АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Nataliia Zadorozhna
23 August 2022
35-year-old Tetiana Yakymchuk is from Mykolaiv, where she worked as a sports journalist. In order to escape from the shelling, together with her sister she left the city and ended up in the war zone. What is it like: to hear shells whistling over the house and enemy planes flying, to see from the window how your hometown is burning, to pray and hope for a miracle during massive shelling, as well as about life in a foreign country, the girl told the “Monologues of the War”.
On February 23rd was my older sister’s birthday. We celebrated it, and the next morning we woke up to explosions. We immediately realized what was going on, although when there were talks of war, no one believed in it. I remember that about 10 days before the war broke out, we were talking with friends and I said that in the 21st century this is impossible.
That day was very chaotic. We packed things and I don’t know how it turned out, but relatives were going to our parents, who live about 20 km from Mykolaiv in the village of Kalynivka, and my sister and I drove with them to this village.
“It was the most wrong decision that we made on that day, and in the entire war particularly. Because at that time it was a little quieter in Mykolaiv, and Kalynivka was under shelling”.
It was difficult to get to Kalynivka, due to the fact that there were heavy traffic jams on the roads, long queues at the gas stations and shops. My uncle and aunt also came to my parents, because they lived in a nearby village, where the houses are located right on the highway. It was very scary, and in total, 6 of us gathered there.
There was a cellar in the village, and we went there, because we thought there would be a place to hide. However, my father said that this cellar was built for other purposes, and it is unreliable. He explained that if a shell hit there, the cellar would be destroyed and that’s it.
“When we were hiding in the cellar, my father stayed in the house in order to get us out from under the rubble in case of something.”
It was calmer to sit in the cellar when the missile was flying somewhere near you. The house felt like a card house: if something hit there, nothing will save you. It was very scary.
It was cold and damp sitting in the cellar, because it was winter outside. When dad explained that it was still roulette, we stayed at home. We chose the safest places and slept on the floor.
I think it was February 27th, when we left the cellar, because everyone was interested to see what was going on outside. The city was slightly visible on the horizon and I wanted to see what was flying where.
“When we went out into the garden, we heard a terrible metallic sound, similar to an explosion. Everyone immediately ran to hide, and then it turned out that it was a drone that fell on a nearby street and three of our neighbors died…”
After that, no one went anywhere and did not even look outside. We moved only from the house to the cellar and back. Then we didn’t even run to the cellar, only changed houses, because we have two of them in our yard. One is older, but has thicker walls, and in particularly terrible moments, we were hiding in that house.
“There was a night when we didn’t have a wink of sleep, because we could hear planes flying over the house. Through the window, we were watching how our city was burning on the horizon. There was no connection, so we could not call our relatives and friends to find out how they are…”.
Om March 7th was the most terrible day. russian troops shelled our village, trying to reach Mykolaiv. We’ve heard it all. For several hours we were laying in the house on the floor, covering our heads with blankets and praying because we had no other solution…
We were sitting in the cellar for a few more hours and heard shells exploding nearby. We also heard airplanes and helicopters flying above us. When we went upstairs, we found out that the shell hit our neighbors’ yard.
“Fortunately, the shell hit an iron water tank and exploded there. They had a little damage to the roof and the gate was blown to the neighboring street. The shell also hit the neighbor’s yard and garden. It was plowed, so the projectile exploded in the ground.”
Then we found out that other houses in the village were also damaged after the shelling. The cars of our acquaintances were damaged, but, fortunately, everyone remained alive. Before, we didn’t even think about evacuation, because there was a war and the shelling did not stop at that time. But after that day, we decided to leave as soon as possible.
We have friends in Mykolaiv who tried to get to us. They were looking for the car, but the taxi drivers refused to drive there. Then they found a car that could pick us up. We already packed our things, but they were turned around at the checkpoint…
And the next day it was a little quieter and our neighbor was going to the city with her husband. They were bringing milk there, so they offered to go with them. “But only my sister and I were able to leave the village. Mom did not manage to get into the car. We stood with tears in our eyes because we didn’t want to leave without her, but there was nothing we could do. Fortunately, another neighbor was driving the next day and picked her up.”
We signed up for the evacuation bus, my mother came straight to the meeting place, didn’t even go to the apartment, because she ran out of time. Father stayed in the village, as he did not want to leave.
We were afraid to return to Mykolaiv. But at that time the situation in the village was even more terrible. We heard that russians shelled the outskirts of the city more, and our apartment is in the center. The shells did not hit there.
“When russian occupiers broke through to Mykolaiv, an enemy tank was blown up a few stops from our house. It was so scary to see destroyed houses and this tank on our peaceful streets, as if from a horror movie.”
I prayed all the way to the city. We were very afraid to see something terrible on the road, which we were driving and where the battles were fought. For example, human bodies… But everything was cleaned up there, except for a few burned cars. Not ours, thank God. When we got to Mykolaiv, there was such a strange feeling – you feel safe there. Is it because it’s my hometown?
Now I am with my mother and sister in Germany, we have been here for 4 months. The road there was rough. We reached the border through Odesa. We didn’t know where to go, just sat down and drove.
We crossed the border with Poland, spent the night first in one camp, then in another. And from there they got to Berlin on an evacuation bus. We spent 3 days on the road, sleeping sometimes in the bus and then in the train.
“Volunteers helped us a lot all along the way. We are grateful to Polish, Ukrainian, and German volunteers. At every stop, we were fed and provided with information.”
And when we arrived in Berlin, we just sat at the train station and thought about what to do next. A large tent was set up at the station, next to which stood a long line of Ukrainians. We were warned that we might have to spend the night here until they found a place because there were so many people. But after three days on the road, I didn’t really want to spend the night in a tent. We started calling everyone who could have friends in Germany.
“We found through acquaintances people who had already been in this country for several days in some small village. Fortunately, German families there wanted to help Ukrainians and accepted them to live with them.”
We live in a village of 600 people and 20 of them are Ukrainians. We were the third Ukrainian family to come here. Now there are 6 families with children here. A small Ukrainian diaspora was formed. We were lucky: all the local people were very friendly and welcomed us very well.
We were welcomed by a young German family. We have a difference of about 10 years. We have musical interests in common. They are very interested in learning about Ukraine and they constantly asked about it. They tried to comfort us somehow, took us with them to concerts, where they talked a lot about Ukraine.
“The locals were very supportive of the Ukrainians in their trouble. The small village of Oechsen has twice collected large humanitarian aid for Ukraine. They constantly read the news here, and are interested in how our relatives are doing. They know that there is no drinking water in Mykolaiv. They constantly ask how they can help.”
Our German family found a job for us. My sister and I are teachers by occupation. And so it happened that the wife of the owner of the house is a teacher of junior classes. She heard that there are many Ukrainian children studying in German schools and the local teachers don’t really understand what to do with them because they don’t know the language. Especially since you can only imagine in what condition they arrived: some from calmer regions, and some from Mariupol, from Kharkiv. And that’s why German schools were very happy that there are two Ukrainian teachers with diplomas.
“We have been working there for a month, and it’s been a week since the holidays started. We teach both older children and younger ones in different schools. We help German teachers to understand our children, and children to adapt to new conditions. My sister and I speak English and almost all young teachers know it. We are very lucky here.”
And the owner of the house where we live teaches German to all Ukrainians in the village. She gives lessons twice a week.
Even in the first days we tried to be useful here. We realized right away that Germans don’t really trust their television, but they want to know what’s really going on in Ukraine. That is why we created a page on Instagram where we write news about Ukraine in German. Here in the village there is a Ukrainian girl who speaks this language, and she translated everything.
“We looked for and translated the hottest news, although we still have few subscribers. Moreover, my sister wrote for a German newspaper the history of Ukrainians who are currently in Germany. We are constantly trying to maintain interest so that Germans know about Ukraine and us.” I always thought that I would never leave my country. But war is such a terrifying thing that it is even difficult to tell to what extent..
“I knew, and now I’m convinced, that there is no better country than ours. When you are far from home, you feel it several times stronger. In Germany, the standard of living is higher, but it is easier to live in our country, as it may sound strange.”
We feel the need to tell everyone about our country so that everyone can hear and see that before the war everything was good and beautiful. Many of the teachers thought that we are a 3rd world country, many did not know about us at all. Now they look at it from a different angle.
It is so difficult to read the news about the constant shelling of your hometown, to see the condition of your relatives. Every morning we correspond with friends and acquaintances to find out how they are. And I really want to go home…
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: Nataliia Zadorozhna