АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation:
17 August 2022
Before the war, Anna Bokova lived with her family in Bakhmut. The woman was actively engaged in social activities and worked as a local journalist. A few days before the start of the war, Anna was advised to be ready to leave the city, because the occupiers had already had lists of people with a pro-Ukrainian position. On February 25, Anna and her family left Bakhmut. Thanks to friends from the yogi movement, the family found temporary refuge in Romania, and is now living in Germany. The woman told her story exclusively for the “Monologues of the War”.
“After the events of 2014, most people seem to have woken up and understood that they no longer want to lose their city.” I am a trained engineer, but after the birth of my second child in 2009, I began to try myself in the field where I always wanted to work, in journalism. At first I wrote for a local newspaper, and then I was invited to work for the first online news website in Bakhmut. Since 2011 I have been a professional journalist.
After 2014, the situation in Bakhmut changed a lot for me personally. It was an eye-opener for me that there were people around me who wanted to live in russia. And all these rallies that we saw in the spring of 2014 changed my worldview. It was very scary to realize that there are such people around. Unfortunately, they were also among my nearest. At that time, Bakhmut was occupied for several months. I have quite unpleasant memories about that time. We experienced a small death when we saw all this. We were very happy that the occupation did not last long and the Ukrainian military had the opportunity to enter the city and hang our flag on the city council. After these events, most people seemed to have woken up and realized that they no longer wanted to lose their city like this. And I was among those people. During the occupation we united into the “Ukrainian Bakhmut” organization, which is still active today. Many different people were there. Active volunteering began in 2014-15. And, gradually, when there was no longer such a danger of the city being attacked, people began to do their own things, which seemed to them more important than just volunteering. Then we started to engage in public activities and the organization was officially registered. The website “Bakhmut In.Ua” was created with donor funds. Our activity had several directions. As journalists, we tried to cover the work of volunteer organizations. We also explained to people how local self-government works, cooperated with young people and told them why it is important to take part in the elections, to vote for people who will not just buy you some grocery sets, but for those who have programs and who are really able to change something in this or that community. We spoke about legislation and its functions, helped the development of public organizations and the youth movement. We were doing it all the time before the war. On February 25, we were going to hold the final event of one of our big projects, where local public organizations were supposed to present their initiatives. One of them was the creation of a public hub. This event was in development for a long time, but on February 24, with the first explosions, we realized that it wouldn’t happen. So we started calling people who were supposed to come to us from Kyiv.
We switched to the Ukrainian language on the website quite a long time ago, being the first among the Bakhmut mass media. We tried to show what active people, patriots and patriotic organizations were up to. In general, the original goal with which we created this site was to cover the work of volunteers. After all, at the beginning of the war in 2014, I worked on a local website owned by the mayor’s family. When there were elections to the Verkhovna Rada in 2014, I was fired because they didn’t like that I was writing so much about volunteers. So, we realized that we don’t have such a platform where we could cover our work. So we created our website. A lot has changed in the organization itself since then. Many people left it and created their own organizations. We also chose our own direction — monitoring the work of city self-government, and also educational, public and informational activities.
Despite what I experienced in 2014, I did not expect that the war could happen again. I thought that the frozen conflict would continue. I did not know how it could be solved. It seemed that this would not change in any way and would go on for decades. But I did not believe that there would be a full-scale invasion right now. Although in 2014, I’d expected this for about two years. There was a constant fear that the offensive would intensify and the leading European countries would not be able to intervene and help us. At that time, it seemed to me that a military contingent would be introduced. Then I was convinced that we definitely wouldn’t be able to live here, because it would be a bloody war and not only on the territory of Donetsk region. We constantly felt a great danger. The turning point for me was the shelling of Kramatorsk in February 2015. We realized then that this could happen here with us too. And so we needed to make a decision –- either to stay, understanding that at any moment we and our children may die, or to leave. At that point we decided to stay.
There had been a lot of news and intelligence in the last few months before the invasion. To be honest, I thought that it would be some kind of escalation in Donbas. But, I was not ready for russia to enter the other part of the territory of Ukraine. I thought that all this was blackmail in order to force certain decisions. I did not expect such meaningless actions. At the beginning of the week before the invasion, people from the special services called me and warned me that I should pack and be ready to leave as soon as the war starts. In addition, the occupiers had already had certain lists in which we were mentioned. In 2014, there were cases when they grabbed us, dragged us, wanted to take us to the basement to Slovyansk, and so on. But then we somehow managed to get out of these situations, some people helped us. But I understood that it would not be like that anymore. The level of cruelty was already on a completely different level. So we packed our things, bought food for the trip, and had everything ready. But, until the last moment, we hoped that the war would not start. When we heard the first explosions on the morning of February 24, we knew that there was no hope. We started reading the news and heard Putin’s speech. At that moment, we thought that we should warn the people who were supposed to come to us. The Intercity train was to depart from Kyiv at 6 a.m., and the explosions began at 5 a.m. I immediately started calling people to tell them not to come. Since we were preparing for this event, we ordered many services. In the morning we began to think that we needed to pay for all this while the banking system was working. We also started contemplating leaving. But it was very scary. We called our friends, asked what they would do, if it was possible to drive now. If they would open fire on the cars. Because we have known since 2014 about people leaving under fire and it was terrifying. Moreover, we had to leave with the children, so we were afraid for them too. And so we left not on the 24th, but on the 25th of February. Back in Bakhmut, we saw long queues for ATMs. People started buying all the food. The first thing we did after I called everyone was go to the supermarket and buy a lot of food, worth several thousand hryvnias. After all, we didn’t know, maybe we’d just have to sit in the basement and not even be able to leave the house. It was impossible to predict how the situation would develop.
I left Bakhmut on February 25, together with my husband and three children. We loaded everything that we could into the car. We knew that, most likely, we would not return for a long time. We still didn’t know where we were going. Through chat, through acquaintances, I asked where I can go, where I can rent an apartment, which roads I can drive on. It was very scary and I cried all the time. The children got used to mom crying. I constantly read the Telegram, all the terrible news about shelling, the occupation of new territories. The first week we could not even believe that all this was really happening to us. I have been practicing yoga for several years. There is a movement called “Ananda Marga. Ukraine”. When we were on the road, I started writing in the chat, asking where I could stop. I knew that there are people from all over Ukraine who support each other. We stayed in friends’ apartments. Then we stayed for a week in Chernivtsi, where we were received by our friend, although at that time he was a person we hardly knew, whom we had seen only a few times before. He suggested we stay in Chernivtsi. We had no plans about leaving Ukraine then. Besides, we never even went abroad with our family. It was a very big barrier for us, because we didn’t know how we would be. But we were assisted with moving to Romania. There we were accepted by the local community, and so we lived in Bucharest for 1.5 months. We were very supported there. In general, Ukrainians are treated very cordially in Romania. There are many volunteer organizations there. We met many people who stopped working, put aside their affairs and went volunteering. There was a sense of great support at all levels. Sometimes people would stop their cars, open the trunk and give us food. In such moments, we understood each other even without words. One time a lady at the check-out told me she wanted to pay for my receipt. I started to say no, but she insisted, saying: “I’m begging you.” It was simply impossible to refuse. I was surprised that there are many people from Moldova in Romania. They know russian well because they learned it at school. It occurred to me why the situation with Transnistria became possible.
It is a little different in Germany. There is social assistance here. On average, 300 euros are paid per person. We were given social housing here. At first we were just going to visit friends from the yogi community. Then we realized that the war continues, and we have nowhere to go. And in general, it was already very difficult to change places. Constant changes of homes and environment were not easy for us and the children. All this time I’ve been working online. And all this instability is also reflected in my ability to work. So, for the time being, we decided to stay in Germany.
We have been given an apartment here, which is even twice as big as the one we had in Ukraine. Here we feel like refugees, but, in general, people are quite loyal to Ukrainians, as they are to all nationalities. Assistance to refugees has been worked out to the point of automatism. The only thing is, we may have trouble extending our stay beyond 90 days. When they were in Romania, they issued us a certificate of temporary residence. In Germany, when we submitted the documents, we were told that they would think about whether to let us stay. We made a request to the ministry. In Romania, there are no such problems. We were told to simply apply for this temporary residence if we go to another country. Perhaps Germany has these problems due to the fact that the country is already quite overcrowded, or there are some other bureaucratic obstacles. The local Germans we spoke to say: “No, you can’t give up. We will vouch for you.” So I don’t know what to expect yet. Of course, it unsettles us a bit. Although, we are already used to everything and will accept any decision. But moving is very difficult. At first, I even thought that we should return to Ukraine. I was very happy to finally see my loved ones and my native land. But then random rocket attacks began again — in Kremenchuk, Vinnytsia, and other cities. I am terrified to look at the photos of parents holding the hands of their children who have just been killed.
On Facebook, under one of my posts, a conversation about leaving Bakhmut has sparked. There are many people who are still there. There is an opportunity to leave for free, settle somewhere in Ukraine, get some help. But people are still sitting there, with children. Such parents really seem like criminals to me. I believe that they should face some kind of responsibility for this. We mustn’t let Ukrainian children be taken somewhere to russia. In Bakhmut there is at least electricity, and the shelling is not so terrible, but something explodes every day. And, for example, in Siversk it is way worse. Since the beginning of May, there has been no electricity, gas or water. People are sitting in dark basements. Moreover, the Siversk community is very poor, and I can only imagine the condition of those basements. According to local authorities, 130 children still remain there. Volunteers go there every day, take out 2-3 people, but people don’t want to leave. Maybe someone is afraid, but I think that most of those who remain are waiting for the occupation. On the one hand, I am glad that there are not many such people, around 50-70 families in the whole city. Most of them are retired. We too have such a relative who is looking forward to the occupation. So now you can see real statistics in contrast to those who said that all of Donetsk is separatist.
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: