АвторAuthor: Yulia Zarudnitska | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk
22 September 2022
Larisa Havshyna’s family are Kharkiv-born. She and her husband worked in catering, their children went to school, had an active lifestyle and attended the Sambo wrestling section. On February 24, they, like most Ukrainians, woke up to explosions. Subsequently, their city was shelled 24/7 by the occupiers. Larisa Havshyna told “Monologues of the war” about their life in a bomb shelter, lack of food and water, and evacuating from Kharkiv.
Before the war, we had a normal average life: house, family, work. My husband and I worked in the field of catering, as managers of school canteens. We were feeding children in schools. The work was stable, we enjoyed it very much. Our children went to the school where my husband worked. My eldest daughter Yeva went to the third grade, and Illia, the youngest, to the first. After school, both of them attended the Sambo wrestling section. Yeva also had extra English classes. She loved it so much that she was looking forward to the next lesson.
Every summer we tried to organize a sea vacation with our children in Ukraine. We also had holidays by the riverside more than 30 times. Last year, we even went to the village of Stepanivka by the sea for a whole month, and we enjoyed the local beauty (by the way, the village is currently occupied). Every weekend we would go somewhere with the kids: to the beautiful Kharkiv parks, entertainment centers, ice rinks, cinemas, water parks, cafes, dolphinariums, amusement parks, and many others. I cannot list everything… In short, our life was full of adventures.
Everyone was madly scared. We realized that something very terrible was happening. My husband was already at work at that time, I had to go too, and a nanny was supposed to come to the children. I left them with their grandmother and, despite the explosions, went to work. Although my work was close to the epicenters of these explosions, when I was driving, I already saw a terrible glow of fire, and still I drove straight at it.
When I arrived at work, my staff was already there. I found them in panic and confusion: what do we do? Do we work or run somewhere? The floor was already trembling under our feet, the windows were shaking from the explosions more and more often… We began to understand that there would be no work and no children at school today, and we had to save ourselves. It was chaos, not only near us, but also throughout the city. The explosions did not stop, but only intensified. The grocery stores got almost empty in a few hours. It was impossible to buy water already on the first day, there were queues at gas stations, traffic jams, it was madness.
Around 12 pm, my husband and I were at home, and the shelling did not stop. The fact that we have bomb shelters in our house calmed us down and we were able to do something to keep our family safe. The descent to the bomb shelter was right in our section, and the children had already been there at that moment. Despite shelling and explosions, I started to carry down some furniture, chairs, warm clothes. Soon the neighbors joined in. Everyone silently looked at each other with the awareness in their eyes that the war had begun, and started to take everything necessary down into the bomb shelter. My husband did the wiring so that people would have light, the guys from other houses helped him. Yes, all the rooms had lights and even sockets, which is very important for people.
Everyone’s phones were constantly ringing. My mother and father and their families are residents of the “Saltivka” microdistrict, where the hell began. No matter how much we wanted, our relatives could not reach us in the first days. There were no bomb shelters in their houses, only ordinary basements. They didn’t know what to do or where to run. My mother and sister and her husband found shelter in the school and stayed there for the first month, occasionally going outside. A taxi in the early days cost an astronomical amount of money. When the first evacuation trains were launched for women, some friends of mine had to pay 12000 UAH for a ride from Saltivka to the railway station. In peacetime it would be up to 300 UAH.
So we too became residents of the bomb shelter, and after a while we were completely out of water. There was none at all, not even from the tap… Everything was closed, at the beginning of the war the city seemed to be deserted, everyone who could either left or was sitiing in bomb shelters, or under endless shelling at home! Water has become the survival goal for us. We melted snow and drained water from the apartments’ batteries, we had no choice at all! Yes, there were some supplies, but we had to drink and cook food, not to mention hygiene. Who would believe me that when I saw a small trickle of water in the tap in my apartment I felt like the happiest person in the world?
On February 26, a neighboring yard was bombed with cluster shells, the debri flew everywhere. The cars that were in the yards were completely destroyed. The houses, the windows, even in our section, were damaged by the debris, and there was a hole in the wall at the entrance to my apartment… On the fifth floor…
When we finally managed to get out of the city, we went to Kremenchuk. There were already our friends there, who we joined because of their claims that the city wasn’t shelled, it was safe. We barely managed to find housing – we settled in a sauna, because at that time there were a lot of the displaced people there, so there were no apartments and houses for rent. In the sauna, we arranged ourselves as best we could: volunteers gave us a carpet for the floor, and a mini gas stove. They also provided us with linen, pillows, and some dishes from the humanitarian aid for displaced persons, so in general, it was okay.
But not everything was as nice as it seemed to us, after hellish shelling and bombs. We became displaced, and not everyone treated us well. Many times we were made to understand that we were second-class here in the city, and only the locals come first… but it was not the worst thing. Nor was it the fact that my children used a bucket (because the toilet was outside, with a pit, and they were afraid to go there), nor that we did laundry by hand, and that we washed the dishes in basins, but the other thing… The rocket attacks began again!
They bombed the oil refinery, and after initial shock we relaxed: it wasn’t us and it was far away, and no one was hurt. Later, when another three weeks passed, we saw hell. Here, not in our hometown, but where we were already displaced and looking for shelter.
It was Easter, my children were playing in the garden near our sauna, they had made friends with other kids. The house stood on a hill, and the children were playing down in the garden. I was in the house, and my husband and our dog were next to the children… I heard a whistle, a terrible whistle, and with my already trained ear, I realized that missiles were flying very low.
I quickly run out to the garden to help the children, they are screaming: “Mommy, missiles are flying directly overhead, help us! I grabbed both of my children, quickly dragged them into the house and put them on the floor. They were trained: they closed their ears and opened their mouths, as it should be done in case of a missile attack. While I was leading them into the house, I looked at these missiles. There were about five of them and they flew so impossibly low, somewhere at the level of an ordinary tree, one after another, with a whistle and exhaust plume… It was bright red. Yes, we survived, and the next day I learned from the mass media that the missiles were 6.5 meters each, they flew from the Black Sea and they can land low. They were flying overhead to avoid detection by our air defense. It was terrifying, it seemed to me that they were flying straight at us, all those five huge rockets.
There were more missile hits, already in the city where it was supposed to be safe. So later a decision was made to return to Kharkiv and live in a house where it seemed to have become quiet. After a two-month stay in Kremenchuk, we decided to return to Kharkiv, to our home. As the mass media claimed, Kharkiv had become quiet, the city was almost free of shelling, and it came back to life: everything was working, transport was launched, flowers were planted in the flower beds, markets and shops were functioning again. Who wouldn’t want to go home? Almost all of us decided to go back and, as it turned out, we were wrong. The shelling was daily, and it got worse and worse with each passing day. So as a result we found ourselves in the bomb shelter again, for another month and a half.
And we were in a trap again… there was no money to leave this time, our family was left without work, without funds, only the roof above our heads remained intact, though slightly shot through by cluster shells…
Yes, the city came to life, Kharkiv residents stopped being afraid of shelling and missiles flying over their heads, they almost returned to their previous life. And we tried to do the same. But as soon as night came, we were under constant fire again. What can I say: children’s mental health was disturbed, my daughter’s legs went numb from every explosion, I could live only on sedatives. My husband got a new job, despite the attacks and shelling, as we needed money for life and not only to have a possibility of leaving at any moment. Again there were the nights in the bomb shelter, explosions, panic, the impossibility of a life we used to have, the realization that things won’t get back to normal soon.
Bottom line: my husband made some money and we were able to leave again, but this time with a lot of bags, suitcases, everything we could take: equipment, clothes, food, etc. We left by two cars to a place further away than Kremenchuk…
My children’s godparents were waiting for us here and for a long time had been suggesting we come. But it was difficult to leave the apartment we bought four years ago, renovated, with new furniture and appliances. Everything we had: a favorite job, favorite schools and teachers, favorite city, favorite hobbies, who will bring it back to us? We were left with nothing, we only took out two TV-sets, multi-cookers, some other things… that’s it! That life is in the past and now we’re wandering from place to place like nomads! For what? For the love and diligence and everything that we have worked for over the years!
Now we value only our lives, the lives of our children and the whole of Ukraine! May God grant it prosperity for ever and ever! It has endured so much! And yes, we will never be the same again, we have become completely different, but we have begun to love our beautiful Ukraine even more!
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: Yulia Zarudnitska | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk
“For me, the war did not start on February 24, 2022, but much earlier, back in 2014, when I lived in the Donetsk region.” The story of a woman with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy who evacuated to Georgia on her own