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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Oksana Gerasimenko

    “We were ready to give everything to our boys if only they would keep the city.” The story of a volunteer from Makariv


    АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Violeta Shenkariuk

    16 August 2022

    In 2014, volunteer Oksana Gerasimenko spent 60 days in the captivity of collaborators in Donetsk. And already in 2022, the 47-year-old woman received a new experience of survival. Now, under shelling and bombardment in the city of Makariv, in the Kyiv region. Oksana Gerasimenko told the “Monologues of the War” project how Makariv residents organized themselves to support the Ukrainian soldiers defending the city.

    I myself come from the Zhytomyr region, found a husband in Makariv and stayed here. Volunteer since 2013 on the Maidan. And when the war started in 2014, she started going to our guys, giving them humanitarian aid. I head the Union of participants in the fighting in Makariv.

    8 years ago, the front line was not certain, as it is now, and somehow we went to the wrong place. At Maryinka, I and 3 other volunteer boys were “accepted”. I spent 60 days in captivity. We were detained by the Security Service in Donetsk. They had an archive room where 211 of our guys were.

    I was kept in a small room. Meter per meter. Also some kind of archive room. There was nowhere to go. Without windows. The light is either on all day or off.

    “But that wasn’t as scary as when these collaborators beat our guys. They brought me there and made me look at it.”

    There was such a story: our guys agreed to pick up the wounded, came out with white flags, but the collaborators captured them and four men ended up in the Security Service. And when they were “accepted”, they were beaten mercilessly. I prayed, I asked God to stop everything, because it was very cruel. “Somehow I could endure both hunger and cold. But what they did with the boys there was terrible…”

    They really disliked volunteers. Boys from volunteer battalions were sitting in basements. When they were summoned for questioning, they said that we and the volunteers should be killed first. He said that if it weren’t for the volunteers, the Ukrainian soldiers would all have starved to death and the war would have ended. And they were angry with the volunteers, because the Armed Forces obey orders, and the volunteers are self-motivated, go ahead and do not depend on anyone.

    “Then I realized that the volunteers turned the tide of the war, because putin did not expect that all of Ukraine would stand up to defend its land in 2014. And when the volunteers rose up, putin’s plans fell apart.”

    “They are used to thinking for them there”

    Once I was asked if I wanted to see our captive boys, who are being held in the archives of the Security Service. I said that I really want to. When the door opened, the iron racks, on which the files with documents used to stand, came into view. And now our boys were lying on them, who immediately jumped down to the floor. Everyone started taking something out of their pockets, who had something – they wanted to treat me. They were hired and sometimes given candy and cookies. “I cried. I felt very sorry for them all. I refused to take anything from them.”

    It was then that they invented some kind of punishment and did not give me anything to eat or drink for 5 days. And I was not allowed to go to the toilet. And I refused to take food from the boys, so as not to think about how to go to the toilet later. But I still took shortbread cookies from someone. I ate one piece a day to feel better. That’s how I lasted those 5 days on shortbread cookies without food and water. And then one of the supervisors brought me a 5-liter tank so that I could use it in case of need.

    I never thought that retribution would come so quickly. In 2018, I was present at the trial of one of those who kept me. It was the same old man who brought me a tank to use as a toilet. He came to Slovyansk to receive a pension and ours took him. The court sentenced this collaborator to 12 years in prison.

    “I did not meet good people among those collaborators who cooperated with the occupation forces. I talked a lot with them about Ukraine, we discussed very simple things. They were surprised that I was from Zhytomyr region and not from Lviv. They thought that all those who are fighting are from the west of Ukraine.”

    I will say this, these people are hidebound, many of them have not even traveled outside the Donetsk region. They are not very educated, they abuse alcohol. And television really works on these narrow-minded people.

    Donetsk region

    Oksana Gerasimenko visited 7 countries of the world while some of her jailers did not even leave the borders of Donetsk region

    They brought us a newspaper, there was a photo of people with flags, and the caption: “In Paris, 100,000 people came to the main square for the DPR.” They don’t check anything. Where is that picture from? What is in that photo? The newspaper wrote that, so it’s true! The TV says, so it’s true. They are used to thinking for them there. And they themselves chose such a life. They chose to move to nowhere, to russia. And they don’t want more.

    “Of course, some price was paid for this”

    So many people rushed to find me that one local thug decided that I was of some great importance to our state. That all russian prisoners can be exchanged for me, including his brother, who was in prison at the time. And this thug took me to his place. Negotiations began to release his brother from prison, and then he would release me.

    “I warned him that my family and friends are looking for me, maybe there are just a lot of them. That neither the President nor the Minister of Defense is looking for me. That I am valuable only to my family.”

    The boy volunteers had already been released, but he still held me until the trials in the case of his brother, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, were held. Then the bandit let me go.

    Of course, some price was paid for this, but no one told me. I know that money was offered for me. One of the former prisoners brought 5 thousand dollars. As a result, I was not released, and he was taken prisoner a second time. Then he had to flee from there.

    “I had no idea that russian tanks would walk through the streets of Makariv”

    When British and American intelligence warned of war, the Makariv veteran community and I met and agreed that the boys would take their families out and return to take up arms.

    Many did so. Some were able to break through to their units where they once served, others who could not return because the transport did not run or there was no fuel, all went to the Territorial Defence forces.

    At that time, I had no idea how events would develop, that russian tanks would be walking through the streets of Makariv and that there would be about a thousand of them.

    “We were standing behind a column near our veterans’ organization, we had 4 boxes of Molotov cocktails, we looked at each other and thought, should we throw or not?”

    Russian tanks were walking two meters from us, and we decided not to throw cocktails, because there was a lot of enemy equipment. I don’t know how it would have ended if we had dared. We released a column from Makariv, and our artillery was already covering it on the Zhytomyr highway.

    And in Borodyanka, the boys resisted. They defeated the first column, then the russians invited aviation and it bombed the bridge, high-rise buildings, so that no one would throw anything from there or shoot. Then the convoy passed. But they stood a kilometer away from Makariv and shot at us with mines and “rocket lancher” and whatever else they could. Makariv does not look much better than Borodyanka.

    “Thank God, the russians did not breach the defense”

    I would feel more at ease if the husband and son were in a safer place, because we took the mother out. And on March 8, they left, and I stayed in Makariv to manage the humanitarian headquarters.

    On March 2, the 95th Brigade entered the city and we all began to help our soldiers. Territorial Defence forces reinforced them with its fighters, we in our humanitarian headquarters did everything to provide them with clothes, shoes, medicine, and food. We worked for a month for victory, so that our defenders would have thermal imagers, binoculars, and cars, which do not last very long under fire.

    “We were ready to give everything to our boys, if only they would keep Makariv! Several times the situation was such that they called us to leave, but we refused. This is our city and we will all stay here. Thank God, the russians did not break through the defense.”

    Read also: “You can’t stand aside.” The volunteer from Cherkasy helps hundreds of displaced people

    After the first location of the humanitarian headquarters was shelled, we moved to the basement of the post office in the center. And next to it stood a tower. The russians shot at her every week, they thought she was working or something. They fired 12 times, and mines and debris flew into our yard.

    “And one day at 6 o’clock in the morning, the Russians hit Makariv with “rocket lancher”. Then many houses burned down and three people from our humanitarian center died…”

    But we were not going to leave anywhere. I have 8 years of volunteering experience. I was in the volunteer brigades, in others, I saw how the defense was organized, how coordination took place, how the fighters were preparing, and I knew what we should do if anything.

    “I had a team of 58 people with me. We run like clockwork”

    Every morning I gave orders. For example, I assigned 4 streets to a volunteer, he goes, sees who is left, finds out what is needed: medicine or food. That’s it, the list is there! He arrives at the humanitarian headquarters and the girls collect everything necessary according to the list. And then he delivers it to people. And the military was bypassed in the same way.

