АвторAuthor: Lidia Bilyk | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk
29 May 2022
Ievhenia from Kherson (heroine’s name is changed for security reasons) became a witness of her hometown’s occupation by the Russian army. For two months already her family and she have been living in a new reality. Although since the beginning of the invasion the first shock has passed, fear and the lack of freedom are still very poignant.
I was doing a lot of things, thinking that the war was about to begin. I was constantly thinking about it, watching the news and expert forecasts. I didn’t even buy a new suit because I realized that if a war was to start, I’d need the money. On 23 February my mom and I went to the cinema and again I thought that very soon such things might not exist anymore. And the next morning a push on the shoulder woke me up and I heard the words “Wake up, the war has begun”. Now this push on my shoulder is a trigger, which I will always associate with the war.
From 24 February to 2 March we heard continuous explosions. The shelling was very hard on the Antonivsky bridge, we also heard the bangs from Chornobaivka, which is very close to Kherson. At first we were sitting in a shelter. On 1 March in a neighboring district a projectile killed a man, who came out of the shelter to eat. After that the rumors started spreading about occupants going into shelters and taking people out, even killing some. So we decided to go home, because the shelters couldn’t be locked.
We saw a lot of Russian military equipment, which was moving freely around the city, as if the Russians felt themselves at home here and could go wherever they wanted. So we began to realize where things were going. On 2 March Kherson was already occupied, and on the same day there was a fuss with food and medicine. Many Kherson residents went to protests when the city was already under occupation. It was very scary at first, because the main place where the Rosguard was based was the Svobody square, and it was where the rallies took place. Later, the Russians began to disperse the people, some got hurt, one man got shot in a leg. After that among my friends and acquaintances we shared an opinion, that the residents of Kherson had expressed their view that Kherson is Ukraine. People will not go out on the rallies anymore, because it is getting dangerous and they want to stay alive. Also someone was saying that the city was handed over, that we were abandoned and things like that.
When I knew that Kherson was occupied I panicked. My fear wasn’t for myself, but for my family, especially my husband. My uncle was an ATO veteran, so the Rosguard came looking for him at the place of his registered residence, but my parents said he was dead.
“For them, the ATO is like a red rag to a bull. They probably don’t even fully understand what it means, but they call them their number-one enemies”.
The other day, my mom and I went outside and I thought I saw guys in our military uniforms in the distance, and I rejoiced. But on approach, I saw a red sticker and started to back away, feeling scared, I didn’t even want to go past them. We heard them saying “Good day to you”, and lowering my head, I answered “Good day”. Of course, what I wanted to say was that it would be good, if you weren’t there. But they were armed and I was scared, everything inside my just froze. Later it turned out that rashists were looking for the Ukrainian military in our house, because a married couple of border guards used to live there. But they left on the first day and despite the neighbors saying they weren’t at home, rashists broke into their apartment, looking for somethings, and apparently left some tripwires behind.
Thank God, they didn’t bother or question us, they just purposefully went to the apartment of the Ukrainian military. They have lists of ATO veterans and other military personnel and they are looking for them everywhere. By the way, the soldiers here in Kherson aren’t “chmony”, they are dressed more or less as if they are ready for combat. (Editor’s note: “Chmonya” or “chmonka” – is a term, actively used in TikTok for jokes about incompetent Russian soldiers who came to fight in Ukraine in the 21st century wearing Soviet uniform. This meme originates from a photo of one of the Russian prisoners, who had a funny look in a cheap military uniform and clearly showed the true face of the second army in the world). Also Russian soldiers have stolen many civilian cars: Toyotas, Landcruisers, Lexuses etc., and they drive around without license plates, with “Z” stickers on.
Sometimes a thought pops up in my head, like “oh, I’d like to go to the park”, and then I remember that Rosguard is there. I haven’t gotten used to not being free.
The office I worked in is located in the building of a local printing house. During the second or third week of occupation Rosguard came there, looking for people to print propaganda leaflets about the KNR referendum (editor’s note: the so-called People’s republic of Kherson. It is well-known that Russia is planning on having an illegal referendum on the occupied territories of Ukraine to announce fake republics there. Russia did the same thing in 2014 on the partly occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine. In the same year in Crimea Russia organized an illegal fake referendum on joining the peninsula to the territory of the Russian Federation.)
People who worked in the publishing house had all left, so Rosguard couldn’t find anyone to print those leaflets. They couldn’t start printing presses on their own, so they had to go to Kakhovka to print those “KNR-sheets”.
I had to go to work today, because even during the occupation we had some orders and we carried on working as much as we could. I phoned our watchman, who sort of became a liaison between us and the rashists.
“They came by earlier and said that they wanted to know who works here, and left their phone number. They said that if people want to work here, they must meet them”.
“Come today at such and such an hour, there will be a meeting with the delegates of the new authorities, who want to control all the business here. After you meet them, they will remove the tripwires and you’ll be able to work here” – said the watchman to me.
So we could only continue our work with the permission of the rashists.
After a while my self-preservation instinct had become less prominent. At first I even started to clear my phone’s data and imagined how the meeting would go and what to expect. But after talking to my manager I decided not to go anywhere, although I really wanted to work, because we are officially registered and pay taxes to Ukraine. I wanted to be at least a small drop in the sea of Ukraine’s economics, to support it. We decided that meeting rashists is very dangerous, especially with the tripwires and everything, so we didn’t go and I lost my job.
In Kherson itself the situation is more or less okay, we just hear explosions all the time. But in the nearby towns it is much worse, because all the battles take place there.
“My relatives live in a village in Kherson region. Those villages are now under total Russian control. They took away all the phones, even old-fashioned ones, with buttons. I think it’s all fear. They are so afraid, they even take the phones without cameras”.
Some people were so afraid for their lives, they ran away from their villages and let their cattle go. People who stayed wanted to gather the cows and calves together, but it’s scary, because the fields are mined. So they wander around and may have died already from hunger, or maybe rashists killed them. In some places though, people are even preparing for sowing. But many farmers have lost their equipment to Russians, and some people are afraid of the fields because of the mines.
Some of our close relatives stayed in a village because of the animals, they have several dozen cattle, pigs and sheep. They stay at their farm even despite the occupation. Among the army that controls the village where our relatives live are not only Russians, but also Buryats and Chechens. They walk around the houses with guns, demanding meat. My relatives said they even come in to wash themselves and to eat. Some people refuse to give away their food for free and agree to exchange with the occupiers. One day they managed to get 2000 UAH and buy a pig. I can’t tell all the details of what the Russian army does in the villages, because my family lives there, but I can say that their mood changes due to their huge losses.
Although my relatives say that here in Kherson region the soldiers are not such monsters as in Bucha, but still there are different people. We are worried for our family, because you can expect anything from the rashists. By the way, one of the occupants was surprised that people live so well in Ukrainian villages, that they have vegetable gardens and cattle, but in Russian villages people are barely surviving. He promised to come back to visit, as he loved our village so much. Of course, nobody is happy to see them and no one is waiting for them to come over, but people can’t say anything.
I want my stay in Kherson to be useful, I want to help as much as possible. Some people who volunteer are literally risking their lives, because volunteers are known to have been kidnapped, and I don’t know what happened to them during interrogations, if they were beaten up or not, they don’t say. Often the humanitarian aid doesn’t reach us, because it gets stolen on the checkpoints by the Russian soldiers. Recently, for example, one volunteer was delivering a large batch of medicine, some of it rare, like insulin. Rashists took part of it, the other they threw away. I don’t think they needed medicine to lower their sugar levels. They just do it to harm us. I also know a story of another volunteer, who got beaten up on the checkpoint and his phone taken away. We manage to find brave men who can drive to Mykolaiv or Odesa (editor’s note: the closest big cities, controlled by Ukraine). Humanitarian aid arrives there and these people bring it to Kherson. Once again, you don’t know how much of it will reach people. At each checkpoint there are thorough checks and at each checkpoint the Russians take something away for themselves, so until this humanitarian aid reaches Kherson, there may be little left of it.
“The faith in being rescued, in the upcoming victory, is what keeps us at home. We can leave, but we are waiting for the Armed Forces of Ukraine”.
I cannot get over this terrorism and the fact, that the war is so close. Like the girl, who died from the shelling in Odesa with her mother and child, was studying in my school, she’s from Kherson. I remember her. It hurts a lot. I’m holding on, doing the volunteer work, but then I read the news and there’s a hollow inside. I’m trying to be useful, looking for aid for women with kids, gathering diapers and children’s food.
There is an echo of the former life here in Kherson: the public transport is working, the markets are open. Often you can hear people fighting for products. Lately a lot of Russian goods (cigarettes, sausages, etc.) have been delivered to Kherson, so people are fighting, trying to figure out if the product is ours or not. If it’s not, then “you can shove it up your ass” and things like that. Rosguard visits these markets. Last time we went to get Easter cakes and saw two Chechens. People are getting used to them, even selling things to them. Since the first day of the occupation the Ukrainian TV channels have been off and the Russian on, so sometimes we have cases when a grandma’s calling and saying that our president is a drug-addict and suchlike. We need to tell people what’s going on for real. Russian propaganda is very effective.
They give away humanitarian aid too. They steal our products and give them away. But the Russians still couldn’t create a pretty picture to show on their TV of how they give us humanitarian aid, so they show some Russian cities and say that it’s Kherson and that life is allegedly returning back to normal, and everything is great. My family and I decided that if they announce KNR and we aren’t rescued in about 2 weeks, we will leave.
I’m so insulted for Kherson, we had such an awesome region, such a fantastic city. Everybody came here to Oleshky, everybody knew about our watermelons, we were forever a Ukrainian city. I’m hurt to the bottom of my heart, because there turned out to be so many traitors, who handed over the information on the positions of our territorial defense units, the contacts of our military and so on.
“I don’t know what money they got to betray their fellow people. But I know they will be punished”.
Rashists kidnapped a director of a theater and other famous people. They really wanted to get them on their side. That director told us that Russians are shocked. They don’t believe we don’t have a single person who organizes the protests, that the residents just gather together and nobody wants the Russian world. My acquaintance was offered to join them too, they asked if he was in “Ultras”, if he served in the army etc. (editor’s note: Ultras is the organized fans of a sports club, usually football).
I think, they managed to break manu people, because they kidnap and torture, and it changes people. But still, there are many more people here, who believe that Kherson is Ukraine.
Knowing our history, I don’t know if the war will end, when my kids will live here, but I think that the active hostilities will end by summer. This war will go on until Putin dies, and even if he dies, they will elect a new putin. I really doubt that all those people will develop their country and finally build the sewage system, and stop trying to get us.
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: Lidia Bilyk | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk