АвторAuthor: Juliya Baranko | Translation: Mariia Moskaliuk
4 August 2022
Our heroine lived in occupied Kherson for two months. She asks not to be named because she is worried about the safety of her relatives who have stayed there. She managed to escape to Kyiv – together with her sick mother and young son, she passed through 36 enemy checkpoints. She told to the “Monologues of the War” project the stories about how russian troops entered the city, how the people of Kherson gathered for protests against the occupation, how vital medicines disappeared from the city, and how the occupiers took away equipment from farmers.
On the morning of February 24, the russian invaders entered Kherson. Around five in the morning, I got a call from a soldier I knew. By that time, he had already been called to the Chornobayivka airfield. It was his call that woke me up: “Yuliia, the war has begun! Therefore, quickly decide whether to leave Kherson immediately, or, if I stay, how to live further.” He also said that the airfield was bombed – almost all the equipment there, the helicopters, were damaged – only a part survived. Then I heard explosions in the receiver and his cry: “Air! Earth!”, shots and… the connection was interrupted. Thank God he is alive.
My husband and I got dressed and ran to ATB for groceries. There was already a commotion in the city. There were huge queues in the store. Everyone bought products: bread, flour, canned goods, and stew. We bought the same set. On the way home, loud explosions were heard in the city. It was clear that Chornobayivka was on fire – a huge column of smoke was standing over the airfield.
On the same day, convoys of enemy vehicles began to drive through the city. Everything was thundering – planes were flying.
The first days, we were all at home – we saw machinery on the streets from the windows and were afraid to go out. They were constantly prowling Chornobayivka — they wanted to destroy the remnants of Ukrainian artillery. The city was very noisy, the houses were literally shaking. We were all scared, but my son was the most scared. Shots were also constantly heard. No one went to work – everyone sat in apartments, basements, bomb shelters – everyone hid wherever they could. After a certain time, the Ukrainian soldiers were withdrawn from Kherson, and even then the occupiers completely occupied the city – they freely drove through the streets on their vehicles. Once they came to my high-rise building (I saw it with my own eyes) with weapons and crowbars, opened the entrance door and were looking for someone. Five armed men entered the house. After some time, they came out and started knocking on the window of the first floor. People had bars on it. And I hear (we live on the third floor): “Let’s cut this and come in!” They turned around and left. That’s how they looked for journalists and ATO officers.
And the neighbors said that they often went around the apartments, took people away, took them somewhere, tortured and interrogated them there.
The occupiers behaved not even like at home, but like masters. At the bazaar, they took their goods from the sellers, of course, they did not pay. They went to pharmacies and took what they needed, to shops – they roamed freely everywhere.
Well, and every day, of course, they shot with everything they had. Shrapnel hit a neighboring house. A young man who had been sitting in the storehouse with his family for a long time was walking right by and went out to get food. Unfortunately, he died. On a nearby street, several floors of houses were blown away by rockets – people were also injured. They constantly searched Chornobayivka. They started shooting at Mykolaiv from our suburb. And so it is to this day.
The city was closed – no one was allowed in or out. At first, there were still some products – our farmers tried to sell meat. There was flour in warehouses – they were baking bread. When in the second month it became really difficult, the vital medicines (for pressure, heart diseases, etc.) ran out, volunteers started joining. At their peril and risk, they negotiated with the occupiers and could bring something from Mykolaiv in private cars. But it was not easy – it was necessary to make certificates that they were volunteers, and only then there was at least some chance that they would be missed. My husband managed to go to Mykolaiv only a couple of times. They carried offal, mostly medicine, but also animal feed and some products. There were even cases when, on the way back, the occupiers searched the car and took everything they needed – medicines, food. There was no question of convoys of cars or trucks – the enemy did not miss a single sent humanitarian aid.
We stayed at home until the last – we hoped that the city would be liberated soon.
Communication and the Internet were only at the beginning, and then disappeared. Now, fortunately, it has been fixed. The television was turned off immediately and has not been restored to this day. There was light, thank God, in Kherson itself. But in Chornobayivka, the situation is much worse – many houses were damaged, people were left without water and electricity. In general, the situation is very difficult there.
However, Kherson still tried to hold on. Transport is operating (separate routes). Several hospitals worked – in particular, “Tropinka” (that’s what the people of Kherson call the Kherson City Clinical Hospital named after Athanasius and Olga Tropinykh – ed.). But later, the occupiers captured “Tropinka” and began to place their wounded soldiers there.
The paralyzing fear passed in a few days, and people began to go to protest rallies. Shouting that Kherson is Ukraine (the interlocutor starts crying at these words – ed.) Accordingly, they were dispersed – shot at them, gas fired. There is information that activists are wanted, taken away and tortured. Unfortunately, their further fate is unknown. It’s hard… But ours don’t give up – and still go today. I read information about this all the time. There is not a single person in my circle who is in favor of the People’s Republic of China. No one supports russia — everyone hopes for Ukraine’s victory.
Our mayor, Ihor Kolykhaev, remained at his post until the end. Tried to ensure the life of the city. He kept asking for green corridors for the evacuation of the civilian population – but they were not provided. People left at their own peril and risk.
“The russian military man said with a smirk: ‘You haven’t had a war yet – there is a special operation.’
We decided to leave when it became completely unbearable – constant shooting day and night, no food. When the child started throwing tantrums, and the mother’s health deteriorated significantly due to stress and lack of medication.
We gathered in one day. We planned to go for the weekend, but then the husband found out that a convoy of cars was leaving on Friday and the driver of one of them seemed to know a more or less safe detour.
We packed a couple of bags – grabbed the essentials. The child was taken away. And at five in the morning we left in a convoy of six cars.
It was very difficult to go. 36 russian posts. They search everywhere, check documents. No one explained anything. They checked our phones, looked for contacts, photos, and videos. We knew about it and cleaned everything in advance. They asked where we were going. We always answered that we were taking the mother to treatment and saving the little one from the war. So, at one of the checkpoints, after hearing our answer, a russian soldier said with a grin: “You haven’t had a war yet – there is a special operation.”
By the way, from the behavior and arrangement of the checkpoint, it was immediately clear who was standing – ORDLO, russians or buryats. The buryats were the most aggressive. And the russians had the most equipment.
It was very scary to go. There is a lot of destroyed equipment on the road – both theirs and ours. Many burned civilian cars. They also drove past our “Fabryka” shopping center, and it was also burned to the ground.
We were driving on a very long road. Usually, you could get to Mykolaiv quickly, but we went through the city of Snigurivka. A bunch of cars. More people joined our column. Long queues. In the middle of the way, fighting took place. All cars stopped. We came under fire from “Grads”. Everyone, of course, was very scared. Because it seemed that it was all very close to us. The most difficult part was the last post – they, well, checked everything very carefully, looked into all the cracks.
We drove for more than 15 hours almost without stopping, because they were afraid that the convoy would break up, and only the driver of the first car, who led us, knew the way. And there wasn’t much of a road – some kind of dirt, some small towns…
Having driven closer to Mykolaiv, we already saw our Ukrainian checkpoint. There was already a completely different situation. At our checkpoint, even the air was completely different. I can’t even describe how happy we were to see the Ukrainian military.
We were greeted warmly and with a smile. The soldiers even tried to joke. And people from cars offered them food and cigarettes. They refused, said that they had everything, and we needed more. Documents were, of course, checked, but very friendly. One of the soldiers even treated my son to candy.
Then we went to Odesa. We went down to the bomb shelter (the station was closed) to wait for our train to Kyiv. And my husband went back to Kherson to volunteer. Plus, he wanted to make a few more trips to take out more people.
“The bomb shelter was crowded. And right here, the SSU (Security Service of Ukraine) detained a woman who was photographing plans for a bomb shelter. They found many different photos of equipment and a bunch of calls to russian numbers in her phone. But she did not hide that she wanted to go to russia. She was taken”.
The train to Kyiv was full, but not overcrowded. We drove with closed windows so that the train could not be seen. We arrived two hours late – we were not informed of the reasons. At first, we lived with my aunt, and then rented an apartment. Here, in Kyiv, despite the constant howling of sirens, I feel safer than in my native Kherson. We make a living, but we hope to go home soon.
My husband returned to Kherson. And he was constantly involved in volunteering. He once again managed to go to Mykolaiv – bought the most necessary medicines, the need for which people reported to the volunteer center. And then he delivered diapers and cereal around the city, because there were big problems with baby food. It was scary to volunteer because of the constant shelling and it was hard morally, but someone had to do it. People are scared, many families have already suffered and died. He says that he once came to the family. A young woman with children opened the door. He asked if she had someone serving, and how would she cry… It turns out that she has a military husband who has already died.
“russian military plans to announce mobilization in Kherson and “throw” Kherson men to fight against Ukrainian military”.
Later, the occupiers blocked the last supply routes even for civilians. All adult men were banned from leaving the occupied territory. Information began to spread that the russian military plans to announce mobilization and “throw” Kherson men to fight against the Ukrainian military. At that time, almost everyone who volunteered decided to flee the city. Some succeeded, but most did not. My husband was among those who failed. Five days of unsuccessful attempts. It was only possible to reach the city of Berislav. My husband and friends rented a house there and tried to leave every day. They were simply sent back without any explanation. There is only one answer to all questions: “We were not instructed to release.”
While they were in Beryslav, the occupiers – from ORDLO – began to come to them and ask for cigarettes or a SIM card. They looked like homeless people – one rusty machine for several people, ragged uniforms. And they behaved, unlike the russians, not so defiantly. It was clear that they were thrown “for meat” and they understood it themselves.
And when the husband had already lost hope, he decided that this would be his last attempt – if he was not released, he would return to Kherson. But they let him go – they just waved his hand to drive by. But it was from Berislav. And no one was released from Kherson.
I talked to friends who stayed; the situation is not getting better.
Now Kherson Region is completely cut off from the world – no one is allowed in or let out. Pharmacies are empty. Products are not delivered. The only food available is what farmers have grown and now sell for next to nothing. For example, if in Kyiv cucumbers are sold for 60-70 hryvnias, then in Kherson they are sold for 10. Because it is simply impossible to take them anywhere for sale, and the people of Kherson have no more money left.
Even the russians give out some kind of humanitarian aid, but the Kherson people do not accept it in principle. Well, unless some lonely pensioners save themselves from starvation, or some drunkards. But there were rumors that the “aid” contained expired canned goods, and that people were being poisoned. I will not confirm. However, I know that cigarettes from the Crimea and looted goods from our own stores were sold at high prices in the bazaars. The stolen goods were also distributed under the guise of humanitarian aid, which was allegedly brought from russia.
And in the city of Henichesk, russian rubles were brought to one of the state institutions and, for signatures, employees are given amounts equivalent to 100 US dollars. But they take passport data and an identification code. This is how they are trying to introduce the ruble into circulation. There are people who accept, and the majorities categorically refuse.
Ukrainian symbols are removed everywhere, they even remove Ukraine inscriptions, and hang up their rags.
Also, the occupiers completely destroyed the crops. They took away all the agricultural equipment from the farmers and took all the grain to the Crimea and russia.
They also forbid villagers to put out forest fires that have come close to populated areas.
This is the purposeful destruction of Ukrainians. As for the Kherson region, they have no plans for the future – they are trying to cause maximum damage here and now. Including arranging food and humanitarian crises.
But we do not lose hope. There are partisans in the occupied territories who are helping our boys and girls to bring Victory closer with all their might.
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: Juliya Baranko | Translation: Mariia Moskaliuk