АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Andrii Zhenzherukha
20 May 2022
The Tymoshchenko family from Makariv, Kyiv region, refused to leave their home for a long time. Hiding from the shelling in basements, freezing without heating and light, they still believed that this horror would soon end. But when a mine exploded right near their windows, the fear for their dearest made them take the risk. They had to flee through the Kyiv-Zhytomyr highway, which for many Ukrainians became the highway of death.
The morning of the 24th of February was a regular morning of a regular day for our family. I woke up earlier. Usually, I get up, make coffee, and do my morning routine before going to work, but this time I picked up my smartphone and read on the news that Kyiv was attacked.
I must have felt paralyzed that very moment. I was scrolling through the feed and reading, scrolling and reading, refusing to believe in what happened to my country.
After a while, my elder son entered the kitchen. He was just told that they will be learning remotely starting today: “Mom, is it because Kyiv was attacked?”
Together we were sitting in complete silence when our younger son came in: “Mom, did the war break out?” I didn’t cry back then. I pulled myself together for my kids. They should not see panic and fear.
That day I went to work because I was working at a medical center. My husband stayed home with the kids, working remotely. I talked to my superiors: the majority of our doctors were from Kyiv and they could not get to the center. We had to speak with patients, a lot. It was hard, many of them freaked out, but there were also some optimists. I called my friends: the Mykolayiv airport was demolished; in Kharkiv, some explosions were heard but without any damage; in Makariv everything was quiet on the 24th of February.
We heard the first explosions in distance on the 26th of February. That was also the day of the first air alert. My husband and I instructed our kids about where to hide if they see jets or helicopters. That same day I gathered all our documents in one backpack.
We would hide in the basement. Now I understand it might have been not as safe as I thought it was, but we believed this all would end soon.
That day our lives changed. We started following the news very carefully. According to the updates, Russian troops were already moving towards Borodianka. The bridge in Irpin was demolished so Russian “saviors” went our way to reach Zhytomyr highway and thus enter Kyiv. We could not believe that our town would be attacked until the very last – there were no military objects, no railway stations, no warehouses… Makariv is a small town on the bank of the Zdvyzh river.
On the 27th of February, the first military convoy reached the town. I can’t forget it even though I wished to. Together with my husband, we could distinctly see the vehicles right from our balcony. We were counting, jotting down the number of gasoline trucks, vehicles packed with soldiers, APCs, and tanks. My husband drew on Google Maps where they were going. We received calls from the neighboring Lypkivka, Andriivka, who also reported convoys. All of this information we sent to our armed forces. And that same day we saw them in action.
The first russian convoy got shelled when they reached the 51st km of Kyiv-Zhytomyr highway. That made us happy, cheered us up. But those who survived spread across the territory. Some of them hid, others returned to our town, construed outposts near our city, and tried to gain control of it. But our territorial defense would not let them.
The first battle occurred on the outskirts of our town on the 27th at night. That same day the territorial defense experienced its first losses. Electricity was shut down first, heating and water supply followed. The water tower could not pump water anymore.
On the 28th of February, we heard the first helicopters and planes. russian paratroopers were trying to land in the vicinity of the golf club, near brickworks. There they dug in and gunned down anyone who drove by in their cars. We didn’t want to escape back then though. We stayed home. We thought this way we could keep our children safe.
The nights were hard. The days were not so terrifying. I was lucky that my children were older and understood what was going on. They did not panic, so we, adults, had it easier too. However, my younger son started to “sleep” a lot. He would all the time lie down, pull on the hood of his jacket, and pretend to sleep… He would refuse to eat. I knew what he felt, that he was shocked. And that scared me twice as bad. I talked to him, explained that he should not be ashamed of his fear. That it is normal in a situation like that and we are all scared, but we know everything was going to be alright… When he asked for a sandwich I was on cloud nine! We would try to play something all the time, we found a book with logical-mathematical problems and he finally returned to normal.
We heard blasts every day. But I don’t even know how to put the first fear into words. It happened on the 2nd of March. That day our residential houses were shelled for the first time. We saw with our own eyes how mortar bombs fell some 100 m away from our home: two into a river flowing close by and one exploded somewhere near the bridge. There were people on the bridge, as far as I know, one or two died instantly. Then we decided to move to our parent’s place. It was in the same building, but considering the location of russian soldiers, it would be safer there. We also knew that airstrikes are imminent after Borodianka was bombed.
Air sirens didn’t work because of the blackout. At first, there was some voltage in the grid, though low. We could charge telephones at least. But then the power supply was out. It was freezing outside. Kids slept fully clothed.
When we heard helicopters or planes we hid in the basement. I don’t know how many hours we spent down there, but we returned to the apartment to sleep. It was too cold in the basement – our feet would freeze. Plus, there was hardly any air. Our basements were not fit for purpose. I hoped children didn’t fall ill, because it would be hard to cure them. We laid our kids to sleep closer to the corridor, further from windows and glass. Now, after hearing of our acquaintances who perished under the debris of a high-rise, I know basements are not safe.
Regardless of all the hardships, explosions, and constant shootings we still hoped that we would not have to move. It’s our home, after all. The home of our children.
On the 4th of March, my father-in-law and I were standing on the balcony. Our Armed Forces were nearby. We have seen them often and watched their reaction during explosions: if they kept calm, we knew that was our soldiers firing and didn’t run anywhere.
And a shell landed some 50 meters away from us. I remember the explosion… I think I was in the kitchen. The walls started trembling, I heard the glass shatter. I ran to the corridor and could not see anything because of the dust. Then I rushed to the bathroom with the balcony. I screamed. Then when the dust settled I saw my father-in-law – he was lying on the floor, trying to crawl towards the doors. I started calling my husband and he responded that he was OK. He fell to the floor on the balcony. That time I got terrified. That time I realized how merciless a war can be.
That day many apartments were left without windows, amidst severe frost. We were sitting in the basements; because of constant shelling, we could not even cover those windows up. Some buildings had huge holes in the walls from the shell shards.
The only thing I cannot comprehend in this war: why do these weasels behave like this? How can they be so inhuman? Shooting, shelling civilians… raping, torturing… I just can’t wrap my mind around it. How can they be so soulless?
The night between the 5th to 6th of March was extremely exhausting. Helicopters were flying over us all the time. Explosions were everywhere. I didn’t close my eyes for a second that night. At dawn something landed right nearby, we didn’t even have breakfast – we rushed into the basement and stayed there until noon.
My husband went somewhere and in return told me to evacuate with the kids. I didn’t want to, but I got convinced when I heard that an empty bus which was coming to rescue civilians was gunned down. Then I realized that I don’t want to take any buses without my family.
I will not describe how my husband got to the garages, which were already a battlefield. Half of them were scorched, flames destroyed one of our cars as well. But a 6-person family car remained intact. We decided to go that same day in the afternoon. I followed someone’s advice to write “children” in Russian and “SOS” in English on the car.
In the morning, under the cannonade of explosions, hums, and swooshes, we set out practically without anything – with the documents in the backpack, some clothes, some food… I remember I could not find our cat. I am very grateful to my husband for saying: “Look for her, we aren’t leaving her here” – when I was freaking out. Then I could get a hold of myself and eventually dragged her from beneath the couch. And thus we drove with 2 cats in the car – one ours and another – our parents’. The two weren’t eating or drinking, just hiding somewhere from all explosions that scared them as well as us.
On the very first outpost, our fighters warned us that Zhytomyr highway is shelled round the clock – visibility is too good. Told us to drive and not stop under any circumstances.
The road was atrocious. Even though I had no desire to watch carefully I still noticed a lot of vehicles covered in bullet holes, torn apart. It was a nightmare.
Later I heard from others that the 6th of March was a breaking point for the combats in Makariv. Those who succeeded to escape before that day got out “easy” if I can say so. Afterward, to leave was next to impossible.
Now we are relatively safe. We don’t disregard air alerts.
I could go abroad with the kids but we decided to stay here, in Ukraine.
Recently I found out that in Borodianka my good acquaintances were rescued from beneath the ruins – the family of a doctor Smishchuk Vitalii Volodymyrovych, his wife Tania, a nurse, and their little 5-year-old daughter Yeva…
This is no war. This is a genocide. This is an effort to wipe us off the face of the earth! But this will not happen. I am convinced.
Now, together with the kids, we are waiting for Makariv to be demined and for the local authority to allow residents to return. And so we will – we will come back home. Nobody will drive us away from there. We are lucky that we still have a place to return to. Whatever may be broken, or damaged – we will fix it all. We’re safe and sound, have a mind of our own, we are ready to work. And after the victory, I want to go on living… I realize that life will not be as peaceful as it used to be. But I want to go on living and be proud of the fact that we withstood. So that our children tell their children and grandchildren of russians’ true colors. With all my heart I hope that their nation faces the consequences of their actions. And never finds peace again…
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: Andrii Zhenzherukha