АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Mariia Orletska
17 August 2022
Before the war, Vita Shcherbyna lived with her children in Kherson. The city quickly became under occupation and it was impossible to leave already on February 25th. Vita spent almost a month in Kherson before she decided to leave. Evacuation was very difficult — we had to pass through several Russian checkpoints, spend the night with strangers due to shelling on the way, and also meet face-to-face with an enemy armored personnel carrier in the middle of a field. Read more in the continuation of the story that Vita shared with the website – the “Monologues of the War”.
Before the war, I worked at the First Ukrainian International Bank as a manager of services for legal entities. When the second child entered the first grade, I had to leave official work. The reason: there was no group of extended time to work on homework, grandmothers live far from us, my working hours often ended overtime. Then, I bought professional photography equipment in installments and started doing photo shoots (I graduated from photography courses). I began to devote more time to children, taking them to sports clubs and sections every day.
My husband and I had no premonition about the probable beginning of the war. A month before the war. He became interested in politics, but since January he had been very concerned about information about Russia’s intentions. Especially since he worked hard abroad, and children and I were thousands of kilometers away. Then the news began to constantly tell about shelters and bomb shelters, and we became even more worried. But…no one could believe that in the 21st century, a neighboring country would start a barbaric war against women and children, destroying houses, cities, lives, and destinies in an animal-like manner.
On February 24, I slept with my children until 6 in the morning. The phone rang and I heard the crying voice of my neighbor. I first thought that one of her relatives had died. But then… I will remember these words for the rest of my life: “Vita, wake up child, pack your things, the war has started! Russian planes are bombing Mykolaiv airport!”. I immediately ran to the nearby ATM to withdraw cash, the queue was huge. The tiles began to shake underfoot, and we heard loud explosions. The airport in Chornobaivka has already been bombed. There was chaos on the streets, two accidents at once, broken glass on the roads, torn bumpers. People ran with their suitcases, some with pillows and blankets. Commotion, panic and screams. My friends invited me to go with them to the Kirovohrad region. But my parents and husband did not allow me, because I am a novice driver with 3 months of experience. Driving a car, children and a cat would be difficult. Also, there was an unknown situation near the airport as the road was along that airport and our stuff was not packed. That is why we couldn’t leave.
Parents and husband advised to wait, and if the situation got complicated, then to gather calmly and leave in two days. No one could even think that Russian troops would enter Kherson in two hours!!! How so? Why was it allowed?! There was shock, hysteria, I didn’t know what to do next, how to act…But I listened to my relatives and stayed. On February 25, no one could leave anywhere, people in Kherson were under complete occupation.
On February 24, almost all products were sold in stores, from the 25th it was difficult to withdraw cash, there were huge queues for fuel, which was issued in 20 liters, then 10 liters, then there was none… We covered the windows with sheets and blankets, the lights were almost never turned on, in the breaks between the air raid sirens we tried to cook something to eat. We cautiously and hurriedly ran through remote grocery stores in search of meat, cereals, tea, vegetables and especially medicines! After all, the children themselves are at home and… it was impossible not to return home.
The Russian occupiers were smashing up shops, you could hear gunshots every day. There were loud explosions on the outskirts of the city. We were reading the news for days, a nervous breakdown, depression, fear, helplessness grew.
On March 21, I managed to leave occupied Kherson. I consulted with my parents and husband, they were against it. After all, there was no “green corridor” and every day there were new tragic stories about shot cars in the news. In the end, my husband agreed, having received a CLEAR answer to the question of whether I was ready to risk not only my life, but also the lives of my children. I left with my 13- and 6-year-old children, a cat, and my godmother with her two and three-year-old children. My parents did not know about our departure (otherwise they would not have slept at night). They stayed at home in an occupied village 100 km from Kherson. At first, several girls I knew left, and on the fourth day after the initial departures, I also ventured out. There were no special plans for where to go, and there was no thought of just leaving. We planned to run away for 1-1.5 months, because we expected a quick end to the war. Therefore, we went to visit relatives in Germany.
Our route was through Kherson-Bilozerka-Stanislav-Olexandrivka-Mykolaiv-Odesa. Our departure started at 7 am. We put up white sheets of paper with the inscription “CHILDREN”, pieces of white fabric on the mirrors. We only had 20 liters of gasoline in the tank (for two days I stood in queues at the gas station as I ran out of fuel), two mothers, four children, a kitten, hastily collected things – and we set off! For me, the scariest thing was going through 4 Russian checkpoints and not meeting tanks on the road.
At first, cars drove and gathered in columns. After the first checkpoint, our column broke up. At the first checkpoint, there was a very thorough inspection, even children’s backpacks were looked at. They asked where dad works and where we were leaving. On the second were Dagestani men, but they asked politely and inspected the luggage. On the third, they advised me to drive 15 km very fast, and I understood why: an armored personnel carrier and 2 tanks were driving ahead. There are three “green men” in masks with grenade launchers. And my car is alone in the middle of the field. My godmother started crying hysterically, and I could just hear my heart pounding. I park the car on the side of the road, roll down the windows, ask the children to be quiet, put my hands on the wheel and read Our Father. There was only one thought in my head: “Either we go further, or… here forever.” The “green men” rode silently, aiming their weapons and looking intently at us. We endured, we survived, so the Lord had something else planned for us. Near the fourth checkpoint there were mounds with the signs “MINED”. We drove carefully, passed the last checkpoint, thinking that the worst was behind us.
