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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Family of Liudmyla Tomko

    Liudmyla Tomko about life in the occupation: “We understood that this moment could be the last”


    АвторAuthor: Yuliya Osadcha | Translation: Mariia Moskaliuk

    4 July 2022

    40-year-old Liudmila Tomko lives with her husband and 15-year-old son in the town of Dymer, Kyiv region. From the first days of the war, the family was under occupation: without light and any communication with the outside world. Their lives were constantly under threat. After two weeks of being in the occupation hell, the family managed to evacuate themselves to a safer place.

    The war caught me and my family unaware. I did not believe any information about a full-scale invasion at all. In the middle of February, my family and I returned from Bukovel. We brought back a lot of photos and great emotions. In peacetime, I worked as an organizer of author tours around Ukraine. We ourselves developed routes and took people on vacation. We did not think about war at all.

    On February 24, at five o’clock in the morning, my sister called me and said: “It has begun.” Of course, I didn’t believe it; I said that she was escalating the situation. Then there was a call from my brother… I opened the news and was in shock, I simply refused to believe that this was happening to my Ukraine and to us.

    I woke up my husband and son. We decided to pack things and think about what to do next. We watched the news endlessly. To be honest, I didn’t perceive reality, it was surreal for me. I comforted myself with the thought: “Okay, war is coming…but we don’t have a border with Russia, we have 100 kilometers to the border with Belarus…by the time they reach us, we will make a decision.” I was very wrong.

    Family of Liudmyla Tomko

    Family of Liudmyla Tomko on vacation

    Already in the evening of the 24th, we found out that there was an attack from the border of Belarus on Kyiv, and this was through us, through Dymer. The day before, we decided to leave tomorrow, February 25. Why on the 25th? We looked at Google maps; we have an exit through Kyiv. The capital stood still…there were terrible traffic jams. So we thought that tomorrow everyone would leave a little, and we would go to Western Ukraine.

    Already in the evening, information began to reach us that huge convoys were moving from Belarus in our direction.

    Already on February 25th, at 4 o’clock in the morning, we heard and then already saw a huge column of tanks, armored personnel carriers, “Grads”. They were driving through Dymer in the direction of Kyiv. And so they drove, drove, drove… probably for three hours without stopping.

    And, of course, no one was asleep. We began to gather and prepare the car, and at about eight o’clock we received information that our bridge across the Irpin River had been blown up. We had a way, or leave through the bridge that was blown up; through Bucha and Gostomel, where the fighting has already begun; the next side is the continuous Dnipro river, and to the north we have Belarus. We understand that we are trapped.

    Life in new realities

    That’s it, on February 26th, we lost light, water, communication and generally all communications with the outside world. Life in new realities has begun. We connected the radio to the phone, but there was no television. We had a generator and we turned it on once a day to charge our phones and get water from the well.

    For the first three or four days, even a week, people still left their homes: the Russians and Kadyrovs did not touch the civilian population. They were everywhere; they set up their roadblocks everywhere. We have a huge factory “Viknoland”, they set up their base there. There were a lot of them. We also have a large hospital in Dymer, the only one in the entire district. The Rashists took the wounded there. The first days we managed to run from neighbors to each other, especially since I live on the outskirts of Dymer.

    The Russians and Kadirovs were already standing in Katiuzhanka. They began to occupy Kozarovychi and all neighboring villages.

    “Two “Fory” stores and several pharmacies opened their doors for our residents and those who had time to buy products. People took everything they needed, because we understood that there would be no more food supplies. Later, the orks looted and destroyed all the shops in Dymer”&

    “Active fighting has begun. It was very loud, we had Buch on one side and Borodyanka on the other. When ours began to partially knock them out – they covered them with artillery, “Bayraktar” and other weapons, we immediately felt it on ourselves”.

    The fighters were flying so low that I thought they would tear the roof of our house. At night and during the day, flights were heard, clouds of smoke were constantly standing, helicopters were flying and shooting. Orc tanks and war machines were constantly moving across Dymer. Unfortunately, our Dymer people and residents of neighboring villages began to die… we heard more and more often about prisoners. Battles were raging in Dymer…they didn’t stop for a moment. Tanks drove as they wanted and where they wanted.

    We live in a private house. My husband and son and I are in one part, and my parents are in the other part. The small crypt near our house became like a family, because we spent a lot of time there. There were five of us hiding there.

    Fortunately, we had food reserves, because my parents had a vegetable garden, and they made preparations in the summer. Potatoes and vegetables. It saved us. I don’t know what people living in high-rise buildings ate. Of course, there were no supplies of food and medicine.

    The Russians did not touch anyone for the first week. They were minding their own business. And a week later, the orcs started walking around houses and yards, they “squeezed” cars and did whatever they wanted.

    If you compare Russians and Kadyrivs, the former is still relatively normal. Kadyrivs are completely inadequate and cruel. In the war, they fought, and in the civilian population, they fought back as best they could. Fortunately, there were Russians with us.

    The decision to run away

    I constantly had a thought about how to get out of Dymer. Demydov comes after our town, and then the bridge that had to be moved. It is ten kilometers from Dymer to the bridge. There was no occupation. In order to drive to a place where there was no occupation, it was necessary to overcome this path. Some people who tried to leave were shot through the windshield.

    I thought about how to drive these ten kilometers through the orcs and their checkpoints, and how to cross the river, because it was very high. It’s the beginning of March outside.

    We did not have an organized exit. And so the sixth of March became a turning point. We then, as usual, sat in our cellar. The intensity of shelling increased every day. It was getting closer, bigger and louder.

    We sat with my 15-year-old son and talked about the summer: who would like to go where… And then he said in a very calm tone: “Mom, if we survive, I would like to go to the Carpathians.” And for me it worked as a push: “What does it mean if we survive?”.

    I understand that we have accepted this reality, then we need to make a decision. It will not be a spontaneous emotional decision, but you need to think carefully about it: assess the situation, understand the risks.

    “We were afraid to stay, because we understood that when the orcs left, they would destroy everything in their wake. Plus, I was very afraid of rape, I thought death was better. These thoughts did not leave me”.

    Fortunately, I have not heard of rape in our village, but in neighboring villages have. We were only shot.

    When I ran out to my sister, I saw that we have one school bus that takes people to the crossing at their own peril and risk. And the day before, on March 10, I saw with my own eyes how the bus began to take people away, and an armored personnel carrier drove out to meet them and blocked their way. The Rashists got out of the tank and set a condition to go only through Belarus.

    So on March 10, we each packed a backpack, it was very cold. We took everything we needed, because we were going to walk: the evacuation bus ran very rarely and mostly women with small children boarded it. It was impossible to get there. So we went on foot to the nearby village of Demydiv. It was very scary; we were walking in a small column of townspeople.

    Near “Fora” there is a house of prayer, where entrepreneurs brought products, and this house formed packages for everyone. This was our assembly point. And when we got there at ten in the morning, the bus was leaving. People who gathered and did not get into it decided to walk.

    We took the white flag, passed through their Viknoland base, saw the shot cars of the residents of our town on the way, knew whose cars they were, and even knew who had been killed.

    My friend’s husband was killed, he was 29 years old. She was able to take his body only on the third day. Every minute we understood that this moment could be the last.

    “You’re leaving, and the orcs are riding tanks, they’re starting to sneer, curse and point their machine guns at us. We walked in silence. Our main goal was to simply pass. You don’t think about anything. I tightly held Hlib, my son by the jacket, and my husband by the hand, and we walked silently with bowed heads. Ten kilometers is our road of life in the literal sense of the word”.

    You don’t know if they will shoot you in the back or not. The next day, people who tried to leave were shot. Everything depended on their mood: there was no logic and system in their actions.

    We reached Demydov, at the end of Demydov there was already a crossing. And it just so happened that on the same day there was the first official departure from Demydov. We didn’t know about it at all, it’s just a coincidence. There was the Red Cross and a lot of people. There they also made a homemade crossing over the river, made a floating bridge so as not to cross the river waist-deep in water. Because until March 11, people were waist-deep in water. It’s 0 degrees outside…with or without kids…you wade 50 meters. First it was up to the knees, and already on the 10th up to the waist. The water raised a lot.

    When we passed Demydiv, everything was more or less calm… there were many Russians, many roadblocks. Many people had their things, devices, and documents checked. We are lucky. We didn’t check anything.

    And so we crossed the homemade bridge. Relatives with a car were waiting for us there. Then we all went together to the Vinnytsia region, to Busha.

    When I was in a safe place, through a very rare and bad connection, I found out about ours… after March 15 it was a nightmare for them.

    Constant shelling, battles, bombs came to Dymer… Orcs ransacked houses in Dimer, stole cars, kidnapped people and volunteers… for our residents it was absolute horror… Every day it got worse and worse.

    Many orcs lived in human houses, and on March 31, they probably had some kind of team, they left boxes of ammunition, tanks at their checkpoints at 4 in the morning…Already later they told us that they were informed that in 20 minutes the Katiuzhan bridge would be blown up and those who don’t make it will stay here. Many orcs slept in houses, but there was no communication, so we still have people walking through the forests and catching 20 or more Rashists.

    Dymer village council

    Dymer village council. When the orcs left the town, local residents hung the Ukrainian flag on it

    And those who knew they were going to leave packed their cars with groceries. They opened all the shops and scooped up literally everything. We have a bed linen factory called “Yaroslav”, so they raked bed linen, towels, and underwear. Everything was stolen from hardware stores, children’s stores, etc.

    And so on March 31, the orcs fled from Dymer like gypsies on a carriage. Blankets, washing machines, rolled carpets were sticking out of their military vehicles, and they were sitting on top.

    Many of our people have disappeared. They left the house and did not return.

    We returned home on April 7. Immediately after the departure of the orcs, a curfew was introduced in the Dymer and Buchan OTG. No one was allowed in or let out. The Armed Forces came in and were engaged in cleaning. And as soon as we were given permission to enter home, we left on the same day.

    The men were the first to go: he left Busha for home, took the car and picked us up. We were given entry passes. It took seven hours to cross the river; there was a huge flow of cars. The neighboring village of Kozarovychi was completely destroyed; a lot of people were shot there. Against the background of neighboring villages, Dymer suffered the least.

    Within two weeks of returning home, we still had no connection, no water, and no communications.

    Life goes on

    Now I have a feeling that I need to live on, so I started working and planning my life. I made a bunch of conclusions that there is no need to postpone anything for tomorrow, because tomorrow may not come.

    I understand that now no one will organize my psychological state for me, because everyone is in this state now. Now it’s my responsibility. I try to find the good in many things: I went and got a manicure, a haircut… If they come back or the situation worsens in our region, then we will play it by ear.

    I didn’t plan to go abroad and I don’t plan to. Firstly, I don’t want to leave my husband; secondly, I will be more useful here. I want to see the moment when our Ukraine will be reborn. I believe in this and I want to be a participant in this process.

    Visit to neighboring villages

    On April 24, we went on a moped to Borodyanka. When I saw Borodyanka and later Bucha, I realized how easily scared we were. The center of Borodyanka simply does not exist, there is not a single surviving high-rise building, and every fifth private house was destroyed. What else struck me there was the endless number of trenches and dugouts, whole towns made of trenches. I’m even afraid to imagine how many invaders there were. We saw a terrible mess: a pile of boxes of dry rations, discarded things…we were afraid to touch it all, because it could be mined.

    On the same day was Easter. When we arrived, I stood up and started filming, there was a smell of fire everywhere, people were sitting at tables in the burnt courtyards. There were Easter breads on the tables and the entire national anthem of Ukraine was played. People who were left without homes sat and sang Ukrainian songs.

    On the first of May, we went to Bucha, Gostomel, and Irpin. I know these places very well, many of our friends live there. I was in shock from what I saw. There was still New Year’s paraphernalia on the gates of the estates, and the house was burned to the ground.

    I was thrown out of my tracks by the place where the Rashists tortured burned civilian cars and military equipment.

    “There were shots in the windshield of every car; they were fired with something heavy, clearly not from an automatic machine. The cars were covered in blood, and one even had a piece of skin hanging from it. We were told that a headless girl was found there. There was food, children’s toys in the cars and they were reminiscent of the former owners…”

    Apparently, we need to go through this experience so that the point of no return passes and people finally understand that the Russians are not our brothers. I am sure that there is God’s providence, and I am 100% sure that all people will start “in a hurry to live” and will try to do everything in time, and will not put anything off for later: they will do everything faster, better and with pleasure. That’s the price we get this freedom. Each of us will change. Yes, not everyone will come to a normal state after all this, but the quality and value of our life will be on a completely different level.

    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: Yuliya Osadcha | Translation: Mariia Moskaliuk


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