АвторAuthor: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Anna Shliakhova
19 October 2022
26-year-old Illia was born in Izium in the Kharkiv region. Now he lives in Kyiv. He is a postgraduate student. Beside studying, he is a photographer and video maker, also he makes tattoos. Illia had met the war in his native town and stayed under the occupation till May. He told the “Monologues of the War” project about the first days in the occupied Izium, about the humanitarian disaster in the city, and about the difficulties of evacuation through Balakliia.
I suggested the probability of the full-scale invasion, but I couldn’t imagine the things that have happened. On the 24th of February I was talking by phone with my girlfriend from Kharkiv almost all night through. She was the one who told me that the war had begun and about the first strikes on Kharkiv. About half an hour later the first official announcement was made. I didn’t react appropriately, because nothing was happening outside my window during the first week, nothing at all. There were any military. It was impossible to get a car filled in. There was no cash in bankomats. There was a stalemate situation: we didn’t know what to do and no-one could tell us that. Now I’ve realized that we had to act faster and flee immediately.
About before the 28th of February nothing had happened, then the airstrikes began. Aircrafts dropped bombs on the city. One of them dropped on the neighboring street but didn’t explode. Then the news came out that local authorities were given an ultimatum to lay down their arms and to surrender the city as the Kupiansk authorities had done. Locals were brave and claimed that they weren’t going to collaborate but to defend their city instead. Through all March they defended the city. Local authorities had gone without evacuating the people. About 25000 – 30000 of local residents were left in the city where fierce fighting took place. Izium was occupied since the beginning of April.
Since the 6th of March and by today there’ve been no utilities in Izium. It is almost “The Stone Age” with no electricity, water, gas, mobile or Internet connection. To call someone you need to go out of the city or to hike the mountain where some kind of connection could be found. All these places were controlled by the enemy, so the citizens could only say by phone what they were allowed to.
People cooked outside at the open fire. There was no electricity. It was total isolation. A lighter at night could cause shooting because it was regarded as a diversion activity. All the things should be done during daytime hours.
The humanitarian situation in the city is still as critical as it was. For the first six weeks there was no food or medicine delivery. The city survived on its reserves for almost two months. Looting became more frequent. It got to the point that the locals killed each other. Roughly speaking, houses were bombed out and some people stole a washing machine, for example, and brought it to the destroyed house. Sometimes such people asked passers-by for help, being incapable of carrying such a load alone.
Mostly, the multi-storey buildings have been destroyed. The private houses area remained untouched, more or less, because they shelled from there. The scariest was the absence of any information. We didn’t know what the day was, if Ukraine was still there, if it was worth it to resist that regime or not.
Once behind my window, I saw the echelon of occupiers’ equipment was hit and for some reason a thought came to my mind that they were out of the city. I decided to go out for a walk to find out something and to check what was ruined. I came across one of the checkpoints. We were checked one by one. They asked us our names, the goal of the walk, and about any military experience. As I have resident registration in Kyiv and rather atypical appearance, it raised a lot of questions. At the moment they took my phone I had deleted nothing from, I realized that it would end in the cellar at least.
Three of the occupiers were checking my phone for about ten minutes. They could find nothing as they checked only SMS and Viber that I hadn’t used at all. They check no other messengers, no gallery, nothing. I can find only one explanation: they are so stupid that they don’t know how to use gadgets. They asked me why I wasn’t at the frontline, why I hadn’t done the military service, and about the masculine core in me and my tattoos.
Of course, after that incident I deleted everything from my phone. By the moment we heard about some people who had disappeared. If the patriotic symbols had been found on someone’s phone, no-one saw them after that. I don’t know what happened to them.
We wanted to flee from the moment the first bombs were dropped on the city. But we didn’t know if my father, our dog and I were allowed to go to Kramatorsk as it was the only option to go through that city. We didn’t know how to flee. We postponed this issue for a few days and then the bridges, which led from our part of the city, were blown out. We were trapped there. There was no other road. Only the road to Kharkiv left, but the occupiers were already there.
The first time I heard about the evacuation was in the twentieth of April. I hadn’t known about this option before. The evacuation took place in that part of the city where I couldn’t already get to. As I know, a thousand people were evacuated that way. The part of the city just couldn’t get to the evacuation point.
Until May we hoped for green corridors or ceasefire, but then we realized that we had no more time to wait. Just in one moment we got into a car and went. We drove through Balaklia to Poltava by our own car. On the checkpoints men were the subject of interest for occupiers. I think they saw a potential of military resistance in us. As if men fled, they would have gone to the AFU then.
I knew what to expect. So I took off all my piercings, put on the worst clothes, trying to not gain their attention. They stopped us at every checkpoint, forced us to strip naked and questioned us. We arrived in the first Ukrainian city in seven hours. The distance was only 90 km.
They didn’t allow us to go to Balaklia because the city was completely closed. They didn’t allow anyone. After we turned from the route to Kharkiv and started moving to Balaklia, at every checkpoint we were told that they wouldn’t let us into the city. So, we made up a cover story that my girlfriend was pregnant and she needed to see a doctor. I knew that the hospital in Balaklia didn’t accept civilians as it was converted into a military hospital. It was the reason to go to the city and also out of it, as she couldn’t get to a doctor there. But we pretended we didn’t know that.
There were dnrvtsi at the checkpoint at the entrance of the city. They accepted no reasons at all. The only their answer was: “Go back to your Izium and die there”. They said that if we knew someone from Balaklia, we could go there; otherwise, we weren’t allowed to go there. At that moment I remembered a person from Balaklia and gave his address. To be honest, we didn’t know that person, but we went to Balaklia. That guys were following us to control.
At that moment, we didn’t realize where we were going. We just drove through the city for a while. Then we went to the checkpoint. We talked with the military for half an hour as we understood that we differed in our statements. They understood it also. Then they just gave our documents back and let us go. They insisted only that we should not stop in the city. I don’t know why they’ve done so.
The emotional state of my girlfriend became noticeably worse after being occupied. When we were back on the territory controlled by Ukraine and went to a typical supermarket where bread was just on shelves, she had a tantrum. Now all the women from my family are abroad, because they need time to come to their senses after all they had suffered.
I’ve joined the volunteer movement. We went to Chernihiv in August to help clear the debris and rebuild houses there. I sense a huge desire to help my region also. As soon as civilians are allowed there, I’ll go to help rebuild the city.
Before living, our house hadn’t been affected, although the houses in the neighborhood had been damaged. After we had left, someone was moved in; the rushists shelled the area. So, I don’t know the current condition of the house.
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: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Anna Shliakhova