АвторAuthor: Vera Korolchenko | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk
8 September 2022
Karina Yefremova returned from Kyiv to her native city of Kramatorsk after its liberation from the russian invaders in 2016. But now her city is under threat of occupation again. Together with her husband, Karina temporarily moved to Odesa and has already started her small business there. But when the war ends, she intends to return home. Karina told “Monologues of the War” how Kramatorsk has changed since 2014 and how it looks now.
I was born in Kramatorsk, but after graduating from university I moved to Kyiv. In 2014, I was already in the capital, so I witnessed the Maidan here from the very beginning. When my hometown was occupied, I was worried about my relatives from a distance.
But in two years, when Kramatorsk was liberated, I returned home. It seemed to me that it was not for long. Then the city began to be actively rebuilt, starting with the roads, ending with the Myr Square and the construction of a big hospital (unfortunately, due to the war, it was never completed). I saw how a city can be transformed, rebuilt from scratch. It has changed a lot. Kramatorsk was unrecognizable, so I decided to stay at home.
At that time, the community became very active in the city: people realized that they were the only ones who could make their home better. There appeared active social life and new cultural events in the city: we got a theater, interesting dance events, etc. Such were the consequences for us of this period since 2014. The city flourished, and so the number of people who wanted to leave decreased significantly, and this is, to my mind, the most important thing.
Until February 24, my husband and I organized quizzes in Kramatorsk – this is a game for the company, when the presenter asks the participants questions about everything. We were almost the only ones who held similar events in Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
In the evening of February 24, we were supposed to have the next big game, but at 4 am we, like everyone else, woke up to the explosions. It was clear to us what had started, but we could not believe it. Even the day before, when there were rumors about a possible invasion, we just laughed at them. Even on February 24, we posted a survey on social networks to find out whether to hold an event in the evening. Everyone immediately started writing to us that this was a real war, and only then did we come to realize this.
After February 24, we stayed in Kramatorsk for another three weeks. My husband and I had to spend nights in the bathroom, and my mother spent two days in the basement because it was so scary. When the air raid sirens sounded, I asked my husband every time: “What are we going to do? And where will we run?” Each time he answered the same thing: “We will go to the corridor or to the bathroom, or nowhere, because if the rocket hits us, it will be too late to run anywhere.” I had a panic attack, but after 10-15th time, this feeling began to disappear.
After February 24, the citizens of Kramatorsk united, and there were many willing to help. At first, everyone was looking for “marks”, because there was a theory that the enemy marked the buildings. Then it receded, but people started organizing first aid workshops, telling people where to hide in a bomb shelter, how to save their lives.
I don’t know a single person in Kramatorsk who is looking forward to russian world and doubted who was shooting at us. Maybe I have such a network, but it is still quite large. I think there are pro-russians in the city, yes, but there are very few of them. That is, the events of 2014 made Kramatorsk pro-Ukrainian, because I have never seen anything like in recent years before: people with Ukrainian flags, wearing vyshyvanka (translator’s note: traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts), on Independence Day, on the day of the liberation of Kramatorsk, on all our holidays. Many started speaking Ukrainian in Kramatorsk. I am not generalizing, this is a really pro-Ukrainian city.
I think that not only I, but everyone can see that the events of 2014 were, let’s say, not as intense. Then I was worried about my relatives, but they didn’t hide in basements then. Kramatorsk was occupied, but somehow everything was easier. My relatives were still afraid of the russians, yes, but 8 years ago there were no such executions, there was no killing of civilians, as, for example, in Mariupol or Bucha. When the people of DNR entered the city, they behaved very boldly, leaving behind empty bottles and even syringes at checkpoints. It was a real mess, but they did not affect the townspeople: civilians could calmly talk to the military.
Activists were not killed then. In 2014, my husband worked for a humanitarian organization in Donetsk: he delivered food and hygiene kits to people. When the DPR entered the city, he was deported from there. That is, he is a twice displaced person.
I am not a military expert, but it seems to me that weapons were different then, they are much heavier now. In 2014, it was mainly “Hrad” that was firing, and everyone understood: “Even if a projectile hits a building, I can stay alive, and everything will be fine.” But now they use many missiles. Now there are more victims, more panic.
Why don’t many people leave their city? I think I understand it now. We also postponed the decision until the last possible moment. “Last” in our opinion. There’s everyone’s personal limit. We didn’t leave because we really didn’t want to leave the life we were building. We had plans, prospects, contacts, business, affairs, income. If you leave, you have to start from scratch.
