АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Diana Bevtsyk
14 July 2022
Kateryna Yalova is a child psychologist by education. When she joined the ranks of the patrol police, she could not imagine what trials awaited her. For a month, the woman delivered humanitarian aid to the residents of Severodonetsk under fire, evacuated families with children and lonely old people. While she was risking her life for the sake of others, her own child was hiding in the basement from shelling.
I had an extreme shift, we worked from 12 am until 10 pm. And here – practice alert. We were asked to stay and spend the night in the gym. All police officers were recalled from sick leave, from vacations, and from rest. And around 5 o’clock in the morning they started bombing Ukraine.
It was a very disturbing night. My 13-year-old daughter was left alone at home in Severodonetsk. She did not close her eyes, she waited until I returned. We corresponded with her, talked on the phone.
The daughter heard explosions in the city and she was very scared. And I’m still not at home. I told her to go to the bathroom and I was really worried about her until we saw each other.
Severodonetsk began to be bombed on February 24, and since then the shelling has been increasing. People hid in basements, there were problems with fuel and food, because shops were closed. Gasoline was drained from the cars because there was no gas at the gas stations. People panicked and tried to leave. There are traffic jams on the streets. Looting began. People seem to have lost their minds. But this chaos was still more or less under control.
I remember now that every day was lived like a small life because so many events happened then.
And by the end of February, a volunteer center was organized in our city in the Ice Palace of Sports under the supervision of the military-civilian administration. And we started helping at the Ice Palace. There, the volunteers worked hard – to whom hygiene products, to whom food, to take humanitarian aid to shelters, to someone home.
Then everything was just beginning and the city leadership did not understand how many people and in which bomb shelters were. There were three of us police girls and we began to go around the basements of schools, other shelters: there were 200 people, there – 300, somewhere – 20-40 people. We drove our personal cars and we made lists so that the help was targeted. And all this happened under fire. But really heavy shelling of the city began on March 8.
I really remembered March 8. I will never forget it. On that day, a sanitary day was announced at the Ice Palace and I was at home. It happened around noon. I was drinking tea in the kitchen and the child was in the room. And I hear how «Grad MLRS” starts to work. They were constantly hitting new areas, the rumbling had already become common. Once these explosions are closer and closer , and closer.
I manage to jump out of the kitchen, grab my daughter by the T-shirt, grab some warm jackets and open the door. We live on the ground floor and it is not far from the basement. We were exactly in the corridor near the front door of the entrance and at that moment “Grad MLRS” lay down in the yard. From the shock wave, the glass flew out of the windows, we fell to the floor, I was on top of the child. And the whole house is shaking… At that moment, I thought that my daughter and I would be buried under the walls.
It was the first such strong mass shelling throughout the city. Many people died then.
There was a pause of literally a couple of minutes between the shelling from the “Grad MLRS” while they were being reloaded. My daughter and I ran barefoot to the basement. We go outside and at that moment I hear an inhuman scream from the street, a moan, as if a person is being killed. I give the jacket to the child, ask her to go down to the basement. Finally, I see this picture – people are running like ants. I hear: “Help! Help! Woman! Woman!”. I can’t understand anything, who needs help. And then I noticed a man who had stopped and was looking at something, and a woman was lying on the ground in front of him. I run up to her, and this is my neighbor.
She has a large wound on her neck from the debris, an artery is damaged and the hemorrhage is very strong. And I don’t have anything with me! I cover the wound with my hands, the blood is dripping. And across the chain link was the police battalion “Luhansk-1”, they had a base there. They saw me trying to stop the bleeding and they called a doctor. Well done guys. They reacted very quickly, the doctor came with a first-aid kit. We did everything we could, but the wound was very big. The woman died in our hands. All covered in blood…
It is very difficult to accept when you know a person, who lived on the next street, and then suddenly she disappeared before your eyes. The man said she went out to get medicine. And that’s all. She passed away. It was a very strong impression…
Since March 8, the Russians have been shooting not only in the new city districts, but also in the old ones. There have been many situations since then when you thought it was the end.
What else was remembered… Usually, the Russians started shelling at 6 in the morning and calmed down around 10 in the morning. And closer to the 16 pm, they return to their old ways. During this period, when it was more or less calm and quiet, we tried to transport humanitarian aid and to make an address delivery. There, a lonely grandmother is lying on the 7th floor and she needs to be taken down to the shelter, someone else is waiting for us there. And all this had to be done in this gap.
I remember we went to the volunteer headquarters to take lists for delivering aid. The morning shelling seems to have already ended. And we drove with the opened windows, so that if the «Grad MLRS” or mortars started to work, we would have time to jump out of the car when they were already flying close.
We arrive and hear – it’s almost like that! We manage to hit the brakes, we immediately fall next to the building, and it is all glassed ! I am lying down and understanding : if the glass flies away from the shock wave, then I will be riddled. I pressed myself to the wall, covered my head with my hands, raised my eyes and saw the “Simya” store opposite. We had two such in the city. They opened for a couple of hours and sold off some leftover products. And there was always a huge line of people.
Once I look and see how this store turns into a pile of bricks right before my eyes. And they beat and beat, and beat it. Bricks fly in different directions, dust rises to the sky and I understand that there are people! It was very scary. You lie there and pray for it to be over. It’s scary for ourselves, and it’s scary for people… And this feeling of complete helplessness…
Two people died there then. Their bodies were simply torn to pieces – legs, arms separately. And there are many wounded. And the shell holes were taller than me…
And this is your city. You were born in it and you watch how it turns into a trap for its inhabitants… It’s very scary.
