АвторAuthor: Iryna Semenova | Translation:
27 June 2022
Pavlo Maistrenko is a film director and public figure from Odessa, he lived and worked in Warsaw for the last year and a half. There he made a film about the activities of the UPR government in exile and the life of the people of Odessa, generals of the army who are buried in Warsaw. He worked as a local entrepreneur and entered a local university. On February 24, Pavlo was to fly to his native Odessa to present his film but instead of the airport he went to the Russian embassy. And the next day he suspended his business and went to war.
I had to fly to Odessa on February 24 because on this day the premiere of my new film was to take place in Hrushevsky’s library. But at dawn my father called and said that the equipment was brought out on a strip of the airport, the rockets were flying, in a word, a full-scale war began.
I didn’t believe it at first, went online and there was a lot of news about a full-scale invasion. And at 9.00 a.m. we were already at the embassy of Muscovy in Warsaw.
Ukrainians, Belarusians, Poles – there were several thousand people. Everyone shouted “Glory to Ukraine Glory to the Heroes” and “death to the Russian occupiers”. Just at 9-10 a.m. Russian planes shot down over Kyiv. We watched the news on the internet and were very happy with each downed plane. It was such a strange impression as we were watching a football match and worried about our team and every downed plane was a goal.
My friends went to Ukraine on the first day, and I had to close the local FOP so I stayed for another day. I was going so fast that I didn’t even wait for the payday (an additional 6 days). I suspended activities and told the company that I was going to Ukraine to join the army. Threw in a backpack my passport, military ID and some clothes. My Polish friends gave me four more bags of food, three with a half of which I gave to a Ukrainian refugee Home.
People could not believe that we were going from Warsaw to Odessa. I had to prove that I was not a spy in Lviv. My friend and I took a bus from Warsaw to Przemysl. Then planned by bus or train to Lviv. There were many refugees and many men in Przemysl. I think it was those who managed to leave on February 24 before the ban.
A Pole approached us and asked where we were from. We answered that we were from Ukraine. He replied: “Didn’t you want to join the army and fled to Poland?” We answered the opposite: ”We are leaving Warsaw because we worked and studied there and we are going to Ukraine to join the army”. And then he began to cry and remembered 1939 year that his grandfathers had fought then.
“The Poles took the attack on Ukraine very painfully, constantly drew an analogy with the 1939 year when Germany invaded Poland”.
Then this Pole left and I thought I would never see him again but suddenly he caught up with us and handed us two bags of food. And told: “It’s to you on the way and return alive”.
The border gate was already closed and we saw a Ukrainian train that brought refugees, we wanted to take the train to Lviv. And we asked our women: “How to get on the Ukrainian track?” And they told us: “Do you go crazy to go to Ukraine? We all run away from there and you come back”. We didn’t answer but approached the border guard and opened the gate for us. He put a stamp directly on the platform. This frontier guard honored us and shouted: “Come back alive”.
When I got to Lviv no one believed that I came from Warsaw and plan to go to Odessa. As I had an Odessa residence permit. I had to constantly prove that I was not a spy, because the documents were checked at every step. I was actually saved by the fact that I gave interviews about the film in several Polish media. So, I simply opened the page and showed joint photos with representatives of the Ukrainian embassy.
There was an imagine case at Lviv railway station. I stood on a platform among thousands of people and among this crowd the girl came up to me and asked: “When there will be a train to Odessa?” She asked me but I didn’t know her, I saw her for the first time in my life. I said her: “I am also to Odessa, let’s wait together”. She went somewhere and I thought we would not meet again but then we rode in the same compartment.
The train was almost empty, of course, then everyone was going to the west not to the east.
“It turned out that the girl’s husband was a sailor and he travelled halfway around the world from Mexico to Ukraine to join the defense. And the girl got from Poland to be with him”.
First, we had to overtake my car to fellows who had arrived from Poland the day before. Somewhere between Zhytomyr and Kyiv I planned to join their unit but there were shellings and we lost contact. Then I decided to go to Odessa. Because it was clear for 100% that the rear will be in Lviv and there was a risk of landing of the Russian landing in Odessa. So I wanted to be there to join the defence.
Upon arrival, I immediately went to the Primorsky military registration and enlistment office. I admit that when we went I thought “only not this night there would be a landing on the Russian landing. Let them land a day later so I can be there and join the defenders”. Because I understood if they landed that night we were not going to Odessa .
In the military enlistment office I was denied immediately and I went to the defense. There were 2 military medical trainings and I was still waiting for a call. These were the first days of March. As it turned out in the first place took those who have served or those who have a driver’s license category C.
Further I was to go to the 28th Mobilized Brigade, there they said that they take everyone although I’m useless even in wartime because I have vision problems. I was very happy because I wanted to go to the army in 2014, but then I was refused.
I was told to go to the captain and hand over the military ticket. In the meantime, I met the guys I had to serve. I had some strange feelings then… not very aware of what you were actually doing. It’s just like a new life experience. And the boys were all civilian – IT, teachers – not military specialties. We met, exchanged phone numbers with someone and even managed to talk. The next morning at 9 a.m. we had to go to the military unit with our things, had already determined the place.
We were already waiting for transport and here they returned my ticket and said that I am not going. They said that there are enough volunteers and I’m unfit for health. I called the defense and the brigade several times, but was refused all the time. Although I have an experience in handing a Kalashnikov rifle, know safety, know how to assemble and disassemble it and I can shoot.
Until mid-March I was in Odessa, worked on barricades, installed sandbags. And when it became clear that the landing of enemy troops in Odessa will not be I decided to return to Poland.
The fact is that in Warsaw I had a job, opportunity to earn, to buy the necessary things for the soldier, to help the army financially. Besides, I knew that there were not enough people in Warsaw who could coordinate, to collect aid for the military, to plan logistics between Warsaw, Krakow, Berlin and Ukraine. So in mid-March when it became clear that I would not be taken to serve, I went to Lviv in the opposite direction.
I was allowed to cross the border, so I returned and we started working to help the Ukrainian military. My public organization “Southern Art Space” is registered in Ukraine. We also cooperate with the organization of “A bright country” from the Dnieper. These are our friends. We sent the help to Donbas, for Dnieper, Odessa and our 28 mobilized crew. The drone I bought for filming was given to the 28th Brigade.
As for my friends with whom I lost touch already in late March, I learned that with them, fortunately, everything is fine. They were in the Kyiv defense, someone had already been demobilized. Someone worked, someone volunteer.
I presented my film in Warsaw when I returned. This film aims not only to reveal the unknown pages of history ( here are collected facts about a resident of Odessa an the army of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, even Odessa historians did not know about him. Polish historians from the Institute of national Memory told me about him), also to promote good, common with Ukrainian-Polish history.
And those various events and meetings witnessed are planned to be used for the scripts of future tapes.
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 Semenova | Translation: