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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Kateryna Fuglevych

    «Products were exchanged in city chat rooms»: how the journalist from Odesa lived in occupied Kherson


    АвторAuthor: Kateryna Bankova | Translation: Diana Bevtsyk

    19 August 2022

    Kateryna Fuglevych is an Odesa TV presenter and journalist originally from Kherson. On the first day of the war, she left for her hometown. The girl understood the prospects well and realized that she was going from safety to danger. The main reason was that she wanted to be together with family. Kateryna told the «Monologues of the War» project about shelling, about everyday life in the occupation, about volunteering and trying to return to usual life. 

    I accidentally woke up at 4 in the morning.  I picked up my phone and the first thing I realized was that the mobile connection had disappeared. I chatted with my friends, and it turns out that at 2 am they heard aircraft in the sky. It became clear that something was happening.

    In a panic, I fueled the car, bought groceries and returned home to pack my things. I took two huge bags and hastily threw in everything that seemed necessary to me at that moment. Within an hour I gathered myself and was ready to go. At that time, the first explosions were already heard in Odesa, panic was growing every moment. I decided to go to my parents, they live in Kherson.

    When I was approaching Mykolaiv, I saw rockets and how the airport was burning. I was at a loss for words from the shock, I just moved forward. There were kilometer-long traffic jams in the return direction. People, trying to save themselves, went to Odesa. There were endless convoys passing by.

    Eventually I managed to contact my parents. We still decided that we need to be together. I still believe that I made the right choice then. I was with my family, and that’s the most important thing.

    Well, which bomb shelters? What war? I was 80 percent sure that it was just a provocation

    I worked as a presenter and journalist on the Odesa TV channel. About a week or two before the start of the war, I filmed a story about bomb shelters. We were checking their readiness for a possible Russian attack. At that time, this shooting for me felt like a day of civil defense at school. Like classes were canceled, everyone was discussing serious things but everything was not real. Well, what bomb shelters? What war? I was 80 percent sure that the training of Russian soldiers was only a provocation to induce the Ukrainian government to sign some agreements. Well, there cannot be a second Donbas. LPR. DPR. This is just impossible!

    I don’t know how people say they get used. I couldn’t get used to it

    I finally reached Kherson. Parents have already stocked up on everything they need for the first time. We met and hugged. When we entered the house, we heard the first aircraft, the planes were flying in the direction of Mykolaiv. 

    We spent the first three days in a damp basement with spiders. Thank God, we have a private house and a cellar for conservation, which we used as a shelter. We threw wooden decking on the floor, blankets and pillows on them and the beds were ready. We installed a so-called toilet there, then brought water and food. We went out only to see the light and went back down. On the third day, dad installed electricity in the basement, and we were able to heat it up. The sounds there , of course, are more muffled than upstairs, but shots, the roar of rockets, explosions could still be heard. I don’t know how people say they get used to it, I never could. Every time the heart froze.

    We surfed the phones around the clock . There we read everything in a row, trying to understand when it would end. We even looked for Vanga’s forecasts, seriously. We remembered that she seemed to say something about the war and let’s look for what she predicted next. We believed in God and in anyone. We really needed to find an answer – when it was all over.

    We knew that the Russians were going house to house looking for former employees from the ATO zone, former police and militia officers. Just in case, we always carried a gun with us. We went to the basement with it, when we got up from the basement we also took the gun with us. When we heard the stories from Bucha, it became even scarier. It could have happened to us too. I still dream of Russians coming to my house. Even now, although I am safe, I cannot sleep peacefully.

    When the first shock wore off, Kherson residents went to a rally to show Russian soldiers that we don’t need to be saved from anyone. We want this government, this city and this country. We want to live in Ukraine. My parents and I went as well. Subsequently, many more rallies were held, and no one was afraid. They tried to stop people, dispersed them with stun grenades, shot into the air and smoke was blown. They did not succeed. The people of Kherson have not changed their opinion, they still do not want to go to Russia.

    When I went to get groceries, I hung a white flag on the car so that the car would not be fired upon. If I walked, then only without makeup. In general, she tried not to attract attention. APCs drove through the streets, on top of which sat Russian soldiers with machine guns. No one knew what was in their minds. If you disappear, nothing will happen.

    People in the city chats exchanged places where they could get the products. «Wow, did you find the coffee? But where?»

    In the first days of the war, banks and supermarkets were closed, robberies began. On February 24, it “flew” into one of the large shopping centers. At that time, looters took home appliances, products, gold and other things. In a nutshell , everything they could from the burning shopping center. The city was divided into those who wanted to profit from the war and those who rallied. There were more of the second ones, and that was gratifying. In the city chats,  citizens began to exchange products. Whoever had sugar, gave sugar and took away flour. Or vice versa. «Wow, did you find the coffee? But where?».

    Another problem is gasoline. Its price almost immediately jumped to 90 hryvnias per liter. Then Russian fuel started to be imported, which was sold cheaper. And so, from the 7th morning, two queues lined up. One column stood at the Ukrainian point, another at the Russian one. There were people who didn’t care and they bought Russian gasoline.

    Read also: “It’s horrifying when children suffer” Story of a family from Severodonetsk

    In about two weeks, there were no more products for exchange. Nobody delivered anything. There was a lull. Everyone expected that everything was about to end. We were promised, told to hold on. We held on and we believed that we just had to wait.

    Now you can easily buy bread there. Vegetables have become cheaper, there are always a lot of them in our region. The problem is with meat products. Low-quality chicken costs about 300 hryvnias per kilogram. This is about products. In general, the prices are cosmic. For example, you have to pay about 600 hryvnias for shampoo.

    My father returned to work almost immediately. He has his own business , where he sells dressing materials for first aid. During the war, such things became scarce. By some miracle he managed to get goods from Ukraine and deliver them to hospitals free of charge. I could not sit with folded hands and decided to help him. I had to temporarily forget about work on television . I heard more than once how journalists simply disappeared. I was afraid to appear in the frame. It is not known what this could lead to. The channel reacted with understanding.

    Attempting to leave: we understand that this is a risk. Million-to-one you will survive or not

    For a long time, I did not dare to leave. But, on the other hand, I understood that I needed to earn. It is difficult when the whole family is in occupation. From the outside, I would at least be able to help my relatives. I could not leave for three weeks. I had already gathered my things, everything was ready. People left at 7 in the morning from the “Fabryka” shopping center. The same one that was bombed at the beginning of the war. The first Russian checkpoint was also there.

    Previously, it took 3.5 hours to get from Kherson to Odesa. In the middle of April, when I left, it was at least 7-8 hours, and if you was lucky. It is extremely difficult to venture on such a road after learning that one of the columns was fired upon. Ми We did understand that this is a risk. Million-to-one you will survive or not. While we were deciding, the first direction, from the side of Stanislav village, was closed. Well, I thought, so it’s not destined, I’m staying here. But people found another way through the fields , from the Chornobayivka side.

    There were people in Kherson who helped to leave. No, it’s not like you turned on the navigator and drove off. You stand with them in a column. Not on an asphalted road, you drive through a field and through a swamp. God forbid your car last. God forbid you handle the traffic. God forbid you don’t get stuck in the mud because it might rain.

    I tried to leave three times, but when I woke up in the morning, I realized that I couldn’t. It was as if something inside me was holding me back. When I dared again, my dad called the man who organized the departure of people. It turned out that he was in Kherson and was just about to go to Odessa. I had 15 minutes to pack everything necessary, get dressed and reach the assembly point of the column.

    After leaving the controlled territory of Ukraine

    The first photo after entering the territory controlled by Ukraine

    People paid to leave Kherson. From the very beginning, the price was 10 thousand hryvnias. It’s like a plane ticket to Antalya and back. Then they reduced it to 8,000, if on their transport. And in order to join the column, you had to pay 5 thousand hryvnias. When I went, it already cost 2 thousand hryvnias. But it was rather a thanksgiving. In fact, I could pay nothing, but a person takes risks, makes a route and also communicates with the Russian military. They already know him, he simply shows that these people are “with me”. It is much calmer.

    At the first checkpoint, they checked my passport. They asked to show the trunk. I was lucky. Being a girl, I was not touched much. But the boys at each post were asked to undress to check whether there were tattoos. If there were tattoos that the Russians did not like, then the boy could be forced to stay with them. It was very dangerous for men to leave. I was also asked why I was going as everything was fine in Kherson. I said that I was just going home, I have a residence permit in Odesa. Here I was just visiting my parents. They let me pass.

    It is better to prepare for a conversation at roadblocks. If they see that you are lying or worried, they turn you back. I went through 8 posts. My heart leapt into my throat at every post, but you have to keep a cool head and try to smile. The emotions when you enter the territory controlled by Ukraine are indescribable. I burst into tears.

    I was in Odessa for two days when a rocket hit the residential building here

    When I entered my apartment, I realized that I had left the refrigerator with food. I didn’t think about it at all then. In such stressful situations, the instinct to flee is activated. Maybe you don’t always have to run, maybe you have to sit. But no, in a panic I wanted to do something. Just waiting was very scary.

    I also persuaded my parents to temporarily leave Kherson. They left in a convoy of 10 cars. The first day they were not allowed, so they spent the night on the track. The next day they tried again. At one of the posts, they were turned back again. All this time they did not contact me, and I was shaking. What about them and how? They decided not to try anymore.

    I was in Odessa for two days when a Russian rocket hit a residential building. People died. I realized that I had to leave here as well.

    Many of my friends have moved to different places. I chose among the options. It was emotionally difficult for me to go and ask for help, because Ukrainians are used to working. This, by the way, is one of the reasons why I did not leave Kherson for a long time. In the end, friends promised to help settle in Budapest. Housing was given. When I arrived, I immediately started looking for a job. Before, everyone laughed that I had 4 diplomas of higher education, but I needed them all. I think I was very lucky. I found a job at a school, teaching media literacy, music, literature and law to Ukrainian children in high school. This school helps our children adapt to a new life.

    Some Europeans, especially the older generation, are afraid to talk about the war. Those who support and go to concerts with Ukrainian flags are super active people. I sincerely thank them. But there are also those who think that the financial aid that Ukrainians receive comes from their wallets. It is unpleasant. By the way, I did not receive it.

    Most likely, I will not return to Ukraine. I tried several times to build a career from scratch and every time something did not work out. I want to try to make a fresh start in Europe. Of course, I will come home, my relatives are there, my home is there. But I will develop in Europe. I will not stay in Hungary, but I will decide where exactly I will go later.

    Schoolchildren in Budapest

    Kateryna’s students in Budapest

    I started filming. Little by little, I’m getting back into shape. Three cool films have already been shot with one girl-director. One of them is about children’s conversations about the war. Boys dig in on the playgrounds, and when they hear a police or ambulance siren, they say that a rocket is flying. These are the games. Children are very traumatized.

    We need to prepare for victory. I think how i can be useful for Ukraine

    I read the news every day. I try to abstract a little, but I can’t. It hurts a lot. When the connection disappears, I panic. After all, I don’t know what’s going on with my parents. That was a week ago. A terrible dream came true. The Russians did come to their home. Dad was fixing some kind of ladder in the garden, and then the bell rang. They asked about this and that, also asked where the neighbors had gone. I think they are checking who has left and who hasn’t, to occupy vacant apartments.

    As soon as Ukraine wins, I will immediately buy tickets and go to Odessa. I will try to solve something with my apartment. But in general, you have to prepare for victory. I am preparing, thinking about how I can be useful for Ukraine.

    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: Diana Bevtsyk


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