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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Alyona Tikhenka

    «We knew that there had already been rape attempts in our village. We also knew that there were kidnappings, tortures, and murders». A story from an occupied village in the Kherson region


    АвторAuthor: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Diana Bevtsyk

    3 September 2022

    21-year-old Alyona was born in the village of Vysokopillya, Kherson Region. The girl graduated from hairdressing. She began studying to become a manager of social and cultural activities. The girl worked as a sales consultant. She had her own small store of original socks, which she had just begun to develop. For the past four years, the girl lived, studied and worked in Mykolaiv, where the war caught her. Hoping to be close to her family, she went to Vysokopillya, which was later occupied. Due to Russian aggression, Alyona was forced to leave two homes at once. The girl told «Monologues of the War» about the occupation, survival, difficult evacuation and arbitrariness of the invaders.

    We celebrated my sister’s birthday. She turned 18 years old. Around four in the morning we all went to bed. As usual, I decided to check the news before going to bed. I was just watching putin’s appeal when something similar to explosions sounded outside the window. I immediately understood that everything had begun. I ran to my boyfriend and my friend in the kitchen. They began to calm me down, they say, it is just my thoughts. Then there were 3-4 more very loud explosions. I scrolled through Telegram channels. At that time I read that explosions were observed all over the country.

    I called my mother. We agreed that when the war starts, we will be taken home to be with our relatives. At about ten o’clock in the morning, mother, aunt and grandfather were already taking us to Vysokopillya. But, as it turned out later, it was a huge mistake.

    «At first, we were covered twice by «Grad»(a self-propelled 122 mm multiple rocket launcher designed in the Soviet Union)

    On March 13, we were occupied. The day before, we decided to spend the night with my aunt and her family, who lived next door. They had a strange premonition. There was no basement. Her house was not a safe place either, but it was calmer when we were all together.

    First, we were covered twice by “Grads”. One of the shells flew into a nearby street and hit someone’s house. It was very loud and scary, we had nowhere to hide. The light and communication were gone. We were completely cut off from the world. We didn’t know whether we were being occupied or just being shelled. Even later, my grandmother informed us that Russian troops entered our village and immediately set up roadblocks.

    When night came, it became much scarier. My mother and I were very afraid and almost did not sleep. We could not sleep even after taking sedatives and sleeping pills. My boyfriend helped me a lot. He was very patient with how nervous I was. He calmed me down and always stayed close. If not he, I would go through it much harder.

    Vysokopillya now

    Vysokopillya is called the “second Bucha” Photo Ukrainian Pravda

    There was no light, but at least there was gas. People’s freezers started to defrost. Because of this, many stocks of meat quickly spoiled. Therefore, it was necessary to make a stew quickly in order to save at least some part of the meat products.

    While it was cold, we simply stored food outside. Drinking water used to be brought to us by tractor from another village, but now we had to drink straight from the well.

    «At first, people lived on their own supplies, but there were also those who starved»

    All our shops, pharmacies, school, hospital and all administrative buildings were destroyed. Nothing is working now. The situation with products and medicines is complicated. On the very first day of the occupation, the Russian military looted all the shops. There was no delivery of products, as well as humanitarian aid. At first, people lived on their own supplies, but there were also those who starved. Then the people who left gave their products to those who stayed in the village.

    My grandmother takes care of the pig farm. There are more than a hundred of them. If necessary, they cut them and distribute the meat among people. The situation is more complicated with medicines. Back in the first days of the occupation, my grandmother brought home supplies of medicines from the hospital. She used to be the head nurse, so everyone knew they could ask for help. If she had not taken the medicines home, the Russian military would have taken them away in the same way they “cleaned out” the pharmacies. But the supply of medicine has run out.

    Shell funnel

    Shell hole Photo Kherson Regional Prosecutor’s Office

    At the end of March, we ran out of gas. It has become much more difficult to survive here. First, it was still cold outside. People were warming themselves by the fire, and then went to sleep in a cold house. There were also problems with cooking. We cooked on the campfire and sometimes used heating pads. People did their best. Those who had gas cylinders or old stoves were lucky. It became impossible to bake bread, so we ate flatbread fried in oil.

