АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Oleksandra Ulianych
20 June 2022
During the occupation Tetiana Nesterenko was an only obstetrician-gynecologist in Semenivka, Chernihiv region. She delivered babies on her own and even did c-sections. Endless columns of the aggressor’s tanks, planes carrying bombshells on Chernihiv, an old mother and three children in a basement were her reality for almost three months. And last but not least responsibility for the lives of women in labor and their babies, who were delivered during explosions.
I live in Chernihiv region, in Semenivka in a border area. I and my husband are both doctors. I ‘m a neonatologist and an obstetrician-gynecologist, my husband works as a surgeon, orthopedist and as an endoscopist. Last autumn we bought a house. It’s situated from the side of the city which is closer to the border.
On the 24th of February I heard something rattle. I thought it was the wind making these sounds. And only then I realized that it was a war. People had been talking about that for weeks. They laughed at me, but I packed a survival kit with documents and was carrying it around with me just in case. Although I didn’t have in plans to leave because we’re doctors.
And here it is, shooting somewhere really close, even the house is shaking. I told my husband: «Let’s hide kind in the basement ». He didn’t believe me: «Don’t be silly, what kind of war? 21 century!». Then he went outside just in his underwear, then came back shouting: «War!».
Russians were advancing through our city and what we had among the military personnel is several border guards and that’s it. We woke up sleepy children. The youngest was wrapped in the blanket and together we came down into the cellar. We were sitting there until dawn broke.
We have three kids. The eldest girl is 15. And it’s the most terrifying. Awful thoughts came into my mind whether to pull out her teeth or to shave her hair?! You probably understand how I was afraid about my daughter.
The middle child is a ten years old boy and the youngest is three and a half.
We heard from other people that Russian troops were coming into the town. We very quickly put our kids into the car and drove them to their grandmother, who lives in the opposite side of Semenivka. It’s a cul-de-sac meaning that nobody would stop by there. Our grandmother closed a gate and a house and we went to work.
Russians entered from Mykolaivka, which is a checkpoint at the state border. It’s only 5-7 km away from Semenivka.
Long columns of military hardware were stretching almost until the afternoon. I don’t know whether there were a lot of them or not. It was impossible to count. They transited through our town to Chernihiv in two directions. The first direction was our central road and the second one past our hospital. Then part of them got lost. They were very active here for almost three days.
And there were a lot of such columns in Semenivka. During the first days they were extremely long. People informed each other about them and were hiding in their houses.
A lot of tanks were left in the forest. Russian military hardware stood on the outskirts of Semenivka. They were seen there for couple of weeks, probably. They also were standing for a long time near the bridge, which collapsed under the weight of the column, and then they just returned back to Russia.
«It was scary. But we still worked as usual, going to work every day, otherwise it would be desertion if we left».
At first, we drove our kids and then we even didn’t go back to our house. We stayed at our grandmother’s house because her cellar was covered with a reinforced-concrete plate and it was much safer than hiding in ours, which ceiling is made out of stone. And in case of explosions everything would fall down just on our heads… There we lived until April.
The Ukrainian flag continued to hang. Russians didn’t manifest their presence very activelyсвою, but couple of times it was really scary.
Once they broke into the town on their armored personnel carriers, cars, they set up their checkpoints and at the same time broke into administrations buildings. What they were searching for is unclear, they were dragging some suitcases. We informed our soldiers about the possibility of mining… Who knows what is in their heads.
The second time when was really scary, it was just before the returning of our Ukrainian soldiers. They stopped people, checked their passports, but nobody was taken into captivity, nobody was killed. Although, people were scared.
The planes were always flying above us and we knew that they were bombing Chernihiv. My sisters were hiding in the cellar for a month and a half and finally managed to escape. We called them to warn them about the danger and for them to hide.
Planes were flying really very low. Probably not to be shot down by air defense. They were flying above us and in order to pass the roof of our house and our neighbors’ they leaned on their side. Somehow, trajectory of their flight ran directly over our yard. So we could see such things often.
My middle son was especially afraid of them. As soon as he heard the plane, he was already in the cellar. And this child even didn’t see all those terrible things which happened in other occupied cities…
Once we were going to have lunch with my husband and saw an armored vehicle with our Ukrainian flag on it. I stopped and started crying. At first, my husband was surprised, but when he saw it, started crying as well. Our soldiers while driving were waving their hands. It was such a relief! It was after Bucha, so we knew what could happen to us.
They shelled Chernihiv relentlessly. After de-occupation of Chernihiv, my aunt visited my sisters. When she was telling what she saw, she was crying. There used to be a big beautiful area with fascinating cottages near Chernihiv. My aunt recorded a lot of videos with the ruins instead of cottages.
«My sister lives in a country house and she was extremely lucky when the shell exploded in her yard. She was laughing, thinking that it was good since she wanted to build a cellar and now here you go – a ready-made hole».
They weren’t at home when the shell landed. When they came back they saw broken windows and a house covered with debris. What is interesting, all icons were safe and sound and all of them were still on the wall.
When our military forces entered Semenivka some people said: «Russia would be better». You see, proximity to Russia leaves its mark. For how long was the border open! If you want to live in Russia, go and live there! Others said: «Now, with the Ukrainian soldiers here they will definitely shell us». Now they closed their mouths.
I’m so happy that there are so many Ukrainian soldiers here. Russians shoot every day. Let it be better shooting. At least you can hide kids in the cellar. But where will you hide when occupants are in the town?
There was no maternity ward in hospital in Semenivka for last 4 years. The area- actually, is big, but population is small and as a result, number of deliveries is also low. So it stopped functioning in our hospital.
When Russian troops came, we became isolated from the rest of the world. We used to drive our patients to Chernihiv whenever we had difficult cases or labor. When they started to wipe out Chernihiv, a lot of women came to us. Although we were under occupation, Russians didn’t commit atrocities here and they still could get here from Chernihiv.
«4 women gave birth in these two months. One of them even had a c-section. The most difficult thing was the absence of specific medicine like meds which contracts the uterus. Nobody was prepared to the war. We had to do whatever we could».
We tried to find some people on the Internet. Volunteers from Lviv brought us this medicine. I won’t be surprised if they drove through Poltava. You see, the bridge near Shostka was destroyed, you couldn’t go through the river Desna. All bridges near Chernihiv were destroyed as well, so I have no idea how volunteers managed to bring us the medicine. Thanks God we got some help from Kyiv. Also one of my acquainted, who is connected to the pharmacies, sent us the medicine we needed so badly for labor. Only then we calmed down.
I should admit that all doctors from our hospital stayed. Later some hospital staff started to leave, but all doctors stayed. And they’re still working up to now.
We saw what was happening in our town, so we filled the sacks with the sand to protect windows. And our hospital is big with 4 floors and you can only imagine how many windows are there. But the most critical and important were a maternity room, a procedure room, a reanimation and an operating room. We put some sacks for less people to notice us at night and to be protected from the glass in case of shooting. It was strange and scary.
I was impressed that women in labor are usually nervous and here they were kind of detached.
The first woman in labor was local. I noticed that she didn’t react to the pain or my words. But women in labor behave differently! Totally different. And this one… I started to ask her to understand what could be a problem. As for me everything was okay. Then I had to do her a c-section because a baby put its hand over the head. After that she told me that her husband was a military man. There was no connection with him. On a day she was discharged from hospital, he called her. It turned out that he was in captivity. The woman didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. «Thanks God he’s alive! And what if they kill him?!» she said. God bless this poor woman.
Another woman in labor was a refugee from Chernihiv. She was giving a birth, but the feeling was as if I was watching a movie. She was talking to us all the time. This person was fleeing on that day when the occupants found out the place from which people tried to escape and started to bomb the bridge with thousands of people underneath it. And she was there being 9-month pregnant»
She was speaking about it so calmly, the way how they were leaving, how there was place only for women in the bus and how men were going from Chernihiv on foot through the forest. Finally she said: «At that time it was so scary that labor in comparison to it is not a big deal». It means only that the person was so broken…
She also told about her father-in-law. She lived in a multi storey building together with her husband and when a neighbor’s house was bombed, they moved to her father-in-law into a private house. He had been building that house for more than 20 years. How beautiful that house was! He used to spend all his money on it. He put all his heart into it. Two weeks before the Russian invasion into Ukraine he completely finished the renovation inside the houseдо.
Mother-in-law together with her daughter happened to go somewhere to their relatives just a day before the 24th of February. And they didn’t return back. That’s why a mother-to-be with her husband lived there for some time and then went to Semenivka. Her husband’s father decided to stay to protect his house, but it didn’t help.
He went to his neighbor. On coming back all windows and doors were already broken. He came back to his neighbor: «Just imagine, I was absent only 20 minutes and my house is already fired». His neighbor recommended him to go home quickly and grab his documents. He followed his advice. When he came back home the only surviving construction was a toilet… Just imagine all his legacy was destroyed in several minutes! And it is time, money, soul and heart because it was built for kids.
The next woman, who was giving a birth, said straightforward that after what she saw in Chernihiv, labor was nothing. Yep, it hurts a little bit, but it’s not forever! After delivering a baby everything will be okay.
After labor I was stitching her, but she had no reaction. And all these 4 women were like that. They all behaved as if they weren’t giving a birth. As if they were in a parallel universe. Giving birth here but their thoughts were somewhere else. I have never delivered babies like that.
Sometimes wounded soldiers are hospitalized here. Once two wounded were delivered. And a 20 years old boy is in the mortuary. It’s impossible not to cry because he’s somebody’s child. Maybe his parents hoped that here would be no active military actions. It’s such a pity. What life he could see being born in 2002?
The scariest thing that this war is pointless! I can tell you as a medical worker, putin has paranoid schizophrenia. He has power and money to arrange things the way he wants.
How so many people can commit so many atrocities? Murdering another person is such a shock. It’s not the one person who did all those horrible things in Bucha! All Russian soldiers who were there did it!
«My sister, the one who is from Chernihiv, she is in Vinnytsia now at her relativesв. They had spent a month and a half in the cellar with a kid who is 2,5 years old. And she told me that her son up to now runs into the cellar when he hears some sounds similar to a plane. «Mom, go to the shelter! The plane is flying to bomb us. How could they find us?»
We almost got used to the sounds of shooting. I can’t leave the town because I have to go to work. I’m very worried about my children! It’s so difficult to leave them alone at home and go to work.
There are only forests in front of us. Now you can only look at them, go there is strictly forbidden. Russians mined everything in a month and a half. We need years and years before it’s completely safe. And people used to live off the forest. We would eat mushrooms and blueberries. We didn’t touch anybody just lived on our land, worked…
My father is Russian. My parents got divorced when I was 12 years old.
I was impressed by two things when I came to say goodbye before his death. Firstly, nothing had changed since my childhood! Only houses got older and started to crumble. Secondly, the distance between the Ukrainian village Mykolaivka and the Russian village Lomakivka is only 5-7 km. Our village is prosperous: each house is painted, women beautifully dressed, fat dogs and chickens, flowers everywhere. Only 5 km away across the border and you can see total poverty, like another planet. There are shabby fences, women in rags, skinny dogs and cats.
It is said that it’s not allowed to farm near the border, but some people did it anyway. I and my husband spent all our salary on seedlings. We are going to plant a garden. That’s the best illustration how we believe in Armed Forces of Ukraine! [laughs].
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: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Oleksandra Ulianych