АвторAuthor: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Lola Khabibova
28 September 2022
Lala Dzhabbarova is 19 and she is from Mykolaiv. The girl worked in the beauty sphere before the war, owing her own beauty studio in the city center. Nevertheless, with the start of full-scale invasion Lala changed her manicure set to food and medicine for civilians and ammunition for combatants. Despite the constant shelling the girl from Mykolaiv stayed in the town to get involved in volunteering. Lala told “Monologues of the war” about the situation in Mykolaiv, the aid to civilians, the evacuation from occupied territories and about the project for displaced people and the AFU (ZSU) that she started.
I was really skeptical about all the talks on a possible invasion. I didn’t believe that it could happen, so I didn’t take any precautions. On the first day of the war I didn’t even have food at home. I mean, at all.
There was a quite interesting chain of events on the 24th of February. I didn’t sleep until 4 a.m because of the breakup with my boyfriend. When I calmed down enough to go to sleep, my mom and sister called me and told about the start of the war. I completely believed it only after I heard the explosion. Mykolaiv airport was bombed. It wasn’t just panic or joke, it wasn’t some fake. Then I heard president’s speech, her said that we are strong and we will withstand everything.
As most people, I felt panic. I thought about leaving but finally decided to stay. It was a hard day. My aunt with her children lived near my place, so I went to help her with her children because I understood that everyone is in shock now, nobody knows what to do.
I think that volunteering is vocation that’s found me. On the first days of war I heard the information about my acquaintance who was looking for marks on the ground to cover them with soil. He also delivered goods to hospitals and I thought that it would be great to co-operate with him because I felt the need to do something useful. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to communicate.
I went to the store once and saw a girl who was buying water for a maternity hospital. Then I thought that I needed to do something like that. I was capable to do something like that. I found a chat “Mykolaiv Help 24/7” where volunteers attached their requests. For example, the message “Maternity hospital № 1 needs water. Any quantity”. I handed over almost half of my house — dish, napkins, tea, I gave up everything I had. I understood that I didn’t need it as much as soldiers or Territorial Defense. So, I started answering on such requests and also started making friends with other volunteers. We co-operated then and I even begun to collaborate with some big volunteering organizations.
I was responsible for the needs of civilians such as food, clothes, medications. So, I was the one of those who wasn’t afraid to visit the area of severe battles in the first days of the invasion. Later there were some military requests or evacuation military requests, so my work is wide-ranging. Now I am raising funds, covering requests on medications and ammunition as I am a member of two organizations that deal with absolutely different requests. The first organization deals with humanitarian issues for civilians, the second one is a military organization that deals with ammunition and other equipment. Actually, you can say that I came all the way in volunteering, beginning with the work on warehouses with humanitarian aid and ending with the work with displaced people, rides to the occupied territories and other similar activities.
The evacuation from Mariupol wasn’t our first. There had been approximately eight attempts to evacuate people from Kherson, Melitopol and other towns in Zaporizhzhia oblast before. Nevertheless, the evacuation from Mariupol was the most difficult task of all. We trained a lot to carry out the plan. We had a contact from Mariupol, it was a local man, the city resident, who transported seriously ill people to us in Berdiansk meanwhile we gave him humanitarian aid, medications: tons of macaroni products and most inaccessible drugs. We planned a direct ride to Mariupol in the middle of summer, but we didn’t receive the permission because we didn’t possess Donetsk registration of residence. So, we could be easily captured.
It was much easier with Kherson because we could enter the city. Of cause, there were some difficulties. Sometimes we had to stand for couple of days on the checkpoints. The three-day stand is our record. They didn’t want to let us pass one of checkpoints, but we organized a so-called campings inside our cars and lived through it.
I was really impressed by one evacuation from Kherson, when people were on the road for 70 hours. We left the bus and one of our volunteers was recording the video, saying that the road was long, it was hard, so that’s why everyone was exhausted. But people disagreed with us and we surprised because the road was really hard. Then one woman said: “We are not tired because we are on our homeland”, others agreed with her.
The difficult moment for me was the situation I faced near Kherson. We just arrived with the humanitarian aid for people who had been transferred from the occupied territories. There were a lot of children among them. Then I saw the way a little girl clung to a bottle of milk we brought. I said: “Sweetheart, this milk is for a baby, I will give you another bottle with juice”, but she was holding it tight as if it was the last food in her life. I was looking at her and I couldn’t understand why children had to come through this. She had deep blue eyes that peered at the very heart. It was hard to live through the pain of every person I was helping.
Children who traveled with us were always drawing our volunteers. It’s not recommended to be loud near checkpoints because it can draw attention and you can be detained and even forced to undergo filtration. So, one of our volunteers came up with the idea of code word in cases when we stay in a queue and needed to get together in one place to move forward. This code is “matryoshkas”, it’s something close to “traditionally russian” so it is not drawing soldiers’ attention. Later, children draw us, signing it “matryoshkas”.
People try to fight the stress even turning it into art. For our part, we tried to make the evacuation process less stressful. We also transferred bedridden people who needed constant care. It was the first time for all of us but we didn’t show it and tried to be confident.
My work requires me to balance my life with the life of people I can help. You go to a place that has been shelled from the first days of war and you understand that you may die, but at least, you will save dozens of people, including children, from starvation. You may be captured, but still you will do something useful. So, for me such risk has been justified.
I understood that every ride could cost me my leg, arm or even life. I worked all these things out in the begginig. The hardest thing is not to be able to give first aid to injured people. There was a situation when a woman died in the arms of my partner because of a shrapnel wound. It’s scaring because you take the responsibility for the life of another person. We couldn’t save her in that situation, nevertheless, it was hard to go through something like that.
There were also cases when we received the request about the humanitarian needs from a military unit, then we found out that there was a hit in their unit and half of the soldiers that aid was directed to had been killed.
I worked with journalists and we documented russia’s crimes. I had attended the forensic examinations some days before the tragedy on Mykolaiv oblast administration. It was a terrible place. It was really hard for me to stand with victims’ relatives, holding their hands and understanding that maybe they would see the remains of their loved one.
When I worked with press, we had to be the first to arrive to the incident sites. I heard people screaming under the rubble, I saw pieces of flesh on the ground. Nobody is ready to see, hear or experience such things. It is impossible to get ready for something like that.
A lot of things happened. The scariest moment I can think of happened on the night when they fired 48 shells on our city. This madness lasted from 2 to 6 a.m. It’s not just two explosions in one evening, they can kill you or your family in any moment.
I remember the time when three missiles hit a local hospital near my house. Our authorities didn’t have time to turn the air raid alarm on and I had my windows open and the explosions were so loud, so I received a concussion. I lost my hearing and underwent the rehabilitation for a week after this happened. That was the time when I felt vulnerable in my own apartment. I went to sleep with my tourniquet to be able to apply it in a case of arterial bleeding because of the fragment injury.
I went to my mom in Khmelnitsky once. I wasn’t home for two days and that was the only time during the war when I didn’t sleep home. On my first morning in Khmelnitsky I woke up to the multiple missed calls and messages from my friends who didn’t know I came to visit my mom and had already “buried” me.
There were three shells that hit Mykolaiv on the 16th of June. One of them exploded on the 200 meters from my apartment, the second one even closer. It was three shells in one minute. When I came home, I saw a lot of glass on my bed. All windows fell out from their frames, the tile in the bathroom collapsed, all the doors and windows shattered. Even the walls cracked because the shockwave was really strong. I thought that This glass could end up in my belly or my neck, I would probably die. Now my apartment is uninhabitable, the windows are just closed up with chipboard, the upper part of my door is bent to the other side and I don’t know how to solve this problem before the heating season.
I created my own project. It is a candle shop. The idea of its realization appeared after the things I saw during volunteering. I saw people who lost everything. Then I thought that I would want to give them the opportunity to make a living. For example, for people who escaped occupation. We work with a girl from Donetsk who had to evacuate to Kharkiv once and recently had to evacuate from Kharkiv as well. I believe that we have to support these people, they survived twice as much as we did. The lost their home twice. I already have people from Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Kherson in my team. I can’t guarantee big salaries, but still there will be enough money to cover the basic needs. It’s a distant work, it is not hard and it is easy to learn.
Unfortunately, I heard a lot of stories that they were denied the job only because they were displaced people. I was outraged by this fact and it was one more reason that prompted the creation of the project.
I also wanted to have a project that would raise money for our Armed forces (ZSU) I know that it is easier for people to donate when they buy something, so I thought about the things I could do and environmentally friendly soy wax candles came to my mind. Candles are about something cozy and calm. I think that are the things we miss in such times, so, we started the project “Svitliachok” (“Firefly”). It is a metaphor because the part “fly” is about something vivid as our candles, and the other part “fire” is about something dangerous with the help of which we eliminate our enemies. After the first week of our work we sent 7 thousand for the drone. The project is supported by many volunteers. It kills two birds with one stone and one of these birds is a moskal.
I think that now the situation in Mykolaiv is close to a humanitarian catastrophe. When I ride through the town, I can see water geysers instead of pavement. There is a terrible water that has rust smelling, corresponding color and taste. This water corrodes the underground pipes and they start bursting, so now Mykolaiv looks like Venice because all the roads are flooded.
There is an acute question concerning the heating season. There are more that 200 thousand people staying in the city. Many of them also have their windows closed up with a chipboard. People don’t know how to get money to change their windows to survive this winter. Shelling continue, they are frequent. For example, a shell hit my mother’s house garage couple days ago.
I am sad when I look at Mykolaiv in comparison to other cities. the town seems empty closer to 8 p.m. There are no people on the streets. You can see the town turning into some post-apocalyptic area. The town can’t function when most people don’t have a job. So, in my opinion the situation is catastrophic.
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: Lola Khabibova