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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    The victims of shelling

    “We are alive, Masha and I lost our legs”. The story of a family that was affected by the shelling in Zaporizhzhia oblast

    Life under fire

    АвторAuthor: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Lola Khabibova

    11 September 2022

    The Feshchenko family — mother, father and three sisters all live in Polohy, Zaporizhzhia oblast. Sophia — the mother— worked in a hospital laboratory before the war. The eldest sister Valeria is 24 years old. She studied and worked in Zaporizhzhia, where she created her own family — got married and had a baby son. The young family has been living in Kyiv for the last three years.

    16-years-old Maria is fond of drawing and makeup creation. She had attended the art school before the 24th of February. Valeria underlines that their sister has always been the most vulnerable in the family. The youngest sister is Arina and she is 10.

    When the war started the whole family except Valeria remained in Polohy — the town under the constant shelling. The town has been occupied since March. The family had to hide in a cellar, live without electricity, gas and water. Civilians were ruthlessly bombarded by russians that’s why Sophia and Maria Feshchenko were injured in a regular “Grad” shelling. Despite the fact that they lost their legs and got multiple severe wounds, they survived and even managed to escape the occupied town.

    Valeria Koba told “Monologues of the war” the story of her family, their survival under the difficult circumstances, the shelling they suffered from, their salvation, evacuation, treatment and further rehabilitation abroad.

    On the 24th of February me, my husband and our child were in Kyiv while the rest of my family stayed in Polohy. I craved to see my parents and asked my husband to go there but he urged me that there would be the fiercest fighting in the town. We had to think straight, so we couldn’t go.

    The situation was stable until the 3rd of March. We rode to the west of Ukraine when enemy forces entered Polohy. It was the day when Ukrainian connection started fading out. I could reach my parents by the phone only after twenty or even fifty attempts. I was sitting and calling them all the time. The next day the connection was lost completely.

    Our other relatives that stayed in the town moved to my parents. There were ten people in total in our house. The house was big, so there was room for everyone. They hid in a damp cold cellar, woke up early in the morning when occupiers begun to bomb the city. They also went to sleep early because there was no electricity. My father told me that there were missiles and shells flying over our house. Everything around was so bright because of shelling you could even confuse a night with a day sometimes. Such things repeated daily.

    “She said that there were soldiers with white armbands on the streets, there were occupiers everywhere” 

    It was my father’s birthday on the 4th of March and I tried to contact my family in every way possible. Masha climbed the roof of our house and caught a connection which was very poor but still gave us the chance to speak for some time. I couldn’t reach them for five days after that. I didn’t know whether something happened to them, whether they were alive or had something to eat. Meanwhile, there was more and more information on the situation in Polohy on different telegram pages that were likely created by people who managed to leave the town. The users tried to get some details about what was happening in Polohy because they also couldn’t reach their relatives who stayed there.

    On the 9th of March I was contacted by my mother from an unknown number. She said that everything was as fine as it could be. There were shelling, no connection or electricity but the important thing was that they had food. She said that there were soldiers with white armbands on the streets, there were occupiers everywhere with their checkpoints in every 200 meters. She also mentioned that her phone was running out of battery and she wouldn’t be able to call anymore.

    A torn off limb as a result of hostile shelling

    Sophia Feshchenko has lost her leg as a result of hostile shelling

    We got in touch again on the 12th of March, literally for a minute, I heard that they were fine, they even told me that they had found a spot to catch the connection and promised to call the next day at noon. But the next day nobody called. I tried to contact them but it was in vain.

    “They started the generator then anesthetized and amputated both Masha’s and mom’s legs”

    Approximately at 4:30 p.m on the 12th of March my mother, Masha and our cousin Ira were coming home. They were in 500 meters from the house when the shelling started. Then a shell exploded in three meters from them. Mother told me that everything around them turned grey and she could only hear Masha calling her while Masha could only hear mom’s voice calling her back. When shelling started, mom fell on children and covered them with her body that’s why the fragments of the shell that went through mom’s body mostly injured her pelvic area. Ira was less affected while the fragments hit both Masha’s and mom’s legs.

    Ira came back to her senses rapidly and pulled them away from the road. There was the house of Masha’s boyfriend nearby, so right after that she ran to his house to call for help. When she came back, they weren’t there because a man who was passing through tightened their legs with torn wires and took them to the hospital.

    Multiple wounds as a result of shelling

    Masha has multiple shrapnel wounds along with the amputated leg

    Ira came home on her way to the hospital and told the rest of the family about everything that had happened, so my father and grandmother decided to go with her. There were no windows or electricity at the hospital, but doctors were still working no matter what. Mother told me that they started the generator then anesthetized and amputated both Masha’s and mom’s legs. My sister lost a lot of blood, she was losing consciousness, but mom still held on.

    “I collapsed right where I stood and everything inside me collapsed as well” 

    On the 13th of March, they were transferred to Orikhiv on a car ambulance where the blood transfusion was performed without which they wouldn’t survive the road to Zaporizhzhia. Father, younger sister and all other relatives stayed in Polohy while my grandmother hitchhiked to Orikhiv to look after Masha.

    When they reached Zaporizhzhia, mom was admitted to the oblast hospital for adults while Masha was admitted to a children’s facility. Mother called me that day, she was barely speaking, she said that they were alive but they both lost their legs. Later, we only texted each other.

    The grandmother with her granddaughter

    Masha with her grandmother

    I cannot put into words everything I felt at the moment when my mother told me about this. I collapsed right where I stood and everything inside me collapsed as well. It was really hard for me, especially the first week. Despair was everything I felt at that moment. I couldn’t get out of bed for two days, nor could I eat or drink for almost a week. My friend — the god-mother of my son who was also from Polohy — stayed with me and supported me through this time. Then I came to realize that my loved ones are alive and it was the most important thing.

    “When they were in Polohy, doctors were saying that she wouldn’t last long”

    Along with amputated leg Masha also has a badly injured right arm with a part of skin that is torn out together with muscles on her right blade bone. A fragment of a shell came through near the heart, coming out under her armpit. She also has different shrapnel wounds, on her face and neck as well. Mom has her leg amputated, her pelvic seriously injured and all her body covered with multiple shrapnel wounds.

    Read also: “We hoped that the city was about to be liberated.” A story about occupied Kherson in the first months of the war

    Doctors started operating my mom immediately. After a four-hour-long surgery she quickly came to her senses and I was even able to speak to her. Masha’s case was more difficult. She also has a four-hour-long surgery but we couldn’t maintain contact with her. We learnt about her condition from our grandmother who stayed with her for the whole time. Masha’s condition was serious. During the first week, she was undergoing a blood transfusion and couldn’t eat, feeling seek after that. Doctors said that the fact that she survived was a true miracle. When they were in Polohy, doctors were saying that she wouldn’t last long.

    “Right after they left, cluster bombs covered our yard”

    My father and sister with other relatives stayed in Polohy without connection as before. My friend who stayed with them ran to her house on a hill to call me and learn about Masha’s and mom’s condition. Then, she ran back to my house and share the news with my father. That was the way in which we maintained contact for two days. Later, my father, sister, her husband and children left the town.

    Svyatoslav Vakarchuk

    Svyatoslav Vakarchuk visited Masha at the hospital

    They were passing through nearly 17 russian checkpoints. Luckily, they passed them easily. When they reached Zaporizhzhia, the father with younger sister stayed at my mother-in-law’s. Couple of days later, right after they left, cluster bombs covered our yard, shattering the windows of our house.

    There were volunteers in Zaporizhzhia, they helped us further. Ordinary people aslo supported us and offered their help. We were even visited by Svyatoslav Vakarchuk and by different journalists from Germany, France and other European countries.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to visit my family, though I really wanted to. My husband wouldn’t let me go because it wasn’t safe in Zaporizhzhia. My baby was four at the moment and I didn’t dare to go because I couldn’t leave my child. However, I started raising funds on the internet because the process of treatment and rehabilitation is rather expensive. I post the more detailed information on Masha’s and mom’s condition to my telegram page: https://t.me/help7feshenko

    Reunion in Germany

    A long-anticipated reunion in Germany

    They ended up abroad thanks to volunteers. Masha was taken to Germany in the end of March while my mom with my father and sister were evacuated to Lviv in April. She also came to Germany in early May. Now, they live there and undergo rehabilitation. Masha is good at walking with her prosthesis, she exercises a lot, we can call it the rehabilitation in full swing. Mom’s situation is different. She also has a prosthesis and she will undergo the full course of rehabilitation as well, though it will start later. 

    “We don’t have a place to return to, there is no home for us and I am not talking about our house”

    Unfortunately, according to the doctors, Masha wouldn’t be able to raise her right hand completely. She will not be able to raise it higher than ninety degrees. Her tendons were damaged because of the lack of skin and now her hand can’t function properly. Howerer, Masha is rather optimistic right now. I said that she was the most vulnerable from all of us, but now she turned out to be the strongest one. She has some tremendous plans for the future. She dreams about opening her own beauty salon and she really wants to be a professional in the makeup industry.

    We don’t have a place to return to, there is no home for us and I am not talking about our house. The thing is that our town is nearly wiped off the face of the earth, the occupiers turned our house into complete mess and they rummaged in all our belongings. Our neighbor was present during the search and she told us that they poked around our whole house and turned the place upside down. If my mom and Masha returned to Ukraine, they would come to Kyiv, to my place. But it will be after the war, they’ve had enough of this horror.

    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: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Lola Khabibova

    Life under fire

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