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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Olena Shapoval, the press secretary of Kharkiv Region Administration

    “I would have been at work in 5 minutes and then I heard a strong explosion”, a press secretary of the head of the Kharkiv Administration told us about peculiarities of her work during the war

    Life under fire

    АвторAuthor: Yuliya Osadcha | Translation: Anna Shliakhova

    17 July 2022

    Olena Shapoval is a press secretary of Oleh Syniehubov, the head of Kharkiv Regional Military Administration. She had started to work there in January, 2022. From the beginning of the war Olena has been fighting an information war in collaboration with media from all over the world. She says it’s important that the world keeps talking about russian crimes against civilians in Ukraine. Because there is also the information war.

    For a long time, I worked as a press secretary of the head of Cherkasy OVA. Naturally, it was a dead-end job for me, though I moved to Kyiv where I started to work in PR.

    At the end of December, 2021, I was proposed to work with Oleh Syniehubov, the newly appointed head of the Kharkiv OVA. I decided to give it a try. Kharkiv is a new and interesting city for me. By the way, the first time I visited Kharkiv was in January, 2022.

    “Like many others, I had a common belief that Kharkiv is a pro-russian city, but from the first days of Kharkiv defense it became clear that its citizens are pro-Ukrainian, that they are patriotic despite the fact that they speak russian. The military jokingly say about themselves “russian-speaking Banderites”.

    Pre-war Mood

    Sometimes, assessing a situation from another point of view is hard, especially being in the center of events. When I just started to work here, there were plenty of meetings, requests and strategic plans. It was all about civil life. On 1 January 2022, the Law of Ukraine “On the Fundamentals of National Resistance” came into force, though we started to form the Territorial Defense Forces as well. We visited numerous military bases, including the mighty 95th Mechanized Brigade, that are offering examples of how to fight to all people of the world, and border guard units. My media work became increasingly military.

    Olena Shapoval

    Olena Shapoval

    We carried out routine preparation on defense reinforcement. But I can’t admit even to myself that it was a preparation for a full-scale war. 

    “In the last week before the war many foreign journalists appeared in the city. They examined the mood of the population, and nobody hardly believed that a full-scale war was possible before the 24th of February.”

    “Just before, on the 23rd of February it was decided to temporarily close Kharkiv International Airport due to the data about possible attack the next day. On the 24th of February explosions woke me up.”

    The Beginning of the War

    I lived in the central part of Kharkiv. At 5 a.m. calls from colleges and journalists woke me up. All our media team promptly met and formed an operational headquarters headed by Oleh Syniehubov.

    Kharkiv has been under intense shelling since the 24th of February. Personally for me airstrikes were the scariest.

    On the 1st of March when I was about to go to work (it takes 5 minutes to get to work), I heard an explosion. A rushists missile struck Freedom Square and Kharkiv Oblast administrative building. 64 people were killed. 5 minutes later I would have been there. Currently, the building is in disrepair now. One can see the sky through the room walls.

    The building of Kharkiv Regional State Administration is in poor condition

    Currently, Kharkiv Oblast administrative building is in disrepair 

    “One day they simply shelled people queuing for water from the Grad systems. Human remains lay on the street. It was scary.” 

    Many people literally lived in the metro; thousands of people were evacuated by train.

    Railway stations were overcrowded. In a few days 600 000 people were evacuated. Trains to the West of Ukraine went one after the other.

    “I kept on doing my job. In the first days of the war, I had no time to eat or sleep. Nobody slept at the beginning. It was a huge information flow. I had to be quickly repurposed to military issues learning different types of weapons, shots, the brigades etc.”

    Because I am not local, alas, I had to learn the detailed map of the Kharkiv region by attack and civil casualties reports. We then had a 24-hours broadcasting. The actual news at 3 a.m. became a norm.

    Read also: Kateryna Myronenko: «Ways converged when both families were looking for salvation»

    The presence of a huge number of international media was a terra incognita for me. That is, every day in the region work about 200 journalist teams from all over the world, starting from BBC, CNN, ending with Turkish, Japan, and Australian media teams.

    We check credentials, coordinate them, because they don’t always know where they can and cannot go, where the fighting is. If they, for example, want to go to the front line and talk to military personnel, I coordinate them with brigade press officers.

    An Informational Hub

    A few months ago, together with Karazin Kharkiv National University we created an informational hub. It’s a great idea we’ve realized together with journalists.

    Journalists have requests. Mostly they are about access to the liberated territories or to the battle zones. It’s forbidden to go to many of the places in the Kharkiv Region. Different military units are there, including the Territorial Defense Forces, the 92nd Brigade, or something else. What is the informational hub for? We gathered press officers and developed all together daily routes. We still do that. Today we can go there, the next day we can go there, and the day after elsewhere. Also, we form the groups of reporters and collect journalists’ requests for access to civilian facilities. It’s a huge coordination work involving numerous media teams. The media center is located in a basement, it works as a coworking with connection to the Internet. It’s a place where daily routes are to be announced, where one can connect to military personnel, and last, but not least, where we can group requests. Here briefings and media events take place.

    Media hub in Kharkiv

    Kharkiv informational hub was open in May

    How do journalists get to know about the informational hub? Typically, they come through Kyiv, and our media center is a branch of the Kyiv media center. Also, there is a media center in Lviv.

    I can tell you for sure I haven’t had a single day off since the war began. Every day I speak with the press and write the news reports.

    In May the number of shelling was considerably reduced. The AFU liberated our territory to the north from Kharkiv and forced rushists to retreat. If earlier there were about 60-80 bombing every morning, then the number was reduced to about 10.

    Karkivites are patriotic to the marrow of their bones. The defense, the solidarity of the population, the volunteer movement, it’s all the evidence of it.

    Some stores are closed, some people lost their jobs due to the shelling, and some didn’t have money to buy essentials. Volunteers joined their efforts in delivery of food and water. Thanks to the assistance of the Office of the President, humanitarian aid from foreign partners started to come in a week. In the first weeks Ukrposhta and Nova Poshta reopened their service points for humanitarian aid being distributed, but still volunteers carried out target delivery. The Kharkiv volunteer movement is a great one, it still works.

    Some pizzerias chains feed people with low income. Gradually, businesses are coming back. People are coming home. About 40% of the population is back.

    “Kharkiv housing and communal services are the heroes. Kharkiv was and still is clean and tidy. The streets are clean and green, flowers are everywhere. It surprises me and causes a great deal of respect”.

    People, who have come back, say that Kharkiv is a more beautiful city now than some other cities before the war.

    The world is getting accustomed to the war in Ukraine. It’s a terrible thing. Sergei Zhadan was right. He said at one of the meetings that currently there is a black and white perception of the war in the world. Everyone knows that Ukraine isn’t the aggressor and protects its territory and its sovereignty, fighting for freedom. That’s because we have to keep the intensity of information policy and maintain the current focus of perception of the war.

    My plans for the near future are to do my job. There is a lot to do also on the information front. Among others our victory depends on the perception of the war and the international support by sending weapons. Because our army and we will all stand together until our victory!

    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: Yuliya Osadcha | Translation: Anna Shliakhova

    Life under fire

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