    Shop owners gave everything that our defenders needed. Some pharmacies were opened and we were allowed to take medicine. From time to time, volunteers from other cities came to us and brought everything we needed. Many things were delivered to the remote humanitarian headquarters, to which I went every day and picked up things necessary for our military. That’s how we worked for a month. “It is the duty of every person to stand up for the protection of his family and the state.”

    Volunteer Humanitarian Headquarters

    Volunteers gathered at the humanitarian headquarters were united by the desire to help their city and the military to endure

    There were moments of fear when you could not explain why they arose. For example, you need to make an exit, and at this time mortar shelling continues. And you are so afraid that you cannot leave the basement. Maybe the Lord was protecting me. And it happened that mines were falling there, there, there, and you were driving and that was it. “Every time I got into the car, I said: “God, protect me! Take care of me, God.”

    Or here is another case. A mine fell in the yard and tore one woman. We came to pick her up to take her to the morgue. And in this place, I was overcome with such fear that I did not want to be there for a single extra minute! The guys quickly put her in a bag, loaded her into my car and we drove to the morgue.

    “However, more often, when there are active hostilities, there are no feelings at all. The boys died. You go out, collect them. And there are no feelings, no tears, no sadness…”

    Everything is on fire. Houses are burning. One, the other… And you don’t feel sorry, you don’t regret anything. A mine fell and hit my car. There is no feeling that it was my car… There is only a desire to keep the city so that they do not come here.

    “Everything was done mechanically. People thank me, but I don’t remember many moments. Someone needs to be evacuated, so we are evacuating. We have to carry the dead, so we carry. Everyone acted according to the situation.”

    I believe that it is the duty of every person to stand up for the protection of his family and the state. This is a duty and for me there is no feat here. This is an axiom I live by.

    “We are not weak, but the whole world is weak against this aggressor”

    Since 2014, I have seen that all offensive actions in Donbas took place thanks to the fact that the locals helped the military. The 95th brigade came to Makariv, they do not know where there are any roads, where the street ends, from where and by what road the russians can enter. With this, Territorial Defence forces greatly helped our military to defend the city.

    The russians retreated from Makariv on March 29 or 30. But the previous 3 days they bombed us as if they wanted to shoot everything and leave. They did not enter the city, but they occupied part of Makariv, a small settlement.

    “They abused people there, raped and killed a girl, wounded a man who was defending his wife, whom they wanted to rape. He later died of his wounds.”

    People were tortured in the surrounding villages. When the russians left, we saw so many traces of crimes! Both killed and tortured. We were amazed that such cruelty was possible in the 21st century. In every village they were looking of Stepan Bandera, and banderites. They had such an obsessive idea. And when they left, this silence pressed on my head. I, for example, was either in shock or I don’t know what.

    “I locked myself in the house and couldn’t leave, I didn’t want to see anyone. It was like I had used up all the adrenaline I had been holding on to all this time. I was working at such a pace, and now there is no need to do anything. And this condition lasted for 4 months. And now I just came around. Got used to new realities.”

    The grave of the tortured girl in Makariv

    The photo was taken at the grave of the girl Tanya, who was abused and then killed by the russian military. This is evidenced by the inscription on the improvised tombstone

    I thought all day today: my interview will be read by people from all over the world, what do I want to say to them? “Now when the russians have taken Mariupol, Kherson region, part of Zaporizhzhya, it is not Ukraine that will lose, but the whole world will lose! Because russians are a wild nation that does not live by the rules of the civilized world.”

    Thank you to those countries that sheltered our people, who provide invaluable help and support. But they should think about what they can still do for Ukraine. If we do not hold the cities, then our allies will lose. Because we are not weak, but the whole world is weak against this aggressor.

    If Ukraine falls, the whole civilized world will lose! This wild, ferocious nation of rushists will be banging and breaking in at your door to kill and rob you and your children! We cannot allow this! We all need to unite in the fight against this evil! Every wasted day is the life of Ukrainians who hold back the rushists and prevent them from spreading around the world.

    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: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Violeta Shenkariuk


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