АвторAuthor: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Iryna Kovalenko
10 June 2022
33-year-old Tetyana Danyliak and her husband Vadim stayed in occupied Kherson until April 23. They tried to evacuate twice. This is a story about how the couple covered 3,000 km and got to Latvia through russia.
Before the war, my husband and I lived in Kherson. He worked as a storekeeper, and I managed the delivery of gifts via the website. It functioned not for so long – two years. I constantly advanced it, and also I attended many courses.
Everything changed after the russian invasion of our territory. My website became irrelevant; my husband had worked for nearly a month and a half. And then we were left without any income.
We had a good life, and we had our dreams. We wanted to get married this year, develop our business even more and travel a lot. Now we travel, but for entirely different reasons.
On February 23, my husband said: “Tanya, go withdraw money from the cards because there will be a war.” I answered him, “What war? It’s the 21st century now!” He worried a lot, but as for me, on February 23, I was still calmly doing my business.
In the morning of the 24th, my husband woke me up with the words “The war has begun.” My heart sank. I already felt this fear before when my mother told me that she had stage III cancer. As it was then, and the same thing that morning, I had understood – here is no turning back.
Moreover, you don’t know what to do. What’s next, and where to run? On the first day, everyone was trying to buy a lot of food, bandages, and painkillers – in case of shrapnel wounds. The queues were enormous. And Kherson residents emptied all the shops in three days.
Relatives from Nova Kakhovka and Kakhovka wrote to me that the occupiers had seized the Kakhovka HPP. On the evening of the 24th, we already heard explosions. The fighting for the Antonivskyi Bridge near Kherson continued. A fierce battle was there for two or three days.
Russian troops entered our city on March 1. They shot about 30 men from the territorial defense in the Lilac Park, who came out on them with Molotov cocktails. The whole city of Kherson was staying at home that day. However, some daredevils tried to escape the city. They were shot on the spot. They (russian invaders- translator’s note) also fired on houses on the city’s outskirts. The occupiers were looking for men from the territorial defense.
You can live in the occupation if you have money. Markets functioned. But there was real trouble with medicines. Volunteers bought medicines in Odesa or Mykolaiv. But orcs could take them away at checkpoints, and only some of them reached people.
At first, the occupiers did not touch the civilians. That was until they received a list of addresses where activists, former military and personnel of SSU (Security Service of Ukraine) lived. Then they started kidnapping people. Every day there were reports about home invasions or abductions in the news and telegram channels. There were few of them (of russian invaders – translator’s note) in the city, more in the suburbs.
I tried not to go outside my neighborhood. I rarely was in the city center. I was scared that I would not get to my house. I often didn’t take my phone with me because the occupiers checked it for any evidence of the pro-Ukrainian stance.
Until the last, I was not going anywhere. The city was occupied, but there were products, and prices were not as high as at the beginning. During the first month of the occupation, my husband still received his salary. Therefore, we had no idea to leave Kherson.
As for me, it was insane that some weird guy came, hung up useless flags, and told us what to do.
We decided to leave the city before Easter, April 22. That was the last day my husband went to his work. We could spend the last money on the food, or we could escape the city. The thing that affected us the most was the announcement about the mobilization to the ranks of orcs in the Kherson region. I understand now that this could have been fake information, but anyway, I did not want my husband to give his life for russia.
Within only one day, we decided that we should leave with friends in their car. We intended to get to my husband’s sister in Mykolaiv. And in general, we wanted to go to our native land, to the territory of Ukraine.
At 5 am on Saturday, April 23, we set off. The first three checkpoints passed in a flash. On the fourth – we were stuck in the field. There were 24 cars in front of us. The orcs did not let anyone out except their own, who took people out for money. And those cars were not in our queue, there was another one for them.
At first, the occupiers said that just the cars with seriously ill, people with disabilities and with children under one year would be allowed to pass. Some of the cars could go through because of that. Then it started again, like “we will release or we will not”.
At the beginning of our column was a bus with a dozen children. They were not released. “Battles are going on,” “there was no order to let you through,” they (russian invaders – translator’s note ) said. But when, at noon, the column of cars from Snihurivka of the Mykolaiv region got to the checkpoint – they all passed. I saw many trucks there, probably, they were resellers.
So we stood there until 5 pm. Then the orcs declared that another shift was to arrive at 6 pm and they would start firing at the wheels if there was a second column. That was about us. We decided to return home.
On the way to Kherson, we passed a six-kilometer column of cars. Most of them were going to spend the night in neighboring villages. We understood that tomorrow would be a worse situation with the leaving. At night we decided that we would not go back there again. We were going to head to the Crimea and then through russia to Latvia. My sister lives there.
On April 24, at about 6 am, we left Kherson again. At the checkpoints, we came across angry orcs. Men were checked for tattoos. They were trying to find anyone connected with the military. My husband has a scar on his stomach from the treatment. So even of it, they made a big deal.
“There is an unrealistic number of orcs in the Kherson region. They are building small houses at checkpoints, bricked up with stones”.
We passed our destroyed “Kalanchak” checkpoint and lined up in the queue on the border with Crimea. We stood there for about 17 hours. Border guards were not happy to see us, but Sergiy Aksyonov (“head” of Crimea controlled by russia – editors note) ordered to help Ukrainians.
At the checkpoint, they gave us to fill out a route letter. Then our guys and some men from a few other cars were called in. They (russian invaders – translator’s note) didn’t even call it an interrogation. They said, “We’ll go with you and we will talk.” FSB members asked whose Crimea is, where they (our guys – translator’s note) work, where we were heading, why we didn’t stay, and many more tricky questions. Our guys didn’t tell us in detail because it wasn’t easy for them there. After the interrogation, my Vadim said: “At one point, I thought we would not be released.”
We planned to drive across russia as quickly as possible through Krasnodar, Rostov, Moscow, and then to the border. When we passed Krasnodar, we saw a lot of posters and signs with “z”.
“The road from Crimea to Moscow is perfect. It’s a toll road. Repair work is done at every step. It seems that sanctions are not reflected on them. Where do they get it all from?”
In russia, drivers took photos of our Ukrainian license plates, and the migration service stopped us in order to check our documents. We easily arrived at Moscow, but we passed the capital to avoid traffic jams.
They are fine. They do not complain about non-working Visa and Mastercard. They have “Peace”, and they do not feel any discomfort. The grocery store has everything, and prices have not risen a lot. Gasoline and gas are also available.
When we went on no-toll roads, it was just a complete ass. There was no civilization there. It was as if the road seemed to have disappeared. There we saw three wooden houses per village. And it’s all in the woods and swamps. We drove and worried that the bear could run out on us. I wonder how people live there. And this was not even the hinterland of Russia! It was 5 km from Moscow and from the toll road.
We went to the checkpoint “Ludonka”. We had to return because the animals were not allowed there. And in our car, there were two cats. We had to go to another checkpoint, the road to which is tolled. At first, we thought that we had passed the tollbooths, but it turned out that they were at the border checkpoint. We had to pay 300 rubles. And we had zero. Our guys somehow begged, and we passed. We were very carefully checked: things from the car, the car, scanning, passport control. Thank God they did not touch our pets. At the checkpoint, we especially felt the hostility toward ourselves.
And on April 26, we finally arrived to Latvia! Only at that time, we could sigh with relief. For now, my husband and I are planning to find a job for us both here in Riga. As soon as Kherson is free again, we are definitely returning home.
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: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Iryna Kovalenko