АвторAuthor: Yulia Zarudnitska | Translation: Kateryna Pavlova
9 October 2022
The Shulyak family lives in the village of Mykhailivka-Rubezhivka, which is 30 kilometres from Kyiv. Olena and Dmytro spent 20 years building a house for their large family and built the second floor for the future family of their son Fedor. This summer, they were planning to go to the sea all together for the first time in 11 years. But on February 24 their lives changed. Until March 9, the family and their relatives stayed under occupation without electricity, gas, and water. The head of the family, 52-year-old Dmytro Shulyak told the “War Monologues” project about life in a cellar, saving food and losing his house.
I was born and raised in Kyiv, and in 2003 I moved with my family to Mykhailivka-Rubezhivka, Kyiv region, where I still live. Our family consists of myself, my wife Olena, and three sons: 28-year-old Oleksiy, 26-year-old Maksym, and 16-year-old Fedir. Only the youngest is staying in a home with us.
Before the war, for the last five years or so, I worked as a team supervisor at a pharmaceutical warehouse in the village of Mila, Kyiv region. I spent my weekdays like many other people: I was at work from morning to evening. On weekends, I mostly did household chores in and around the house. It is a homestead – there will always be work.
We were planning a long-awaited vacation to the sea, where we had not been for 11 years. And so, a few days before the invasion, we paid an advance for a house in Kurortne, Odesa region… But it wasn’t meant to be…
On the night of February 24, a sound woke me up. Then it seemed that the door to the son’s room slammed. My wife also did not pay attention to it and we fell asleep.
But in the morning, when I started monitoring the latest news, the situation became “acute”. All the media were posting about the fact that a war in Ukraine had begun. Rocket attacked many cities, Russian troops broke the borders in several places… There was enough news to start panicking.
Until the 24th, I did not believe that the war would begin, although there were many warnings in the press, diplomats and businessmen were evacuating their families to the West. To be honest, I hoped that this was another russian provocation. It turned out that I was wrong. I woke up my wife, and a lot of thoughts came up. I barely managed to get in touch with the head of the warehouse; his line was always busy. He said that we should not panic and should go to work. It was almost impossible to get ready for work because of my subordinates, who were calling, many of them panicked and, accordingly, most did not go to work. Especially since there are a lot of workers from Radomyshl, which is an hour and a half drive from the warehouse.
I got ready, took a car and went to work. I already was able to hear the sounds of artillery somewhere far away along the road. At the warehouse, there were only the chief, a guard and a few other people. Hardly but I managed to make the driver bring from Radomyshl people who agreed to work. Not many people had come, only 10, although usually, it is about 40. It was not easy to work. Of course, people talked about what was happening, but it was not easy to get focused. But all in all, the plan for the shipment of medicines was eventually done. Again, this all was done under the sounds of artillery work and sometimes under the very low, almost over the trees, flying planes, both ours and russian.
On the same day, while I was at work, my wife’s family came to us from Kyiv, namely: sister with her husband and 7-year-old child, sister’s eldest daughter with her boyfriend, and parents. Seven people in total, a dog (French bulldog), a cat and a chinchilla. And there are already three of us with a cat. Somehow, we managed the space. Relatives brought provisions, which we ate during the two weeks when we were under occupation. We also had our food stocks, but they were enough only for three people per week. Since there was nowhere to buy food, as all shops closed in two days, we had to eat twice a day due to the conditions of the strict economy.
We could have some kind of side dish or 5 jacket potatoes, a piece of meat (as long as we had it) or canned goods, and tea or jam water. We tried to save as much food as we could as we didn’t understand how long we would have to live under the blockade. During the first days our friends informed us that humanitarian aid was brought to the centre of the village, but again, according to their information — roadblocks were already set up — one ours, and the enemy one. Everything was changing very quickly. We didn’t manage to get humanitarian aid. Only once we were able to get to the centre of the village, to our friends, we did not run into any of the soldiers, we had some potatoes, bread and home-made conserved vegetables.
On the morning of the 25th, I called the head of the warehouse and arranged to pick him up at his house near the warehouse. I also picked up another co-worker on the way. While I was driving somewhere not far away, very loud guns shooting was heard. All in all, we did not manage to get to work, we waited for about an hour near the warehouse chief’s house, and he commanded us to get back. We heard the rumble of aeroplanes somewhere nearby. I called my relatives, I had to drive by the store. “Megamarket” (the name of the supermarket chain) on Kapitanivka street was operated with only one entrance. There were only three or four working cash registers, and payments by card were accepted at only one. There were not enough staff, I understood that many did not come to work.
To buy cigarettes customers lined up in a queue, and then one of the cashiers came to sell tobacco products. In general, I spent all the money I had and went home. Two rashists (russian) attack planes passed very low directly above the car on my way home. There was a large queue at the gas station so I drove by.
We are not coming to work anymore, we don’t go out anymore, we stay at home. The sounds of hostilities can already be heard from the side of Bucha-Hostomel-Irpin. Somewhere nearby in the forest, from Makarov village side artillery is working non-stop. We hear burst mode and explosions. We arranged a cellar and a root cellar on the street. Tents, chairs, warm clothes, blankets, water, candles, and an axe in case if cellar will collapse. The temperature in the cellar was +4 °C, we turned on the electric heater and it went up to +11 °C. We try not to undress. If the explosions are approaching, we quickly move to the cellar from the house or the street.
On the morning of the 26th, we found out that the light had disappeared. This means that soon everyone’s phones will be turned off — the prospect is not pleasant.
But that’s fine, as we still have power banks, we cook on gas, and use flashlights and candles. There was water in the house through an electric pump. There is also a well and some water in the house. The temperature in the cellar is the same as outside, the heater is not working. However, we take food outside and in a such way replace the refrigerator.
On the 27th or 28th, I don’t remember exactly, the gas went out and all mobile network operators went off. This is the moment when it became difficult. We have a heating pipe in the house, it can heat 3 out of 5 rooms. We had to sleep dressed in those two unheated ones. However, everyone tried not to undress, because all the time you need to be ready to run to the cellar. Mobile networks disappeared and the only source of information was the radio. When all the power banks were discharged, we need to go to the garage, charge 5-10 percent of phone batteries and listen to the radio from one phone with one earpiece for two people.
We were very little of petrol, as we supposed to be ready for immediate evacuation, so we only charged a couple of phones a day. We cooked on the grill. I got up with the first rays of the sun and went outside to burn wood for cooking or just to keep warm. Men chopped firewood, and women cooked and washed dishes. The youngest son, without a phone, even started to read fiction books, which he had never liked to do.
Talking about hostilities, our part of the village, the so-called Khutir, was not affected as much as the centre of the village, the surrounding villages and, of course, nearby Irpin and Bucha. Of course, different shells whistled overhead, judging by the sounds planes flew in the direction of Irpin several times every day. We found ourselves in the centre of a triangle, from each point of which there were artillery duels one by one. Helicopters often flew by and circled over the forest. The sounds of artillery shootings and burst mode did not stop day and night. It’s just that the intensity sometimes went down, then increased. By the end, after a week of occupation, we practically stopped hiding in the basement, as we became used to everything, and we had to do household duties in the street. We spent nights in the house. It was scary because there were constant artillery shootings, and the windows were shaking. Because of the undernourishment and constant tension, we wanted to sleep very much. As a result, as it turned out later, my wife and I lost 10 kg each. The days became similar to each other, like in the movie “Groundhog Day”.
On one of such days, katsaps (a word used mainly by Ukrainians to refer to Russians in a negative tone – ed.) vehicles came to us, 3 armoured personnel carriers with V signs stood near our gate. After some time, from the side of the dam (at that time through it there was only one evacuation road for all nearby villages, including Bucha, Vorzel, Irpin and Gostomel) the Red Cross vehicle column drove up.
After long negotiations, the vehicle column was let through and they went, as I understood, in the direction of Vorzel. It was March 9. Before that, the news reported about a “green corridor” in our area. As soon as the armoured personnel carriers drove away from our gates, we immediately packed, tied white rags on the car and rushed towards the dam. As it seems to me, this day was the most stressful and scary. There were many cars at the dam. We asked people what was going on — they answered that they are waiting for the Red Cross vehicle column. We drove to the other side and began to wait. Only one car passed by from the Zhytomyr highway. It stopped. The girl driver said that she had come from Kyiv to take her relatives. She told that the route is under fire and explained where to go and where to turn to get to the Ukrainians.
Before that, the people on the street told us that on the way to the highway, kadyrovtsi (the term which is commonly used in Chechnya to refer to any armed, ethnically-Chechen men under the control of Ramzan Kadyrov-ed.) getting people out of cars and take away their cars. Everything was completely uncertain, but we decided not to wait for the Red Cross vehicle column and went on. There were very, very disturbing long 15 minutes and we pass our (Ukrainian) roadblock on the other side of Zhytomyr. Then five hours in a queue at Bilogorodka and we are in Kyiv. We spent two days in Kyiv with relatives. From the 12th floor of the house on Borshchahivka (a region in Kyiv), we saw the burst of explosions in Irpin and Bucha and we left to the West of Ukraine. And how timely it was…
When we already were there our neighbours phoned us and we found out that our house was hit. Only the outer walls and foundation remained from the house. Thank God, there was no one in the house. We all are alive. Everything that was in the house, what we gained during almost 20 years of our life, burned down. About the same day, I found out that a shell also got into the warehouse, where I worked, and the warehouse was destroyed.
Now the warehouse is being restored, I will restart my work soon. I am sure that Ukraine will soon liberate all occupied territories, and russia will crumble into small pieces.
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: Yulia Zarudnitska | Translation: Kateryna Pavlova