АвторAuthor: Yulia Zarudnitska | Translation: Svitlana Urbanska
1 June 2022
Olha Borodko was born and lived half a life in a small, resort city of Berdyansk. For her, war has long been a painful subject. In 2013, the girl went to study in the city of Donetsk, where she saw for the first time the course of events that led to years of occupation of the region. In recent years, she lived in the capital, she came to Berdyansk to visit her mother. Before the war, she left Kyiv and went home.
On February 23, we had a delicious dinner with my mom, sister and I were planning on going for a walk along the promenade in the morning. It wasn’t meant to be…
We woke up together with the whole country to the sounds of war. They entered our city without a fight, and the first month the occupiers were in no hurry to put their order. This must have created an illusion of security for many at first. However, I saw all the same actions and schemes that were once used by the Russians in Donetsk. The scariest part of the occupation for me is to be cut off from the world when we were completely left without mobile communication and the Internet. We didn’t know what was going on outside Berdyansk. We didn’t khow the Armed Forces of Ukraine (hereinafter referred to as the AFU) are coping with the invasion. We weren’t able to tell our family and friends that we were alive. We didn’t know if there was an air alarm, because it was turned off in the city by the Russian occupiers, and the mobile app didn’t work without the Internet.
When the city was left without gas due to the accident near Mariupol, as a result of hostilities, it was only the beginning of March. It was still winter weather in Berdyansk. Our apartment cooled down very quickly, the temperature in the rooms dropped to 8-9 degrees. It is life and sleep in clothes and hats. Voltage to electricity has increased, and there have been frequent accidents in the city. It was scary that everything would collapse one day. Electricity now is the only chance to prepare food, drink hot tea. We hope that there will be water in the city. And if there’s no electricity, there‘s no water.
For people from Berdyansk leaving the city was difficult since the very beginning of the war. The railway connection before entering Berdyansk was destroyed. Trains didn’t go further than the town of Polohy. There were no intercity buses because we knew from the news that there was fighting in the Kherson direction, as well as in the Mariupol direction. So the enemy equipment is somewhere nearby. Nobody knew the exact situation on the roads, especially when it changed every hour. It was probably possible to leave with your own car at your own risk before the occupation, but there was little time for this.
Subsequently, we began to wait for the news about humanitarian corridors. And the following one appeared: the route for evacuation of the residents of Mariupol runs through Berdyansk. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked for a single day as planned. For the first week, the buses couldn’t reach Mariupol and remained at the entrance to the city. Later, the occupiers even blocked this entrance, so they began to stop “on the ring”, which is a turning circle on the road, from where you can go in the direction of Berdyansk or Melitopol. But you still needed to reach it by your own. From people of Berdyanks who tried to leave, there was more and more information that buses on the way to Zaporizhzhya were blocked by the occupiers in Vasylivka. People stood there for more than a day in captivity.
We also already knew that at the Russian checkpoints everybody is thoroughly checked, especially men. I didn’t know what to do: stay in the city or leave while there was a chance. My friends helped me with my departure. We didn’t follow the column, but drove through the villages to avoid Vasylivka. We planned this trip for about two weeks, and it was constantly disrupted. Because there were fights, because they didn’t let the drivers into the city, and vice versa, they did not let them out of the city. From Berdyansk to Zaporizhya, we drove about 8 hours.
We were stopped at every Russian checkpoint. In total, I counted 10 of them, and the driver told me “that we were lucky”, because when he helped to take the family out of Mariupol, they passed more than 40 of them. My brain is trying to block memories of these terrible 8 hours, but I will remember the humanity of our people. Volunteers and carriers who help you leave are the bravest people in the world. And the thing is, it’s not even scary to go. As the driver explained, the Rascists remember their faces, and it becomes increasingly difficult to transport people.
As we drove through the villages, I observed what the surrounding situation was like. Twice we drove a few meters from the minefield. Especially closer to the battle line, there were rockets in the ground that didn’t explode. And pleasant thing – there were a lot of broken down Rascist technique. We have also seen smashed civilian cars with the Z marking (they robbed the citizens cars and thus appropriated them). Then the Russian checkpoints started, and each one was like an attraction (in a negative sense). The only thing that is good is that they didn’t touch women with their hands. Thorough examination of things, phones, questions, accusations. At one of these checkpoints, the occupier somehow thought that my sister and I looked like snipers. We were interrogated, ordered to get out of the car, they studied the documents. At that moment, I was just praying that my sister would stay alive.
And she constantly prayed for the driver, because if something happened to him, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to continue our journey. At the first checkpoint, they found a spare phone in our driver, which was taken away. A woman who was fleeing from Mariupol was also with us. She had no things at all, except a small suitcase in which she carried not things, but rather memories. Children’s toys, photos. She had some slippers there and the goddamn occupiers took them away.
It was also scary at the moment when a Russian soldier hit the car with a machine gun and began to say that he should have shot at us. In his opinion, we didn’t reduce the speed in front of the checkpoint. But here’s how generous he was, he saw the “chicks” in time. The occupier disgustedly left comments such as: “And you sisters, yes, we can go to Russia.” They didn’t want to let us go, but then they got tired and we went, fortunately, on. When we got to the first Ukrainian checkpoint, tears broke through in silence. Our departure story, to be honest, is a slight discomfort, unlike other evacuation stories and, in general, life in war. But we will remember. During the trip, we learned about the terrible consequences of the war in the cities of Kyiv region and what crimes the Russians committed there.
We have relatives in Berdyansk who can’t evacuate – they wouldn’t stand the road. With my thoughts and heart, I am at home every day. My soul hurts for every Ukrainian, for every person in Berdyansk in particular. I will add that the final decision to leave was that I am currently the only one in my family who has a job, and we will have to live on after the victory. And people who are in Berdyansk now are simply surviving.
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: Yulia Zarudnitska | Translation: Svitlana Urbanska