АвторAuthor: Yuliya Osadcha | Translation: Kateryna Doroshenko
20 July 2022
Two years ago, 33-year-old Oleksandra Kondrasheva’s large family moved to the village of Severynivka, Buchansky district, Kyiv region. For them an old house in a picturesque village became a place of recovery and strength. From the first days of the war, the district took the first blow from the russian invasion. The family had to live under constant shelling, bombardment and surrounded by rashists. Read more about how the family survived the occupation and was one step away from death.
We are a large family. We have four children, who are eleven, ten, eight and six years old. One girl is Stefania, the rest are boys: Arseniy, Orest and Lubomyr.
We moved to the village of Severynivka for permanent residence two years ago. Before that, we used to live permanently in Podil in Kyiv. In 2016, we bought an old house there, which was more than sixty years old. We really liked it, it was enough for three families with three stoves. It was forty acres of land in a very picturesque town combined with good infrastructure and proximity to the capital.
When the coronavirus started, we moved to the village for permanent residence. At the beginning of the pandemic, I got seriously ill and lost my child. We were gradually recovering by walking in the local forest and fields.
The purchase of our cottage was a so-called push to start a sugar-free sweets business. At that time, children needed healthy food and there were no such offers as there are now. We started using our harvest to make pastille then.
We did not believe until the last second that there would be a war. The only thing I did was, at my husband’s request, I withdrew some cash and filled the car with gasoline.
In the morning of February 24, we didn’t listen to the news. We didn’t do it the day before either. We had to take the children to school that morning. The school was located after the parking lot. One needs to go along the Zhytomyr highway if they want to get to that place. Our school is private. We used to take our children there every day.
At seven o’clock in the morning we left, as usual. The track is only one kilometer from our house. And as soon as we left, we immediately saw there were a lot of cars driving in the opposite direction. It was definitely not normal, because usually they go in the opposite direction, towards the capital. There were very big traffic jams.
We stopped and read the news and were really shocked that the war had started. Then we turned around and went home. That was it.
We realized that we wouldn’t go anywhere, because a lot of people were leaving Kyiv and there was a traffic jam on the road for a hundred kilometers in the direction of Zhytomyr. We were convinced that nothing would happen in our village.
We went to a local store, there was an incredible stir among local people. We spent two hours trying to get something from the shelves. It’s good that they took it, because I couldn’t even predict that I would have to save even for pasta.
And that’s it. We arrived home. We walked through the forest and started reading the news. There was no panic. We were just really stressed because of the incredible amount of rumors.
“Military helicopters and fighter jets flew very low above us, and we also heard explosions, because Irpin, Hostomel and Bucha were 20 km from us. It felt like it had to end soon”.
The second and third days passed in the same way, but on February 27, a plane fell directly on a high-voltage line in the neighboring village of Berezivka, and we didn’t have electricity.
We could no longer connect to the Internet, and the mobile network was always very bad in our village. And a few days later, when the convoys of moscals (citizens of moscow) were already walking along the Zhytomyr highway, the mobile networks also disappeared.
We have a fireplace. When it was dark, we burned it, we also used candles and a camping flashlight. There were also Christmas garlands that lit up our house.
We were hiding in the basement of our neighbors’ house. They have a big new house. When there was shelling on our street, we spent three days in the basement, but it was very difficult for our children – there were many people there. The man did not go anywhere, he stayed at home.
We began to live according to natural biorhythms. There were only four of our children and four godchildren with us. They live on our street, we all used to hang out together. Children adapted well to the situation, they did not have the same fear as adults. They constantly played in the yard, and when it rained very hard, they ran home.
We had a checkpoint, all the men went there in turn. They were standing there even without weapons, they simply weren’t there. The Military Commissariat came to us from Makariv, they promised to give out the weapons, but very heavy fighting began there, so in the end nobody got anything.
Everyone took with them what they had: some took a gun, some took a knife. However, a week later, when moscals’ tanks were already standing on our field, they started shooting at the roadblock and it was already destroyed. Fortunately, everyone managed to escape.
After sitting at home, in a week, the occupation began. It was the beginning of March. Our only source of information was the radio. We got into the car (we have an electric car), almost the whole village connected their phones to it for charging. There was a hill where we could catch the Internet a little. But it was still very dangerous there.
When we were under occupation, we were already running out of food. I first encountered the fact that I had eight children sitting at the table, and I wondered if the two remaining packs of pasta would be enough for them. On the second day, there was nothing in our store, only ketchup and chocolates remained. Of course, we also took them, because they’re products. Our village has a small frozen fish factory. After a week of occupation, the workers began to simply distribute products to people, because nothing worked and the fish would spoil completely.
“We often exchanged products with the villagers: I had a lot of apples, pastries, I exchanged them for eggs or a loaf of bread or potatoes. People knew that there were many children in the house and brought food just like that, for free”.
At that time, I had a ton of apples, several cubes of ready-made pastille for sale. It all spread around the village, I handed it in to families with children. It helped us a lot, because pastille contains vitamins.
Two men from our village died. One was shot because they found cartridges and a photo of him with a gun at his home. He was a hunter. The second man was found near Motyzhyn in a mass grave. And the family that tried to evacuate: the father and mother were shot, the 9-year-old girl was returned to the village, and the 15-year-old girl was taken with them, and only recently her dead, raped body was found. People’s bodies are still being found, I think it will continue for a long time.
That’s all we know. I believe that our village is under some kind of dome. I think it’s because we don’t have a driveway or a road. Therefore, the village did not suffer major destruction: the house at the end of our street was damaged, sheds were damaged here and there, there was a projectile in the wall of our priest’s house, we had only the roof of the barbecue room damaged.
One day, my husband and I went to that hill and shelling started just down our street. We were running, and the bombing were very close. We rushed to the children, because they were worried about how they would be alone in the house. And when we ran and entered the house, we saw our children frightened and hid: some under the bed, some under the pillow. And the only thing they kept saying was: “Mom, our clock fell off the wall and broke.” This bothered them a lot. Today we bought a new one and hung it. I am very happy about it.
Tanks stood in the field between Severynivka and Motyzhyn, convoys traveled along the Zhytomyr highway. Later it was called the “road of death”. There was a very large amount of military equipment. From time to time, our soldiers fired at them and destroyed them, and the remnants of russian soldiers from these tanks ran away around the villages.
We have a closed cottage town near us, moscals found this town through the forest. The residents had already left, and the russians had set up a base there. They stole and looted everything there. They thought that this was the village of Severynivka. Then they caught a resident of our village and learned about our street from him. After that, they started to walk our streets.
We decided to try to leave that place on the sixth of March. Rumors started to reach us about what was happening around our village. Someone was shot, and someone was raped there… and that’s why it was getting very scary.
We are used to shelling, to the fact that fields are burning – we are also used to it, but we understood that this is not the most terrible thing in the war, the most terrible thing is the atrocities of the occupiers.
We agreed with a priest from our village to work together. We decided to leave in a convoy with the local residents, and we gathered 15 cars. We had the illusion that it was safer to leave in a convoy.
We attached white headbands, attached toys to cars and wrote “Children”. We got into our car in the morning, which runs on petrol. A lot of people got in there. When we were leaving, we drove a bit of the road to the Zhytomyr highway and we were shocked by what we had started doing. This was a six-lane track, there was a track in which there were no bumpers.
We drove out among shot cars, corpses, body parts, destroyed military equipment that was still smoking.
We were driving very carefully so as not to puncture the wheel, because we knew that we were a live target. Only in the first two weeks of the war, 50 civilians who tried to leave were shot. A day before our departure, a family with two daughters tried to evacuate. We were very lucky, because the occupiers acted according to the principle of letting one column pass and one to shoot. They saw us, but we managed to slip by. The road between Severinivka and Makariv was very scary, it is hard to forget.
“There were cars with corpses of children, women, elderly people, pets. They stood every 100-200 meters”.
We saw the first checkpoint from the Armed Forces near Makariv. These were very tired Ukrainian soldiers…it was obvious that they were under a lot of stress. Only later did we learn how terrible the fighting was and how many losses our side had. We didn’t know that then. Our military officer advised us to drive very fast and not to stop. We drove straight along the road to Rivne. We were going to my friend’s house.
When we arrived in Rivne, I couldn’t understand at all how, after driving for two and a half hours, we could see such a striking difference. There were a lot of corpses, shot cars and horror, and there was life, shops and cafes.
We didn’t wash for two weeks. I will never forget the smell of fear and burnt metal. This is what a person who leaves a war zone smells like.
It was a very surreal feeling, because we drove for two and a half, maximum three hours, of which the road was scary for one and a half hours, but it was in Rivne that I felt that people do not know what war is. I was very happy about it, I wanted to hug everyone.
I also wanted to tell everyone that on the other side, there were still people lying on the road, there were children and their parents who had been shot, I wanted to tell every saleswoman about it, everyone I used to meet about your experience.
It’s a state when you’re on adrenaline, you have high levels of cortisol. This is a feature of the human psyche, I understood this when I already took courses on crisis military psychology and I understand that this is normal.
I was very pleased that when people heard where we left from, they treated us very sympathetically, and gave us discounts in shops and cafes. In general, I am very impressed by the kindness and sincerity of Ukrainians.
I will probably remember the warm meeting of our friends forever. There was borscht, apple pie, fruit, incredibly beautiful table setting, a more than comfortable bath and a bunch of towels especially for us. I was even ashamed to take the hat off my head.
