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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Destroyed enemy’s equipment on the outskirts of Kharkiv

    Nataliia Vasylieva: “Survival instinct made me strong and determined”

    Life under fire

    АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk

    11 June 2022

    After the war began, Nataliia Vasylieva and her family left Kharkiv. Before the war she was working in the sphere of literature and Kharkiv regional studies, and she owns a small publishing house. 

    For a few weeks before the attack I was having a strong feeling that a war was about to begin. For a whole year I was sensing that something bad was coming and that a positive resolution of a war in the East of Ukraine was close. That is why many of my friends and I had a very busy time at work from September 2021 to February 2022. We wanted to live our lives to the fullest. We stopped postponing decisions, and as a mass vaccination started we realized that a battle with Covid was won, despite all the losses. Nevertheless a decisive military conflict was inevitable. Everybody knew that, but didn’t want to believe it. I wasn’t an exception. 

    The thought that there would be a war scared me stiff. At school I was fascinated by history, studied Holocaust and OUN-UPA, so I knew well what a war could be like, what ugly face it has. I didn’t doubt that my hometown would be taken, because Kharkiv is 50 km away from the border. To avoid the thoughts about the war I dived deeply into work. I’ve had this tendency to numb pain with work since 2014, because this war actually began 8 years ago, and I always felt that and blamed myself for being useless. The survivor’s guilt in action.

    “I was woken up by explosions”

    I got really anxious on 20th February, when Putin recognized the DNR and LNR. Around 5 am I woke up because I heard explosions. From my window I could see a pillar of smoke rising on the horizon. An active phase of war has begun. My husband woke up too, came up to the window next to me and said “it has started”. We didn’t wake our 6,5 year-old son, not to scare him, and started packing. At about 10 am there were Russian tanks on the Kharkiv ring road, but they were successfully destroyed by our defenders. Half a region was occupied. A shelling of suburbs started. We were scared, the situation changed every hour. We were constantly in contact with friends and relatives. 

    Destroyed enemy’s equipment on the outskirts of Kharkiv

    Destroyed enemy’s equipment on the outskirts of Kharkiv Photo from the telegrams of Oleg Sinegubov’s channel

    A couple of weeks before the invasion my siblings and I made a plan in case of war. My sister and her family moved to the West of Ukraine a few weeks before the attack. My brother and I agreed that he’d take our mother, and my husband and I – our grandmother, who lived in different parts of the city. All together, in 2 cars, we had to get to our sister in the West, where her company organized housing for the employees. All three of us had a call that day, my brother and my husband set off, my sister-in-law and I were packing. It so happened that my brother took our mom and they moved to our grandmother in the Kharkiv region. My husband came back with our other granny to our apartment, but it was already too late to go any further, so we stayed in Saltivka for the night. It was very scary that day, but survival instinct made me strong and determined. A few times we heard the sounds of anti-aircraft warfare, shootings, Hrad systems. Windows were trembling. The elevator didn’t work, and you can’t really run down to the shelter from the 8th floor with an 87-year-old grandmother, so we were sitting in a hallway. Sometimes my son and granny were hiding in the bathroom. Except our son, nobody could sleep at night.

    “We were afraid to be occupied”

    Next day, on 25th February, we moved out. At first we were going to go to the West of Ukraine to my sister’s, as was planned, but almost instantly I understood it wasn’t possible. My grandma wasn’t used to long journeys, my son was too terrified, my husband and I were exhausted. Even our cat took it hard – a few days before she had got an allergy and was suffering. Considering that my brother, his family and our mom stayed in the Kharkiv region, we decided to go to my husband’s mother. His sister and her family live nearby too. It took us an hour and a half. My brother took our grandma, and we went to my husband’s home village. During the first few weeks of an active phase of the war almost all my family and friends left Kharkiv. Most have small children.

    We lived with my husband’s mom in the Kharkiv region for 3 weeks, and we decided to leave for a couple of reasons. First of all, we were afraid of occupation. My friend from Ivano-Frankivsk had long before invited us to come, promising to help with the housing, so we took this offer. The road was okay, it took us 2 days, and we stayed for a night at my friend’s house in Kropyvnytskyi. We were used to traveling by car, so it wasn’t a challenge. For a few days we stayed with my friend’s family in Ivano-Frankivsk, and later rented an apartment we’re living in now, all of us: my husband, my son, our cat and I. We found lodging pretty fast, because our son got sick, so we wanted an apartment we could rent, not a house or a shelter. We’ve been living in rented apartments for 10 years now, and there were all kinds of them, so we took the first offer. 

    “We don’t know if the house will be safe, if we will come back home”

    We were in Ivano-Frankivsk at the beginning of January, for a vacation. Then the city was very different… I like it here, although I feel like a stranger. I can speak Ukrainian fluently and I understand how it would feel if I didn’t (it was so earlier). The hardest thing here is to be nobody. All my life in Kharkiv I was hyper-busy. Here I don’t have a job nor money, my child is sick and it’s unclear if our house will be safe, if we will come back. 

    My husband temporarily relocated his job from Kharkiv to Ivano-Frankivsk, but it is constantly hanging in the balance. He started to drive a taxi, but as the gas got more expensive it became less profitable. I was able to find a job in an office, so now I’m working here and in my publishing house at the same time, while my husband is at home with our son. 

    We will definitely come back to Kharkiv, as soon as it’s safe. The little one misses his kindergarten and his friends. Though I don’t think we will go back there, rather to school in the autumn. In Kharkiv. I really hope that we will. 

    Nataliia Vasylieva in Ivano-Frankivsk

    Nataliia Vasylieva. 26th April, Ivano-Frankivsk

    In a global sense, nothing has changed for me since the start of an active phase of the war. The people who were close, are even closer now. After the war ends I’ll go on working in my publishing house. Same as before I will appreciate every day and be grateful to God for it. My life wasn’t easy before either. I hope, when we win, we will forget for a long time what it feels like to be afraid of war.

    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: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk

    Life under fire

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