АвторAuthor: Yulia Zarudnitska | Translation: Nina Tararuyeva
15 September 2022
Liudmyla Koval from Kharkiv region has survived many tests of fate. Her first baby was born sick, then she lost her child and her parents, and became disillusioned with her partners. To provide for her children, she worked hard her entire life. In her sunset years, she still lives thought the invasion of her native town. The woman told us about her difficult life, the beginning of the war, evacuation, return and another evacuation, specially for Monologues of the War project.
I was born and raised in Kharkiv region, Shevchenkove village. I spent my childhood and young years there. After I graduated from school, I started studying accounting on special courses. That is all the studying that I had done, even though I wanted to go to a university. My family didn’t have the means to provide for my education, we were poor. After I finished the accountant courses, I worked in Shevchenkove. Then I got married. Normally, stories like this have a happy ending, but my fate was testing my strength: I gave birth to a sick baby girl. Later, I got divorced.
However, the story didn’t end there. I married another man, with whom I had two more children. The older daughter tragically died at the age of 9. The loss of a child is always an extremely difficult challenge. Because parents should not bury their children… mentally, it is so hard to throw a handful of soil on the coffin where your child is laying. Your child, whom you carried under your heart for 9 months, whom you taught to sit, speak, eat, and walk. The child, your continuation, will stay forever in the cold and dark grave.
Following the death of my daughter, I lost my parents. No wonder, that as a result of all these turmoils, I had depression. And then another divorce. Maybe, the destiny was sending those challenges onto me to test if I had chosen the right person. So, I spent the last 15 years alone.
I always worked hard. First, at a military base, then in a collective farm, in a school, I even had to do men’s work. Everything I did, I did for the children. I worked diligently to bring them up and provide everything they needed. In 2018, I was able to sell my land and buy an apartment in Kharkiv itself. It was a big step back then. The city was completely unfamiliar to me, even though many of my relatives live there.
In Kharkiv, I started seeking employment again: at a school cafeteria, dairy plant, meat factory. Then I handed out my documents to an ice cream factory, where I liked not only the job itself, but also my coworkers and the salary. It was honest and always on time. I stayed there for a long time.
The war found me at work, during a night shift. I worked on the night of the 24th of February. I could hear the explosions in the city, my children called me, frightened, and I cried. After work, I didn’t get to sleep at home, we were in our friend’s bomb shelter.
That is how we lived through the first days of the war, later we went to our places after all. My daughter with my grandchild, son-in-law, and his mother stayed in their apartment, my son with his wife and her mother in their apartment. The sounds of the bombers, shells, and explosions were frightening. I was scared for myself, for my children, and everyone I know. At that time, the apartment’s walls heard more prayers than a church…
Later, the older children and my daughter’s mother-in-law went to Dnipro with some strangers. They lived in a new building and had not met their neighbors yet. Sadly, now acquaintance takes place under such circumstances, not like before with herbal tea and freshly baked pie. They told me, that the trip was very long and there were many cars.
Later, their friend offered them to flee to her husband’s parents, who live in Marianka village, in the district of Zvenyhorod. That’s how they ended up in that village in March. I was alone and talked to my son on the phone from time to time because I worried about his family. The shelling and explosions happened rather frequently, at day and at night. Kharkiv has been shelled from the very beginning up until now.
On this day, when women are often presented with some vocation tours, I was setting on a journey, too. On that day, we left our homes to survive. Together with my son’s family, we went to the village of Staryi Saltiv. It is close to the border with russia, but it was quite there at first. Only later, russians entered the village. They took positions in villages Fedorivka, Pischane, Shestakovo. They were shellig with Grads all day long, and bombarded the city at night.
48 days and nights we spent with the people who were strangers to us, but compassionate. They gave us their home, their food. There were ten of us. It was the family of Oleksandra and Mykola Pyvovarov. Their sons Vitaliy and Serhiy, daughter-in-law Tania, and granddaughter Daryna became a family to us. We lived together, did the chores together, worked in the garden and the yard. Occasionally, when it was possible, we went to a church.
Of course, we saw the russian military on the vehicles with the enemy ‘Z’ marks. On our way, we saw a destroyed column of russian vehicles. Soldiers were on the ground. Dead. Two destroyed Ukrainian BTRs. Destroyed civilian cars and people who were shot dead, trying to escape Staryi Saltiv.
All these things are so eerie. We heard so many different military equipment that now we can tell which projectile flew, judging from the sound. From the 7th of April, we lived without electricity and water. The power grid pillars were destroyed, the wires were broken. We walked to the forest to collected water from a spring, or drove there to collect more water in water cans. There were many of us, and we had to eat and somehow wash ourselves and our clothes.
A few times we had to melt snow on a gas stove. By the way, gas was the only thing we had. There was no electricity, we charged our phones in the school, where the russians were. They allowed us because they lived there. During the curfew, they were driving around, announcing that we couldn’t go outside. If someone misbehaved, they took the men to dig the tranches and the made women to clean the school. We were catching the mobile network about two kilometers away from the village. When the shelling was heavy, we just stayed home, waiting for it to end.
When Ukrainian military entered the village of Babka, we decided to find a volunteer who could help us to flee. There was a column of around 10 cars driving through the field with such a pleasure. Our driver was a young Ukrainian guy, Oleksiy. By the way, once a week, he drove to our city, beaten with explosions, to bring people some food and medicine. Through the fields and puddles after the rain, we drove through the Ukrainian check-points, through Babka and other villages to Kharkiv. Home.
We were glad to be back home and not to see the russians. Not to see the ‘Z’ vehicles. To be home with water and electricity. We were happy to hear the Ukrainian soldiers wishing us to take care of ourselves. It was quite in the city on that day. It felt like a very realistic nightmare and that in the reality nothing had happened. As usually, I did the chores in my house, my children went to my son’s mother-in-law to take some things. Now they live there and work in a shop. I am worried about them again… because it is not quite there. It has been over a thousand air raid alarms in the city. There are plenty of videos and photos of the destroyed buildings, roads, etc. It’s hard to look at them.
With the help from volunteers, I left to Shpola region. The volunteers were from Kharkiv, they were on their way to Uman to get some medicine, and they took me with them. For the last four moths, I have lived in Shpola. Kolia and Vania (the volunteers) took me to Marianivka first, but then we resettled to Shpola.
The reception from your fellow Shpola residents varied a lot. Of course, we are delighted that there is no hell here, from which we were feeling. This is Ukraine, and everything around here in Ukrainian… Now I am looking for a job, go to church on the weekends. I help here however I can: weave the mask nets for the Armed Forces of Ukraine and volunteer.
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: Yulia Zarudnitska | Translation: Nina Tararuyeva