“We all washed up and sat at the table and quietly ate the incredibly delicious food until the last crumb. And we slept that first night in safety without explosions. And in the morning we were fed again and treated, and given vitamins and honey before our next trip”.
Myroslava, my friend, then told me many important words that I still keep in my heart.
I think that there are people who restore your sense of dignity. And there are those who devalue it by word and deed. It is a delicate job to arrange the space around you, watch over life, heal wounds and be there for you. It’s some kind of mother’s job.
All this time for me is a complete discovery of the incredible human kindness, generosity and support. Then we went to the Ternopil region to our relatives in the city of Terebovlia. My husband’s family is from Galicia.
We lived there in the old house where my husband grew up. This very house was under German occupation during the Second World War, then under Soviet occupation.
The Germans paid for this house, that means, they rented it, and when the Soviet occupation came, they simply expelled the family from there and exiled them to Siberia for 20 years. All the children of my husband’s grandmother for 20 years were born in Siberia. She got there as a 17-year-old girl, and returned as a 40-year-old woman. For 5 years after her return, she tried to buy this house. After returning the property, she already lived there and took care of her grandchildren. For me, the history of this house is very revealing.
A month after the release, there were no communications in the village. My husband returned to Syveryn to put things in order, and I went to Bulgaria with the children. We stayed there for a month. We lived in a hotel sponsored by the European Union. There in the sports camp was a program for Ukrainian children and their mothers. In Bulgaria, children played football and played sports.
It was not difficult for me to be with children, because I was used to spending almost all my time with the little ones. They were even homeschooled before.
“In the small town where we temporarily lived, it was City Day, when fireworks were set off. It lasted for 15 minutes, no one warned us. We had post-traumatic stress disorder and the children and I were very scared. But, unfortunately, people who have not experienced the war do not understand this”.
Bulgaria in general, in my opinion, is not very happy with Ukrainians. There is a lot of pro-russian sentiment there. There I had a very painful post-traumatic condition, I worked with a specialist crisis psychologist-trauma therapist. Two meetings were enough for me to bring myself back to normal.
Few things were very important for me to discuss: for example, when shells fell on our street and we heard a terrible whistle and we rushed to our children, we had to run 500 meters to our house. Then I was very worried about the children. I very much divide the fear for myself and for children, fear for children cannot be compared with anything. This is a very serious and strong feeling that probably every mother in Ukraine has felt. It is many times more difficult than fear for one’s life. I couldn’t run at that time because my legs felt like cotton wool. And my husband told me “You were a professional athlete in the past, you can do it.” And I just couldn’t do it at all, my legs were shaking. Psychosomatics worked. Since then, I havenєt been able to do yoga, exercise, or run. Although all this was present in my peaceful life. I discussed this with my psychologist and she explained to me that this is absolutely normal.
Also, we really didn’t want to leave on the first day, because we had to stand in traffic jams for kilometers. We thought: “what if they are going to bomb that traffic jam?” And when I realized that I could no longer leave or leave at the cost of my life or my children… I was tormented by the feeling of guilt that I had done something wrong and had to leave anyway. I had to take the children out. This feeling, so to say, ate myself from the inside very strongly.
The psychologist explained to me that I shouldn’t look at the events from the side of what I didn’t manage to do, but from the point of view of what I already did for the safety of my children. We began to list what we did with my husband for our little ones, and I began to be proud of myself.
I admire the Ukrainian psychologist Olga Shakutko. She works as a volunteer with children in traumatic situations.
And so on May 31, the program ended and the Ukrainians were asked to leave. We left home early because we had the opportunity to travel by bus at our own expense.
I really wanted to go home, I was being called there on a physical and spiritual level. I knew I had to go back. I was tired of living in other people’s houses. They are all beautiful, but they are not your people. I felt that I was in my place there, and so were my children. I thought that when I return
I would be afraid to go to the field, but the fear was gone. Especially when we saw that people were already walking on that road and we started walking there. However, we will not be able to go to the forest for at least a few years for sure. It is completely well-dug by rashists.
Now I see a car unloading bread near the store, and there is simply no room without bullet holes on it. The road is disfigured with small pits from shells, here and there black spots from ash which are the size of a civilian car. Gas stations, supermarkets, restaurants on the side of the highway were burned and destroyed. I thought it would be scary, like a flashback or so. But actually no. It feels usual.
A rehabilitated psyche draws attention to the positive: nature, the whole house, loved ones, delicious seasonal fruits. But the head is sober: we have to keep a full tank of the car, a packed suitcase, cash in the wallet and be ready to go without any hesitation at the first alarm call.
It seems that this is now our reality for many years: to recreate a full life at home again and again and pretend that everything is so mundane and familiar, and to be ready to leave it at any moment…
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: Yuliya Osadcha | Translation: Kateryna Doroshenko