АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Nataliia Zadorozhna
26 July 2022
Every time when russians were bombing Makariv, Olena Ralchuk had to make a difficult moral choice – hide in the basement or stay with her father, who was paralyzed after a stroke. However, when a rocket hit the second floor of their house, the woman decided to leave the town with her seriously ill parents. The story of Olena Ralchuk is a story about fortitude, mutual support and faith in people.
My daughter Taniushka and I were volunteers in the Union of Combatants in Makariv. The day before, on Saturday, we were told at the meeting that there would most likely be an invasion. So we agreed to be on duty at the weekend. And on Thursday at 5 a.m., my daughter popped into my room and said the war had broken out. We sat, stunned by the news, and heard the distant explosions.
I work near Makariv as the chief accountant at a factory of veterinary medicines. I went to work that morning. We somehow managed to work half a day, but nobody understood what to expect from the future…
We did not consider evacuation back then, because it was unreal: I was taking care of two parents who had suffered a stroke. My mother managed to recover from this state, but dad was still bedridden. That’s why we decided to stay there.
From the very first day, like many other people, we understood that we could not just sit back and do nothing. So, we figured out that if we are unable to hold weapons in our hands, we will help in another way.
My daughter immediately went to the headquarters of the Territorial Defense and stayed there. Later on, she resigned from her job, mobilized and now serves in the ranks of the Ukrainian army. Well, I helped there as much as I could.
Together with my mother, we found white sheets and blankets at home, cut and then wound them up on dressing material. I know how to bake bread, but then there was nowhere to get flour. I spent all of mine, and it turned out 3-4 times for 4 loaves.
We were told that there were not enough blankets for the soldiers, so I gathered everything I found at home and asked if the neighbors had any. Mykolaivna even brought a huge bear skin and we handed it over to the soldiers (laughs – ed. note).
We were asked to cook soup for the soldiers, so my husband and I cooked it and brought it to them in buckets. When there was shelling, we put buckets down and fell to the ground. When it stopped, we carried them again. We were scared, but we had to provide our defenders with food.
I remembered that our factory of veterinary drugs has antiseptics in stock: iodine and brilliant green. We contacted the director and he gave many boxes of everything. I brought all this to the Union of Combatants and soon these medicines became very useful for our volunteers.
I no longer remember the date when the IFV (infantry fighting vehicle) with our soldiers was attacked in the center of Makariv. My daughter called me, I rushed to see her and did not recognize my Taniushka at all. She aged overnight…
They pulled two dead soldiers out of the car immediately, but the other one they managed to pull out only after russians had retreated. My daughter does not remember how many soldiers remained alive. Then there was total chaos….
“But they had to save five wounded men. Taniusha said that they were badly burned … The skin peeled off in shreds … There was a lot of blood … “
There were other girls there, but Nataliia Kovalska, who had a medical education, and my daughter rushed to provide first aid. They made every effort and managed to get the soldiers to the hospital, where they were saved. The first days of the war were like this… I didn’t experience it myself, but it was so scary to listen to.
russians were constantly shelling Makariv. There was a huge explosion in our garden. I run out of the house and see that something is burning not far away. I was thinking of taking a picture, but when I started to take out my phone, I heard the sound of a huge explosion from that place again! So I ran back to the basement, not feeling my feet. Later on, I found that it was probably a cluster bomb.
It so happened that the rashists’ “liberators” “liberated” me and my family from the house in which my husband, our two grown-up children, my old infirm parents and I lived. My parents moved to our house from the Havron region two years ago after they had suffered a stroke.
It was scary at home, we were hiding in the basement. Since there was no communication and television in the town, I set up the radio on my phone and learned about some news that way.
When we were hiding from the shelling in the basement, my dad remained upstairs, confined to his bed. At the time, my soul was torn into pieces, but we could not lift him. As soon as it calmed down, I immediately hurried up to see him:
– “Dad, are you alive?”
– I’m alive.
– Were you scared?
– Oh, It was so scary…
On March 6, there was another restless night. We got up in the morning and took care of dad. In the kitchen, I put cabbage rolls in the oven to stew for the boys from Territorial Defense.
“And then there was an explosion. I figured out that it hit our porch. We all rushed to the basement, and for the second time something struck! I hear that it hit our house. Horror. We climbed out of the basement, and I saw that our house is missing part of the second floor. I ran to my father. He was alive…”
I went outside – the neighbor’s house across the street had no roof. I was shouting, are there any alive? Tetiana Mykolaivna, a neighbor, came out. They were alive…
My room was on the second floor, so all the fragments of the roof and walls were laying on my bed. Water was running from there because the pipes were damaged… It was freezing outside. We walked around the house like ghosts. Words can’t even convey how we felt at that moment. We did not understand at all what to do next and how to live.
We spent another terrible night there. The house was shaking from the explosions, every minute it could simply collapse. It was cold, and I had to wash, feed, and change the bed for my bedridden father. We made the decision to leave. But how? I didn’t believe that dad would endure the long ride. I was so scared.
Oksana Herasymenko, head of the Union of Combatants, came to help. This is a Person, indeed, with a capital letter! I don’t know where she got her strength from, probably she lived on adrenaline! But she was aware of all matters, could be in several places at the same time, the whole organization was supported by her. She supported us a lot then. She undertook to take me out with my seriously ill parents.
All this time, my 26-year-old son was staying with his girlfriend’s parents in Kalynivka, which is 51 kilometers from Makariv. They were heavily bombed there. There was no way he could get out of there, and there was no connection either. And when a missile hit our house on March 6, he managed to leave by car.
When we were preparing to leave the town, my husband decided to stay. We have two shepherd dogs and four cats. My daughter also wanted to stay, because she was needed there. I was crying, my heart was breaking, because my son and I could not stay, we had to take our parents out of the city. But how? And where to go?
I don’t know where the strength came from, but we loaded dad into the front passenger seat. Which way to go? An aerial bomb was dropped on Makariv, the earth was shaking. Is this hell or not? Everything around was on fire.
The fearless Oksana Herasymenko got behind the wheel of her car, my son drove his. From the side where the russians captured part of Makariv, the road was blocked, and it was impossible to get to Kyiv. There was only one way – through Kalynivka. Oksana accompanied us to the village of Nebylytsia on the border of Makariv district. After that, my son took us to his girlfriend’s relatives in the Zhytomyr region. My dad could not bend his legs, it was difficult for him to sit, he moaned because his whole body was numb.
– Dad, how are you?
– I’m good, – and moans again.
He understands everything, speaks, it’s just that his left side is paralyzed. He cannot move his legs or arms.
“He suffered a stroke 2 years ago in April. And in 2 months, my mother had a stroke. My mother recovered, but dad had a more serious case. I thought at the time that I was going to lose my mind. It was so scary…”
We sold my old house in February of that year and bought a newer one, which was built in the center of Makariv in 1989. We started to settle in, dad helped us a lot with moving and with construction. Maybe this triggered the stroke, I don’t know…
I couldn’t do much at home with sick parents, and I still had to go to work. So we hired a caretaker who lived nearby and helped us a lot. She is such a good woman…
I thought then that it was very difficult for me, but when the war broke out, I understood that it was even more difficult during this period… I understood that back then it was possible to overcome everything. In the evening, I came home from work and took care of my parents. On the weekend, we bathed my father, he was brought to the bath on a cart, and how could it be otherwise? They are my parents!
And before russia started a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, at the beginning of February we all fell ill with COVID-19. And probably because of this, dad had another stroke… We treated him, even with our support he was able to take a few steps. And now, of course, he won’t get up. It’s my biggest pain…
We decided to go to the Zhytomyr region and that’s how our travels through Ukraine began. My dad turned out to be a real fighter and steadfastly endured the road. And we had to drive halfway across the country.
So, we ended up in the picturesque village of Nyzhni Vorota, Zakarpattia region. I have never seen the Carpathians, always dreamed of visiting this place, but even in my wildest dreams I could not imagine that it would happen under such circumstances.
People in Nyzhni Vorota were so kind! We were offered to settle in a boarding school. There were 11 people in one room. I was in a panic, but everyone was very understanding about the fact that dad needs special care.
When the head of that boarding school, Mykhailo Mykhailovych, found out that we wanted to cut a hole in an old wooden chair in order to make a toilet for my father, the very next day he brought a real toilet intended for the disabled people!
No one was indifferent! Everywhere we were treated well. We were eating delicious food in the dining room, they tried to make us feel as comfortable as possible. Words cannot convey how grateful we are to the people who helped us.
Every day I waited for news from relatives who stayed in Makariv. But there was no electricity or communication. When they called us, I was relieved, because they were alive! Days and nights passed as if in a fog.
For three days, I could not get through to my relatives. And finally, the long-awaited call from the husband. Thank God, he is alive! But our house is gone…
It happened on March 22 at 6 am. The shell hit our house again, but now it and all the outbuildings near it had burned down.
The same morning, three of our defenders from the Territorial Defense were also killed. My daughter called us, she was crying. Indescribable pain… Before that evening, one of them told her not to worry: “You’ll see, I’ll be dancing at your wedding.” On the same day, I left my parents with my brother and his family and left for Kyiv by train.
It was my dreamhouse. I saved money for it for 2 years. And in November 2021, I finally paid the last debts for it. Which is very good, because now it would be insulting to pay for something that is no longer there…
My husband told me that when the missile hit at 6 am, he was sleeping in the house. He didn’t hide in the basement anymore. We had 4 cats, so he used them to keep warm, because there was no gas or electricity.
The explosion was very scary. My husband ran outside and saw that the garage was on fire. And then he raised his head, and the house above was engulfed in fire.
Everything burned very quickly. My husband was lost. He rolled out a wheelchair, saved 3 bicycles, a lawnmower and a chainsaw from the garage… He untied our two shepherd dogs and then they ran away.
When russians started bombing, the cats hid in the basement. One of them climbed into a closet in the living room. He suffocated from the smoke there. Another, chubby cat, burned in the basement… And the thin one jumped out through the ventilation hole… How did he manage to do it? We found our Phoenix 3.5 months later . The cat was wounded but still alive.
Thank God, we also found our dogs. Ralph and Santa are with us now. Moreover, after russians left Makariv, we managed to find the cat. My daughter misses her cats so badly.
Oksana Herasymenko provided our family with a huge support. She evacuated my husband to Nebelytsia when our house burned. There, kind people settled him in a free house.
Not far from Makariv, in the village of Havronshchyna, remained my parents’ house. It withstood, even though the village was occupied by russians. At one time, as best he could, my father built a sewer there, a shower, a toilet, so I can say that I live there in comfort. But I can’t take my parents to this house. There are rapids everywhere, so it’s impossible to pull a wheelchair. That’s why together with my brother they are now living in Kyiv.
I was advised to consult a psychologist. I have always been strong, purposeful and self-confident. But after all the challenges I have faced, I cry almost every day…
I want to go back to my Makariv so badly! But my greatest desire now is Victory! I want to go home and take my parents there. I want my noisy big family to gather, so that all my numerous relatives will come to visit us. I want to cook, eat in large potions, bake bread and take care of the garden
I don’t know if I will be able to face all challenges, because it’s really hard. I try to reassure myself that everything will be fine and we will deal with everything, good will overcome evil. Although when I will come back to Makariv and see the ruins of my house, I will be in despair again. Because it will never be the same as it was. And it hurts a lot to understand this fact…
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 Hyliuk | Translation: Nataliia Zadorozhna
“For me, the war did not start on February 24, 2022, but much earlier, back in 2014, when I lived in the Donetsk region.” The story of a woman with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy who evacuated to Georgia on her own