АвторAuthor: Iryna Semenova | Translation: Mariia Orletska
24 August 2022
Fighting on the front line can be anywhere. You can join the ranks of the Armed Forces or you can volunteer, sign up for the Territorial Defence Forces, help civilians, fight propaganda in social networks, deliver food to canteens, leave your nearest and dearest in a safe city and go where it’s “hot zone”. Dmytro Tverdokhlib, a volunteer from Dnipro, chose these difficult paths for himself.
Until the last, I did not believe that there would be a full-scale offensive. This is not just stupid, it is irrational and ineffective, and for Russia it will definitely not be a quick victorious war. So I convinced everyone I know that there will be no war, but there will be a maximum of provocations on the border and complications in the Joint Forces Operation zone.
Only on February 23, something clicked in my head and I bought food for myself and my parents, so that in the event of a Russian offensive there would be something to eat, something to cook, and medicines to take care of ourselves.
I slept on the sofa until my brother called me at 5 in the morning and told me that there had been an explosion near the airport in Dnipro. I scrolled social networks: the most hyped video at the time was Putin’s speech about the start of a special operation.
I had a shock. I quickly began to engage in various dialogues with military friends I knew and ask what was happening – the offensive, provocations?… I simply did not understand what was happening. And after such information gathering, within the first hour after the start of the offensive, the picture was already formed and we began to write small algorithms for other people, what to do, where we could get help. “If you are in the territory that has become near-front, if possible leave. If occupiers enter your community: at least do not go outside, contact the police and Security Service of Ukraine, remove Ukrainian symbols” – advice of such a plan. We wanted to calm people down, prevent panic.
At first, I had an idea to go to the military commissariat, but then I decided to direct my volunteer, organizational resources to help the Armed Forces, volunteers and the police.
We promptly created a group in which we blocked Russian resources and cyber activities, as they used these channels to sow panic, tip off and spread information about the movement of our Ukrainian troops. Then this group was also made to inform people about what was happening.
I stuck very hard on social networks, somewhere on 15-20 channels, checked them, talked with colleagues about who exactly can be trusted. At the same time, I began collecting aid for canteens that prepared food for soldiers who were just now going to the front.
I tried to collect my thoughts, to understand how I could be useful.
When I managed to establish the activities of my organization in Dnipro, I asked everyone I know if they had everything they needed – then I signed up for the Territorial Defence Forces.
And then I came to help the 3rd battalion of the Ukrainian volunteer army as a logistician.
Later, at the invitation of Andrii Rudenko, I went to Kharkiv. Because it was clear that the Russians would no longer advance near the Dnipro, and I would be able to help more in Kharkiv.
I came to Kharkiv at the beginning of March, just when the regional administration was hit and the fighting in the suburbs had just ended. Rusnia was knocked out, air defense was brought in, and at this turning point I came to Kharkiv.
There were no more street fights, but there were no police or civilians on the streets – only the military.
The road was empty from the Dnipro. Only cars with volunteers went to Kharkiv, and refrigerators with the numbers “200” went from Kharkiv. I was shocked that the city was completely deserted. Many shops were broken… Then I got a little used to this image of destruction and did not perceive it so acutely.
I helped the humanitarian center of the Kharkiv region, it was just being created then and didn’t even have a name yet, it was just an initiative of various organizations to help civilians and military. We collected loads of all kinds of household goods and food, looked for opportunities to buy equipment and ammunition for the military through local entrepreneurs.
There were no utility workers on site at all, there was no water in the entire city, there was mostly gas, and electricity was not available in all areas. We lived in hotels, then already empty, where the owners allowed military personnel and volunteers to stay. Water was driven and drawn from wells.
We ate in restaurants that had been converted to serve food for soldiers and volunteers. Sometimes we used fast food. Because there was no way to cook. The apartments of the people we worked with are located in the northern part of the city, which at that time was under fire from volley fire systems. It was dangerous to drive there, let alone “cook”.
I didn’t tell my parents anything when I went there. Mom has serious health problems, she can’t be worried. In a couple of weeks, I carefully told them about it, because sooner or later, they would have found out about it anyway. My mother cried even when I signed up for the TDF, because we didn’t know what would happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. And father… Father simply said: “Take care of yourself.”
Acquaintances from Russia – those with whom I crossed paths at youth exchanges – such liberal Russians. But even with them I stopped communicating. Since 2014, I have not communicated at all with all my relatives living in Russia. Even then, I accepted that “good Russian” is only the 200th(dead).
In Kharkiv, according to the authorities, the war has already ended: from June 1, all municipal employees and state employees were forced to return under the threat of dismissal (the same applies to the administration). Therefore, many people returned to the city.
And the hotel owners decided that it is possible to return to the commercial option. Accordingly, we were expelled from all these institutions. We agreed with the owner of one mini-hostel, who went abroad, but allowed soldiers and volunteers to live in it “until the active hostilities end.”
Now this is our headquarters. More military than volunteer, because I am the only one who is not officially a military man. I was interested in the subject and although I did not serve in the army, I went through certain training at my own request and I know how to handle weapons, military affairs, battle tactics – I studied these disciplines for myself.
In Dnipro, in TDF, we all lived in a barracks, we went to the city and outside the city to the territories that were under fire, it was very difficult, very unusual. In a couple of weeks, I more or less adapted, but I realized that it was not for me. By statute, in the barracks, according to the uniform, according to the routine, it was very uncomfortable for me to exist. And I couldn’t combine my volunteer work with that.
It was impossible to stay in the barracks at all, because these were the first points that were shot. Because of that, we were scattered in different places-apartments, so it was not even very similar to military life.
There are a lot of veterans in Dnipro, there were already a lot of soldiers, so they simply mobilized. Representatives of other professions – IT workers, teachers – were simply not taken. But those who wanted got into the ranks of the Armed Forces. People felt that the war that had been going on in Ukraine since 2014 had already reached them. There was a breakdown of consciousness.
In Kharkiv Oblast, the main backbone was also the military. There were a lot of volunteers from “Azov”. The first blow was taken by the “Azovians” and some departments that still remained there. And in such cooperation with the popular resistance, the attack of the Russian troops on Kharkiv and on the suburbs, where the Rashists stopped, was completely repelled.
In March-April, mobilization began for those who had never even served. Someone perceived it as an adventure, because they did not realize what was really happening. For some, it was a shock, and they tried both to come and to leave, because they realized that they would not be able to withstand such stress, danger and risks. And some, on the contrary, realized that it fit very well into this picture of the world – a military one.
People had the opportunity to put their lives into perspective and for some it became a good discovery, while others realized that they would be better able to help from the rear.
I had the clearest predictions at the beginning. The further, the less I want to give them. Therefore, there are no forecasts – none at all. The only thing I rely on is the news that various units from the south and the east transmit, and official intelligence data.
There are no plans either. Because everything changes very quickly. Now I make notes for a week ahead at most.
Globally: we want to open our humanitarian organization in Dnipro to deliver humanitarian aid to the communities of Kryvyi Rih, Pavlograd and others where there are IDPs and refugees from the east.
We continue our work in Kharkiv. We still need to buy a lot of cars and drones and hand them over to the military.
There are plans to go to the east to help the humanitarian headquarters in the Kramatorsk region. Because we work there as soldiers, but not as volunteers.
I am also very grateful to my organization “Republika Institute” and “Active Community”, which in the conditions of a real full-scale war showed itself as a center of stress resistance and adequacy, as an organization that did not get lost, reformatted, stood on the rails of a new reality, and instead of collapsing – grouped people.
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 Semenova | Translation: Mariia Orletska