A convoy of cars was waiting in Stanislav, no one could understand why they were not going. As it turned out, within half an hour, a battle began in the neighboring village. We had to wait. Some cars went with the village head across the estuaries to Mykolaiv because of shelling. Others decided to go back to Kherson, because the fighting was gaining momentum. And so by chance we found a resident, Stanislava, who offered to spend the night and feed the children. And we agreed. We and other people stayed for the night. Larisa fed us, reassured us that we would wait a bit and maybe move on in the evening. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.
The shelling intensified, at first the tanks approached the village, and later they entered and shelled Mykolaiv and Oleksandrivka (the village is 6 kilometers away). The walls and windows were shaking. Also, Larisa’s house was located on the outskirts of the village near the field where the “liberators” “liberated” the neighboring town and village. To say that we were scared is an understatement! In someone else’s house, without a basement, I brought my children to their death – that was what echoed in my head as I was crying my eyes out. For the first time since the beginning of the war, children also panicked. We prayed to God to survive and our car to be intact. My concerned friends wrote and called, because it was in Stanislav that heavy fighting began that day. And only to my mother I wrote: “Don’t worry, I’m not writing, because the Internet is bad at home, everything is fine.” That continued until 11 pm. I did not sleep until 3 o’clock in the morning, because from 3 to 4 am the explosions started again. I had nausea and despair from nerves. My husband called, told me to pack up and as soon as the sun rises, to go on the road, regardless of anything. Everything calmed down in the morning.
We got together, said goodbye to the hostess and left. At that time, the Russian occupiers had a morning shift. The road to Oleksandrivka is short, but all the time attention was focused on the fields and bushes, and whether a new tank would come out. In Oleksandrivka, we saw broken houses, fallen pillars, and ruins. And here is a miracle! Checkpoint and OUR Armed Forces of Ukraine! I was filled with joy, tears and excitement! We hugged them, gave them whatever food was available. The guys said that you can drive calmly.
When I got to Mykolaiv, I was embarrassed, I only had 3 months of driving experience, after Ukrainian checkpoints and a difficult night I was drained… I turned into the wrong lane and… I was stopped by the police. I didn’t have to worry anymore, adrenaline was bubbling, joy was overflowing. I expected a fine. But instead, the boys accompanied us to the gas station and filled up 20 liters of gasoline for free, because there was also a difficult situation with fuel in the city. I cried, because this is possible only during the war!!! With the help of the navigator (the signs with the names of cities and road numbers have been removed) we got to Odessa, then to Moldova. We got a little lost in Moldova, because the border guards first directed us to go through Palanka, and we planned to take a shorter route from Moldova directly to Romania. That’s why we spent the night with an old man, shared our grief, and he supported us and treated us with homemade wine. And only in Moldova early in the morning did my mother and grandmother find out where we were. In the morning, we crossed the border again and headed for Romania. My godmother and children stayed there, and I left for Germany.
It was difficult to get used to the new place. A foreign country, its own customs, laws, orders. There were many tears and irritation. But all this is done for the safety of children, their peace and life. Germany is a very bureaucratic country, everything here is too complicated and too long. But it helps people a lot financially. The most difficult is the issue of housing and work. After all, in 95% of cases, in order to find at least some kind of job, you need to complete a basic German language course. But the most important thing is the concern that the children may not be accepted in new schools, that they will feel that they are not suitable for this country, and that people will be happy for them.
Now I have been visiting the course for 3 weeks. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 5 times a week. Hard, lots of homework. The eldest son likes the German language very much, he finished the 7th grade. In the Ukrainian school, German was taught from the 5th grade and it helps a lot now.
With the beginning of the war, you begin to understand how lucky it is to have a family, to know that your parents are alive and healthy. (although now they are all under occupation and it is very difficult for them). That we lived in a wonderful city, our children had a childhood, favorite activities. There are not enough relatives, friends, and communication with “my own”. That our country is the most mobile, the most free, everything is simple and clear in it, we did not appreciate many things. Europeans also have something to learn – to value time with the family, to be able to appreciate the weekend, nature, protect it and respect the work of others.
After the war, our country will become a more independent and prosperous state. Yes, it takes a long time: destroyed cities, lives, souls… But our people have shown that despite the occupation, people sing the national anthem of Ukraine, women drive tanks out of the village with their bare hands, despite shelling – they hold rallies. After all, Ukrainians are strong in spirit, strong-willed, tenacious, unruly! Ukraine will become an example for all countries of the world!
My only desire is victory! Liberation of my Kherson region from Russian barbarians! That relatives and friends remain healthy and alive! So that everyone returns to their home, native place and Motherland!
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: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Mariia Orletska