АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Mariia Moskaliuk
7 August 2022
In her peaceful life, 39-year-old Yulia Petrenko, a resident of Chernihiv, was engaged in business, mountain tourism, and raised her son with her husband. In order to save the child, she was taken out of Chernihiv under the fire of “Grads”. And at the same time, she helped another 16 people evacuate their families. Now her goal is to remind the world that a criminal war is taking place in Ukraine, which takes lives and destroys human values. The woman told the story of her family to the “Monologues of the War” project.
I had been planning to go to Chernivtsi for treatment to improve my health since the New Year. My son is a first-grader, and it is not so easy to take and go for a week, leaving the child behind. I kept waiting for a convenient time so that my husband or mother could be with him. Every day they talked about the fact that we were about to be attacked, we waited and waited and finally the man said: “Go.”
I had to return in a week, I had a premonition, I even asked my husband to take the child and come to me. And on February 23, having a day free from procedures, she decided to slip into Kamianets-Podilskyi.
That’s where I woke up the next day at 6 a.m. from my mother’s call from Chernihiv: “Yuliia, we’re being bombed.” I’m talking to her and I hear explosions in the background.
My car had full tanks of gas and gasoline. And so I got behind the wheel at 7 in the morning, and already at 4 p.m. I drove into Chernihiv. I have a very good driving experience. I must have already driven 300,000 km.
But I haven’t driven like that yet. I flew as if on wings. I understood: if the moskals enter, they will most likely blow up the bridges. I was afraid that they would do it and I would not get to my husband, child and parents. I will not be able to hug them.
I saw this terrible Kyiv-Zhytomyr traffic jam, when everyone rushed to leave and the convoy of cars stretched for dozens of kilometers.
Fighter jets flew over my head near Kyiv. I even slowed down, they flew so low. Most likely on Gostomel. In the direction from Kyiv to Chernihiv, I was the only passenger car, only tanks and armored personnel carriers were traveling with me.
At the entrance to Brovary, I saw a military unit burning. The russians attacked it in the morning, but the fire did not abate even in the afternoon.
We have a good building with autonomous heating in the village of Pavlivka behind the Chernihiv ring road. We did it just a year ago. The basement is equipped. Compared to other people, we were there like at a resort. When I arrived, the husband and son, all relatives, 14 people in total, were already in the basement.
In Pavlivka, quite intense fighting took place. It was literally half a block away from our house, where we were all sitting. There is a gas station 300 meters from us. Everything there is cut into pieces like a sieve.
Kyiinka is located next to our village, so it was completely destroyed. It was raining around us from all sides, and we were just incredibly lucky – our street survived. We hardly went upstairs. I had a kid playing chess in the basement, it helped him calm down. We took our dog to the basement. He is old, and he is already 12 years old. And we also had a cat, two rats and another big dog with us.
Men taught us to distinguish by sound where and what it flies. And we were either sitting in the basement or going upstairs to cook food. When “Grads” were banging, but not in our direction, our children were walking in the fresh air. Dogs were brought out.
We haven’t been sure for three days – whether we or not. Everyone was waiting for the command that it is possible to move across the road bridge. The parents refused to go anywhere, the husbands also all stayed behind, they said they could not leave the city. I entrusted my beloved dog to my mother.
Since I have a lot of driving experience, I was assigned to lead the convoy, and the rest of the girls had to follow me.
On March 4, there was such a bombardment that we could not even run from the door of the house to the car, which is only 20 meters away. They fell to the ground twice, covering their heads with their hands.
Somehow they got their cars, but when they passed the bridge, they had to stand in line. Some equipment was going there and the military did not let us through. One man in the queue advised us to open the windows a little so that they would not be hit by the shock wave. He himself had stretch wrap in the car instead of glass.
And at this time, the russians were chasing the motorcade from Grads. We left in three cars. Women and children. A total of 14 people. A car in the convoy was hit. It burned.
We recently went with the child to a psychologist, and my son told me that he was really afraid of dying then.
I had a 60-liter backpack, a children’s backpack with family phone numbers. We told the child everything, and gave him some money. We were ready for the fact that if the car got stuck in the mud, we would throw our backpacks on our shoulders and run through the fields.
Checkpoints were passed. Our military, Territorial Defense directed us, because we did not know where to go, where it was safe. Fighting was going on all around.
I had six people in the car, three of whom were children. One hand on the steering wheel, the other on the phone, on which I paved the way, calling friends. So we left. On the road in the Kyiv region, we were joined by another car in which a young couple was taking two children, including an infant.
That day, it was already dark when we reached the Cherkasy region. There were still 3 days of exhausting road to the west of the country. I decided where we were going, because there were a lot of us, so that we could all be accommodated. And so I called, looking for a place for us to spend the night, someone offered something along the way.
We spent the first night in Zolotonosh. Grandfather and grandmother took us in, their son was in the military at that time in the Chernihiv region. And they accommodated 18 people! They fed, warmed. It helped a lot, because we were tired, hungry, and exhausted from the road. Besides, it was snowing and we were running out of fuel.
It was March 5. It’s my father’s birthday. I woke up in the morning on the floor in someone else’s house, called and cried because I didn’t believe that I would ever be able to see him again.
The father is 81 years old; he stayed at home after Covid with fever and cough. It was on February 24 that he had to go to the hospital and have an X-ray of the lungs. He should have been prescribed an antibiotic. And here is the war. We bought something there, and somehow he was treated there. To be honest, I didn’t think he would survive this winter.
We spent the next 3 days on the road. They stood in terrible traffic jams for half a day. Cars are a continuous stream that does not move. One day we drove only 80 km in 14 hours! Only on the fourth day of the journey they reached the Lviv region, where the husband’s aunt lives. We came to her with our entire crew – 10 people from our closest relatives. We lived there for 3 weeks.
Then it flew to the Yavoriv military training ground. And it was visible just from the window of my room. After that, I held my son under my arm for 3 months; I could not sleep without him. And for about a month before going to sleep, I put all my things in a backpack, so that in case of something I would get off my feet.
Due to stress, the child developed terrible eczema on her hands, which we treated for 2 months.
And then there was Poland. I was invited by a friend. The Polish border guard asked to open the trunk and looked at the large box with chess in surprise. I asked why I needed them. I tried to explain that in February my child and I were playing chess in the basement under shelling. That they belonged to my late uncle. That they are almost 50 years old. A rarity, one might say. But I couldn’t explain it in Polish and burst into tears…
My child and I lived in Poland for a month. I wanted to go home so much! To parents, to husband. Then my son and I traveled through the Carpathians. Many people helped us.
“They were brought 100 sheets of cardboard and they started making homemade crafts from that cardboard. And do you know what the children made first? Their homes! Their own homes, which they were forced to leave!”
My child recreated our house completely. Then they already designed airplanes, “Mriya” (the biggest Ukrainian airplane), but houses were the first. It was very painful to watch.
During the war, my child learned the national anthem of Ukraine, did a lot of sculpting and drawing on Ukrainian themes.
I was really waiting for calls from my mother. There was no connection. In order to catch it, I walked around the garden, looking for it. And if she called, it was difficult to hear her because of the explosions.
They really needed medicine. I found both medicines and volunteers who took it upon themselves to deliver them to Kyiv, and there Vlad Samoilenko’s volunteer group transported the goods to Chernihiv.
The bridge in Chernihiv was blown up the day before my package arrived in Kyiv. And there are medicines for mom for pressure, for glaucoma, antibiotics for father, and something else! The bridge has been gone for three days now, when the mother calls in tears: “A boy in a bulletproof vest came to me and brought medicine.”
Later, I saw on social networks that volunteers on a bus drove up to the shore, transferred to a boat, handed over humanitarian aid and sailed back. Because, when the last bridge was blown up, Chernihiv was under siege. It’s March outside. And they liberated the city in April. It’s just trash. These people are desperate!
I cried, but they drank a pill from the pressure, put drops in eyes, took an antibiotic – that’s it, you can live on and wait for the bomber.
The bombers came in twice a day. The russians could not take the city, so they simply dropped aerial bombs on the houses.
“Parents really expected every day that an aerial bomb would fall on them and they would be gone. Therefore, when they heard airplanes, they ran outside and lay down on the ground. Because once the house collapses, they may not be able to get it.”
They slept dressed, in chairs, so that they could quickly jump out in case of something. I was shaking every day, and what did they have to do? Just survive.
We returned home on May 19. The child finally calmed down in Chernihiv with his father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, and dog. Stopped getting sick. There was a period when my son ate almost nothing; he said that he wanted to eat what I prepared at our house. And he can sleep only on his pillow. It traveled with us for three months…
I corresponded a lot with friends and acquaintances. Someone’s apartment was bombed in Irpin, but the people managed to leave. Lucky… Someone from Poland writes that a child is terribly sick, cries and asks to go home… Parent chat. Instead of homework, parents publish photos of their destroyed homes… And some of my friends are no longer alive… Someone wrote that the parents did not survive all this. And there was nowhere to bury them. The russians stood at the cemetery for more than a month…
On my Facebook page, I started talking in English about what is happening here. And I have a lot of foreigners among my friends, so even when I was sitting in the basement, I gave interviews to journalists from Taiwan and France. And I continue to post.
My husband and I help volunteers or foundations we know financially. Sometimes for cars for the Armed Forces, then for drones, for a shelter for animals, besides many acquaintances who suffered greatly as a result of the war.
“For the first time, people were interested in the events in Ukraine, my posts collected 500 likes, they were reposted: “Oh, look, what horror is happening!”. And already in April, people became indifferent. And I spend a lot of time every day analyzing news from official sources, translating them and reposting them to remind me that the war waged by russia is criminal.”
This is a drop in the ocean, but if there are many drops, then it will do its job.
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: Mariia Moskaliuk