АвторAuthor: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Anna Shliakhova
16 July 2022
Olga Kotrus is a writer who was born in Kherson, but left her native city 14 years ago. On the 24th of February in Kyiv an air-raid signal woke her up, her parents and 81-year-old grandma found themselves under the occupation where they stayed until the 7th of June. If you want to know how they managed to flee and why so many people stay there, read on.
At the beginning of the occupation, we didn’t talk about leaving Kherson as we didn’t think it would go so far. Yes, it was appalling to learn from them and from the news about russian “troops” going armed outside or riding vehicles marked with “Z”. They hoped to ride it out.
In practical terms, my parents did well. They had stored Ukrainian food. Every day they bought some more food realizing there would be less and less “our” products on store shelves soon. During the occupation they bought nothing from russia (or from Crimea) except drugs, while my parcel was still on the way to them.
Medicine is sent to Kherson from all over Ukraine. I did it with the help of 2 volunteers from Odesa. I did two boxes with the same content to double the chances to get them delivered to my parents. I sent them by Nova Poshta. Then, these holy people found drivers in Odesa who were ready to take medicine there. In Kherson a local volunteer contacted with adressats and they agreed the time and the place where they got their boxes. One box came earlier, the other one came two weeks later.
The psychological pressure was the worst part for them: the lack of freedom, the uncertainty of the future. The first time they lost connection they were so depressed. I remember the time my mom managed to call me. She asked about the news, about what was going on there. I have no idea how hard it was for them.
There was a disorientation, a lack of understanding of how it had happened at the beginning of the occupation. Until the first time a pro-Ukrainian rally was dispersed and the protestors were injured, we did have a hope that rushists would leave soon. Eventually, ATMs stopped working and food was in shortage. Lines popped up everywhere, they placed checkpoints in residential areas. Fighting in the region was clearly heard in the city. Obviously, it demotivates, frightens and oppresses a person.
My parents’ voices grew sadder with every conversation, but eventually I had nothing to comfort them. Our environments were very different. I could go for a walk with my dog and drink a cup of coffee in Shevchenko’s Park, while my mom and dad were forced to stay at home without connection to the outside world. It was mentally killing both me and them.
I felt so bad. It is impossible to function fully as a person, to work effectively, to think clearly, when your family is on occupied territory and you can do nothing for them. Even when I found a driver and a transport for them and agreed on everything, we lost connection. And I felt as if my hands and feet were bound.
Helplessness is one of the worst human experiences. There is always a hope while we can do something. Personally for me, coming to terms with this is like drinking a poison.
By the conception of the inner occupation, I mean a state of constant tension. It is about when you live on your own land, there are no enemy troops, but you’re still not free. It’s because their own people behave in their homeland like occupants and gauleiters. It’s about russia. It’s the way they live.
My 81-year-old grandma lived with my parents. Up to a point we hadn’t thought about putting her at such a risk. It is hard even for young people to come to the controlled territory of Ukraine, let alone an elderly person. In April everything had already gone bad, especially with cell service. We decided it was the right time to look for a way out of there.
As soon as I could get in touch with my parents and the driver, I agreed on everything. I told them where and when they needed to be with their things. That was all, the next morning at 5 a.m. together with my grandma they were already in the carrier’s charge. On the same day in the evening, they were already at the volunteer center in Zaporizhzhya, and the next day they went to Kyiv.
We sent our grandmother to my father’s brother in Poland. Of course, my parents are homesick, anxious, and waiting for the Ukrainian Army to liberate Kherson. But as far as I can see they’re okay. They’ve always liked Kyiv, my boyfriend and I are with them. We’re all in this together, support each other, and believe in the best. We believe that Kherson will be liberated soon.
People don’t want to leave their houses because it’s all they have. Yes, it’s irrational, dangerous, and a little naive. But we can’t judge them. Someone has a house with a farm, home farm or just a garden. Try to imagine how they can just leave it behind. I feel a chill run down my spine at the thought of making such a decision. It’s scary to stay, it’s scary to flee. Even after all we have learned about the horrors in the Kyiv region. It’s impossible to convince an adult who has already made a decision. It’s painful, it makes everyone suffer, but it’s an act of self-determination.
There is no way to convince or persuade fleeing those who want to remain, it just doesn’t work. I think the only way is to keep reminding the practical aspects of life in the occupied territory. In addition there is no cell connection.
“Even such basics as no cash, prices growing, lack of food, no option to call an ambulance or go to a pharmacy, or register any documents turn a life into a nightmare. Add to these documents checking, disappearing of people, and total outrage. Nobody will help in case you are robbed, beaten, or raped”.
It’s better to flee as you won’t protect your house at the cost of your own life. It’s just a beautiful image, it has nothing in common with reality. When rushists appear at your home, you quickly realize that unarmed civilians can do nothing against violence.
We need all of you alive. It’s so much ahead. Please, save your lives. Life couldn’t be rebuilt as a house.
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: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Anna Shliakhova