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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    The centre of Chernihiv

    Maksim Shevchenko: “Once when I stood with two 5-liters bottles in a queue, a missile flew just over my head. In a moment there was an explosion 500 meters away from me”

    Life under fire

    АвторAuthor: Maria Havrylian | Translation: Anna Shliakhova

    21 June 2022

    Maksim Shevchenko, Chernihiv resident, with his own eyes saw how his native city was ruined. Almost for a month he was hiding from enemy shelling with his wife and his teenage daughter in their frozen apartment. Though it was scary, they came back home after 2 months spent in evacuation. Albeit he called himself a “white collar” before the war, now he is ready to change his job and rebuild his native Chernihiv.

    I couldn’t believe until the last moment that it would really be a war. We talked about it with colleges and friends, but it was still unbelievable that it could happen with us… until the last moment.

    There were air-raids in the morning of the 24th February. I was not at home. My wife called me and said: “It’s the war”. I didn’t believe it at first, supposed it could be some sort of training. She insisted that the war began due to the explosions.

    My close friend called me and said they were about to flee. He proposed that we go together. We decided to stay at home. Now looking back, we realize it was a mistake and we had to flee at once. Orcs occupied border settlements during the first days. It’s only 15 km from us. Certainly, our army performs well. They fight back as lions. The center of the city was damaged mostly by airstrikes. The outskirts weren’t so lucky, of course. The one-kilometer area near the border with russia and Belarus was totally destroyed. Nothing remained undamaged.

    We heard explosions from the first day and they became ever closer. Then the heavy aerial bombardment came. And it was the scariest. The city air-raid system was broken and we used a mobile app. Our 5-store house has no shelter, only a technical cellar. Its height is only 100-120 cm. Some of our neighbors were hiding there. We went down once and I realized it could become our common grave if a bomb hit the building. Since then we was hiding in our apartment. My wife and my daughter hid in the corridor according to the rule of two walls. I was in a room on the floor. We secured windows with scotch tape and our beds. We live on the first floor, so it’s more or less safe in case there is no street fighting.

    Chernihiv is under shelling

    Chernihiv is under shelling The source Chernihiv ODA

    A russian missile struck the 171 Repair Plant. It’s hard to put into words the power of the explosion. It’s only one kilometer away from us. It’s a miracle our windows survived. The boiler house near us had all its windows shattered by the force of the blast. The heating was gone. It was freezing cold in our apartment. We wore our outer clothing and slept under several blankets. We boiled a 10-liter pot of water and put it near us to get ourselves a little bit warmer.

    It was so scary to hear enemy aircrafts were flying by. They dropped 3 bombs each. I had never experienced such fear before. I can never forget it.

    “My only thought was: “Just don’t hit me”

    So, the aircraft passed by and then we heard three explosions. When internet connection was back again, we read where bombs hit and how many people died.

    An Alcoholic beverages warehouse was struck and looted immediately after. We often heard about looting. But, the robbers were caught quickly. Many cars were stolen. My friend’s apartment was robbed, though the orcs didn’t manage to get there.

    Eventually, there was a lack of food in stores, even essentials. Our local sausage producer helped us a lot. He produced, delivered, and sold his goods until he could. There were queues of 600-700 people for bread. The bread truck can be loaded with about 600 loaves of bread. So, when I came for bread, I counted people in a queue. If there could be a loaf for me, I waited. Going out for bread, I didn’t know if I would get back home. “An acquaintance of mine came out and went missing. It turned out later he had died. Some people buried his body just on a street”.

    Orcs were settled in our city cemetery (Yatsevo Cemetery is one of the 10 biggest in Ukraine) at the beginning of March, so we couldn’t bury anyone there anymore. First, there was heavy shooting, then the area was mined.

    The ruins of Yatsevo Cemetery in Chernihiv after russian shelling

    The ruins of Yatsevo Cemetery in Chernihiv after russian shelling The source suspline.media

    We have Yalivschyna Regional Landscape Park (the historic place situated on the north-western part of the city with an area of 100 hectares; one of the favorite places for rest of locals). There are mass graves now. An excavator dug trenches where people were buried. Somewhere plates with names were placed in order to identify people.

