АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation:
26 May 2022
Viktor Orlov lived in Kharkiv before the war. He worked in the field of IT and was interested in rail travel. After the start of hostilities, he was forced to leave his home and move to Lviv, where he is now volunteering.
Before the war, I was one of those people who spent all day in front of a monitor, analyzing data, developing logistics and doing all the intricate things in the IT field. I was even lucky enough to get a raise in early February. The monotony, the lack of romance and impressions, I have long compensated by rail travel. Traveling has become not just a hobby but a part of my life, my inspiration, and my environment.
I was already planning my next trip to Odessa on March 8. But something happened that almost no one expected. On the morning of February 24, my aunt woke me up and told me that the war had begun.
“Are you kidding?” was my first reaction.
I couldn’t believe it until I started scrolling through the news. It seemed surreal. Until recently, I did not believe that a full-scale war could break out. I considered the warnings, which were heard back in January, empty talk.
“Even after his aggressive speech on February 22, I reasoned, “Putin is not a complete idiot to dare to do that”.
My relatives and friends did not believe in the possibility of an offense until the very date “X”. Only the girl I had just started dating was serious about a possible war. She was a little scared and advised me to stock up on groceries.
The war turned my worldview upside down. The first two or three days were not too bad in Kharkiv. The explosions were heard somewhere very far away, but the agitation in grocery stores and near ATMs began in the early hours of the war. Metro stations have worked as shelters. My aunt offered to hide there. I refused because I thought that they were unlikely to aim straight at the house. I was not scared; I was frustrated. I was scrolling through the news all day, still not fully aware of what was happening. With each passing day, the explosions grow louder and more frequent. On the fourth day, I decided to go to the supermarket for groceries (there were almost no stocks, and the nearest stores already had empty shelves). I stood in line for almost two hours to get to the store. At that moment, the siren went off; loud explosions shook our ribs, but none of the nearly three hundred people left the queue. I also stood to the very end to finally become the owner of two bags of canned food, cereal, and bread.
The railway was still working. I offered my family to leave the city before it was too late, at least within the region, but away from the enemy’s line of attack. They objected, saying, “How could you leave the apartment with so much frozen food in the fridge?”They were not yet mentally ready to leave, but they went hiding in the subway, hoping for a quick end to hostilities. I stayed at home. Air raids began around these days. The sounds of the enemy bomber, which seemed to be flying straight over my house, frightened me. I immediately ran to hide in the corridor and heard bombs falling somewhere, and the plane was going for the second run. My nerves could not stand a dozen of such air raids, and I also went down to the subway.
Then my family and I hid in the subway. I slept on the beach air mattress right in the train car, standing on the platform. The station was flooded with people. People set up tents there, brought pets, and equipped a field kitchen. I immediately began to take part in the delivery of the humanitarian. Essentials were delivered to one of the neighboring stations, but we had to go there on foot. Finally, my old dream of walking through the subway tunnels came true.
Meanwhile, the city continued to be bombed. The shells hit the regional and city administrations.
“So, should we leave? There is no point in waiting,” my aunt said suddenly, after two days of our underground life.
Early in the morning, on the 8th day of the war, my aunt, sister, and I packed up, put the cat in a carrier, and walked through the tunnels to the train station. In those days, people were flocking everywhere to the same destination. The crowd of people in the tunnels resembled a procession. There has been no public transport for a long time, and single taxi drivers-kamikaze, who dared to ride under shelling, set incredibly high prices. I wanted to help evacuate the girl I had just started dating, but she was not answering.
Thousands of people were at the station. It was impossible to navigate. The train schedule no longer exists. I went to check around. I randomly went to a train standing near the platform and asked the guide, “Where are you going?” He replied that it was going to Lviv. Barely squeezing through the chaotic crowd, my family and I got into a half-empty car. Our train was only the third in line to leave, which is why we managed to get on. We hadn’t moved for more than an hour listening to the car windows shake from the explosions until the two previous, completely stuffed trains, left the station. Meanwhile, our car got full. There are 4-5 people on each shelf, with children on the top shelves. There were almost no men, I could only come through as a convoy to my underage sister and elderly aunt.
“When the train left Kharkiv, I finally sighed calmly: I escaped.The only thing that bothered me was the lack of contact with the girlfriend, but there was nothing I could do, I didn’t even know where she lived”.
