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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Vlad Samoilenko

    “If it hadn’t been for the volunteers, I think that a city like Chernihiv could have fallen,” — a Kyiv citizen about the role of volunteers in the war with russia


    АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk

    28 September 2022

    The very next day after russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Vlad Samoilenko from Kyiv together with his team rushed to provide the defenders of the Kyiv region with ammunition, medicine and food. Civilians had to be evacuated under enemy fire. And when Chernihiv was besieged, they delivered humanitarian goods to the city by cars, by boats across the Desna river, and even by tractors. Today, the Kyiv team helps the military in Donbas and Tavria. Vlad Samoilenko told “Monologues of the war” about the contribution of volunteers to the victory.

    I am a road safety expert in the Reform Support Team of the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine and at the same time the head of the NGO “Urban Crew” since 2019. We had initiated certain urban initiatives related to urban planning, road safety, creation of bicycle infrastructure, barrier-free environment, improvement of public transport. I communicated a lot with officials, deputies, specialists and provided certain consultations and recommendations.

    Long story short, I am an active citizen, which ultimately came in handy when I started volunteering. My proactive position helped in that difficult period to find what was needed easily, quickly and for free, for Irpin, Chernihiv, and now Donbas and the south of the country.

    “The bastards have attacked us on all fronts and are bombing cities”

    That morning I woke up to a call from my mother, who for some reason called me around 6 am, which was unusual for her. After her “Are you sleeping?” I began to understand that something must have happened. The second thing she said: “The bastards have attacked us on all fronts and are bombing cities.”

    Most people did not believe that russia would attack, despite the warnings of Western intelligence. I have personally been closely watching the information and military fronts since the end of November, so in December I started asking my friends if they were preparing. I offered my colleagues to take courses in pre-medical care and subsequently organized them several times.

    Sometime around January 6, I spoke with my mother and predicted either an escalation or changes in the situation. I wanted her and my dad and my brother to get together, decide where they would go and what they would do in case something happened. So I was not shocked by the news. I understood that I now needed to send my loved ones out of the city. The day before, I myself was engaged in territorial defense, and I bought some ammunition, and clothes for myself.  

    Optimization of street infrastructure

    Before russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine, Vlad Samoilenko promoted initiatives to optimize street infrastructure in the capital

    On February 24, I went to the assembly point. Together with many others, I waited for hours for instructions and weapons while russian aircrafts were flying over us. In the evening, we were sent to the warehouses of the National Guard, from where the weapons had to be taken out urgently. The warehouses were located between Novy Petrivtsi and Hostomel, Kyiv region. Heavy fighting already took place in the Hostomel region that night. It was necessary to remove the weapon as quickly as possible so that it did not reach the enemy. We completed that task.

    That was my first day. But it all started in the morning when I went to my uncle, who has two small children. He sent his wife, children, mother-in-law and my girlfriend to a country house in a safer area, where they stayed for 3 weeks. And when the russians came closer, I told my girlfriend to move further away, and she moved to her grandmother in the Vinnytsia region.

    “We were among the first ones who made Molotov cocktails that day and delivered them around Kyiv”

    On that day, February 25, russian armored vehicles were already driving in the Obolon district in Kyiv. It wasn’t obvious where the front line was, what was happening, and I knew that something needed to be done. I was still hoping to get some guidance and weapons. We were told where to go. I came, and there were a thousand men and women with the same intention as me.

    I was waiting for the weapons and then at some point I was told that it was running out and it would only be issued to those with a combat ID. I didn’t have one, because I didn’t fight, although I went through military training in 2014-2015. And I decided to be useful to the state in other ways. Later, it grew into another front, a volunteering one.

    A friend called me and said there were 200 liters of oil and gasoline. And just at that moment I was passing by pellets with empty glass containers. The only thing missing was someone to give me a rag at that moment. This was such a strange puzzle, like a direct signal from heaven.

    Enemy tank in Kyiv

    On February 25, enemy vehicles drove along the avenue on Obolon in Kyiv and between residential buildings

    Several people gathered around me. We talked about the fact that the russians broke into Kyiv, so they must be kicked out. Subversive and reconnaissance groups were working in the city. So weapons were required. We began to come up with different plans, where and how to arm ourselves, until oil and gasoline was brought in. So we started making Molotov cocktails.

    I think we were among the first ones who made the cocktails that day and started delivering them around Kyiv: Teremky, Akademmistechko, Obolon, Vynohradar. The men had nothing there. They were also hungry. And you give them your “Snickers” and a can of stew that you’ve saved for yourself. You give everything away. The next day or two, we started bringing them food from some chefs, and then the local residents began to meet these needs on their own. In addition, they distributed some first humanitarian items, warm clothes, shoes, etc.

    “Several civilian cars in front of our convoy were shot”

    And then you realize that Irpen and Bucha, where the first firefightі took place, need help to stop the enemy. So on February 26, I wrote to a friend in Irpin, asking how I could help. He wrote back that in fact they need everything: weapons, shoes, uniforms, generators, fuel…

    On February 28, we brought them the necessities in one car. The very next day there were three cars. And so we drove to Irpin to hand over something that would help our fighters keep the defense until March 5.

    That day, our convoy of 10 cars, including a huge bus, was entering Irpin. The news was alarming. And this time, the road connection between the city of Irpin and the outside world was blocked. Russian armored vehicles entered there. It meant that we could no longer get out.

    Several civilian cars in front of our convoy were shot. The column was forced to split. Some managed to slip to the Romaniv bridge, where there was a crossing in the direction of Kyiv — the so-called “road of life”. The others returned to the assembly point, and people hid from the shelling in a church.

    Romaniv bridge during the war

    Blown up by the russians, the Romaniv bridge connected Irpin, Bucha, Hostomel and Vorzel with Kyiv

    Only in the evening were we able to get our people out alive. Obviously, it was impossible to leave: the Romaniv bridge was blown up, and all exit routes were closed. That’s why in the evening we went on foot, alive and happy, to Kyiv. The last driver from our convoy, who entered Irpin by bus, made it out alive a day later.

    “Everyone should be able to provide first aid”

    The next day, realizing that the boys needed to be fed, to say the least, we decided to come back. On the way to Irpin, three mine fragments flew into our car. One man was hit in the leg, I stopped the bleeding with a tourniquet. It was not for nothing that the day before I attended training on pre-medical care, which I recommend to everyone. Absolutely everyone. Preferably every year. Because everyone should be able to provide first aid.

    He was treated, he is now serving in the Armed Forces in one of the assault regiments. We saw him recently in Donbas. On March 6, Yura successfully took people out of the Vuhledar TPP, when our men were forced to leave their position under the pressure of enemy artillery fire. As a result, his entire unit remained alive. And this is what matters.

    And so in March-April we came to Irpin every day. Whenever possible, things were transmitted from the side of the destroyed Romaniv bridge. Also, people from our team made their way into the city itself. In addition to us, another dozen people worked there, they got into the car already from the other side, opposite from Kyiv. Including our own cars. But two of our cars were hit by shrapnel, and another Mercedes burned down from a direct hit by a projectile.

    And so we took people from Irpin to the Romaniv Bridge, and then we dragged the wounded, those with limited mobility, and others by ferry, and brought them all to Kyiv.

    “Irpin, Chernihiv and Donbas are the defense of Kyiv”

    It went on like this, and at the same time I learned that my urbanist friend Bohdan, his brother and father are serving in the Armed Forces, defending their native Chernihiv. Having found out the needs of this Chernihiv battalion, I went through old contacts, and collected everything I managed to. And the needs of the battalion are about 300-400 pieces of body armor, 300-400 helmets. It is very difficult to get such a quantity. That’s why we asked for help. The Serhiy Prytula Foundation, volunteers from the “Zhraya” team, and “Solomyanski kotyky” responded. People started giving us money and we used them to buy what we needed.

    It was important for us to protect ourselves on the approaches to our home. Irpin is the defense of Kyiv, and Chernihiv too, and even Donbas, is the defense of Kyiv itself.

    Our priority was to help the military to hold the defense and the medics to save wounded soldiers and civilians.

    Various people began to offer help with medicine, food, ammunition, clothes, generators, and fuel, which we took to Chernihiv. Several trips were successful. One time we drove into the city, and then it was surrounded on three sides. But we found a way to deliver goods — by water on boats. But more often they were transported by a secret route, less shot at by the russians, and so we still delivered the necessary things to Chernihiv.

    Volunteer aid to Chernihiv

    Volunteers tried to do everything to help Chernihiv survive during the siege

    We had to build a chain from Kyiv to a village near Chernihiv, where there was a warehouse. We put the cargo in a small car and made several trips in 1-2 days while we lived there. Then again to Kyiv to pick up cargo and quickly back to Chernihiv. And it continued, until the russians were kicked out of those regions.

    “If you are afraid of everything, then you can immediately give up”

    We watched the russians shell Chernihiv and could do nothing. We wanted to break through there, but we were stopped. And it was on that day that the husband of People’s Deputy Olha Stefanyshina died while trying to reach the city…

    Everything we did was dangerous. But if you are afraid of everything, then you can immediately give up. And then the whole world will be russia.

    But anyway, we didn’t do anything thoughtlessly. We watched where the enemy’s positions were, where their artillery reached. All this was taken into account.

    It has always been important to me who your liaison is, who the receiving party is. What it information from their side? Are they ready to come up? Because we can be at a distance of 2 km from each other, and their people may not be able to gather in the city center, because there will be shelling there. We didn’t need it.

    Read also: “Kherson is dying now, little by little. It’s not life, it’s constant animal fear” – story of a teacher who managed to break free from the occupied city with her child

    The military could not allow or not agree to transportation. That is, a day was spent on communication, clarification, reconnaissance of the situation, etc. And at the same time, my phone number was exchanged in chat rooms for evacuation from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions. And everyone grasps at you like a straw to get out. And they don’t care what state you are in, whether you’ve slept, whether you’ve eaten, whether you’re safe or not. They cry, demand that their relatives or they themselves be taken out. And they know less information about the operational situation than you do. That’s why we often had to explain that we can’t come, because there is shelling here, and we can’t pass, or you have shelling at your side or no road at all, and corpses of civilians and volunteers are lying there.

    There were cases when you went to Chernihiv for a few days and almost didn’t manage to take anyone out. And you want to take as many people as possible…

    Our main route was by land, water seemed safer to us, because it was not so obvious to the enemy. And there were many more places to cross than by road.

    We built the logistics chain, who to hand over the goods to, who would refuel the cars that delivered food, medicine, generators around the city, and collected people for evacuation. It went on like this until the Chernihiv, Kyiv and Sumy regions were occupied. And then we moved to Donbas.

    “In the Donetsk direction, our priority is the military”

    Our team is small and resources are limited. We understood that we could not cover everything, so we worked where it was most critical. In mid-April, we realized that our energy and experience should be redirected to other regions of Ukraine. And we went to Donbas.

    The first trip was a trial one. We went there by two trucks. Before that, we spent a week or two looking for the receiving party, drawing up a route where we would spend the night, because this was a new, rather dangerous and long way. You can’t get there and back in one day. So, step by step, we built our logistics and it has been unchanged for several months, with verified contacts and people who have already become our friends.

    We started going to several key places — Kramatorsk, Sloviansk, Kurakhove, Toretsk, Bakhmut, Lysychansk.

    We communicated with the military, learned about their needs and brought them what they needed every week. We weren’t able to go there more often. So far, we have handed over 22 cars to the military: people either transferred money or donated their cars, trusting us. They saw that we were reporting.

    Volunteer team from Kyiv

    The Kyiv team of volunteers chose the most critical regions and delivered aid there

    If earlier we helped absolutely everyone, then in the Donetsk direction our priority is the military. Because the civilian population has very different attitudes. Even during the first trip, our activist friends from Kramatorsk told us that around 70% of people there are the ones who don’t care whose flag will be there, or are openly waiting for the “russian world”.

    Sometime in June, the proportion changed a little, but not significantly, because according to the locals, it is still not even 50 to 50. We would not feed the outspoken separatists, and the pro-Ukrainian people have mostly left. Therefore, we provided aid to those civilians, who were waiting for us and who supported the Armed Forces and their country. Those who stayed, are those who are either alone, or they already got used to it, or have no money. And there are those who really haven’t fully understood what is happening, that this is a war for the destruction of our country. And they don’t care whose military will drive up their streets. And unfortunately, they often become targets for our enemies who shoot at civilian objects. That is why our focus in Donbas is military, medics and verified civilians.

    Before every trip, I worry. I understand that I am dealing with people and our task is not just to help, but to help and return. That the members of the team all remain alive and unscathed, because other people’s lives depend on this. You know that you need to complete the task, come back and collect money again, either for a car, or for optics, copters, ammunition, or something else. And again and again.

    “They are not some superhumans. They are frightened murderers”

    At no stage of the war, no matter how close the enemy was to the capital, I did not meet a single person who doubted that we would win. There is absolute faith and understanding of the situation. What was it supported by? We believe in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. But if it weren’t for the volunteers, I think that a city like Chernihiv could have fallen at the beginning of the resistance. As well as other cities.

    Of course, the merit of the Armed Forces is the most important and indisputable. But we, the volunteers, closed all the supply chains by ourselves, solved the problem of providing medicines, provisions, and ammunition, while the state apparatus launched procurement procedures and other things.

    Our faith in victory was reinforced by the way russian vehicle columns were destroyed in the Kyiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, and Kharkiv regions. We have seen that there is nothing extraordinary about these invaders. They are not some superhumans. They are frightened murderers who came here and die en masse. It’s just that there are many of them and they have been preparing for this war for maybe 10 years or more.

    We have seen that no matter how slow the rate of development of our state was, even this was enough for russia to understand that they are losing us.

    Donbas is Ukraine

    The blue-yellow flag flies over the steppes of Donbas

    It inspired the belief that we are a separate nation that differs from them in almost everything. We protect our people, we are proactive, we have a public environment, we have an army that in 8 years has learned to fight back, we have our own culture and customs.

    It is important that it was not putin who pushed the trigger in Olenivka, it was not putin who bombed Mariupol, it was not putin who raped hundreds of women in Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka, all over Ukraine… It is not putin who triggers “smerch”, “urahan”, “hrad”, “tochka-U” rocket systems. This is done by ordinary russians who have been drugged by imperial goals. And having nothing normal in their lives, they are contemptuous of others and want to spread their chaos on the territory of another country.

    Russians are murderers. Even if we just replace putin now, I am sure that the situation will not change much. Given the scope, system and traditions of the KGB system, russians will not soon be able to elect a normal president. Therefore, this country must be divided.

    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: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk


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