АвторAuthor: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Nadiia Shovkoplias
23 June 2022
64-year-old Vira Stepanovna Tuz lived in Kyiv with her family and also managed to run a small business while being retired. On February 26, the woman with her daughter, granddaughter, and mother left for the cottage in the village of Pylypovychi near Borodianka. Read on how the family managed to evacuate to Ivano-Frankivsk and why their car was painted with occupiers’ symbols.
7 a.m. on February 24. We were in Kyiv at that time. I got a call from an acquaintance in Turkey who told me that the war had started. She knew it there, and we didn’t yet. We decided to go to the country house. No one could have imagined that it would be so scary, so unhuman.
There were four of us – me, my 87-year-old mother, my daughter, and my 12-year-old granddaughter. On February 26 we went to the country house in Pylypovychi near Borodianka but got into hell. In the first days, we didn’t realize how serious everything was. The shelling started, tanks went to Borodianka. The jets were flying right over the roof, just above the electric wires.
During the daytime, we weren’t so scared. You go out into the street and you find out where the explosion was. At night, it got scary. The first night we slept in our clothes. After that we didn’t even go to bed, we just sat there.
My granddaughter would sit down between me and her mother and say: “Grandma, Mom, give me your hand. In front of me was my mother, who didn’t understand much. We told her about the war. But she only groaned when there was a bang. So the three of us sat there and were afraid. Silently afraid. After my granddaughter took our hands, we didn’t say a word.
The first few days there were a lot of locals with kids. Everyone thought it was safer here. So we looked for a place to hide the children. We found a bunker previously built by a local man in case of war. We laughed at him back then. No one had ever thought such a thing could happen. We calledthis man, opened the bunker, and took the children inside. The youngest was six months old. Tanks were rumbling along the highway so much that the windows were shaking. Infantry was already in the woods nearby.
On March 3, four of us had our second birthday. Then we decided to go to the west of Ukraine.
Before leaving, we had a loaf of bread left over. I didn’t know where I was taking my family and what could happen to us. But I left the bread to my neighbors. They needed it more than we did.
I left the keys to the house, the garage, and the car, so the neighbors would have access. When we got a phone signal in Borodyanka, I called my neighbor and heard: “Vira Stepanivna, your can of stewed meat saved us.” I was so happy then.
Our acquaintances, who had left that evening, gave us the coordinates. We put the location of our final destination – a village near Radomyshl, Zhytomyr region, into the GPS. We were supposed to get there. And we made a big mistake. We should have searched for every village one by one.
GPS took us a shortcut. We ended up right in front of a Kadyrovtsy’s checkpoint. I was driving, my daughter was by my side. At first, I thought it was Ukrainians at the checkpoint. Then my daughter only said: “Mama!”. It sounded so scary. I knew something was wrong. We pulled up. I got out of the car. There were three tanks and about 30 people with guns. They were Russians, Buryats, and Kadyrovtsy.
I got out and one of them says: “Take everyone out”. I explained to them that an old woman was there. “Take her out,” he said again.
Granddaughter walked out with the kitty in its cage because she was holding it on her knees. I wanted to turn around to put the pet down, but a soldier fired a machine gun. We crouched down out of fear.
A Russian took us to their leaders. They took our passports and phones. Took a long look at our smartphone records. Found in my message “Glory to Ukraine! Death to the occupiers.” He said, “Did you write this?”. I explained that it was an incoming text message. He put my daughter’s phone in his pocket and pretended like he hadn’t even taken it. My daughter asked him to give it back. He sharply grabbed the gun, and my granddaughter jumped up onto her mother’s neck in fear. Angels must have been flying over us and sitting on our shoulders at that time. God kept us alive.
On the way to Russians’ leadership, I asked if they would let us go. A Russian replied: “If your car is painted, then they’ll let you go.” I didn’t understand those words then. So they gave us our passports and telephones and let us go to the car.
A Russian was leading us back, looking away, but talking to me. Then he warned me: “If anything happens, throw out something white.” I didn’t understand anything further.
“We walked up to the car, and it was all painted with the letters “V”. They painted the hood with spray cans and put duct tape on top, so it couldn’t be erased. They let us go as cannon fodder so our soldiers could shoot us”.
They asked where we were going. When we answered that we were going toward Zhytomyr, we heard, “Don’t go there. Go back”. I was almost ready to go back. But my daughter insisted, and we drove to the nearest village. We were looking for men to wash off the letters. We scrubbed them off with our nails, just to remove it. We did it, and we drove to Radomyshl. We spent the night at a friend’s house. There were about 20 people in one house at that time. The next day we drove to Ternopil and spent the night there. And then we settled in Ivano-Frankivsk.
I’m originally from the Ivano-Frankivsk region. It happened so that by circumstances I took my mother to Kyiv. At first, we stayed in Ivano-Frankivsk, but my classmate persuaded me to move to her house in Yamnytsia. Because it’s hard for an old lady to go down to the basement from her apartment every time during the sirens.
My classmate lives not far from the railroad. I used to bend whenever there was a train coming. I thought tanks were coming. And when a heater turned on, I felt like a machine gun fired again.
But home is home. So three weeks later we moved into my mother’s little hut. The four of us live in one room. We’re happy. There is no price for human life.
When jets fly over us, my granddaughter always asks if they are Ukrainian ones. I was strong when it was necessary. And now I have become weak, emotional. I sleep every second night. I have this Kadyrov’s checkpoint in front of my eyes.
Some people say, “You didn’t feel it”. And you don’t need to! I wish no one else felt what we did.
My daughter found a job in Ivano-Frankivsk, we planted a vegetable garden. My granddaughter is studying remotely in school. We take her to hobby clubs. And I do gardening more. My neighbors give me seeds. It is much easier for me when I work with the soil. My mother is also eager to work in the garden. I don’t let her, because she is an old woman, and she gets angry.
Every morning I thank God for the night I have lived. I am happy that my relatives are with me. There are no big plans. When there is a victory, then there will be plans.
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: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Nadiia Shovkoplias