АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Violeta Shenkariuk
20 July 2022
Stanislav Kotliar needed 9 days and four attempts to leave the Kherson region, which is under occupation. About the driver killed by a sniper, the night in the gray zone close to shelling and a mined road — read in the continuation of the material.
We were driving in a private car. There were eleven of us: women, children, the driver and me. I am a disabled person with a certificate and the military service exemption certificate. The machine was a nightmare! Her radiator was leaking, the doors opened on the move, the brakes barely worked. And there was not enough fuel and… water for the radiator, which, I remind you, was leaking. In a word, we got lost in this ramshackle car, by some paths we almost miraculously got very close to Davydov Brid, but we had stumbled on a russian roadblock. And we were turned back. I had to spend the night in Berislav in a camp for refugees. There, nine of us — all except the driver and his girlfriend — found seats in volunteer buses. We said goodbye to the driver and his girlfriend, and left for the second time in the morning the next day.
It was calmer to drive in a convoy of volunteer buses. The seats were more comfortable, the doors did not open on the move, the radiators did not leak. This attempt was the most boring. We stood stupidly in a several-kilometer long queue for Davydov Brid, from which not a single car was released that day. First, the occupiers brought us food. It was canned sh*t, which their military leadership feeds them, spoiled bread and water. The water, however, was normal. We ate, stood still, but eventually turned back. And we were back to Kherson. Also in a refugee camp. There we spent the night, the next day and another night, after which we gathered at the assembly point on the morning of the fourth day to attempt the third departure.
This time everything went wrong from the very beginning. The condition of departure suddenly became the delivery of everything that can store information: phones, laptops, hard drives, flash cards, memory cards, etc. It was allowed to take only push-button phones without cameras. Fortunately, I had one. And everything else had to be put in storage, in the hope that someday our people will regain control over Kherson region, the post office will work there, and my gadgets will be sent to me wherever I am at that moment. And at the same time, the person who will keep my things will survive, and his home will survive. Then, after a full thorough search of all our belongings, at the last orc checkpoint, I then had to turn out my entire bag. For the first time, we found ourselves in a gray area. But the column in which we were driving split up. Our bus was far behind the others. There were only two phones in the cabin. One is almost discharged. And mine. I gave it to them, so we could contact other drivers and figure out where to go. But they couldn’t, there was practically no communication. We have stumbled on a truck of rushists. The driver asked them where to go. It took. They answered and did not touch us. We made several maneuvers.
There was only one possible option left, where the rest of the buses from our convoy may be: in the direction of the road, which is marked with a “mine” sign. Fortunately, the mines were on both sides of the roadside, not on the road itself. We drove through.
It was the village of Tsentralny. There we met with only one of the buses of our convoy. His driver knew the way. We left by two buses. We stumbled on the armored personnel carriers of the russian military. At gunpoint, they took us out of the buses. And I thought at that moment, we’re in trouble, we’re standing in line, now there will be several queues, and it will be the end. But by some miracle, the eldest of the orcs began to reprimand our drivers for taking us to the active war zone, not considering the risks for us. Like, a military man shouted at one of the drivers, why are you risking the lives of children, women, who gave you this route, where did you take them, what were you thinking? Etc. He addressed us passengers politely, told us to board the buses, and the drivers, for our safety, would take us back. We turned around and came back to Tsentralny, where we met before that. We decided that this is some kind of bullshit, that the rushists simply do not want to let us out. On the advice of the locals, several people from among the passengers went to the local commandant to negotiate a pass. With them were my phone and the sick passenger’s medical documents and mine. By the time they got there, they received a text message, one of those sent by… The Security Service of Ukraine.
“The occupiers stripped them, blindfolded them, put them on their knees and interrogated them as spies. Until the same commandant came in, flipped through my medical documents and forced his subordinates to let our passengers go”.
Like, why are you interrogating them, you can’t read? In general, when those passengers returned, I heard: “Your medical documents saved us”.
After all this trash, we returned back to the refugee camp in Kherson, completely broken and scared. And there we learned that the driver of the car, who was following the third bus from our convoy, was shot by a sniper. It is not known exactly where it happened. But how fortunate that we were not there!
This route turned out to be the longest of all. At first, we waited for four long days for a new attempt. And then the path itself. Many checkpoints, many checks, fortunately, not particularly thorough. And plus, you could take gadgets this time. The problems started at the last checkpoints, already after Vasylivka. That’s all, they said, turn back. The passengers went to negotiate again. And they succeeded. This time, no questioning, no hassle, but we wasted the whole day on it. So, we left for the gray zone at night.
We tried to find a way around the blown-up bridge, which our drivers used to leave earlier. But there were mines in places on the surviving roads. It was very risky to drive in the dark. It was possible not to notice a mine, not have time to brake or turn to the place where another one lies. So we had to stop in the middle of the gray area until dawn. The risks of standing there were significant, but the risk of running into a mine in the dark seemed worse to us.
After a day of driving, mixed with waiting, I felt bad. My legs were twitching, I couldn’t sit for a long time, I couldn’t fall asleep. At all. Lying in a bus full of people was out of the question. That’s why I stayed up almost all night until morning. When you stand, your legs are toned, the twitching goes away. And you can even put your head in your hands and take a nap for a few minutes. While we were waiting for dawn, the rocket launcher was literally firing right next to our column… and it is still unknown what the occupiers fired that night. Fired three times. We are lucky that nothing flew onto the road. But women were frightened, children were crying, everyone was very scared. Finally, the dawn of the ninth day began to approach, daylight had come, we set off further. And then everything was fine. Finally!
Our soldiers passed us as quickly as possible at the checkpoints, we cried with happiness when we saw them, when we heard our native, finally, our native language, saw our native flag, native symbols. We were taken to another refugee camp. They fed us and registered. And those who did not have money were transported free of charge, wherever they needed. Someone to the evacuation train, someone to spend the night, someone to relatives. And those who had money went to their course.
It doesn’t matter where I am now, I’m safe, and that’s the main thing. But I will tell you this. Here is freedom, there is a concentration camp. Here – civilization, there – Paleolithic.
I am extremely, infinitely grateful to our defenders. They are the best! They are the bravest, the most incredible! But we must free ALL of ours from the cursed occupiers. Otherwise, our people will be struggling very much. And a democratic country cannot throw its people somewhere “over there” to the mercy of fate, it cannot. This is the difference between us and them.
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: Violeta Shenkariuk