АвторAuthor: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Mariia Moskaliuk
20 August 2022
Wedding organizer Valentina Zibrytska, together with her husband and ten-year-old son, lived in Mariupol, where she had a successful business and was preparing for the birth of a baby, because she was six months pregnant. On February 24, the woman woke up to loud explosions and decided to leave with her family to a village 20 km from the city. However, the russian military entered there later. Until March 15, Valentina was without communication, electricity, gas and water, and due to stress, she was losing weight and could not feel the baby’s movements.
After the difficult evacuation to Mukachevo, in Transcarpathia, a resident of Mariupol decided to create a charitable photo project “Giving life when war is around” to draw attention to children who suffered from the armed aggression of the Russian Federation. 27 pregnant women from different cities were invited to participate, who, despite the difficulties, give the future. “Monologues of the War” found out all the details.
Everything was so stable and good with us that we decided to add another child to our family. I was preparing to be a mother. This is a great time to pick up a baby crib, stroller, walk in the park, go to yoga for pregnant women — in general, enjoy this period of motherhood.
On February 24, we were woken up early in the morning by a loud noise. I didn’t immediately understand, but my husband reassured me that it was the neighbors who closed the door loudly. Then another sound. I understand that these are explosions. I read news that gives me goosebumps. We woke up our son and asked him to pack the essentials in his backpack. We took documents, sports suits, laptops and went to our parents in the village. There is a house and a basement. Things were not particularly taken. We thought that we would return home in a few days.
The village was located 20 km from Mariupol. We arrived and started to arrange the basement, bringing warm things, food, and water there. Single volleys were heard, but far away. Then the explosions became louder. We have already stayed in the basement; it is scary to go out. Electricity, gas, and water were cut off for us, and communication was lost. All this was not good.
Back in February, we went up to the house; dad ran in and said that russian soldiers with white armbands were standing not far from us. We went down to the basement again and it started. Terrible, endless hum, rumble, everything was shaking. Then at night – automatic queues. In the village, except for the residents, there was no one. It is not clear what they were shooting there. The next day everything happened again.
A convoy of equipment passed through the village, we practically did not leave the basement for three days, and we spent the night there. Russians came to many, checked their phones, and asked how many people were in the basement. The whole village was full of them.
The days got mixed up. In one of them there was strong shelling from the “Grads”. As it turned out, a residential neighborhood in Mangush was shelled. Then two children and a woman died. Then I saw these houses without windows. Some of them were completely destroyed and shops burned down. The “liberators” were coming…
“We thought about evacuation every day. Against the background of stress, I lost weight, my blood pressure dropped, I felt dizzy, and I could not feel the baby’s movements well. And the son asked: “Mom, what if you don’t give birth? Will you die with my brother?”
We decided to go to Mangush at our own peril and risk. At least we will understand that the evacuation has begun. The inscription “children”, white flags on the car – on March 6, we arrived in Mangush. The situation there is similar: no cold, no gas, no water, no electricity, and no communication. People in panic do not understand what is happening. Everything is at the level of rumors. The building was shaking from the explosions, the convoys of equipment were moving again, “Grads” one after the other. Our Mariupol was on fire, black clouds of smoke and the smell of fire reached us, which is 14 km away. It’s scary to imagine what was going on in the city.
We sat in this tense situation until March 15. In the morning, we said goodbye to our parents and decided to leave again at our peril. The first stop was in Berdyansk. In the morning we joined the column and went on. The road was scary, dangerous, and difficult.
There is broken equipment all around, projectiles in the asphalt, a downed rocket in the field, fighter jets in the sky with their eerie roar, endless checkpoints, checks of phones and belongings, and a constant campaign to go to the russian federation, not Ukraine. If you get out of the car, you will be shot without warning.
We were driving around a bridge in front of Vasylivka, Zaporizhzhia region, and the car exploded on mine. It had a wife and two children. Then a convoy of about 40 cars gathered. The escort drove up and said to drive track to track, because the field was being mined. Everyone prayed, but only breathed our last when we saw the flag of Ukraine. This was our checkpoint. The journey took four days.
Today we live in Transcarpathia in the moment. We saw photos of our burned warehouses, and there is no apartment either. You go crazy with the realization of what happened, separation from parents, missing friends, information about the dead.
“Once there was a thunderstorm, our son heard thunder and shouted: “Mom, where is the basement? Let’s run for cover.” There is still no sleep, you shudder at every sound. We hold on. We have no other way out.”
If we stay alive, then God probably has a big plan for us. That is why I chose to help children. Have you seen the frightened eyes of a child? God forbid. They need support, that’s why my project “Giving life even when war is around” exists.
I am a very creative person and I live to create something. It used to be my job to organize a holiday. Currently, this holiday is not in the soul. But there is a calling to do something, to help and shout about what I saw with my own eyes.
Perhaps, my experience and inclination towards creativity made it clear that it is possible to create a charity project and involve pregnant women. Despite the difficult times, we dare and carry the future of our country. I want these children to be happy. Therefore, it is necessary to shout about it. Many children remain homeless. When we arrived in Transcarpathia, we had nothing. And in Mariupol, my son had everything: his own room and attending IT courses.
My team from Mariupol went all over the world. I wrote to the girls about my idea, and they supported it. Despite the fact that there are thousands of kilometers between us, we started working together.
We photographed 27 cities. The main task is to find a team in the right city. The most difficult thing was to find a pregnant woman who would agree to participate in the project. And you need to assemble a team for shooting: photographer, videographer, florist, make-up artist, photo studio. And then there is process control.
After we photographed the cities, we invited the illustrators to make art from the photos. Now we also have postcards from each photo session, inside which the writer Lina Solovei wrote short poems.
I was sure that the project would gain such momentum from the beginning. The most powerful team works with me, with whom I have worked side by side in Mariupol for more than 10 years.
Our project is not built on negativity. It carries light in itself. We want to reach people through goodness, through pictures that carry the future.
Each photo has its own story. I was the first to shoot for the project. And this is a big responsibility. People believed me.I represented Mukachevo, where my family now lives. Many women were left without their homes. And they have nowhere to return. I often remember the proverb: “My house is everywhere.” Currently, my house is everywhere. I live in Mukachevo, I gave birth to my second son here. This is the city of my country. And I feel at home.
Filming always took place in the city represented by the pregnant woman. It is important for us. First, several cities were chosen for filming. We ourselves were looking for photographers, videographers, pregnant women through various publics. And people responded. When the project gained momentum, we received many requests for photo shoots in other cities.
We were sad that we could not shoot a photo in our hometown. I carried this thought in my head for a long time, and one day a photographer from Mariupol called me. She offered to assemble a team, told about the idea that keeps her awake. We consulted with the girls and decided that Mariupol should be in these pictures. It was important for us. The photographer assembled the team herself, the shooting turned out to be very creative. When we saw the photos and videos from backstage, everyone burst into tears.
We photographed 26 cities, and a girl wrote to me from the city of Kostopil, Rivne region. She asked if this city could still participate. Although filming was stopped, we gave permission. If there is a desire, why not?
We have finished the filming stage. Today we have 27 photos, 27 stories, 27 works of art. Screenwriters, directors, media managers, presenters, videographers and other creative people joined the project. We are currently in the stage of preparation for the exhibition. It costs a lot, so we are currently looking for a sponsor to help with printing the photos.
This project is for children. We collect donations and help children who are left without homes, without a past and do not know what their future will be. They have already helped the Beglyar family. Asya, the mother of the boys, was my colleague, she organized children’s parties. She died together with her husband. He was a man with a big heart. The news of her death shocked me. The girls and I consulted and opened a fundraiser for Asya’s children. The collected funds were given to the grandmother.
We agreed on cooperation with a public organization. Before that, funds were collected on my personal card. It was a burden for me. It is very difficult to open an NGO for a pregnant woman. That is why we cooperate with the NGO “Our Choice Ukraine”. They have a shelter for displaced people. Children who have nothing come there. We will cover their needs.
The birth of a second child is an amazing story. When I gave birth, I asked the midwife to record my son’s first cry. We will add this cry to the performance within the framework of the exhibition. He shouted to the whole world: “I am here. I was born. I am the future!” This project exists for the sake of children.
I gave birth on June 21. People believed in me. I can’t throw it all away. I promised myself that I would do it. Sometimes strength and energy are not enough. However, difficulties inspire not to give up, but to go only forward. I gave birth to happiness; we were waiting for this child. However, air alarms always return to the ground. Then again – a rush of happiness, and again anxiety. Such a swing.
Everyone is fighting as best they can. Our guys are on the front line, and we can shout to the whole world and knock on every possible door.
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: Mariia Moskaliuk