АвторAuthor: Yuliya Osadcha | Translation: Svitlana Urbanska
10 July 2022
Oleksandra Kondrasheva is a former Russian citizen. Until 2009, the woman lived in Moscow. Because of the endless Russian aggression, she left her homeland, because she did not want to build a future there and raise children. Oleksandra studied Ukrainian from scratch, began to volunteer and develop Ukrainian business.
I am a journalist by education. In Russia, I was working then in the independent opposition newspaper “Novaya Gazeta”. I also worked in a human rights center that recorded war crimes in the Caucasus region. Such as Chechnya, Ignushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and others. Therefore, I’ve already known about the atrocities of the Russian soldiers of the occupying forces before.
In 2008, there was a bombing of Georgia. For me, it was a red flag for leaving this country. They are not correct at all, it was no longer possible to live there. In 2009, I finally moved to Ukraine.
At that time, journalist Anna Politkovska, who worked in the Novaya Gazeta, was killed. Boris Nemtsov and many local journalists who worked at the Memorial Human Rights Center were also killed. Where I worked, local journalists of the Novaya Gazeta were also killed, who were directly in the hotspots. That is, everyone was quietly bumped off.
Even then, journalism began to collapse, it was simply suppressed. I did not like this situation very much, I did not want to have children there and generally build the future, because it stinks there.
My husband and I met in Russia, he is a native of Western Ukraine, he worked temporarily in Moscow. He stayed in Russia with his family. He had a father-geologist, and in the Soviet Union they worked where they were sent. I was very surprised, because they spoke exclusively Ukrainian to each other in their family. He spoke it perfectly, despite the fact that he lived in Russia for a while. And then they gradually moved to the Homeland.
I decided that I was leaving this country, my family, my friends, everything I did and was moving to Ukraine. There were a lot of reasons for me to do this, and they outweighed everything else.
I moved in with my husband and in 2016 I was finally able to get citizenship. It’s not as easy as the media tell us now. Especially for some figures. It took many years to pass the language proficiency exam. For ordinary people — it was all very difficult, but in 2016, a few days before the birth of the fourth child, I received a citizenship. I have been communicating in Ukrainian since 2013. During the Revolution of Dignity, all the relatives moved into our apartment on Podil. That was our base. I finally broke ties with Russia then. It was a reassessment.
My father died of cancer a long time ago, and my mother and I were on good terms, she came to Ukraine many times.
When propaganda intensified on the territory of Russia, before arriving, she constantly told me “How will I arrive… it is dangerous there, they are probably killing for the Russian language”. But when she came, she saw how hospitable it was to be greeted here, how out of respect for her they switched from Ukrainian to Russian, how safe and nice it is, she relaxed.
But when she returned to Russia, the propaganda did its job, and she returned again to her state that there are nationalists and that Ukraine is dangerous for Russians. There were swings. There’s brainwashing on all sides.
I’m not talking to my sister and friends right now. Their silence I consider as a support for what Russia is doing, and my mother is crying a lot, it is difficult for her to imagine all this.
She knows what we’ve been through, and she understands everything. Now she has more or less open eyes, and she already agrees with what I’m telling her. That it’s murder and genocide. You see, she’s already elderly, and it’s very difficult for such people to accept that their ideals are being destroyed. I’m trying not to hurt her too much. In general, we began to communicate much less.
When the war began, the occupiers entered our area, my sister and her husband said that they were ready to come to the eastern border with Russia immediately and take me with my children to safety. It was a shock to me. They really thought I would go!
I haven’t been to Russia since 2014, and I feel bad about the idea of going there. From 2009 to 2014, I was in Russia only twice. After the Revolution of Dignity, I never went back.
“I couldn’t even look at that tricolor, see the portraits of their king, and listen to their conversations. It was unacceptable to me”.
I always wondered how some Ukrainians did it and didn’t see anything terrible about it. For me, it’s the state of war since 2014 and the state of shock as well. It just really touched me right now.
It’s not about consciousness. We have traveled a lot around the world, and it is normal to respect the rules, language, culture, and traditions of a foreign country. It is normal to speak the language of this country and wish it prosperity and its special path of development. This fraternity always stunk very much as for me, probably because I knew a lot about the crimes committed by the Russians, I had no illusion about who the Russians were and what kind of country it was. I also persuaded Ukrainians and said: “There is no partnership, you just do not understand that they will use you, then you will be depressed and trampled. Don’t do this, look for connections, domestic or with the west, but people didn’t understand it.
When I lived in Moscow, I took care of the children in the oncology hospital. For five years, I dealt with children, as well as adults in the oncohematology department. It was the Give Life Foundation, one of the founders of which was Chulpan Khamatova.
I visited the palliative care unit, where the kids are terminally ill. And when I came, this fund practically didn’t exist and we, as volunteers, filled it and began to organize a hospice.
Then, when I was pregnant and was about to leave for Ukraine, the hospice opened with the help of other volunteers. It was my outlet and my kind of people.
“But, unfortunately, when Russia attacked Georgia in 2008, the Moscow intellectuals with whom I spoke unanimously supported the act of Russian aggression. It was quite a shock to me. I didn’t understand why it was being done”.
Then Chulpan Hamatova campaigned for Putin with the lines “I need to save my fund, because we are saving the children.” I did not understand how they are saving someone…here they save dozens of children, and then Russia bombs and destroys thousands of children under the leadership of Putin she was campaigning for. That is, it was a very strong dissonance.
There are good people in Russia, too. Those who are in a lot of pain, because they understand what is happening. But these people were still going to Crimea from 2014 to 2021. That is, they went from the Russian border to Crimea despite the fact that they were against the war and so on.
I support the position that there are no good Russians and that the Russian liberal begins where the Ukrainian question is raised.
Our family survived the occupation. We managed to leave our village of Severynivka. However, two months later, we returned home. After a while, I started volunteering. Sometimes it’s very important to do something so that it wouldn’t hurt so much.
For the first week at home, I was getting used to a new place and then different messages asking for help for certain people began to appear in local groups on social media.
Since there is a very big gasoline crisis, I have the opportunity to move around in an electric car, so I tried to use this opportunity.
For example, I found out that there are certain people who have a completely destroyed house. They live in summer kitchens and sheds. There are very big problems with gas, because some gas stations are destroyed, some simply don’t have gas. Therefore, there is a need for electric stoves. Yesterday we received the tenth electric stove from the person who bought it and sent it.
I am not the first year in volunteering and I know that it is very important to go on my own to look and talk to a person. We also cooperate with local volunteers. There is an excellent volunteer in Makarov, and in the village of Mykolaivka there is a Father Bohdan Tymoshenko, he is engaged in humanitarian assistance to the community in huge volumes. There is a complex called “Ukrainian Village”. On the initiative of this father, they created a camp for children affected by the war. Unfortunately, I cannot give myself completely to volunteering, because I am a mother with many children and I devote a lot of time to my children.
“I do not raise funds for something global, but only for individual needs. I am starting from the fact that I do what I can in the region where I live”.
Recently, 13-year-old Nazar, a boy whose mother died a year ago, she was hit by a car at a crossroad. This year, his house was at the epicenter of the fighting, and it was destroyed completely. Just a week ago, the boy’s dad was able to go to work.
The charity offered the guy to go to free school in Spain. But he didn’t have a phone or a laptop. That is, there was nothing that modern teenagers have. His father initially refused everything, then eventually accepted the help from the volunteers. Now the guy will go to school with a new laptop.
I recently came to visit 70-year-old Mrs. Laryssa. As a result of the bombing, her house clapped like a card house. She and her husband have been building this house for five years. A woman works as a nurse at Chornobyl Hospital: several times a week she commutes from Makarov to Kyiv, which is more than 50 kilometers. I really remembered one detail: there was one wall in the house on which the clock survived. But at my house, on the contrary, the house withstood, but the clock broke.
We brought Mrs. Larissa things, tiles, groceries, and she instead rips the dill off her garden, gives us potatoes and tries to thank and direct us to her neighbors, who have also had much trouble.
For the last year, I have been a volunteer host in a support group for parents who suffered a loss. Our team is the organization “Guardianship of The Angel”. It started with four families. All our hosts in support groups are volunteers. These are people who also lost a child, because the support is based on the principle of “equal to the equal”. These are the moms who also suffered the loss, but they have already outlived it, healed their psyche and heart and soul.
This is the first Western-style support group in Ukraine. Abroad, such groups exist in almost every maternity hospital. If a family suffers a loss, they are referred to this support group.
We have completed a three-module training. We were taught by famous psychotherapist Xenia Wittenberg.
Over the past year, we have had 12 support groups, that is, a new group every month. In a group, people can safely tell their story, cry, share details. It supports people a lot and gives them the strength to move on.
I know that one in four women will experience loss of pregnancy. This includes both early miscarriages and stillbirths.
“Many women who have lost their pregnancies face social rejection, and it is not appropriate to talk about it. People say, “You didn’t have that baby in your hand”.
But the thing is, when we carry this baby, we’re already trying ourselves out in this role, we’re making plans for our future. And when we lose this pregnancy, we lose a lifetime with our unborn child, we lose our individuality as a mom or dad. It is very important to say this, because this is a real grief, and society doesn’t accept this grief, it doesn’t see it like a grief. They say, “Well, you’ll give birth next time…”. Firstly, many couples no longer have children, because this was their last chance to become parents, and secondly, we grieve for specifically this lost child.
Our participants – from the loss of pregnancy in the first trimester to the loss of a child after birth. It is a very severe injury and then, unfortunately, if this injury isn’t worked out and discussed, then it remains for life.
Of course, all people are different: for someone, the loss of pregnancy may not be such a traumatic event, and for another person it’s terrible grief.
In our group, everyone can tell a story in the way they want and in the amount in which they want to create a common circle of support. Very often, the group members continue to communicate outside the group. They become friend and know by name each other’s children they have lost.
A very large analogy can be drawn with the post-traumatic experience after the war. When we returned here, people in the village changed a lot. They talk to each other, everyone talks about the experience. They’ve “opened locks”. In these conversations, a resource is born to continue living and accept the situation.
My colleague and I are responsible for Kyiv and Kyiv Oblast. When the war began, we didn’t hold support groups for the first months because it could provoke traumatic experiences that would have been too much. A month ago, we returned to support groups with the advice of psychologists and Israeli specialists. We have made a focus on the resource. Facilitators try to remind us as much as possible of the resource we have, what we get and what gives us the desire to move on and live on.
I started my natural sweets business in 2015, after the Revolution of Dignity. I called it “Lady Pastille”. I started making sweets in a small home workshop.
It was very important for me that my business was Ukrainian-speaking. It wasn’t that popular at the time. There was only “Snail Bob”, which was made on an industrial scale, but there were no craftsmen. Over the past 6-7 years, there have been a lot of cool craft makers.
From the beginning, my business was socially oriented: there were discounts for families with many children, for families of the military, and there were many social projects in support of the army or in support of people in difficult life situations.
When we bought a private house, we made pastelle from the fruits of the trees that were around us. And then we started buying crops from nearby farmers. I like local apples, I always want to pay more for them, because I see that this is a local product.
I also have an assistant who helps me make pastilles. This is an 18-year-old guy from the East who was captured during the occupation. He stayed in the village and Muscovites took him captive. We were looking for him and had already lost hope, but then he was able to escape and, fortunately, stay alive. He says he wants to be a cook.
I have a very small workshop. My assistant is directly engaged in making pastilles – I taught him, and it works out great for him. I am responsible for the formulation, procurement, packaging, and dispatch of goods, communication with the media.
“My ‘trick’ is that my pastilles come from completely different tastes – assorted. In one box, I usually had ten or more kinds of pastilles: berry, vegetable, and even pastilles from herbs”.
I make sweets from wild edible plants: dandelions, chickweed, nettles, clover. They are very useful and have many micronutrients that our body needs, and they don’t undergo any chemical loads in the form of fertilizers.
I blend the herbs in a blender, turn them into green cocktails, add apple purée, and the green pastilles come out without sugar. Now I’m still making a pastille with peony petals. For example, I add pineapples, apples, elderflower petals, rose hips, tea rose, and peony.
I am developing a recipe for treats myself, because if you are in your place, then inspiration comes by itself. I finished herbal courses abroad, I know exactly how to use them safely. I also studied with Ukrainian herbalists.
My children, godchildren and a local kids always taste the first batch of homemade pastilles. Currently, I receive orders in very large volumes.
During the six years of Lady Pastille’s existence, we have been constantly passing sweets to the front. In the near future, we will prepare personalized packages for each warrior on the front line.
With war, you stop planning and even dreaming. Now my biggest dream for Ukraine is to cleanse itself of this nasty thing that came here. That we build a huge wall on the border with Russia. For the sake of this, I am ready to sacrifice my connections with my relatives and give an example of the fact that they can be disliked, you can disconnect from them. I have very great fears that the price we paid for independence will gradually be forgotten.
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: Yuliya Osadcha | Translation: Svitlana Urbanska