АвторAuthor: Olena Romanenko | Translation: Mariia Moskaliuk
6 September 2022
Olena Pryvalova from Kharkiv lived in the basement with her two children for a month, and then moved to Kyiv. The woman took her ward, an athlete with cerebral palsy, and his family with her. She talked about her experiences exclusively for the “Monologues of the War” project.
“In the autumn of 2021, my husband committed suicide due to business problems, and I was left alone with the children. We all experienced the tragedy very hard and were able to recover only after the New Year 2022. As soon as we started living again, we were covered with airstrikes.
My family and I lived a comfortable life in our native Kharkiv. My children attended a private school, played sports seriously, participated in competitions and won first places. We had a cozy house in the center of the city and were happy before russia started a full-scale war.
I organized races for people with disabilities and marathons, in which children with various nosologies and Kharkiv football players took part, I was the creator of the “Privalova-run” charity fund and trained athletes.
I am an idea person; I always have many plans, aspirations and hopes. The main thing I wanted to do in 2022 was to set a Ukrainian record with Mykola, a boy diagnosed with cerebral palsy. It was an ambitious project in which a lot of time and effort was invested. We trained for five hours every day, everything was planned and we confidently prepared for the record.
On February 24, when the first explosion rang out, it was Mykola who called me; he said that the war had begun! I understood, for me my dreams fell, and for Mykola it could mean the collapse of his whole life! Setting a record in Ukraine could fundamentally change his life; have a favorable effect on the material sphere, because it is very difficult to earn money when you have such a diagnosis. A sport for Kolia was everything! Ukraine’s record would be the first step for preparing for the Paralympic Games in the powerlifting category.
During the last training session, before the war, the other coaches and I discussed the chances that russia might attack. And everyone came to the conclusion that this is an impossible scenario. Each of us had our own athletes, projects, plans and families.
When the first explosions rang out, the children jumped out of bed and we realized that the war had begun, I said: Let’s continue to sleep, most likely, there will be no continuation. I was calm; I did not rush to pack things, my brain refused to accept reality. In the morning, when I was drinking coffee and reading the news, I realized that everything was serious. We lived in Kharkiv for a month under bombardment, because I did not have money to fill up the car and leave.
My most terrible memories are when our ODA was blown up in the evening, and we live two steps away from it, my children and I fell to the floor, the windows in our house flew out, we thought that this was the end.
After that, I went outside to buy at least some food and bread, the refrigerator was empty, and not a single street light was burning in the city. Just yesterday, the city lived an active life: young people, children, laughter – now the city has simply died out. It seems to be called light masking.
Our house in Kharkiv is more than a hundred years old, its walls are a meter thick, and it survived the Second World War. We were lucky that there was also a good, warm and bright basement that saved people from the last war. We went down there instead of spending the night in a bomb shelter or a subway crossing.
Also, people from neighboring houses came down there, we got to know each other, made friends, supported each other, although for the past 20 years, we just said hello. After a month of living under the bombings and fearing for the lives of my children, a friend from Georgia called me, asked for my card number and simply sent me money. I refueled the car and drove off.
The time when I woke up in the morning with a purpose and a dream, cooked breakfast, took my children to school and to practice, walked in the park, laughed, that time has passed and wartime has arrived. Terrible wartime.
I left Kharkiv with two children and two cats as far as the eye can see. I just understood that if there is nowhere to sleep, we will stop with the children at a gas station and sleep in the car.
Halfway to nowhere, an acquaintance called me and told me to go near Vinnytsia, where there was accommodation for us. For more than a month, we lived in a room with seven other people and an animal. We were in this village without the Internet, and accordingly — without a school, without training, without books, and I am at a dead end. I was in an extremely depressed state, I’ll be honest, for several days I just couldn’t get out of bed, I just scrolled through the news.
On April 17, we left for Dolynsky, a tiny town in the Kaliningrad region. An acquaintance of mine lived there with a child, a classmate of my son. I thought that children would have more fun with their friends. I wanted to take them to a safer place and a normal atmosphere as soon as possible. But it happened, not as desired.
There was practically no housing in Dolynska, and we settled in absolutely terrible conditions: a tiny, dirty, dark room where some drunkard probably lived and died, but this housing cost UAH 400 per day. Unfortunately, in a war, everyone survives as best they can, and speculating on housing is a bad thing.
In the middle of May, we couldn’t stand it and decided to move to Kyiv. My children’s godfather lives in Kyiv, and he offered us a one-room apartment while his mother left for western Ukraine.
This tiny, but clean and cozy apartment seemed just like a fairy-tale castle after Dolynska! I was finally able to rest, calm down and get back into training again, started running again, got back into sports and started working.
Why Kyiv? I had a moral responsibility to Mykola, I promised him that I would bring him to the record. I was his sponsor, coach, organizer, driver, curator, PR manager, and family. If I took my children abroad and went by myself, I wouldn’t be able to take him with me – it would just be the third child for me alone. It is very difficult.
Soon we had to move again, because the mother of my children’s godfather returned to Kyiv. We were introduced to the director of the boarding school of the Olympic reserve and he arranged for us to live there. Now we have one small room of our own, where I live with three children and two cats. We are sincerely grateful for everything! The most important thing is that we were given housing for free, because now I would not be able to afford such expenses. I really wanted to live in this boarding school because I finally had the opportunity to take Mykola here. On the territory there are excellent sports fields, horizontal bars and parallel bars – everything for us to resume training again.
And I took Mykola to us, along with his entire family. And we started training from morning to night, preparing for the record. When I realized that Mykola was ready, I called the organizers of the Ukrainian record; we agreed on the venue and set the date.
That was cool! Mykola had three attempts, but he did everything the first time! He pressed on the bars with a weight of 50 kg! For a boy diagnosed with cerebral palsy, this is a great result! Of course, I imagined a lot of press and resonance, but during the war it was already a great success! Currently, I am officially the coach of the record holder of Ukraine!
Now we will try to set a world record to get into the Guinness Book of Records, and then we will go to the Paralympic Games. My whole life is connected with sports: first rhythmic gymnastics, then big tennis, athletics, fitness, running. I love my work and want to continue my business in Ukraine.
Five months after the start of the war, I did not take money for training, I knew that it was difficult for everyone now and I did everything with pure enthusiasm.
There are 23 sports organizations in Kharkiv, do you know how many of them are still working? Two are mine and another fitness trainer. Every day I repeat to athletes and coaches that we cannot postpone life and sports until the end of the war. We must train here and now, we must raise healthy and strong children who will not allow our country to be broken. I believe in our victory, I believe that Kharkiv will be restored; I believe that we will return and achieve many more records.
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: Olena Romanenko | Translation: Mariia Moskaliuk