АвторAuthor: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Mariia Orletska
18 August 2022
26-year-old Krystyna Veselko worked as a radio presenter and met the first day of the war in Berdiansk. She immediately went to her family in the village, 20 kilometers from Polig (a town in the Zaporizhia region). This area was under constant shelling for a long time. The village where the girl lived was occupied at the beginning of March. For two weeks, Krystyna’s family survived without food, light and water, and for more than a month surrounded by the enemy. The girl told “Monologues of the war” about life in the occupation, staying in the basement and evacuation through numerous Russian checkpoints.
When I saw the news that the Russians were building up their forces on the border with our country, my first reaction was rejection. I could not take in that a full-scale invasion would begin. The war has been with us for the last eight years – everyone knew it and everyone understood it. However, no one thought that they would go further.
I began to hear news that Putin may recognize the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republic in the near future. It became really scary what consequences this decision would lead to. There was no one near me, I lived alone. I could no longer stay alone with this fear, so I moved in with friends – a couple with a small child. After that I heard the news about the recognition of the occupied territories by Russia.
On February 23, I was at work, where I came across information that the Russians had purchased somewhere between 35-40 thousand bags for corpses. Then I felt a surge of horror. I remember how we were sitting with colleagues, everyone discussed the latest news, opinions differed. I couldn’t stand it and just started crying. The manager began to reassure me, saying, don’t worry, everything will be fine, there won’t be any war. I remember that it was raining, it was cold outside, I ate and went to bed powerless. I was drained by my worries and the feeling of the inevitable.
On February 24, I woke up at friends’ house around five in the morning because of the first explosion that rang out in the city. Then there was the second. Everyone was already on their feet, except for the child. She continued to sleep sweetly. I drank a sedative, but the thought that I had to go to work did not leave me. I was very afraid to go out. I was afraid of what was waiting for me on the street. No sedatives, no support from friends, nothing could stop me from fear at that moment. That’s why I wrote to the management that I will not take the shift. Then I decided to just drop everything and go to my parents. I wanted to be close to them.
On that day, the war came to every Ukrainian. Each of us wondered what to do next, how far it would go. I came to my parents, and on March 6, a large convoy with enemy vehicles entered our village. They surveyed the area, set up their checkpoints, and we could hear the shooting, the roar of planes, tanks and howitzers. Three days were enough for us to get used to these sounds. The past life was already perceived as something distant and unreal. Literally three days, but it seems like years have passed.
People were afraid to leave their homes. If they did go out, then only for the most necessary things. At your own peril and risk. As long as grocery stores were open, life went on. Then the owner of one of these collected all the goods left in the village and distributed them to people for free. In another store, at that moment, everything had already been taken out. In March, the occupiers ransacked shops, opened the doors with a tank, and the villagers were left without food. To survive, people had to slaughter cattle. Someone took a risk and went to Zaporizhzhia for food. As far as I know, now only Russian products are traded there. And as a humanitarian, the occupiers did not bring food and hygiene products, but household appliances. Some hair straighteners and irons.
We understood that we had to flee, but we were afraid. Each such evacuation can end fatally.
March 8 had come. Acquaintances told me that at their checkpoints, instead of flowers, the occupiers gave women dry rations and wished them a happy holiday. While we were in the village, Russian soldiers went from house to house several times, asking for food, because they had nothing to eat. Sometimes we heard shots.
We could not dare to leave for a long time. How can you leave your household, and lose everything that your parents have earned for 20 years of living in their village? If it was easier for my brother and me to make such a decision, it was very difficult for my parents in this regard. They did not want to leave home.
Shelling intensified. There was no electricity or water for two or three weeks. Local tractor drivers drove for water and pumped the water tower on their own. Then they turned on the lights for us for a while. In April, it was turned off again. Then we were left without water at all, because the boys were no longer allowed even to go there.
On April 1, an explosion occurred somewhere nearby. I was sitting on a chair and I was thrown up. We immediately ran to the cellar of my grandmother’s house. Shells flew over our heads, we saw a red glow and heard loud explosions. It was night and while we were running, we were praying not to meet the patrol. After all, curfew was imposed, we could be mistaken for partisans and shot.
From April 1 to 14, we lived in the basement. My mother had panic attacks every time, she began to suffocate, and when a shell fell not far from our hiding place, we no longer hesitated. We just decided to wait the night. It was scary. We didn’t sleep all day. There was no “green corridor” . We just got into the car and left at seven in the morning.
Then it was raining and it was in our hands. Under such weather conditions, Russian soldiers were simply too lazy to check people at checkpoints. They did not bother my mother and me at all, only my brother and father were checked. They were asked to pull up their T-shirts to see if there were tattoos. They checked my brother more carefully because he was 21 years old. Even despite the fact that he has a disability and was sitting in front of them wearing glasses. That did not bother them at all. At one of the checkpoints, they even made an offer: “Join us in the army!” My brother replied that due to his health, he could not serve, to which a soldier said: ” We will fasten binoculars to your glasses, and everything will be ok.” At such moments, you do not understand if he is joking or if he is serious.
We passed eight Russian checkpoints. There were Kadyrovts, Buryats, and Russians. They even directed a machine gun at all the cars leaving. Along the way, we saw damaged vehicles and enemy convoys passing in the other direction. This is some kind of surrealism. I couldn’t believe that all this was happening to us.
When we got to Zaporizhzhia and entered the supermarket, we were shocked. Like “oh no, there are sausages here.” Because there was nothing in the village. And products from everyday life have become something like New Year’s presents for us. Then we drove on.
We came to another region, rented an apartment. When we entered the apartment, we thought to rest immediately, because we had been traveling for two days. But the air alarm began. We went to the corridor and hid in a corner there. It was the first day outside the occupation.
We could not find a job for a long time. Payments for IDPs were insufficient for four. We had to pay for the apartment and buy things eventually. We left the village during winter, and it is now summer outside. That’s why I decided to go to Bulgaria to help my family from there.
Already in Bulgaria, I realized how much I miss home. It’s hard for me to adapt. I fear every sound. I live not far from the airport, so the noise from airplanes causes me negative associations. There was a moment when the city celebrated something and let off fireworks. When I heard the “bang”, I immediately fell on the floor and started to cry.
I feel guilty for being away from my parents, for not being able to see them. They are there, I am here, it is difficult. And there is no way I can take them to my place, to a safe place. It also hurts me that I can’t help the boys at the front in any way. There are many of my acquaintances there, and if in Ukraine I had the opportunity to directly participate in volunteering, for example, then here I can only help with donations.
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: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Mariia Orletska
“Before the invasion of russia, the special services called me and warned me that I should pack and be ready to leave as soon as the war starts,” — the story of a journalist who evacuated from Bakhmut