    «The Russian military took away everything from the abandoned houses. Starting with TVs and ending with bed linen»

    Occupiers took cars from people. At first, there were cool cars, such as jeeps. Then they stole ordinary foreign cars and buses, followed by Zhiguli, Lada nines, etc. They painted them with “Z” and drove them through the village at maximum speed. They broke one and went to “overcome” the other. Heaps of abandoned and broken cars are simply scattered around the village. Some families lost 2-3 cars. People hid and even broke them, just to keep their property.

    The Russian military took everything from abandoned homes, from television sets to bed linen. They loaded their trucks and instead left bare walls.  We left our home, but my grandmother constantly visited and kept “life” in it. She hung up clothes, spudded out in front of the yard and left some tools. We just finished the renovation there last year. But they also got into our house.

    They took phones, equipment, such as tablets and laptops. No, not to check. The russian military simply needed a new iPhone for personal use. We hid all our equipment in a niche in the wall. We also covered it with wallpaper and fenced it off with a closet. 

    «One couple was shot right in the yard»

    We had no connection. It was almost impossible to make a call. We only charged our grandmothers’ phone in order to have at least some connection with the surrounding world. We charged from car batteries. Every day there were meetings, where people shared news.

    Of course, people were kidnapped here. Most often, men. They were tortured. We even heard stories of rape. One couple was shot right in the yard. I know of several men who were also shot. But these are the cases that we know now. How many Russian atrocities will be revealed after the reoccupation of the village?

    «They shelled the village in order to accuse the Armed Forces of Ukraine»

    Shelling was and remains constant. There is not any quiet day. During the day, we could hear 20-40-60 departures and arrivals. The day and night could be considered “calm” if it did not fly very close or if the walls and windows did not shake. We got used to explosions. We didn’t even react anymore.

    They shelled the village in order to accuse the Armed Forces of Ukraine. They set up their equipment and made a headquarters near the pharmacy. Subsequently, there were four flights near that place, but not a single hit on them. And this story was repeated many times in different places. At the same time, we heard both the departure and the arrival close by. Then they told that the Armed Forces of Ukraine “muff” and that our soldiers were destroying our village.

    One evening they brought mortars to our grandmother’s garden. They shot back, and the next day a shell landed in a nearby garden. They told us that our soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces had a «delayed reaction».

    Shelling of Vysokopillya

    Vysokopillya in the Kherson region is under constant shelling Photo Vladyslav Musienko (Reuters)

    In addition, they had a base in warehouses. They sometimes came there, sometimes left. And this base was fired only when the Russian military was not there. In other words, they tried to spread the opinion among the population that it is the Ukrainian army. Like our soldiers are destroying our village.

    «There was no “warning” about artillery shelling. It was always unexpected»

    My family was very protective of us. We hardly ever left the house. For the most part, we didn’t see anything except photos. The last pictures were taken in April. Of course, there is a lot of destruction such as infrastructure, shops, hospitals, schools, pharmacies and houses. However, there are also many surviving buildings.

    For the first three days we stayed at home and slept in the hallway on the floor. But the nerves began to fail. It was almost impossible to fall asleep, even with sleeping pills. We decided to move in with friends. They have a huge basement under the house with one entrance from the house and one from the yard. On the morning of March 16, we collected blankets, pillows, a minimal set of things, hygiene products, and products and went to our friends. We cleaned the basement and made a “bed” out of pallets. We also threw blankets and mattresses there and slept together, ten of us. The first days were cold and cramped, but then we got used to it.

    There was no “warning” about artillery fire. It was always unexpected. That’s why we always spent the night in the basement. As soon as it got dark outside, we went to bed. It was about six in the evening in March. There were days when we did not often go down to the basement. But near the end of March, we sat in the basement day and night. Our parents quickly prepared food and brought it down to us. They did not allow us to go out.

    The kindergarten and the hospital were damaged

    March 14. The kindergarten and the hospital were damaged by artillery shelling. Photo Kherson Regional Prosecutor’s Office

    At first I felt secure. The first day in the basement is the first day I slept properly. Compared to how we were just sitting in the house, the explosions in the basement were almost inaudible. We joked, talked and even sometimes played some games. Then the arrivals became closer. Even the basement walls were shaking.

    In one of these flights, the gas supply network was interrupted. We could not continue to stay with acquaintances. There was no place to cook food and heat water. Grandma offered to go to her. I was afraid, because there was no place to hide. 12 of us lived in one house. Some slept in the corridor on mattresses, others also ran into the corridor when the explosions occurred. It was very scary and unclear whether the next flight would hit the house or not.

    «It’s scary to be raped. It’s scary that they can mock you»

    I was more afraid of coming into contact with the Russian military than of shelling. I knew that they were already looking for girls “for pleasure”. It’s scary to be raped. It’s scary that they can mock you. The first time we encountered the military was in the yard. They checked documents, wanted to find phones and set up automatic machines. I was very scared and cried for a long time after that.

    Then one night we heard a loud noise, but not an explosion. We understood that two of the Russian soldiers were drunk. They tore down our fence with their car. Then they walked under our windows for a very long time. We were afraid that there would be a wounded person among them. It was scary that they would drag him to our house. Fortunately, it had gone.

    One day, my grandmother saw that the military was walking and checking all the houses on our street. Five. We were sitting in a dark corridor. Girls in big hoodies and with hoods on their heads. We already heard them talking in the yard, and then they went into the house. It was dark in our place and they didn’t particularly look at anything. Grandfather lied that there are no girls among us. They went.

    We knew that there had already been attempted rapes, kidnappings, tortures and murders in our village. It was scary to realize that at any moment I, or someone from my family, could become the next victim.

    «There were more than 110 checkpoints from our settlement to Kherson»

    In the first days of the occupation, it was still possible to leave. But when you left, you were robbed completely, down to the wire . Phones, laptops and all your money. They touched people everywhere, in all parts . All things were watched over. Even the carpets were removed from the car. We did not risk leaving then. We did not have an evacuation. Three times there were attempts to organize a “green corridor” through which we were going to leave, but, of course, we were not given any “corridor”. 

    One of the options was to go to Kherson, and from there to the territory controlled by Ukraine. But there were more than 110 checkpoints from our settlement to Kherson. The next option was to drive to a certain settlement. There we had to change to a tractor. Later, cross the river by inflatable boat. People who got out like that said that it was hell. In addition, only 3-4 people could get out at a time, and there were 10 of us. We did not want to be separated.

    We planned to walk. This is how most of our population came out. But at the last moment, an acquaintance offered the option of leaving by car. They had a free place. The risky plan. We would either be released to Kryvyi Rih or we would be sent to Kherson. They said to take the minimum amount of things.

    «We had to answer the last that we were going to Kherson, and then turn towards Kryvyi Rih»

    We left at six in the morning. There were two columns of six cars. We went down in the morning and agreed with the main person that we were going to Kherson. We gathered everything we had. Alcohol, cigarettes, some kind of stew, cookies. Such packages. We offered such gifts at each checkpoint in order not to be checked. But they did not take packages at the main post. They checked phones, galleries and social networks. They forced us to undress. They looked at the presence of tattoos and their meaning. There were three such posts with verification.

    We had to answer the last question that we were going to Kherson. But in the end we had to turn towards Kryvyi Rih. They had a gap there and we took advantage of it. When we reached Kryvyi Rih, we were a little shocked. There was full of life. There were people and cars driving. It was amazing.

    It was scary to leave. We heard a lot of stories of cars being shot, but we were lucky. An hour later, convoys of cars were already driving behind us. They have already been beaten, mocked and shot at. We are very lucky.

    «I don’t know how to deal with the thought that I will have to see a village that is not the same as I remember it»

    My grandparents remained in the occupation. We live from call to call. Now the connection is only in one place, in the yard. Therefore, the grandmother quickly calls. She only says that they are alive and immediately runs to the house.

    Grandfather’s health is bad. The grandmother says that the leg will have to be amputated. But they hold on. Grandpa said he couldn’t die while his children and grandchildren were far away. That’s why they hold on and we don’t give up together with them.

    Read also: Oleksandr Khudozhnyk: “War teaches you to adapt to any conditions, to make a shelter from a couple of boards, a box and a rusty nail”

    Now I am planning to move to Kyiv. My family and I lived in Zakarpattia Oblast for more than three months, but we realized that we needed to move on. Moreover, I will not return to Mykolaiv and do not plan to live in Vysokopillya. 

    I would like to finally see my native village in the list of liberated settlements. But at the same time, I live with the fear that the Russian troops will withdraw and start wiping my village off the face of the earth, like Knyazivka, Osokorivka, Ivanovka and a bunch of other settlements not only in the Kherson region.

    I want to come home as soon as possible and finally hug my grandparents. But I don’t know how to deal with the thought that I will have to see a village that is not the same as I remember it.

    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: Diana Bevtsyk


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