АвторAuthor: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Kateryna Pavlova
18 September 2022
28-year-old Nazar Denysenko was born in Lozova city, Kharkiv region. He moved to Kharkiv in 2011 to enter institute to learn banking business. Later, he got a job as a coach at a local sports club, and has been developing in this field for over seven years. He even started his own business. But now Nazar, risking his own life, delivers humanitarian aid around the city to areas under threat of shelling. He supports defenseless people who remain in Kharkiv and feeds homeless animals. Nazar told to “War Monologues” about his volunteer activities, the situation in the city, and people who were affected by the war.
I have thought about the possibility of war a lot of times. Such thoughts prepared me psychologically. My older sister has been volunteering since 2014, then she helped during the Anti-Terrorist Operation in the East (ATO), and now she also takes an active part in the life of our country. Therefore, we understood that the situation could escalate. Around August last year we even discussed hypothetical scenarios. At that time the “rashists” (russian army) has started the first military training. We talked about such topics as: repacking an emergency bag, a plan of actions in case of the war and things like that. It was necessary to be prepared to live on, but at the same time to keep abreast of the situation all the time. One of the principles of my life is to hope for the best, but ready for reality.
Approximetly since 2015, I have had a packed bag in case of an emergency. I try to constantly revise it. Once I was even called paranoid. A couple of times. I also have a tactical backpack that was presented to me by clients, it is very practical in use, there is a lot of stuff in there too. Some of my friends know that this backpack is always with me, because it has everything necessary to survive in any conditions for 1-2 days.
I live in the northern part of the city, in front of the urban forest. That night I think I didn’t even sleep. When I heard the first explosions, I thought that this were just fireworks, but something inside me has trembled. Then the shelling escalated, and my sister and I immediately texted each other. Then we realized what had started. Without panic, everything was fine, it’s very hard to believe, but we knew what to do. I have already packed a bag, a backpack, and stuff. I got dressed, put on my shoes and went to the corridor. It was still cold, so I dressed up as if I was going to the North Pole. But I understood that it could save my life.
I stood for a while until I realized that there was no further shelling. I was sating and thinking about what to do next. My heart was pounding like I was in crossfit training. The pulse quickened, a little more time and a panic would begin. But I understood that this would not help myself and started waiting for the news. A little later the first information appeared.
After two weeks in Kharkiv, my friend and client at the same time came to me. Same as me, he moved here to study, but he is from Mariupol. He called me and asked if I stayed in the city, and if I know the address of the bomb shelter near my house? He lives on the fifth floor, his house was shaking from the explosions, there is no basement-shelter there, so I offered him to stay at my place for a while. I have a nice basement in my house. Furthermore, the nearest bomb shelter is tens meters away. We stayed at my place for about a week.
We did not understand what to do next. I thought it is better to stay and wait for news. But my friend wanted to go somewhere away. He understood that it was impossible to stay in Kharkiv.
I suggested a friend to go to Lozova. This city is located in the south of the region. I thought it was safer there. Besides, my parents were there. But for some reason I wanted to stay. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I felt that I needed to stay for a while. With each next shelling, the fear increased. We could less and less clearly imagine what would happen next.
At some point, he simply couldn’t stand it and said: “I’m going somewhere.” I decided to go with him. We picked up our other friend along with his family and we left the city all together. We paid more than 3,000 hrybnas to get from August 23 (a street name in Kharkiv) to the city of Meref, which is located in the region. My father came from Lozova and was already waiting for us there. He took everyone by car and we went to my hometown.
We stayed there for ten days. On the second or third day of the war, something happened to my knee because of the stress. The knee started to abscess, I could barely walk. Therefore, when I came to Lozova, I started to take care of my leg. My whole family kept staying in the city. Through long manipulations and conversations I was trying to persuade my mother to leave, which was not easy. She is the person of “I am staying at home” and that’s it. She was by herself, her sister in Kyiv, her father and grandmother live in another part of the city. All of them were separately. I understood that I had to send my mother to a safe place, so I tried to convince her all week. Then I just said that she should do this, without any begs or excuses. I agreed with my sister that she will meet my mother in Kyiv and accompany her to the Netherlands.
At this time, the condition of the knee improved. I told my friend that he could stay in the apartment as long as needed. But for two days I was laying down and thinking that I cannot leave alone people who cannot move out on their own. And they will not get any help. There were options to move to Kyiv to my sister or to another central region of the country. I couldn’t let go the feeling that I needed to go back. When the war started, I had to see what fear people live in, how they had lack of the provisions, and I understood that I had to help somehow.
I packed up and went to Kharkiv. I said goodbye to relatives and a friend (grandmother and father stayed together, they are still in Lozova). Mom is currently in Holland, she is working, she is doing well. My sister accompanied my mother and came back.
I arrived to Kharkiv in the second half of March and immediately contacted my client Mykhailo. He already had a team involved in volunteering. They delivered humanitarian aid and evacuated people. I asked him if they needed another pair of hands? He replied, “Sure, come join!”
On the first day, I was introduced to everyone. There were about twenty people there. I was asked what I will do here, what are the options. At that moment, one of the drivers, Oleksiy, came up and asked if there is anyone for the role of forwarder, as the driver’s partner. The forwarder controls the process of providing assistance to people, optimizes the route, and helps the driver. I responded, said: “Let me try, I’m ready.” On this day, I realized that I am where I should be.
During the first three months I probably did more for people than in the last five years. Although I was engaged in something similar before the war, only, of course, not on such a scale. Sometimes I bought and collected food packages for grandmothers, fed street animals, but not so actively. You are giving 100% of yourself to this. There is no work, you just live on the food that the hub provides you, but there is also more time for good deeds. I kept track of how many people I theoretically helped. It motivated me a lot.
Of course, it is difficult to live under constant shelling. Especially in the Northern Saltivka (district in Kharkiv — ed.). Sometimes I came home and could not sleep. On the one hand, there are so many people who are grateful to you, who energize you, on the other hand, there is constant shelling, and there is also a psychological component. Some people still think that the job of a volunteer is to bring, give the aid and go. I believe that this is only half of everything. I’ve always felt that the other half, which is more important, has always been the psychological impact, because people are confused and scared. These are adults, disabled people, pensioners, and mothers with small children. They all don’t know what to do, they ask things you don’t know the answer to. Therefore, all I could do was to calm, encourage, cheer up, and it was very mentally exhausted.
Half of the night you lie in bed, and you can’t digest it all, because there is too much information, big emotional losses. Sometimes the brain just exploded. But it’s worth it. I don’t regret anything. Everyone himself chooses what to do and how to live. The only thing I sometimes think about is that it’s bad that I didn’t come earlier. At least for a couple of days. Two days means 40-60 more people or families who would have received help.
We worked together with Mykhailo until the end of June, and then our team was broken up. Now I do more volunteering on my own. While cooperating with the team, I was coming to the warehouse, asking for food for street animals (you would have seen how many pets were left in the city at the beginning of the war), baby food. This is a completely different topic – when you can not only bring humanitarian aid, but you can also entertain children. There was so much happiness with each bag of baby food. It is something magical at times like this. During the time of fear and uncertainty, you look at the parents, who are almost in tears, and the child is so happy because this package, as if it were the best toy in his life.
A lot of times we met dogs and cats that are left on the streets or kicked out of their homes on the road. Neat, clean and scared dogs in collars passed by. Once I said – Lyosha, it is better to delay during the route, but to help everyone we can reach.” He agreed. I realized that I want to help animals and people in any way I could. Even after I left the team.
Somewhere in April, I started thinking that we can no longer move around the city on the car issued to us by the hub. I decided that a new car was needed – more capacious, more massive, so that we could transport more humanitarian aid. I doubted for a long time, but I started fundraising, and in the first three hours we raised almost 30 thousand. I was shocked. I could not imagine that in such a short period of time it is possible to collect such amount of money. As it turned out, I have many clients and friends who trust me. Especially at such times when everyone needs money to live. And they still were donating money. Somewhere in 5-6 days, we collected 150,000. It is still something incredible for me.
Now I help my friends, their friends, friends of their friends, to be short, everyone I can reach. I help to send things. To those people who can’t come back, but they need things because the cold weather is coming, or people who left a lot of personal things at home. I come to their apartment, pack things into the car, and then send them by Novaa Poshta, and in such way I help. At the same time, I feed street animals.
Of course, the risk is very high, but there is always something to compare with. There is Kherson, there is Mariupol, there is the front line, to which we also provided help when I was still in the hub. I realized the threat. Once there was a threat of a chemical attack in the city. We got together with the team and discussed a contingency plan. We came to the conclusion that we all need gas masks. If something happens, we will need to pack up and evacuate from the city. If the “rashists” would enter the city, then, first of all, it is the volunteers who will be in danger. It had a great psychological impact at that moment.
The first two and three months were difficult. It was difficult when we entered Northern Saltivka, and shelling began. When all this is happening right next to you, but you have to do your job, you understand the possible consequences, but keep on.
There was a time when my district was constantly shelling by BM-21 “Grad” every day, there were shelling of the TV tower, the church and the houses nearby. One shell hit a nearby apartment building. Every time I path the porch, I see this corner of the house that is no longer there. They destroyed a few blocks, and now that serves as a reminder, because when it happened I thought it was the end. You are sitting in the corridor, the house is shaking as same as you, you understand that it is not safe at the basement, and it will be even worse if it hits here. There was a fear, and it is still here. For the past few years, I am trying to live my life in such a way that I do not regret anything. I did everything I can for myself and for other people. And if this is the last day of my life, well, then I have done my best in every period of it. Maybe that’s why it felt easier for me.
A similar incident happened when the missiles started from the other side. It was much worse because this time a bomber was flying over. It is unlikely that I will ever forget that sound. You know, when it just a missile, you hear an explosion somewhere, whether it hit or not, felt it or not – but you exhale. It’s a little different with the plane. When a bomber flies past you – seconds pass, you hear a rumble, vibration and explosion. Everything starts buzzing, trembling, and you don’t understand what’s happening. It feels like the clouds have cracked, like in the cartoon about Asterix and Obelix, when the local villagers were afraid that the sky would fall on them. And at that moment, I had the impression that it will happen now – the sky will crack and will pouring down, and you will have nowhere to hide. That’s pretty much what happened. It dropped three or four shells. Second by second, one by one, they were falling, and I thought that was the only sound in my life that I would never forget.
Most often, people do not need food and medicines, they need some support. Especially when a person is left alone with his fear. Once we delivered humanitarian aid, and arrived in the private sector in Zhuky (Kharkiv district – ed.). This area was heavily shelled during some period. We arrived at the outskirts of the district, where combat actions were happening. I took the package, knocked on the door for a long time, then I heard a voice. The man replied that he was already nearby. We waited until the gate opened, and there we saw a man without legs. He literally “rolled out” on a small cart that goes directly by the floor. No matter how many people we visited, no matter in what condition we saw apartments, people – I was not ready for this. So the man rolled out, and I besides medicines and food, was supposed to give him insulin. I stand with the syringe, extend my hand to him and ask him how he is feeling.
Lonely, with diabes, without legs, and very close to the combat actions. It seems it can not get any worse. At that moment, I understood why I had returned to the city. What am I here for. But that’s not all. Most of all, I was shocked by his mood. He drove up to us, smiled, and said: “Well, guys, when are we going to drink for our victory?”. That moment seemed to knock me off my feet. I am a strong man, in good physical shape, I am doing well. Indeed, everything is good. I have a family, they are safe, I am safe, I am standing here in a bulletproof vest, I can run away, I can do anything, but he can’t. But at the same time he has a completely different mood. Not like the others. This incident filled me with motivation till the end of the war. Now we are like friends. He is still there, he has nowhere to leave, he is not going to, he does not want to. He wants to live in his house, he wants to see when his house will no longer be in danger, when only Ukrainians will remain here – without attacks, explosions and shelling. Now neighbors and caring people help him.
It became easier. Many humanitarian hubs have appeared in the city. When we just started, there were not many volunteers. Everyone was afraid, were leaving, there were no people. But now there are many people here who want to help, and they are helping.
There are a lot of retired people who are crying, telling their stories, they trust you. I always stayed longer with them, tried to calm them down, support them, cheered them up that they should continue to live despite everything. That we will win soon, everything will be fine soon, it will be like before, we will only remember it and be glad that everything is over.
There was a building with more than twelve floors. It is completely dark, there is no light, there is no water, you climb to the tenth floor with a flashlight in your teeth and a box. It feels like you’re in a horror movie. But there live two grandmothers who have moved and now live together. They physically can only walk up one floor up or down, and that’s it. There are no options, no food, nothing. Why should they die in that apartment? You are going up and they keeping a close eye on you like you’re not real. But you are their hope. That smile on their faces is hard to forget.
During the last week shellings in Kharkiv intensified, as if we were back in April. The end of May, June and part of July were relatively calm. The last days there are the endless work of anti-aircraft warfare, endless sirens, constant shooting in different parts of Kharkiv. If it used to hit the same area, now it hits everywhere. It is much worse, because you cannot know and expect where they will hit next time. Recently, for example, a school near me was hit – the whole building was completely blown away.
A lot of my friends want to come back, but I advise everyone not to do it, I warn that it is dangerous. To be honest, if I don’t feel that someone needed me here, I would leave the city too. I try to adjust myself that nothing will happen to me, as the same as the ten men who died from rocket fire near “French Boulevard” (Shopping and entertainment center in Kharkiv – ed.) hoped for.
I came back here because of the people. I don’t care about buildings – they can be repaired, built anew. Only the lives of people who do not deserve what is happening to them here are important.
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: Kateryna Pavlova
“I don’t know a single person in Kramatorsk who is looking forward to russian world”: Karina Yefremova told about leaving the city, which came under the fire of invaders for the second time in 8 years