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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Kyiv after shelling

    Nataliya Chornovil: ‘It was like a movie about the apocalypse. Burned and overturned cars, destruction everywhere. I did not recognize my village”

    Life under fire

    АвторAuthor: Lidia Bilyk | Translation:

    26 April 2022

    Natalia Chornovil, a 36-year-old psychologist from Kyiv, decided to go to her parent’s house in Zabuchye, Kyiv Region, with her brother and friend at the beginning of the war on February 24. It seemed that a quiet and peaceful village would be a much safer place than the capital, where explosions had been heard since the morning. Who knew that they would have to flee from there in two weeks.

    “They say a person can get used to everything if someone told me that I would sit in the basement for sixteen days”.

    On the morning of February 24, a friend called me and said that the war had begun. Explosions have already been heard in some districts of Kyiv. My brother and I, a friend, decided to go to my parents’ house to experience it together so that it wouldn’t be so scary. Then I thought it was only for a few days, and we could return to Kyiv at any time.

    On the way to Zabuchye, we went to my friend in Irpin, drank tea, and when we were going to go further and got in the car, something buzzed.

    “I see two fighter aircrafts flying over us, followed by two missiles. I was paralyzed with fear, and while other people fell to the ground covering their heads with their hands, I kept sitting in the car. At that moment, I realized how serious everything was”.

    There was always something flying over us to Zabuchye. Although the first night in our village was quiet, we could still hear the sounds of explosions in neighbouring towns. On the third day of our stay in my parents’ house, shots were heard in Zabuchye itself. Just as we were on the fourth floor of the house trying to catch the internet, there were loud bangs, and the whole house began to move. As soon as these sounds subsided, we ran to the basement. I’ve never run so fast. Some of the blows were so strong that I found glass flying out of one of the houses on the next street in my yard. There were also metal remnants of shells that hit the fence of a neighbouring house. There were two such heavy shellings in the village. One day the projectile hit the yard of our relatives, where the shock wave knocked out the iron door and all the windows, and one of the walls fell. People managed to survive and remain unharmed. After the bombing, we investigated with our neighbours to find out where the missiles had landed and whether there were any casualties. There were always several people, and no one came out alone. At first, I went up to the top floor of the house and looked through binoculars to see if the Russian military was walking around the village or if there were tanks. One day, a column of Russian tanks, about 60 of them, passed through the town and other equipment moving in the direction of Irpin.

    “They say a person can get used to everything if someone told me that I would sit in the basement for sixteen days”.

    We went down to the basement when it got dark because the shelling usually started in the evening. At that time, Russian soldiers walked around the village, entered the yards and asked for gas and water. On the other side, there was a Ukrainian checkpoint. There was a territorial defence force (from now on – TDF) of five people who had only two rifles in the village. Later on Facebook, I saw that someone wanted three people from TDF Zabuchye. The house where our defence was formed burned down, the Ukrainian checkpoint was destroyed, and the Russians took it instead of our soldiers.

    Neighbours said a civilian car with a dead driver was parked near a Russian checkpoint. We do not know whether the Russian military shot him or whether the man died accidentally from shells. The Russians refused to give the deceased’s body to the locals for a long time, and only two days later, they allowed him to be taken away. None of us recognized the man, and people took pictures of the deceased to identify him later. Locals buried an unknown person somewhere in the garden.

    Natalya in the basement with a dog

    Natalya in the basement with a dog named Misha, who was killed by the Russian military

    Since I am a psychologist by education, I came up with some activities every day to keep my psyche healthy because sometimes it thundered so that it seemed that our basement was shaking too. The temperature in it sometimes dropped to -8 degrees. Every day I prepared food, fed dogs, washed dishes in ice water, and went to the neighbours. We are lucky that my mother is very thrifty. And although it so happened that my parents were not in Ukraine, there were enough cereals in their house, dog food that my mother bought in advance, and much more, thanks to which we survived.

    On the 16th day, I realized that I needed to leave. It started to explode louder, and many said it would not get better. I realized that the light would not come on, and I was tired of living like a primitive person: in darkness and cold. I slept fully clothed for sixteen days, wearing a hat and jacket. I also had a feeling of resentment because while my colleagues and friends were helping others, I was just hiding at the moment. But on the other hand, my heart was broken because I knew I couldn’t take all the dogs with me. My mother advised me to apologize to them and explain that I would be back soon. I did so by approaching my favourite dog named Misha. I asked him to wait for me. We left the neighbour food for the animals we fed, blankets, and everything we needed.

    When we were leaving, I saw that the houses were completely burnt down at the beginning of the village, and the shop at the gas station was broken. The Russians set up a checkpoint from the refrigerators, freezers, and tables left after the store’s destruction.

    “We were told to drive very slowly, open all the windows, attach a white cloth to the car, and keep our hands straight in front of us at the wheel. We drove almost without talking to each other; we seemed to become one big ear, listening very carefully to what was happening around us. As we approached the first checkpoint, the military came to us with machine guns and stripes “Russia” My friend was terrified”. 

    “Show the documents,” said the Russians, and we did not understand how to behave and what to say.

    They asked where we were going, but I didn’t know what to say: truth or not. The realization that you do not know what will happen next is frightening.

    “Why are you worried? We are also people, do not worry, no one will offend you, everything will be fine with you,” one of the Russian servicemen addressed us.

    While Russian soldiers checked our trunk for weapons, my dog ​​Emma, ​​whom we took with us, got scared and jumped out the window.

    “Go,” said one of the soldiers. The other said to take the dog away because it is a pity for him because she will disappear.

    The Russians allowed my brother to get out of the car and catch the dog, but it was so scary because they were all standing around us with machine guns. We were previously told that we were in a tiger’s cage and should not make any sudden movements. And here, imagine a dog jumping out of a window. And it’s such a horror: around the devastation, everything is broken, soldiers with machine guns and a brother who runs across the field and can not catch a dog because she was scared. Later, Emma sat in the car, not moving until Kyiv.

    I thought we had three such checkpoints, my brother says four, but I don’t remember because it was horrifying. The area we were driving on was visible from all sides, so we were told to open all the windows, move very slowly, attach a white cloth to the car, and keep our hands directly in front of the wheel to be seen. We were warned that they could shoot from anywhere.

    House in Zabuchya

    Natali’s dacha in Zabuchya

    “There’s a tank in the yard,” my brother said suddenly. I told him to keep a close eye on the road and not look elsewhere.

    At the last checkpoint, there were very provocative inspectors, saying: ” come out”, “open”, and “come on”. They were a little high. And when we checked everything and went on, I prayed for myself and begged the Lord to come alive. After that, a particular time passed, and suddenly, the car started to overtake us at high speed, we set out to give it, and then we realized that it was a column of the Red Cross.

    We line up in a column and close the windows together as if on command. A friend pressed the gas, and we drove away. There were about twenty cars in convoy, and four more cars followed us.

    We went on through Chervonyi Khutir and the levee, where we used to go swimming as teenagers. It was so sunny, the river sparkled in the sun, and I thought, “How beautiful and what a terrible day.” When we crossed the levee and got to the Zhytomyr highway, I saw the Ukrainian flag; it became easier for me. I don’t know why, but when we approached, people made some hand movements as if to meet us. When we passed all the checks, we were at home there was a sense of security. I could barely hold back my tears and sent a message to my parents. My mother called me, but I couldn’t speak; we came to Kyiv like wild animals. The realization of how it could be and what could happen came later. After all, some were not allowed on that route; some were shot at all.

    After arriving in Kyiv, I slept dressed for a few more days; I could be thrown into the cold. I still have a condition to keep my backpack and everything else ready. I try to combine work with volunteering; we collect everything necessary for the Armed Forces. Now I have seven people living at home with their animals; I am preparing to eat for them, which is a kind of meditation. A neighbour who left us house keys and dog food for more than two weeks did not get in touch. But later, he told me the sad news – after we left Zabuchche, the Russian military killed my favourite dog Misha, broke into our house, smashed it, and stole our car, which we abandoned in the garage.

    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: Lidia Bilyk | Translation:

    Life under fire

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