Sometimes it was very difficult. We visited a single grandmother. We brought her food, water and took care of her. And she did not get out of bed at all and kept asking: «Katyusha, will you come tomorrow?». We understood that she has enough food, she hardly eats, we don’t need to visit her. But she is afraid to be alone. She constantly gave some small errands: water the flowers and something else. Which flowers do you think? There is a war here, if only the windows are not broken! But we watered her flowers. And one morning we were going to leave, and we were told: «Do not go to this address. Grandmother died.».
You seem to understand that every day someone somewhere dies from shells, and here a person died of old age. But it was so bad on the soul… And there are a lot of such old, lonely people who have children abroad or in other cities. And how much helplessness is in the eyes of such people…
Or a situation when the nearby house is on fire, there is shelling, on the 9th floor, and you don’t have time for tenderness: “Quick! Documents, charging for the phone, medicine!”. You try as quickly as possible to do everything to save a person, and then you look into those eyes and understand that they really need you… And they are scared, defenseless, these lonely people, they thank you non-stop. We lowered them into the basements, took them to a safer place. It was generally a horror.
Or another example. In the Severodonetsk pool “Sadko” there was a large shelter for 150 people. We first came there to check out how many people and children there are, what help they need, what to bring – mixtures , food or medicine?
And they tell us: “We have a newborn here, just 2 days”. Oh God, around 150 people and a girl gave birth right there! You go down, and in the basement there is no light, no water. How did she give birth in such conditions? And the little girl is still so healthy, pretty, and her mom has milk. We nursed her, brought her food.
And towards the end of March, when there were no doctors in the city and the ambulances did not leave after an accident when one car was under fire, a girl who was about to give birth approached us. She asks for help. What shall we do? We remember how the girls and I were taught to give birth. And we look at each other, and it’s so scary! (laughs – editor’s note). It seems that we have taught, but there are no special medicines either: mostly antipyretics, antiseptics and dressing material. There are not even normal scissors to cut the umbilical cord. But we told her that we will do our best and we will help, everything will be fine. I remember I did not sleep one night, I broke my head over how to take delivery? It’s scary.
Then we found a midwife in some basement, brought her to the pregnant woman (laughs – editor’s note). That is, it was still that extreme. But everything worked out, that girl gave birth, everything is fine.
There wasn’t a single day that I regretted becoming a police officer. Not once! Especially when I don’t know how many times both old people and mothers with children thank you: «May God give you health! What would we do if it weren’t for you!».
Or when they call from an unknown number and say: “Thank you very much for taking my mother away!”. And you don’t even know who it is about, because you actually took out so many people in a day that it’s hard to remember!
I didn’t regret it, no. But it was scary. When you see and understand that you can die at any moment. And death is not as terrible as the fact that your child is sitting in the basement right now. What will happen to her?
“It was scary for loved ones when the connection was lost, and the area was being bombed and you couldn’t call to find out if they were all right! Because you help people and maybe right now your closest relatives need help”.
As long as the old districts of the city still had electricity and gas in some places, we tried to transport people from the new districts to the old ones. And then there was no light or water anywhere.
As the “Simya” store was shelled, there was nowhere else to get groceries. All hope was on us. People were waiting only for humanitarian aid. And it was a big responsibility: if you don’t come, someone somewhere might die of hunger.
And when you saw many families with children in shelters, you persuaded them to evacuate. And some had to be forced to leave with a little force. And some did listen, but some resisted. For example, a certain grandmother. And the child cannot abandon her, and the grandmother holds her daughter as an anchor, but the husband does not abandon the daughter. And they all sit together under fire. We tried to convince them and sometimes we succeeded.
It is unpleasant when you bring help to people, you risk your life. And how many people risked so that this help would end up in Severodonetsk, that is, such a long chain of volunteers, from their work. And here you come, and the person is waiting for the “Russian Peace”.
Such conversations as “When will they surrender the city!” were very unpleasant to listen to. You do feel like giving up, but you understand that not everyone is like that. The same children. It is not their fault that their parents have such beliefs! Yes, you could say something, try to convince, but it didn’t make sense.
Or when you make a list, you ask to indicate your name and date of birth so that we can orient ourselves on which grocery sets to make: something tastier for children, extra hygiene products for women, etc. And the men refuse, saying that I will sign up and you will give me a machine gun. They only thought about themselves.
The longer we stayed in the city, the scarier it became. For example, we are near a school, we brought humanitarian aid and our next destination is a college. And then they call us and say: “That’s it, there is no college.” And you understand that we could just go there…
You go to work and see how every day in the city there are more and more holes, destroyed buildings, broken wires… There was not a single house that was not hit. None! If someone’s windows survived, it’s a miracle.
It is difficult to drive, all the asphalt is covered with potholes. We worried about not slashing the tire, because the mere thought of having to change it under fire was scary…
I was constantly worried about my daughter and thought about how to take her out. But towards the end of March, the situation had deteriorated so much that I took her to Slovyansk, and my mother had already come from Kyiv and picked her up from there. When the baby was safe, I felt much better. But she cried a lot for me to leave. And I had a heartache.
The four of us left on March 30. We are three policewomen and one more of our colleagues.
“We had only one road – to Lysychansk, Bakhmut and to Dnipro. It was already under fire, but it was still possible to break through. In addition, it was begun to say that they could destroy the bridges. And then you’ll just have to swim”.
And the day before, on March 29, the city was heavily shelled. We were sitting in the basement, and bricks were flying and sand was falling on our heads. We thought that we would be overwhelmed there.
Now I am in Dnipro. I really want to return to Severodonetsk and restore it! I can’t wait. It is my dream to return and rebuild the city.
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: Diana Bevtsyk