But on March 6, everything changed. It so happened that when I went to the store, the air raid siren sounded. I went inside, went down to the basement, and was about to leave when I heard a super-powerful explosion. I felt that it happened right next to me. Indeed, it turned out that the missile hit a nearby high-rise building and destroyed it. Injured people began to be brought to our basement. I saw all these bloody people, their wounds. For me, this was the first time when I faced war, destruction, and death with my own eyes. I think that a few days after that we decided that we had to go.
One day, my husband, my mother and I simply packed our most necessary things and left, first to Dnipro. I tried to find housing in the west of Ukraine through social networks, but there was such a hype and such prices that we immediately stopped thinking about the west. My husband mentioned that he has relatives in Odesa, so in the end we decided to go to Odesa for 3 days and then figure out where we were going next. But then we didn’t move, because it was more or less calm in Odesa.
We just spent the first month on our phones, constantly monitoring the news from Kramatorsk and all over Ukraine. And that’s all. We didn’t even go for humanitarian aid at first, because we had a very strong apathy.
When I was already safe, on April 8, a tragedy happened at the railway station. I was just sitting and looking at those photos and praying that none of my friends, relatives and acquaintances were among the victims. I was really sorry that I couldn’t do anything except to spread the word, but it’s not much help… At that time, a girl I knew was there at the station, and another man, a friend of a friend, was killed.
A month after moving to Odessa, when we realized that the war would not end so quickly, we started looking for work. There were several options for making money. As a matter of fact, I could go to work as a waitress. But my husband and I believe that the greatest benefit to the community comes from people who do their own thing, who do something because of their heart’s desire. Therefore, we decided to try to organize a quiz again, as we did in Kramatorsk.
We found a venue for the event on the first attempt and are still working there. Unlike Kramatorsk, in Odesa we have quite a lot of competition, but we even enjoy it, because it is such a new step for us. We get people together and have a game every week. I feel that each time these people are closer and closer to us, they are no longer strangers: we started to hug when we meet, after our event we can go somewhere else to hang out together.
I think that we are bringing people together with our events. In particular, various immigrants came to us for the quiz, and from Kramatorsk as well. All of them say that the quiz is very distracting from the news: for two or three hours you simply do not think about war, but simply exchange positive emotions with your friends. I think this is our way of helping people.
We are very grateful to the people of Odesa who welcomed us. Maybe we were so lucky, but we met open, empathetic people who are always ready to help. For example, the players of our game, almost strangers whom we met for the second time, simply suggested: “Let’s go out with us after the event, maybe you need some help with work?” And one woman suggested another place where we can hold a quiz. That is why, thanks to the people of Odessa, we are now expanding.
But now we are also trying to support the displaced people: several couples of our friends from Kramatorsk have already moved here to us. You help people, and your kind of space begins to form around you. We already have such a small Kramatorsk diaspora here.
I have to try really hard to remember who is left in my hometown now. Everyone left Kramatorsk, just everyone. Yes, I know a few people who are still involved in humanitarian aid there, but they are not my close friends, they are just acquaintances. Meanwhile, I think that every family has one person who stayed behind and who holds all the keys to all the apartments of their acquaintances, and checks up on them. But, unfortunately, we already have some destruction: my cousin’s windows have been blown out by the blast wave.
We are very worried that our home will remain intact, but it is not only about the housing. In Kramatorsk there are many places that are very dear to me personally. It’s a shame that the city that was my home, for which I was very happy that it was developing and flourishing, can be completely destroyed. I just watch the news and keep my fingers crossed that they don’t destroy the new Myr Square that has just been rebuilt, our beautiful Dry Fountain, our parks and squares that have just been finished. I really hope that Kramatorsk will remain Ukrainian.
My mother went abroad, but she really wants to return. While it is impossible to reach Kramatorsk, she dreams of Odesa. I ask her: “What difference does it make to you, Odesa is not your hometown anyway.” And she says: “Over there, abroad, you understand that your home is any city in Ukraine. Odesa is Ukraine, and if I come here, I will already be home.”
If Kramatorsk remains Ukrainian, I think that we will return there. But perhaps we will try to work for two cities, to work both there and in Odesa. I believe that any difficulties are given to us in order to expand the horizons of our thinking. If we managed to do this – expand our horizons and stay alive – then we will use this situation to our advantage. I try to see silver linings in everything.
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: Vera Korolchenko | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk