АвторAuthor: Kateryna Bankova | Translation: Roman Klochko
29 September 2022
“Russian World” liberated Daria Pshenychna from her apartment, private house, and business in Mariupol. Despite the constant shelling, the girl did not sit idly by: she coordinated the distribution of humanitarian aid in the local hub “Khalabuda”, which was converted from an educational center into a volunteer one. Daria told “Monologues of the War” how she had to survive in the besieged city and how her relatives from Russia responded to the events in Mariupol.
The sounds of explosions were not new to us. From time to time we could hear them: after all, there was a war very close by. When Russia launched a full-scale invasion, we thought that everything would be like 8 years ago: the fighting would take place somewhere on the contact line and would not reach the city.
We did not prepare and did not pack an alarm suitcase. We hoped everything would be fine, but I decided to take the child out. On February 25, we went to the Zaporizhzhya region, where my mother lived. On the way, we learned that Russian troops had entered Melitopol. We had to come back. We reassured ourselves that Mariupol was prepared and that we would be safe there. In three days the city was surrounded. It was hard to believe, because the day before the local authorities assured us that everything would be fine, we did not need to go anywhere.
The shelling became a daily routine, we could hear it quite well. My son reacted to the planes, he knew what Grads were. In case of something, he immediately hid in the basement. He was born in 2015, he has already seen the military, and military equipment. At the age of 3, he decided that he would also be a military man when he grows up. Of course, we talked to him and explained everything as it is: there is a war, and you have to be extremely careful. He perceived everything normally, for him everything that happened was a game. He got used to explosions, although one case scared him very much. An air shell hit a house nearby, and a roof of ours was blown off. My son’s ears were blocked.
We lived about 5 minutes from the Drama Theater which is located in the center of Mariupol. We moved there after the war started. Before that we lived on the Left Bank, in the village of Vynohradne, we have our own house there. When the explosions started to come closer and closer, the house started to shake, we decided that we should move to the center.
Before the war, we had an educational hub “Khalabuda” where I hosted business training sessions. When the war started, we turned it into a volunteer hub. So from March 5, I helped people who stayed in the city. From the morning until the curfew we were there. We provided both civilians and the military with everything they needed: food, medicines, clothes, shoes, and blankets.
I did not take my child with me as it was dangerous. I left him with my grandmother and father. Volunteer organizations that distributed humanitarian aid were being shelled, so “Khalabuda” could be a target. Yes, it was constant stress but we were under stress from the moment we realized that our city was under siege. We could either sit and do nothing or do something useful. We chose the latter. It was even harder for some people than for us. In “Khalabuda”, we supported each other so I knew that I wouldn’t be alone. At home, you could go crazy. And when you worked you forgot about what’s going on around you. Physical work helped me to unload myself a lot. In addition, since March 2, there was no communication, we were in an information vacuum. And there were many different people in the hub so we learned the news there.
Our house is 120 years old. This is a two-story merchant’s house. There was a small yard there, which helped us out during the war: we put a bathtub where we collected technical water from rain and snow so that we could do laundry or bathe. Also, there was a grill for cooking. At that time it was quite cold: outside -8℃, in apartment +8℃. It was not very comfortable. We did not undress at all, even slept dressed, even under the blankets.
There were many different springs in Mariupol. We create a list of them so that people could know where it was possible to find water. They were boiling that water and drinking.
We used to get up at 6 a.m. and go to the hub. We walked near the houses, and if we heard the planes, we immediately hid. In the hub, I coordinated the distribution of humanitarian aid. I received lists from civilians and the military with their needs, which we had to cover as much as possible. Every day 1000 or more Mariupol residents got help from us.
The worst thing was to get requests like “35 persons, including 5 children, they had nothing to eat for six days”. Or lists with pregnant who were about to give birth in a week. Lists where newborns and their mothers didn’t have milk. You understood that you had to help.
We had warehouses with some baby food left and it was consumed immediately. Our volunteers were scouring the blocked city, looking for pharmacies and shops’ warehouses there might be some diapers or baby food. We had no choice otherwise these children wouldn’t survive. It was hard to realize that these babies were born in a basement. Could you imagine?
I have relatives in Russia. My full sister emigrated there a long ago. Now she is living in Vietnam but we still don’t speak to each other: we have different attitudes to the situation. Also, I have a stepsister – my father’s daughter – who lives in Russia. Her husband is a military man. When the war started I thought that I could have an impact on her. When there was communication in Mariupol I called her and was talking to her but understood that it didn’t make sense. I was told that “Dasha, it all will pass but you ruined the relationships with your family”. I replied that in this case, I have no family.
Also, I learned that my stepbrother who lived there as well had to go to Ukraine for war. That is my brother has to go here to kill us. He might be sent to Mariupol or to the Zaporizhzhia region where my mother lived. I don’t know, maybe he’s already here. We don’t talk.
They are different, they perceive information via television and we understand that media can lie. We have more advanced critical thinking. I think so. They have been brainwashed a lot. My father lives in Russia for a long time so I have lived there for 3 years as well. I had friends there. One of them wrote me when the war started. He said that oligarchs were tearing Ukraine down and we didn’t notice that. I replied: “Andrei, we are of the same age. You make business illegally in your country. You cannot show it to authorities because taxes will kill you. I live in Mariupol. I own a house and an apartment downtown. Also, I have a car and my own business. I pay all the taxes and make a profit. So tell me in what country oligarchs are pressing the people? And you can compare our cities. I have been living in Mariupol for eight years. Over the past five years, the city has changed beyond recognition. Look at your Severomorsk where you are living, “a capital of Northern fleet”. It was as bad as it was and still is. I have not lived there since 2004, now it is 2022, and nothing has changed there at all.” He run out of arguments and started talking nonsense that is standard for Russians: “Why did you elect a Jew as a president?”. What do you care? We chose whom we wanted.
I don’t have an apartment anymore, my house was shelled by a tank. Everything was stolen from my house in Vynohradne. Strangers are living there now. Actually, I believe that I do not have it anymore as well.
In early March, we received a message from the local authorities that there is a green corridor to Zaporizhzhia.They sent a route. We decided to leave. But we didn’t manage to because shelling didn’t stop and our military men sent everyone back. Later we were told that there were no agreements, the road was mined. So here is a question for local authorities.
Our volunteers from “Khalabuda” went to Poland when there was a possibity and they had to come back with humanitarian aid and buses. We were told that if they were allowed to enter the city then the corridor would open and it would be possible to leave. On March 15, they came back and told us to evacuate. We had a car, but there was no gasoline, only 5 liters left. Our boss helped us and gave 20 liters to get to Berdiansk. There was no silence, we were driving under fire. The column was huge, thousands of cars were trying to leave. In the end, we arrived. The road took 11 hours, although under normal conditions we got there in an hour.
I went with my boyfriend, my son and two friends. Also, we took animals with us as we could’t leave them. Men were checked at the checkpoints and constantly provoked. But we tried to control ourselves to get to the destination. We did what we were told to do. As I remember, there were Buryats on the first checkpoint and “DNR”-ers were at the exit. We were treated differently. “DNR”-ers behaved very impudently. They seemed to enjoy mocking us.
I did not want to go abroad. If everyone leaves, who will stay? There will be no one to work here. I want to do my best to win, to make Ukraine free and independent. We had a lot of problems that we turned a blind eye to but I think now everything will be different. The war showed us the value of life. Now there is no loyalty to corruption, no indifference to elections.
Now I am in Ivano-Frankivsk. I did not have a plan. My friends just found us an apartment here and we stayed. I took my mother and grandmother here from the occupied territory.
Before the war I was engaged in business — I had my own coffee shop, this year it would have been one year old. Also, I was working for various projects as an Internet marketer. And I shared my knowledge and experience as a trainer in the “Khalabuda”. Now I don’t have problems with finding a job: I’ve already found a job in Ivano-Frankivsk and still work in the hub but now we are working online. My son started to study in the 2nd grade. For now, we want to stay here, and we will see what will happen next, it is difficult to plan anything now.
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: Kateryna Bankova | Translation: Roman Klochko