АвторAuthor: Inna Molchanova | Translation: Vira Repchuk
12 September 2022
Svitlana Radchenko’s hometown has been under the control of Russian occupants for already eight years. It is Pervomaisk, Luhansk region. The woman left it in 2014 and moved to Cherkasy. She is one of those eyewitnesses who saw how Russia attacked Ukraine, in what condition their army was, how they behaved on Ukrainian territory from the very beginning. She told “War Monologues” how it all started, how Ukrainian soldiers hold the attack and how she helped our defenders.
In 2014, in the spring, meetings began to be organized on the squares of Pervomaisk. At first, they were organized by pro-government structures, at that time there was still the power of Yanukovych. They gathered people who represented the then government.
There were already hostilities in Popasna and Sloviansk, but not here. When the “liberators” came, there were very few of them at first. They settled in the military enlistment office, and in the city, they were not visible.
Those “little green men” who arrived could hardly be called the Russian army. It was obvious that they were some kind of exiled, from somewhere behind the “porebrik”, speaking an unknown language.
One day, they changed the flag at the city council five times: ours, then LPR, then the flag of some Cossacks. They climbed on the executive committee to change it: first one, and half an hour later another. These Cossacks were dressed up.
Then hail began to appear, anti-aircraft guns were transported by cars. They installed them on the roofs of high-rise buildings. They put equipment and artillery right next to the houses. No one was asked whether we agree with such a “neighborhood” or not.
But until that time there were no hostilities, because the city authorities were still trying to take care of the citizens. When it all started, everyone disappeared: there was no mayor, no police, no ambulance. Nothing worked, there was no water.
“Asvabaditeli” started shelling us with mortars. We lived closest to Popasna – there were 10-12 kilometers to this settlement, and there were already hostilities there.
Rashists drove to one end of the city, “covered” the square, and then drove to the other – and covered there. Tanks and heavy military equipment were driving by. It was as if it was some kind of surrealism, that it was not in your life, and it was not happening to you. Thus, the occupiers approached us from two sides: from Popasna and from Lysychansk.
We lived in the basement for two months. Our apartment was in a three-storey building, and there were five-storey buildings nearby. In our two basements we kept conservation and other food preparations just in case. I was always prepared, I always had a stock of everything: meat, food, butter, conservation, and medicines.
“Asvabaditeli” looted the food warehouses, broke the locks and took everything away, looted the pharmacies.
The basements were not heated, it was very cold, even drops of moisture hung on the walls, and it was hot outside, it was summer. If you stood on the basement stairs, you could see the fog from the temperature difference. People from neighboring houses with children came to our basement. Not far from us was the Palace of Sports, so we used to take water from the pool. You go out for water and do not know whether it will fly or not. Whether you come back or not.
Many people were killed because they did not have time to go down to the basement in a second or two – the mine covered them. People died while standing in lines, while sitting in garage cellars.
We had no gas, because the shrapnel damaged the pipes. There was no electricity on August 10. Balconies and windows of our house were blown out, but the house itself survived. The neighboring nine-storey building was hit by something heavy, because it broke through two floors. We came out and heard our guys throwing something.
And they cleared the bricks from the destroyed floors and say that we now have “VIP-apartments”: only one toilet and a bathroom are left on two floors, and the rest is all broken.
We made a field kitchen near the house and cooked there. Then we fed the elderly people who lived next to us.
We thought: well, one or two days – and ours will come. We were waiting for ours. But our guys had no weapons to cover far, no ammunition, nothing. At first there were volunteer battalions, there was no regular army.
Ours came to the outskirts of Luhansk, but did not go further. There were only a few of those “little green men” there, if they had been covered at once, all this would not have happened. They could have been killed there like chickens.
We left on August 24. The whole day we were shelled very heavily, it was impossible to poke our noses out at all. Apparently, they were congratulating us on the Independence Day of Ukraine. We did not know where to go, we had no friends anywhere.
We agreed with the man who took us out, paid him. He said that I could not guarantee anything. We attached a white flag and drove away.
We drove around the neighborhood. We were warned not to make sudden movements because snipers were sitting on the hills. Well, we saw it. Our first checkpoint was in Popasna. When I saw it, I cried. The guys were dressed in whatever: some in flip-flops, some in helmets, some without. There were no military shoes either.
At first, we went not far – to Zolote. We thought we would wait. Then we brought a field kitchen to our defenders. I immediately came to the checkpoint to cook food for the guys. My husband and son with a friend went to forge clothes and tents from the rain for the guys. We were washing their clothes.
But then we were warned at the checkpoint that there might be an attack at night, so we had to leave. So, we went to Bakhmut (former Artemivsk) and from there we took a bus to Kyiv. We stayed in Kyiv just a week, we were sheltered by my husband’s cousin. Then we went to Cherkasy. My son moved here on a job transfer, found an apartment and my husband and I also moved. It was on September 7, 2014. Eight years have passed since then. And we thought that we were not leaving for long, so we took only one bag with us.
My son immediately started volunteering, and I also joined in weaving camouflage nets. Before the war, I worked at the Pervomaisk shoe factory. There even used to be an advertisement about us: “Put on and forget”. By mid-June, the factory fulfilled all orders and stopped production. They did not work under shelling. In Cherkasy, I started helping together with volunteers of the NGO “Our Battalion – Cherkasy Spiders”. In 2014-2015, a lot of people came to us and we wove a lot of nets. Then, in the second half of 2015, we began to weave “kikimoras”, because the guys snipers ordered them. We wove camouflage scarves for rifles, sewed uniforms for the guys, overalls. We helped with money, bought and sent food.
And when the full-scale war began, we added a few more branches for weaving camouflage nets. Now we weave in shifts: in the first and second shifts. I usually come to the second shift. In general, volunteering for me is an outlet and a second family.
Eight years ago I was Russian-speaking, although I studied Ukrainian as a subject at school. I read a lot in Ukrainian, considered it my native language and spoke it at home. Back then there was no practice and the whole society spoke Russian, mostly. But when the war started, I switched to my native language.
Cherkasy accepted us well, but morally it is still hard. People are different. The conscious ones united, and those who thought at the level of instincts, for them there was no war, and there is no war. However, it is good that there are many like-minded, educated people around us, there is someone to talk to.
Now there is no question of returning home. If our city is liberated, it will take a long time to convert people to Ukrainian and eradicate Russian propaganda from their minds. But we believe and continue to work for victory, no matter how hard it is.
*The heroine’s name and surname have been changed for security purposes. The woman hopes to return to her native Pervomaisk to rebuild her home. Her sister and niece with children stayed there.
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: Inna Molchanova | Translation: Vira Repchuk