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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Fire after shelling of Kharkiv

    “We didn’t know how to live an ordinary life during the war”. The story of a volunteer on the situation in Enerhodar and Kharkiv


    АвторAuthor: Anastasia Milenko | Translation:

    9 October 2022

    Oksana is 20 years old, she was born in Enerhodar, Zaporizhzhia oblast. Later the girl moved to Kharkiv where she used to take dancing classes and taught robotics and computer programming to children at school. When the war came, she decided to do something, not just sit and wait. She’s joined a volunteering movement and now helps our front-line combatants. Oksana told “Monologues of the war” about the situation in Enerhodar, the life in frontline Kharkiv, and her volunteering.

    On the 22nd of February, my friends and I talked about the probability of a full-scale invasion. I told them that it wouldn’t happen, that it was impossible because we live in the 21st century. Still, when I returned from my dance classes the next day, I had a strange feeling, so I decided to stop by a shop and buy 10 kg of pet food and some sedatives.

    On the 24th of February, we were woken up by numerous phone calls. My friends, my boyfriend’s mom and acquaintances all called to tell me that the war had started. Frankly, I didn’t believe them. I thought that they were sleepy and that’s why they were talking nonsense. How was it possible? Then I heard the first explosions. That’s when I understood everything. I was scared by the explosions and I was crying, then I started calling my friends in Enerhodar. They didn’t understand what was going on. They didn’t even know that the war had started even though it was eight in the morning. 

    “I wanted anything to happen just to end all of this”

    Later we went to get food and medicines just in case. We didn’t understand what would happen next. Would we be sitting without connection, electricity, and water trying to survive with our supplies, or what? We didn’t know how to live an ordinary life during the war. 

    We live near a frequently shelled area. There are Saltivskyi and HTZ (Kharkiv Tractor Plant) districts nearby, so we’ve heard all the blasts in Kharkiv. We gathered money, food, and medicine, so we got distracted and calmed down a bit. But when we got home, I threw a tantrum because of all of these explosions, I was sobbing and didn’t know what to do. Later when we descended into a metro station, I lost consciousness. I think that I lost my nerve back then probably because of the stress I endured. I wanted anything to happen just to end all of this because I couldn’t bear the reality.

    From the beginning of the war and till the 8th of March I didn’t live, I survived. I ate sometimes. Maybe, one time a day. My boyfriend tried to distract me somehow but I could only sit, monitor news about Kharkiv and Enerhodar, and call my friends and relatives to ask if they were okay.

    “Right after russian troops took over the nuclear power plant, they started threatening the staff”

    If I am not mistaken, we learned that on the night before the 4th of March russians entered Enenrhodar on tanks. I called my loved ones who were on the nuclear power plant at the moment russians seized it. I couldn’t even imagine what would happen to them, what they would do to them, so I was in panic. 

    By the morning we were told that the nuclear power plant was seized and that there were russian troops there. I had the information that their sniper was shooting plant workers, one person had been wounded and they also exerted psychological pressure. Chechens used radio or loudspeakers to tell people that they would soon enter the plant and massacre everyone. There were a lot of women who fell into despair and just started crying. They were escaping the plant under fire while panic grew. Our combatants were disarmed and sent home by the morning. If I am not mistaken, there were three victims among our soldiers, one of them was the husband of my classmate.

    Right after russians took over the nuclear power plant, they started threatening the staff. Later one of my acquaintances told me that occupiers were threatening to shoot if someone didn’t do what they asked for. Also, people of Caucasian nationality often threatened to cut genitalia. There were soldiers from Ryazan who just stood with assault rifles. Occupiers met the staff with muzzles when they came inside.

    “Those people who decided to collaborate with occupiers started taking locals’ apartments away”

    I think that there’s no secret that they looted neighboring villages. They stole a few liters of wine and a jacket in which people usually work in the garden. There were some kidnappings, such practice is ongoing. It happens to ordinary civilians. For example, there was a man who was just driving through, they dragged him out of his car for having tinted windows. He was dragged and beaten. As far as I know, they wanted to seize his car. They even paid a visit to one family of teachers once, then they started beating them and took them away in an unknown direction. Later they asked their daughter for a ransom to free her parents. 

    Those people who decided to collaborate with occupiers started taking locals’ apartments away. Some people already left the town, so their apartments were empty, but some people stayed and were kicked out of their homes. It is like the 90s are back.  

    The neighboring villages were saving Enerhodar because farmers and ordinary villagers brought their food. A dairy factory worked all during this time. They were selling their products for a normal price and literally fed the town. 

    “Once a residential area was hit and a man who was just walking his dog was killed”

    The Ukrainian connection disappeared in June. In summer the prices to reach Zaporizhzhia from Enerhodar varied from five to ten thousand. Usually, the road took an hour and a half, now it takes a few days. My friend was leaving for a whole week. Cars wait in lines under the scorching sun. There were some deaths caused by dehydration or sunburn. Some locals from neighboring villages sell tap water as a drinking one. There are not giving it, they are selling it. The cars from a line are usually dispersed at night, they return in the morning. People can sell a night in some shack for 1500 hryvnias for a night. O won’t even tell you about the food prices there. 

    The situation in the city is difficult. It started about the month of July when the Ukrainian troops destroyed enemy vehicles that were located in the town. They also blew up a military base that was close to Zaporizhzhia station, the Ukrainian side confirmed this fact. Then some uncontrollable shelling started. Once a residential area was hit and a man who was just walking his dog was killed. It was documented that the shelling came from a suburb. So, it is a fact that occupiers shelled the residential area in Enerhodar from a suburb. But people start believing that the Ukrainian side fires at them and there is no evidence to prove that it is not true. The shellings are usually chaotic, aimed at residential areas. We all know whose style it is. 

    “I decided to join the territorial defense or some other organization where I was needed”

    Approximately on the 8th of March, I started getting out of despair. Maybe, I’ve adapted to the situation. Then I understood that I couldn’t just sit around. So, I decided to join the territorial defense or some other organization where I was needed. I began training at home, I trained every day for four hours to improve my physical state. Then I went to a recruitment office. It was closed but there was a phone number on the door, I could call them and speak on the subject. I telephoned and said that I want to serve, I also named my specialization. Since I am a girl with zero military experience, I was told that I wouldn’t be useful on the frontlines. Nevertheless, they offered to join the volunteers. 

    I went to the city’s headquarters. It was a tent with the sign “Everything for the victory”. Every person from Kharkiv knows where it is located. We provide for the needs of the AFU (ZSU), NGU, and TDF (TRO). We transfer necessary things on request. We also help the combatants’ families if we have the resources for it. 

    Tonometers for a blood center

    Tonometers for a blood center in Zaporizhzhia

    My role is to highlight the information on the internet, post about our work on social media, and accept requests from people. I also helped our friends with food. Now I wave bracelets and give 100 percent of my earnings to the organization. I went to Zaporizhzhia for some time to donate my blood to soldiers. I noticed that there was no automatic tonometer in the center, there were only manual ones. I thought that probably it is not comfortable and usually takes a lot of time. So, I offered my help in fundraising for automatic tonometers. Only in one day, we collected funds to buy six such devices. I brought them to the center the next day.

    “The person was ready to sacrifice his own life to protect me”

    I heard a missile whistle for the first time right when I joined the organization. The sound was really loud, we were deafened. There was one whistle then the other one and then silence. We were scared because we didn’t have time to reach a shelter, we didn’t even have time to fall to the ground. We just froze and later we found out that there were two cruise missiles that flew right over us.

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    Once a shelling of the area where we were located started. We heard severe explosions that approached fast. We didn’t have time to reach a shelter. I froze again. My teammate dropped me to the ground face-down and covered me with his body. The explosions were close, so I was pretty deafened. Everything ended up as quickly as it had started. Even our windows didn’t fall out. It was a fact that the person was ready to sacrifice his own life to protect me.

    “It was possible to lose your life just by going to get such elementary things as food and water”

    Concerning Kharkiv, I can say that the scariest moments happened at the beginning of the war. That was the time when explosions were something surreal. I have been always scared by the sound of a balloon bursting. Imagine the explosions of the neighboring Saltivka. I was breathless with fear every time it happened. 

    There was a time when they started shelling my district. There were four shells that fell near my house. We joked that we were under “God’s dome”. One morning I woke up because of a blast wave that nearly throw me away from my bed, it was caused by the hit of a building in the neighboring area.

    Then, in March, I was working on my painting by numbers when I heard a powerful explosion. The glass in the windows shattered and I heard the ringing in my ears. We understood that it hit somewhere near. Our cat hid under the couch and after the explosion, we went to our entrance. The windows in our entrance were also shattered. I didn’t even wince, though my heart twitched and I didn’t have the strength to be scared.

    A hit in Kharkiv

    The consequences of a regular hit in Kharkiv

    At the beginning of March, we went to the city to get food and water. We didn’t have drinking water at all, so we had to go more than two kilometers with flasks. There was a big line there and while we were standing in this line, we heard some hits on the neighboring yards. It was very scary. It was possible to lose your life just by going to get such elementary things as food and water.

    “You just count and think where it would hit: a neighboring area, your own house, or somewhere in the oblast”

    I spent five months in Zaporizhzhia. I had a strange feeling when I returned to Kharkiv in August. When I was leaving in April, the streets were empty. There were only volunteers and lines near grocery shops but the streets were nearly empty. When we arrived, it seemed like the city had changed. The only difference was that a lot of buildings were destroyed. There were no explosions, no air raid sirens. We felt odd. 

    But at night when we heard regular shelling, we understood what was wrong. It was the time when a missile hit our district. Kharkiv’s channels informed us about missile dispatch, they were aimed at our city. It is an unpleasant feeling when you read about missile dispatch. You just count and think where it would hit: a neighboring area, your own house, or somewhere in the oblast. Every time it hits somewhere, you feel relief that it hit somewhere far away. Then you realize that it probably hit a residential building.

    The water and light were frequently cut off because of the missile hits. Our utility services repaired everything literally within a day even though our infrastructure was destroyed. We respect them for doing their job no matter the shelling.

    The protest in Zaporizhzhia

    The protest in Zaporizhzhia that was held after tragic events in Olenivka. Valeria tried to be present at every rally

    If you asked me to describe the life in Kharkiv, I would call it the life in the dark. The windows are always sealed with tinfoil. There is no light even during the day not to violate the blacking-out practice. You return home in total darkness right before the curfew. Only sometimes you can see a dim light through the windows.

    “The life of Ukrainians before the 24th of February is destroyed completely”

    I was constantly worried for my friends and acquaintances who stayed in Kharkiv. My friend lived in Saltivka. When a missile hits the district where you friends live, you start calling all of them. Once a missile hit near my friend’s house, his neighbor was killed but thanks God he survives. My heart twitches when I hear such things because I know that he could die. For example, in HTZ a shell flew right inside my friend’s apartment in the time he was there. He was lucky not to get hurt. All my friends left Kharkiv for now. Maybe, I will never see some of my friends again because they don’t plan to return. The life of Ukrainians before the 24th of February is destroyed completely.

    When we were standing in a line in ATB to get some groceries, a woman told us that a neighboring pet shop was giving animals away. As a person who really likes animals I went there and got two guinea pigs. Then I saw that a cattery of Bengal cats was affected by the war, so I also took one cat from there. I had a zoo at home. We also took fish, one guinea pig and now plan to adopt a dog.

    Once we were driving all volunteers home and saw a moment when a shell hit a private house. It instantly caught fire and I realized that I saw enemy missile taking lives of people who were inside. They were inside because the light in their windows was on.

    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:


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