My sister was lying on the top shelf next to our Siamese cat and did not understand where we were going. I only roughly understood that. At one of the intermediate stations, even more people got into the cars, and it became harder to breathe. Ventilation almost did not work. Stepping over people’s feet, I walked into the vestibule, but there was no room there either: people were sitting right on the floor, even on the lid of the garbage can. The train was moving in complete darkness, it seemed, only I understood where we were going, recognizing the familiar outlines of the stations. Several times quarrels broke out in the car, such as: “You are disturbing my sleep!” Everyone was nervous and tired. It was impossible to fall asleep due to the lack of air and tightness. But such dissatisfied people were quickly reassured: “Go back to sleep in Kharkiv, under bombardment!”
22 hours later, we were in Lviv. The crowd at the train station in Kharkiv is nothing compared to the crowd near the Lviv station. I have never seen such a queue in my life. My aunt and sister had to wait 8 hours in line to get on the evacuation train to the Polish city Chelm. I led them there and said goodbye.
“Aren’t you coming with us?” The sister asked in surprise.
“I will not be allowed across the border,” I told her. I was not emotional saying goodbye, but I felt that I would not see them for a long time.
A friend I have known for many years thanks to traveling together, was waiting for me in Lviv. So far, everything was going well for me and my friend even had a free room. He initially refused to take money from me for accommodation, but I could not stay indefinitely just for free. But even money can not measure my gratitude to this person. I didn’t even want to think I was a refugee or temporarily displaced person. It was psychologically more pleasant to think that I had just come to visit. Moreover, I already knew Lviv quite well; I had visited it more than once or twice, so I got used to it quite quickly.
Watching the grief of the people who found themselves in the occupied towns, under fire and left with nothing, I realized that it went quite easily for me. But this is not the end. A few days later, I received the news that my girlfriend had died from a direct strike in Kharkiv the day before I left. An unpleasant chill ran down my spine. So, the first thing I did was to provide informational and mental support to my acquaintances and friends who still remained in Kharkiv. Many found it difficult to leave their hometown, despite the daily shelling. I helped them gain courage and leave, not holding on to material things. Because life can end at any moment, and those things will obviously not be needed. I was helping, sometimes financially, as well as with finding housing. However, finding shelter in Lviv has become increasingly problematic.
I learned that the Lviv railway station needs volunteers. My long-standing passion for the railroad played a role. I put on an orange vest with the words “volunteer” and began to coordinate disoriented people who were lucky enough to escape the shelling. Where is the train, where is the platform – I tell and show everything. When the evacuation began from the besieged Mariupol and from Kramatorsk, which was fired upon by the enemy, many “complicated” trains began to arrive in Lviv: with paralyzed elderly people, people with disabilities, and bedridden patients. They must be transported on stretchers or carts. Conversely, we ship humanitarian goods—medicines, food, etc. Although I get tired during the changes at the station, I feel needed and useful here. I will continue to volunteer as long as necessary. Otherwise, what is the point of my stay here? To remain indifferent at such a time is disrespectful to oneself. This is a time when I am mentally ready to learn something new—even to take up arms if necessary.
I was lucky that I, unlike many, did not lose my job. I took a laptop with me. I continued my work remotely. It turned out to be the hardest part for me. After so many shocks, I just couldn’t bring myself to delve into algorithms and data sets for a while, as if nothing had happened. But, little by little, I got into the work rhythm because money is also needed.
It will soon be two months since I left my hometown, and I can say that my life, in general, has returned to normal. There is only one significant difference: the war deprived me of such a good as planning for the future. I don’t know what will happen in a month or a year. Therefore, I began to live in the present, expanding the planning horizon by only a few weeks. I paused my travels as it is not the most important thing right now. I want to believe that the worst is over, that in a few months time peace will come and I will return to Kharkiv.
War is a time of reappraisal of values. You understand that the most important things in life are relatives and friends, their life and health, peace and security, love and friendship. All misunderstandings and quarrels that existed before the war recede. It doesn’t matter anymore. War shows the true character traits of people: it becomes clear who is who. Several of my friends are already repelling the enemy in the ranks of the Armed Forces. Some volunteer, even in the center of Kharkiv. I respect such people very much for their courage and desperation. I am sure that if everyone would do something useful where they were, we would definitely defend and rebuild our country.
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: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: