АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation:
1 July 2022
Olena Trutneva lived in Hostomel before the war. On February 24, a woman with her son went to her mother’s house in the country. In the first days of the war, the village was occupied and happened to be in the epicenter of the shelling. Risking her life, Olena managed to take her family out, passing through numerous checkpoints of the russian army. Now together with relatives she is located in Germany. Keep reading for more details.
Finally, I’m ready to talk about what happened to us. How we lived 15 days in occupation near Hostomel, and how we escaped. We survived this hell! After some time, when Hostomel, Irpin and Bucha were liberated, I found the strength to tell about it. I can hardly put into words what I experienced, but I will try, because I need to do it first of all for myself, I can no longer keep silent about it.
On February 24 at 5:25 an unexpected call from Odessa from my brother: «The war began! They are bombing the cities! Get ready soon and go to my mother’s in the country, away from the city. Don’t go to Odessa, they are bombing there too. “My son Ivan and I lived in Hostomel, and the cottage where my mother lived was in seven kilometers from our apartment.
There is a military airfield named after Antonov in Hostomel, it was bombed early in the morning. Ivan and I got packed very quickly, took the most necessary things, documents, products from the fridge, and went to mom’s house. My husband and I have been divorced for a very long time, so all the responsibility for the child, the house, the car is on me. And, of course, I have to take care of my mother after all, my brother is far away, in Odessa. In Hostomel it takes 10 minute-drive from my apartment to the cottage. Passing the gas station, I saw a very long queue of cars, but cars did not refuel – pumps didn’t work, because of explosions at the airport, the electricity network was damaged. But people were waiting and hoping that everything would work. I decided not to stand in line, although gasoline was almost on a “zero” level, but enough to give. I went to the grocery store, because my mother does not have the habit of stocking up on food for a long time, and always buys a little to keep everything fresh. But they didn’t take cards in the store, because there was no connection with the bank, and we had little cash.
So, the situation developed not in the best way: the gas tank was half empty, we couldn’t go far, there were very few products. My mother knew everything already, my brother from Odessa called her and warned, and I did the same, that I was on my way to her. At about 6:30 we were already at the cottage. First feelings of anxiety, confusion and hope that everything will end soon. Neighbors began to come with their children from Kyiv to stay away from the city. But we were all wrong and got into a trap. The village became a zone of hostilities on the outskirts of Kyiv.
“It was 11:30 when a squadron of helicopters flew over our houses heading to Vyshhorod and Kyiv. There were about 30 of them, and maybe more. At first we thought that they were ours which took off from the airfield in Hostomel. But these were russian landing helicopters, which flew very low over the roofs of houses and tree tops and scattered heat-seaking missiles”.
Then they returned, made a circle and flew again towards Kyiv. There was a terrible roar from the blades, helicopters raised the wind. I was standing on the windowsill on the second floor and I thought I was shooting a video on the phone, but I did not click to start a video because of the stress. They were flying so low that the pilot turned on to me from one helicopter and we made eye contact. There was a terrible feeling of animal fear. At this point shooting began, fighter jets flew, they were shot down by Ukrainian air defense. Thick black and blue smoke was pouring from the airfield. It was like a movie, it was impossible to believe the reality of what was happening.
On the first day of the war, the Internet was still working, there was electricity, but to reach at least someone through the phone was difficult, because the network was overloaded. From the news on the Internet we learned that these helicopters had landed in Hostomel, bombed the airfield and thermal power plant in Vyshрorod. I couldn’t believe that our air defense managed to shoot down three helicopters and some other things as well. It was reported that to be safe during shelling, you need to hide in the basement or in a room without windows not to be hit by the blast of a wave or not to be hurt by the broken glass. We did not have a basement, so we agreed with a neighbor, Olya, that during the shelling we would hide in her small basement.
The shootings and explosions didn’t stop all day. Once we tried to sit in the basement, but it was wet, cold and close for us there. We didn’t know how much time we should hide, but we wanted to eat and sleep. We started sleeping in our house, in the sauna on the floor under the benches, it was the first floor and there were no windows. We laid blankets on the floor and slept in clothes to be ready to run out of the house at any moment possible in case of fire or shell destruction. They didn’t close the exterior door, so that it would not jam during the explosion. We were sleeping, to put it mildly. It was a state of semi-sleep with shudder and trembling from shooting, explosions, roaring fighter jets and waiting for the morning to come. My son slept well, he took everything courageously, reassured us and even began to write a diary of military events.
February 25th. We learned that all the bridges across the Irpin River were blown up, so the russian troops did not reach the capital. The territory of our dachas, neighboring villages, Hostomel, Bucha and Irpin was separated from Kyiv by the river Irpin. Now we were under occupation and completely cut off in Kyiv. Explosions and shootings could be heard everywhere, it was too late to run away and nowhere to. Electricity was disconnected, which means that there was no water (the pumping station did not work), some people had electric stoves, electric heating, but no furnace. No internet, the phone was discharging. At that time, the mobile connection also almost did not work, communication towers were damaged. Residents of the holiday village began to unite and help each other, they cooked together and warmed themselves by the fireplaces of those who had them. They found the old wells and boreholes with hand pumps. The water was of poor quality: yellow, there were a lot of iron impurities, but we defended it and drank.
Meanwhile, the fighting was very close, close to us. The firefight went through us towards Kyiv. Ukrainian military strikes fired from the other bank of the river in response. Close combat with machine guns kept on going. Everything around rumbled and whistled because of bullets, the ground shuddered from the explosions. Military equipment stood around our dachas, in forest plantations, groves and spinneys. Rockets flew over our heads and we prayed that the hit in response from our side was exact and that the shells flew directly not at us, but at the enemy.
February 26. In the morning, when everything calmed down for a while after a night of fighting, I went out on the street for water and saw a cruise missile not far from my house sticking out of the ground and it didn’t explode. I miraculously didn’t touch the neighbor’s car, which was filled to capacity with gasoline and gas. Then I realized that we were guarded by angels, and we had to survive.
The same day, neighbors opened a local cottage store “Teremok” (in Ukrainian for “Mansion”), and all the people lined up in queue for products, usually for free. While standing, helicopters began to fly over their heads, something exploded, crashed. From these sounds we squatted, clung to the fence, but still stood desperately and waited for their turn. It was already clear that it was for a long period of time and to stock up with food was necessary.
The fighting stopped for very short time, for an hour or two, and began with renewed vigor and they shoot with different weapons. It went on like this day by day. We learned the sounds of different shells. We learned to detect how far or very close to the battle we were and where the shells exploded. From where and in what direction the rockets were flying and where they fell. We distinguished how the machine guns sounded, mortars, “Grads”, rockets flying over houses. This knowledge helped us survive. We understood when to sit down, when to fall to the ground and crawl in shelter, when to hide into the house and to pray, when we could breathe fresh air under the sounds of a battle going somewhere far away.
We learned to survive in such circumstances, because we had to cook, walk to bring water, talk with neighbors and find out the news about what exactly was destroyed and whether everyone was alive. At night we saw houses burning and, of course, no one put out the fire. There was a terrible feeling of helplessness, because people could be there.
My neighbors and I became very friendly with each other during this time. We organized a small company “fighting friends”, and we became like relatives to each other. We gathered by the fireplace, drank coffee, joked, supported each other’s moral spirit. In the car with the engine running, we charged phones and listened to the news, but not for long, only once a day, because we tried to save gasoline. My mother even baked pancakes for Shrovetide (“Maslyana” in Ukrainian), they opened a jar of jam, and a liqueur from my grandmother’s cellar appeared out of nowhere. We tried to cheer up each other as we could.
All this time, soldiers and military equipment did not enter the depths of our dachas, mostly the extreme areas suffered the most. People there did not leave the basements for several days.
But about a week later, rashists’ troops entered the territory of our holiday village with heavy military equipment. They began to break into houses, knock out doors, and windows. They broke down fences, put tanks and anti-aircraft missiles on the garden areas, fired shots in the direction of Kyiv or Vyshhorod and changed positions of military cars, transporting them to another place. We became a living shield then.
Soldiers also broke into our house, the doors were not closed, so they didn’t knock them out. We hid in the sauna on the floor under the bench, bending our legs under us, so they didn’t notice us. But they were looking for something in all the rooms, opening all the closets, scattering things. It is not clear what they wanted to find, maybe not us, but I didn’t want to know. It was very scary.
From that day on, the soldiers became regular guests in our corner. It became dangerous to leave the houses. We spent most of the time on the floor in the shelter. Daily military equipment drove into the streets and alleys of our dachas and from here battles were held. After some clashes, soldiers dragged their wounded people, smearing blood on the asphalt, along our streets. Corpses sometimes were taken out on a huge military truck. Brave men sometimes came out in the field and said that corpses were all around the place.
In the rare breaks between battles, we talked to our neighbors and learned that a “green corridor” for evacuation from Hostomel will be announced soon. But we still needed to get there. They didn’t even planned evacuation from our place. Get to the collection point in Hostomel we had to do on our own, which was seven kilometers of occupied territory and the firefight could begin at any moment.
March 9. According to the news, an evacuation from Hostomel, Bucha, and Irpin was announced. We learned about it from our neighbors, someone called them and told about it. There convoys of buses, paramedics and volunteers were supposed to gather, under the protection of the military police. But the fighting wouldn’t stop, and we had little faith in the accuracy of this information. That day there was an especially loud battle, and we, as always, hid in our shelter, in the sauna. By sounds I determined that the rocket landed somewhere very close to us and it seemed that it got into someone’s house. When the missile strikes got quieter briefly, I went out to see what happened and check if anyone was dead. I saw that only ruins remained out of our home. Neighbors came up and among them Andrew, a fighting friend from our little group. And suddenly I heard the piercing whistle of a rocket very close. Andrew shouted: “Lie down!” He pushed me down, pressed to the ground near the concrete fence, and covered me with himself. The rocket hit the house next to ours behind this concrete fence. Fragments of glass flew around, there also were pieces of windows, stones, metal and a pillar fell. We were covered by some kind of garbage, and a concrete fence protected us from injury, perhaps even from death. We ran, and once again there was a whistle and a shout: “Lie down!”. And for the second time Andrew covered me with himself. All flies in different directions, as in a slow motion shot in a film. So that’s how 3 or 4 rockets arrived, I no longer counted, but just lay down and ran, lay down and ran. We got to my house, and the rocket strike stopped. I saw that the house was standing without serious damage, mother and son Vanya were alive, but scared.
This missile strike was a turning point for me. I decided that if I don’t try to evacuate now, I may die under the rubble of my own home during the next missile strike. We quickly threw essentials into the car and a cat in a cat carrier. The men from our team of fighting friends poured gasoline into the tank plastic bottles, and we left the country. In a hurry I didn’t have time to collect my things and forgot to change clothes, so I was in two warm pajamas, in old sneakers for dacha and in a jacket. These had been my clothes for the last 2 weeks both day and night. Mom and Vanya didn’t change clothes. The main thing was to take the documents.
I was behind the wheel, there also was my mum, son Ivan, neighbor Olya, my fighting friend Ksenya, her dog George and my cat Hrunya in the car. Three more of our fighting friends Andrii, Sasha and Pasha took us to the dachas and stayed, because they said in the news to evacuate only women, children and men over 60 years of age.
And so we went on the track. From this moment begins the worst and the most dangerous clock of our lives. It’s hard to describe, my heart is so full of memories.
“We left the dachas alone, no one dared anymore, although we agreed with the neighbors, that we would go in a large column, so it will be safer”.
On the hood of our car was taped a piece of white sheet and there was written “CHILDREN” with a felt-tip pen.We were holding white flags, pushing them out of the window, we made them before leaving. I drove very slowly, with the car blinkers on. Our hearts were pounding and we all whisperously prayed.
The route was littered with shell fragments and strange iron debris similar to details from some equipment. It was scary. We knew there were those who had done it before during the attempts to leave, but their cars came under shelling. Some people managed to escape, they were wounded and crawled back, and some never returned.
About a kilometer away we saw soldiers with weapons. I slowed down and lifted hand out of the open window. The soldier automatically signaled me to come closer. I drove up and got out of the car with my hands up. I was told to lower my hands, to open trunk, show the documents to everyone and give our phones to them.
I already knew cases when soldiers met locals at our dachas. They took it away phones, checked photos, videos, read chats and messages, and then smashed gadgets with a machine gun, so that locals don’t let our soldiers know their positions and don’t send videos and photos of their equipment to the Ukrainian army. I previously hid my phone under the seat and gave my son’s old smartphone to them as mine. They confiscated our phones and none of us tried to resist them, silently gave our phones away, because there were armed men in front of us.
We kept on driving. There’s another 6 kilometers of a very scary way ahead to the place of evacuation. I was driving very slowly and watching the road very carefully, so as not to puncture the wheel with fragments. Civilian cars were burned, shot and crushed by tanks on the roadsides. I was afraid to turn my head and look there, because some of them had corpses inside. There were also many burnt and broken military vehicles on the road. We passed some more of such posts with armed soldiers and each time I went out with a sinking heart out of the car with raised hands and said that I was going to evacuate to Hostomel, that there were only women and children in the car. They let us through, and we drove on.
As we approached the place of evacuation, we saw a huge column of cars. Just like us all these people came from the nearby villages and Hostomel, hoping to escape. Many people walked with children, carrying their belongings in their hands, an old paralyzed woman was taken in a garden wheelbarrow. It was a terrible picture, just like from a film about World War II. The column didn’t move, and there were more and more cars. Nobody understood what was happening. Then people began to pass information to each other that the evacuation was canceled, that the rashists blew up the road with moving cars. And then suddenly military helicopters flew right over us. Shooting broke out, there were explosions, people started running around, cars began to turn around and go back. At the intersection where we came from, a shell hit, and there was a very big amount of cars. There was no coming back. Most of the houses on this street were already destroyed or burned. I ran down the street in search of a surviving house, and some people there waved their hands through the fence and shouted: “Here! Come to us!” They opened the gate, and I quickly drove into their yard, accidentally tore off the road bumper of the car, hitting a high curb. But it didn’t matter anymore, we were in relative safety. The house of these people was small, one-storied and was in the lowland. It was not even visible. All the neighboring large buildings were broken. The owner of the house is Yura, his wife Zhanna and their nephew Roma warmly welcomed us and shared their dinner with us. Yura told us the story from which can make one’s blood freeze.
In early March, he, his friend Yuri Prylypko (mayor of Hostomel) and three volunteers delivered food and medicine to people in the basements of the Pokrovsky residential complex. They drove down the main street, they happened to be met by military equipment, which began fire on their humanitarian vehicle. They turned around and tried to hide in
lane, but the road was blocked by a tractor. All the people ran out of the car, trying to escape, and snipers from ZhK (Residential Complex) Pokrovsky started firing at them.
“Three died, including the mayor. Two people hid under a tractor, and during the night they were using a folding knife, which happened to be in Yuri’s pocket, dug a trench to the nearest half-damaged house”.
For several days they hid there in a cold place, without food and water, and on the third day they changed into women’s clothes, an old dressing gown, tied handkerchiefs on the head and went home wearing such clothes. The body of Mayor Yuriy Prylypko was mined by the occupants, our people could not take it away. The priest from our Church of the Intersection tried to negotiate with the soldiers, but without any positive result. There were more horror stories heard that evening, but this one shocked me the most.
We stayed overnight with this family. There were 8 people, 3 dogs and 3 cats in the house. Someone lay down where they found a place: on the sofa, on a chair, on the floor, covered with blankets. There was a terrible battle all night. It was impossible to fall asleep, the sky shone with explosions, with the windows could see the neighboring houses burning. Red dotted shots by automatic queue were visible. Everything rang in my ears from these unbearable sounds. The house was shaking, the windows trembled, something fell from the bookshelves. We had never seen such a terrible battle before. Everything calmed down in the morning.
March 10. I left the house at dawn. The sun rose through the clouds of smoke. It was cold. Eleven degrees below zero. On the horizon the plant production of tires burned down, there was a smell of burning and burnt rubber. There were almost no surviving houses. I think we were guarded by angels, our house was not damaged. We boiled water by the fire, cooked breakfast and began to listen to the news of what happened and wanted to know if there was an evacuation that day. They said there would be another attempt to evacuate people that day. We got in the car and came outside to the evacuation site. Owners of the house remained there and said they would wait for official confirmation about the evacuation.
Cars have already started to gather outside. Some people had to spend the night in their cars with the engine running so that it didn’t freeze. It is difficult to imagine the horror they experienced that night. Their faces showed that they were confused, frightened, terrified and in panic. Some women behaved hysterically, children were crying.
During the 15 days of the war, I never cried. I got myself together. Because the panic in this situation would only hurt, and I had to survive and save my family. I should admit, that both my mother and son bravely took everything that happened. And all our team, neighbor Olya and fighting friend Ksenya also showed composure and sobriety of mind. After all, our team also included a Corgi and a Siamese dog cat. They showed incredible endurance and patience, they understood that we were saving them.None of the animals ever panicked and sat quietly and humbly.
Morning, Hostomel, half-ruined street, cars, scared people. Everybody was waiting for something, and no one knew anything, but only hoped for a miracle. Someone said it was necessary to leave the cars and walk through the blown up crossing, evacuation buses would be waiting there fro the people on the other side. But we didn’t like this option.
And suddenly I saw that two cars were going in the opposite direction. On the faces of men it was obvious that they knew where they were going. I waved to them to stop. The driver said he knew the way to get around the damaged section of road and I followed them by a third car. So we organized a column of brave men out of five cars, and we drove along the central street of Hostomel.
What we saw is impossible to describe in words, it was like a scary movie about doomsday. There was not a single house on the road, the burned shops were knocked out windows, doors, broken military equipment, torn tanks into several parts, a lot of civilian cars shot and burned on the roadway, corpses lying on the streets and covered with blankets. We drove past the destroyed glass factory and market. There were rashists around the place with their machine guns. Men from the leading car stopped every time they saw soldiers, went out with raised hands, asked to pass our column, and we kept on driving under the threat of machine guns.
We drove past the house where my son and I used to live. There was no surviving window in the entire house and the entire facade of the building was in holes from the automatic queue and various shells. I’m afraid to imagine what it would be like if we didn’t go to the dacha in the morning of February 24th.
It was difficult to walk down the street, because there was not a single stretch of road without the wreckage of something, there was a great risk of puncturing the wheels. Suddenly in a turn on a high speed the tanks began to show up. Our first two cars managed to pass this intersection, but I didn’t. The tanks began to turn directly at us and were not going to stop. I quickly turned on roadsides, miraculously not running into sharp debris, and tanks passed us. I saw crushed civilian cars by tanks on the road and realized that this could happen to us, but we were lucky, we survived. So we continued our way through Hostomel, Bucha, Vorzel and everywhere we saw this horrible picture: ruins, corpses, a pram on the roadside, shot down cars, blown up tanks, russian armed soldiers. I saw it all with my peripheral vision, and didn’t look away from the road. I went with my thoughts so as not to break wheel through the debris on the road, to have enough gasoline, not to hit a mine and held the wheel firmly. And somewhere behind Vorzel we saw a large column of cars from afar, which was moving towards Kyiv. They were just like us, desperate and brave people, who went to the evacuation on their own, without waiting for help.
The cars converged on different sides in one big column. Our leading car parked on the sidewalk, and we all followed it. I got out of the car and ran to hug men I don’t know who had taken responsibility and bravely brought us out of this hell. We all hugged, smiled and almost cried. We managed to do it, we did it! All the way, seeing the soldiers at checkpoints, these brave men got out of the cars with their hands up and asked others to let us through. I don’t know what magic words they used, but we are everywhere let through, because we did not go along the certain green corridor, but chose another way without waiting for one common column.
“Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky as we are. Then I learned that those days of evacuation on March 10, 11 and 12, many cars with women and children were shot and blown up”.
The road did not end there, the last russian checkpoint was ahead. The column moved very slowly, as if on purpose, so that we could experience all this fear and the ruins that these “liberators” had left behind. It was a terrible sight. A checkpoint, again checking documents, a trunk. Then we drove through the villages and saw less and less damaged houses. Finally we saw our Ukrainian yellow and blue flags! I wanted to cry with joy. We reached Kyiv! In peacetime we normally used way to Kyiv by bridge, across the river Irpin, it was no more than 30 minutes, but those days we went on a bypass and it took 4 hours.
Neighbor Olya was met by a man on the ring road, my fighting friend Ksyusha was met her mom, and we went to the hotel where the soldiers lived. My friend there gave us shelter.
There was a hot shower for the first time in 15 days, light, and the internet. The phone began to receive messages waiting to be delievered during this time in the occupation. They gave us food in the soldier’s canteen, we had very tasty food and we slept in bed for the first time during that period. We also heard the signal air alarm for the first time, because there was no such sound in the cottage houses. We forgot how to sleep and the sirens didn’t let us sleep tightly. Only Ivan is a good boy, he slept well.
March 11th. We had breakfast and set off again. Now the task was not to survive, but to express endurance. It was a long and exhausting 16-hour way behind the wheel from Kyiv to Lviv. The next day we stood in the queue at the Hungarian border for 4 hours, then Budapest, then to Germany through Austria, Munich and finally Stuttgart. My eldest son Vlad was already waiting for us there. I didn’t want to stop anywhere to admire the beautiful countries and cities. I wanted to get to the place where our people would meet and accept us. I wanted to breathe out everything that we had experienced during that time and start smiling again.
We came to Stuttgart with passports, a laptop, a cat and wearing exactly the clothes which we were wearing when we ran out of home on March 9, and did not have time to take anything with us.
But I brought the most valuable thing I have. I brought my family. Glory to Ukraine!!!
P.s. To the men, our fighting friends from the country, who also managed to escape. They left dachas the day after us, and are now actively involved in bringing peace to our land as soon as possible
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: