АвторAuthor: Marfa Vyhovska | Translation: Lisa Bolotova
16 June 2022
For two weeks, Marfa Vyhovska was hanging between life and death in the occupied town of Irpin. The woman made a series of posts on her Facebook page, talking about what she had to live through during the occupation and how she managed to escape hell.
*The story is published with the permission of its author, Marfa Vyhovska
Irpin was a young, thriving town, with newly built apartment blocks and the lightness of a health resort… You’d go out to the park and see mothers playing outside with small kids… I was happy to have married and moved from noisy Kyiv to cozy Irpin.
All year, I was working hard to make sure we had everything we needed in our new home, from a new vacuum cleaner to a tablecloth in the kitchen and pretty napkins to match. I spared no expense to make sure my apartment felt like home…
I thanked God for what I had.
Then the war started. On the first day of it, Ukraine’s forces blew up bridges around the city, and we found ourselves trapped in Irpin.
We could not get out for two weeks. The ruscists destroyed all the public utilities in the city, cutting off its electricity, water, and gas supplies… Food could not reach us over the destroyed bridges. And from the sky, it was raining bombs… I don’t think I’ll be able to tolerate the noise of jets ever again…
We spent our days in a tomb-cold apartment, eating cold pelmeni: when we still had gas, we boiled a whole pot, which we then kept on the balcony—there was no electricity and our fridge started defrosting, but we still needed to eat. Twice a day, every day, we ate pelmeni, which were as cold as death itself. Until my phone went dead, my family kept asking me to get out…
“I sat in my apartment with curtains pulled tight and heard a sniper working in our street. Then I heard a woman cry. I would find out later that those that tried to flee were shot right there, in the street. And the bodies would lie in the heart of the city for more than a month because no one was there to remove them”.
We were trapped in our apartment. In total darkness, without food or water, in full occupation, we were praying to God because praying was the only thing that kept our sanity. At some point, I just accepted the fact that I was going to die. And it became easier.
When I realized it was impossible to get out of the occupied and shelled city and accepted the fact that my life was about to end—I reconciled with everyone that I could reach and asked them to pray for me.
The only thing that felt like it had value was a prayer, a connection with God. It was the only way, because no one among my family, acquaintances, or strangers could help me.
Meanwhile, the blasts and hits were so mighty that the red hot light reached us even through the windows shut tight behind the blue curtains and thick wooden boards. From time to time, our pitch black room would get illuminated with a hellish light that made our blood run cold.
One night, I looked out of the balcony only to see that the neighboring houses were on fire…
I learned to pray all the time. I prayed before going to bed, and when I woke up to yet another rumble, I went on praying… I learned to make myself so calm by praying that over time, my heart rate didn’t even go up when everything around me was being torn to pieces…
I have always believed in God but never spoke about my faith because I feared I would be mocked for it. Well, if anything… It’s not what others think that one should fear… One should fear waking up one day in a war-stricken city and not finding God in that reality…
A long time ago, when I was asked how someone so smart and intelligent like myself could believe in God, I said that God is the only thing that stays with me when everything else is gone.
The situation was hopeless. I remember looking at my husband and saying that if we were to survive, we wouldn’t be the ones to thank for that (as it turned out, a human life is as fragile as a dry leaf), so I would tell anyone I’d see that it was God who saved us.
“After half a month in the active combat zone, when I was praying just past midnight, I felt that we had to pack… And so we started looking for our documents and packing up icons—holding a candle, for lack of any other source of light…”
We decided to leave the suitcases with our clothes so that we could take our two cats with us: either in the empty apartment or outside, they wouldn’t have survived. Between suitcases and animals, we chose the cats.
It hurt to leave our home and everything inside it… I gave so much love to every dress I purchased, every kitchen towel, I found medications for our kit, I collected books… We had to leave it all behind.
Getting out of the occupied city is a story to be told. It’s freezing cold, we are carrying cumbersome backpacks and two cats (the pair of them weighing 15 kilos, give or take), the wind is bitter… When you go out—you see death everywhere. Death in ruined houses, in shattered windows, in empty streets among the dead bodies, animals that didn’t survive the explosions lying on the road… An absolutely cold, permeating terror—that’s what prevails in Irpin!
And yet, here we are, lugging the cats, hunger-bitten, toiling uphill and praying that no one would open fire at us… Back then, I was ready to die, like all those that had been murdered in the street…
We walk several kilometers, and then a guy offers us a lift. He has a rifle in his trunk and is driving very fast and in zigzags because the enemy can start firing from anywhere. Still, I manage to see the ruins that were once Irpin… The guy takes us to the bridge to Romanivka. The bridge has been blown up.
In order to cross the river, you have to step on the thin frozen boards that are lying unevenly and seem as if they would slip anytime. But we don’t have any choice. So, with my backpack behind and a big cat in one hand, and without any center of gravity, I am crossing the turbulent, cold, turbid river on trembling legs, and I feel like I’m about to fall: the slippery boards and the intense fear of heights are boosting my chances to take a swim…
When we crossed the bridge, a volunteer drove up and took us to Kyiv. I am very grateful to all those people who risk their lives to help others. Those who spread not aggression and hate but love and care. They are saints, truly.
“We came to Boryspil. On the streets, we saw people living their lives, going shopping, as if there were no war… On the streets of Irpin, there are but traces of blood”.
The only thing that saved me from going insane after what I had seen was God. After we left Irpin, only five neighbors still stayed in our apartment block. We were among the last to leave.
We had a Viber chat with the people who lived in our block. In that chat, our neighbor Serhii (whom I didn’t know personally) sent messages everyday telling us about our house. He stayed in Irpin because his elderly parents were there—besides, most of the residents left their pets behind, so he fed them.
I remember the photos of the first two shells that hit our house—and didn’t explode. Right after we got out, they started shelling Irpin with renewed vigor…
I remember the photos of houses that could be seen out of our window… They had no roofs, and the fire was dying… And I couldn’t believe that these were the houses surrounded by the green pine forest that I loved to look at so much… That this was the same view that used to be so calming…
And then Serhii went silent and we knew the worst had happened… Some time later, we found out that the military had gone to our apartment block to pillage, found everyone who stayed, and killed them. They killed the ordinary civilians who loved their houses and their parents, who found the strength to care about pets abandoned by their owners… The people who weren’t in the army, who weren’t armed—who just lived in Irpin.
And I realized that my husband and I could have met the same fate as our neighbors… But God had saved us.
Later on, when they were already withdrawing from Irpin, I was sent the photos of my shelled house… One shell hit my balcony and exploded.
That was the time that I finally broke down. I really loved my home. I was happy there. It was my world which I so carefully built myself… That shattered into a thousand pieces.
And so it goes: it turns out you can have your own home and all the things you need, you can live, work—and then the war will come, and you’ll be left with nothing at all…And lucky if you’re alive. I thank God I am alive.
Recorded by Oleksandr Nikitin
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: Marfa Vyhovska | Translation: Lisa Bolotova
“In order to survive, we melted the snow and drained the water from the batteries in the apartment.” The story of a family from Kharkiv that was living in a bomb shelter under constant shelling, without water and food