because I’m the kind of person who can find a common language even with a tree, I started to communicate with elderly ladies. Later, we had problems with the car, so I looked for a person who could fix it. It turned out that I not only had the car repaired, but also found out how people lived.
I went to the villages and filmed a lot about the life of displaced persons. I got acquainted with the heads of village councils. We were warmly greeted at the villages. People are ready to talk there. They are so cool. The locals smile more. They’re more positive and patriotic. People in Kropyvnytskyi speak Ukrainian more often.
For socialisation, the Honcharenko Centre was very helpful. In our town we also have a Honcharenko Centre but I didn’t realize what it was. Here, I’ve been monitoring the housing situation for displaced people and what help they could receive. That’s how I got to the Centre. Viktoria Talashkevych warmly greeted me here. She is the embodiment of mightiness and incredible femininity.
I loosened up after that. Now, I film for different channels and have a lot of fun. Once I got up to an attic and just enjoyed the moment. Then I realized that, I felt at home in Kropyvnytskyi. Now, I regularly take part in online marathons. Before, I participated in TV programmes of the FREEDOM project. As a photographer and video maker, I conducted a lecture about photography in the Honcharenko Centre.
I was given an hour, but I was so enthusiastic that it lasted for two hours. I told them who Annie Leibovitz is and why she is so cool. However, the great distrust on the part of police towards men who left fighting areas is annoying. It offended me not long ago: our police asked me why I was filming the railway station and a train with displaced people for a TV programme. They asked me why I didn’t leave home or go to work as a porter.
As I see it, the eight years after Yanukovytch (he served as the governor of Donetsk region from 1997 to 2002 – translator’s note) were the best. We realized who we are. We realized that we are not an annex, but we have our own history, our own pattern for vyshyvanka (embroidered shirt), and a lot of sports grounds.
A swimming pool was built in Kramatorsk, but it didn’t have time to open. The “Ice Arena” was built: it’s a universal platform for both ice-skating and dancing. Last year Kramatorsk even held the Regional Ballroom Dance Championship, the “Constellation of Donbas”.
I filmed for the programme “Sportyvna Donetchyna”. Of course, a lot of money was invested, but it also was done with soul, and the number of sportsmen grew like weeds. In general, every segment of social life had developed a lot.
I really want to open a media school for children in Kropyvnytskyi. It’s important. It’s the right time to do it. It’s time to show Ukrainians what is fake and what truth is, to raise children as patriots who will finish off the fight against rushists at the information frontline.
When my colleagues asked what I needed, I didn’t ask for armour, but for a microphone with a base. “Viter”, the local TV channel, helped me. We exchanged materials, helped each other. Local Kropyvnytskyi initiatives, such as “Crop Hub”, “Honcharenko Centre” and “Hohol87”, also supported me.
After the attack at the railway station in Kramatorsk, I realized I had to film everything. I had to find displaced people and do something. The shock, depression and stress have already passed. At the railway station, I was frustrated but then I plunged into work, looking for volunteers and displaced people everywhere. Recently, I filmed a cancer centre which has moved from Kramatorsk to Lviv.
Since February, I have seen how people fit together like puzzles. Our ideas unite us. Everyone has a blue and yellow flag and trident in their hearts, and the desire for development in their brain. We all realize that we are a super-nation!
We are like a beehive where we have defender bees, and volunteer bees, and worker bees. In spite of this knocked-down and burned-out bear, we’re still a European nation which keeps growing and flourishing!
We believe with all our hearts in the Ukrainian army, in Ukraine, and in inevitable victory! As Taras Shevchenko said: “Battle on – and win your battle! God Himself will aid you; At your side fight truth and glory, Right and holy freedom!” (The translation of Taras Shevcheko’s poem by Vira Rich).
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 Semenova | Translation: Anna Shliakhova
“Frightened, we sat in the school basement. Azovtsi told us that everything is going to be alright, we will deal with everything, and we will win,” — this is a story of a woman from Mariupol who was at the hottest spot