АвторAuthor: Vera Korolchenko | Translation: Lola Khabibova
24 October 2022
Liudmyla Hanshyna is a 65-year-old accountant from Kharkiv. She had to overcome 5000 km from Northern Saltivka to a small Irish city Balinamor on her own car. Liudmyla went abroad for the first time in 40 years not knowing the language. Now she is living with her neighbors from Kharkiv still checking on her native house. Liudmyla told “Monologues of the war” about the beginning of war and about the way Europe welcomes Ukrainians.
I am the housing-cooperative in my house. Just before the full-scale invasion the tenants came to me to ask to organize the shelter in the basement as soon as possible. I reassured them that nothing would happen and everything would be okay. We started organizing the shelter without haste. We have a prestigious house, so we have a good basement there. We cleaned everything up, and provided light but, unfortunately, we didn’t have time to buy water and all the necessary medications. I didn’t believe that the war would start, so I didn’t hurry with purchase. I was going to do it on the 23rd of February, but I didn’t. That’s my fault.
My neighbors woke me up at 5:15 a.m shouting to give them the keys from the basement because the war had started, I didn’t understand what was happening. I went to sleep late the day before, so I didn’t hear any explosions; I live on the first floor in apartment with windows facing the yard. My neighbors ran to the basement with their clothes packed, I ran there in my pajama. It was scary.
We lived in Northern Saltivka in Krychevskiy street, so on 24th of February our district was the first to get stricken. We were literary on the frontlines because we were in the city’s suburbs. The russian troops were only one kilometer away from us. We even heard tanks, our house trembled because of explosions.
There were a lot of those who evacuated to the basement. Some people were with their children, some of them took their pets. We were all scared, someone cried. One girl from our house who was 30-35 years old came there with her baby and started crying, she was hysterical. She fainted as a result, and we barely brought her back. Elder people were just sitting and praying.
On the 24th I had to get water and medications as I didn’t manage to do it earlier. I was the housing-cooperative, so no matter what I was responsible for the tenants.
Despite the fear, I reached the city at 10 a.m. There was already a fuss in the center because there were big lines to the pharmacies and Ukrainian tanks was moving through Kharkiv. I bought everything I needed and returned home. I didn’t risk leaving the basement anymore.
We lived neighborly in the basement, those who managed to take food with them shared it with others. A State Emergency Service of Ukraine’s worker lived in our house, there was no bread in the city but he could get some for us. Once he brought it and asked me to share it with all. He went to the frontlines later.
After a few days, I understood that I wouldn’t stand to stay in the basement for long. The problems with my health started: my legs and arms were getting numb. Other neighbors were leaving the town, so I decided to do so too.
I went to my apartment, took my documents and some clothes. I didn’t have emergency bag. I didn’t have time to collect all my things because it was scary to stay in the apartment as explosions were near, so I jumped out the house taking nothing but what I was wearing with me. Then I got in my car and drove away from the town. I left almost everything in my apartment. Of course, there is nothing there right now as looters stole everything.
I left on time because some days later a missile hit near our house.
I went to the village named Konstiantynivka that is near Kharkiv. We chose a roundabout way to get there, so we drove through villages, forests but not main highway. I heard some explosions around but reached destination safely eventually. My son was not that lucky because he left few days later and was caught in shelling. Grads flew over him. Thanks God everything worked out fine in the end.
It was calmly in Kostiantynivka but the life there was also hard. There were seven people in a small two-bedroom house, a cat and a dog. Everyone came there: friends, relatives, and even acquaintances. We didn’t have woods, so we couldn’t heat the house. We had to gather twigs to heat the place. We were surviving with the help of humanitarian aid. It was really good there in the village.
I took a chance and returned to Kharkiv on the 8th of March because my 82-year-old aunt was there. There was no place to hide during shelling in her house, she just waited in the stairway during heavy shelling.
My aunt flatly refused to leave the city at the beginning of the war, but when the bombardments became a frequent thing, she eventually agreed to evacuate. I was scared to return to pick her up but I had to rescue her, I couldn’t leave her there. So, that’s how I returned to the city praying and driving forward.
I barely recognized Kharkiv. The streets were empty by the end of February but there was nearly no damage. But in early March the craters near our house had already appeared, the fence was also razed. A missile hit near our house.
We returned to Kostiantynivka but didn’t stay there for long. Together with my aunt and her son’s family we decided to go to our relatives in the town named Hadiach in Poltava oblast. There was a fight with rushists at the beginning of the war, it was later called “Hadiach Safari”. My son-in-law also participated in it.
I lived at my relatives’ for nearly a month, but there was no job and our resources were running low. Then, my acquaintances offered me to go to Europe. My aunt didn’t want to go because her son wouldn’t cross the border, his family also didn’t want to go without him. So, that’s how I went abroad by myself.
I came to Europe for the first time in 40 years. I visited Bulgaria and Yugoslavia once in my youth.
I decided to go to Ireland because the half of my house from Northern Saltivka has already been living in one of the towns. After leaving Kharkiv, my neighbors and I continued communicating in our house’s chat, so we knew where each of us went.
The first one to go to Ireland were our neighbors Chechens. They evacuated with their baby on the 26th of February. Before the war, they even said: “Liuda, conserve some water, war is terrible. We survived Chechnya”. I didn’t listened to them back then.
When our neighbors settled there, they wrote that Ireland is a beautiful country and there were really good conditions for refugees. Our neighbors are sympathetic people. They comforted us telling: “Come here, don’t be afraid, we will help you”. Eventually, we decided to do it.
I headed out to Poland, Germany and France by my own. I overcame 5000 km on my own car in general. In France, I took a ferry. Ukrainians were given these tickets for free back then. People there also fed us and gave us a cabin. Though, travel conditions changed since then. People say that now a ferry ticket costs 800 euros.
In Ireland, people also helped us with the car, giving 100 euro for petrol. It was enough to reach Balinamor, where my neighbors had been already waiting for me. Now I am living in a small hotel where reside only Ukrainian refugees. The conditions there are great, we live like a family, celebrating birthdays and setting the tables.
I went to Ireland not knowing the language at all as I didn’t learn English at school. I am attending language courses but it is still hard for me. All in all, I am 65 years old…
I think that Irish help to Ukrainians is the best in Europe: they provide us with food and we also don’t have to pay for a place to stay. We can live like that for one year.
However, Ireland is already overpopulated. The country had to accept 45000 refugees, now there are 50000 people. The authorities assume that they will be able to accept no more than 65000 Ukrainians.
I don’t lose connection with my tenants. I continue being the housing-cooperative even from Ireland. We have already begun the renovation of the house. We found those builders who stayed in Kharkiv and asked them to seal the windows, conduct the water back and even to repair the roof and the covering that were damaged during the shelling.
Despite the fact that our tenants went to Europe, they still continue making contributions because everyone plans to return home after the war ends.
I will return inevitably. I am a guest in Europe, and I want to return to Kharkiv.
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: Vera Korolchenko | Translation: Lola Khabibova