    We ran out of water at the beginning of March. So, it was even more queuing. Water was transported around the city in water trucks. We were lucky to live on the first floor, so we had water longer than others did. Once when I stood with 2 5-liters bottles in a queue, a missile flew just over my head. In a moment there was an explosion 500 meters away from me.

    Then it was shutdown. It was the beginning of informational isolation. It was very scary to have no internet connection and not know what was going on. We listened to a battery radio for some period of time.

    Cemetery in the city park in Chernihiv

    A few hundred of Chernihiv citizens were buried in a new cemetery in Yalivschyna Park The source bbc.com

    The fighting was already very close to our house. Before we heard some explosions from the outskirts, but then we already heard shooting, missiles and explosions close to us.

    All those weeks we spent at home turned into one terrible day. A sense of time was gone. “I recall some kind of a lull (so to speak) on the 8th of March; it means the duration between explosions was about 20-30 minutes”.

    I told my wife I wanted to smoke outside. Explosions began as soon as I went out.

    On the 17th of March we decided to find out the situation and went to the center of territorial defense. They told me that right now they were forming a convoy near the first city school. We went there right at the moment when shelling from “Grad” systems began. The asphalt was tearing apart and flowing around us. It was unbelievably scary. 17 people died then. I don’t even know how we managed to survive. The fighters from territorial defense drew us the map of roads we could drive on, because it was already impossible to go as usual. Many people had died due to shooting on all main roads. The main bridge to Kyiv wasn’t destroyed yet but it was already impossible to go by it.

    We left on March 18. Thank God, we did it because our area was badly damaged after that. Fortunately, our apartment has survived. But the buildings nearby have a lot of holes in them. 

    The car bridge in Chernigiv after the airstrike

    The car bridge that connected Chernihiv and Kyiv after the airstrike The source bigkyiv.com.ua

    It wasn’t easy to flee. At that moment there was no fuel in the city. Our friend gave us a canister with gasoline on condition that we took his wife and their dog with us. It should be enough to get to Kyiv. The road took us 7 hours. Before the war it was no longer than 2 hours. We literally drove through fields. In Kyiv we stayed overnight and went to Khmelnytskyi. Their a family gave us a shelter as they did for others displaced persons. But there was a condition to stay no longer than for 2 nights. We rented an apartment in Khmelnytskyi where we spent almost 2 months. We were so worried about our daughter. She is 12-year-old. But it seems she is mentally stronger than we. We didn’t notice any disturbing symptoms at all.

    We came back in the middle of May. Many people we knew died. They were missing at the time we left. As it’s known now, they are no longer alive… But some of them are on the list of missing. Our friend’s wife and daughter went through Kolychivka (a village in the Chernihiv region) and a tank that was dug near the road hit the car.

    “He was looking for them for a long time and finally found them in the morgue. One of them missed her head, another one missed a half of her head”

    I wish for our victory very soon. We are in constant emotional tension always reading the news. We live too close to the border with russia and Belarus. It’s so scary that all this could happen again.

    Life is coming back to the city now. Many people are back now, some businesses are trying to work again. I realize too that I need to learn how to work with hands because now there is a huge demand for workers. I have to rebuild our city, to earn some money and support my family.

    The city air-raid systems still don’t work. But they have already started testing heating networks and promise to fix it before the start of the next heating season. Water supply has been almost fully resumed, except the most damaged areas. There are no forecasts about warm water supply yet. At present, demining is going on Yatsevo Cementery. Sappers still work there, but visits are already allowed. Everywhere russians went, they left tripwires. Every other day we hear about someone who was blown up on a mine. The last time I read about a farmer who hit a mine during field work. So, we have already got used to look carefully under the feet.

    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: Maria Havrylian | Translation: Anna Shliakhova

    Life under fire

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