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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Serhii Kozinka

    “We knew that there were people in the city, and we needed to help them. Someone had to do it. That’s why we stayed there,” – the story of police officers from Sievierodonetsk

    Life under fire

    АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Violeta Shenkariuk

    15 July 2022

    Ihor Kornievskyi and Serhii Kozynka are 33-year-old patrol police officers and workmates. They had the opportunity to leave Sievierodonetsk, which was under constant bombardment from the first day of the full-scale russian invasion of Ukraine. But they chose to stay with those who needed help. Their story is a story about the terrible trials experienced by the people of Sievierodonetsk, about the ugly face of war, mutual support and the strength of the human spirit.

    Ihor Kornievskyi: The day before, on February 23, we were all put on alert and gathered at the Department of Patrol Police in Luhansk Region. We stayed there all night. All 300 people. They said that this is an educational gathering, but let’s get ready, because anything can happen. Closer to 8 o’clock in the morning, we were officially informed about the russian attack.

    It was a bad day for me, because our immediate supervisor ordered us to leave for Dnipro. I, of course, executed this command. We spent almost the whole day driving and arrived at the place in the evening. We were placed in the gym of one of the schools, where we spent the night. And in the morning, the head of the Patrol Police Department announced that he needs 60 volunteers who are ready to return to the Luhansk Region to serve there. I showed desire. But I did not manage to return, as I received an order to leave the Luhansk region again.

    Unfortunately, or fortunately, our car was involved in an accident. A military truck just drove at us, there was a head-on collision and the car was not moving. I wrote back to the boss that I could not leave. And so I remained in the region.

    Serhii Kozynka: I remember February 24 as a complete chaos, starting with the service and ending with what was done at home. We were gathered the day before at the office in Lysychansk.

    “In the morning, they lined us up, informed us what happened and assured us that everything will be fine. Right here, 500 meters from us, there was an explosion. No one knew how to act: there was an explosion, and everyone stood still. Someone shouted: “Run away!” and everyone started running on different sides. Then the administration gave the order: “Everyone to Dnipro!”

    How, what, when – nothing is clear. I don’t have my car, there is no public transport – it’s chaos. I went to Sievierodonetsk with my colleagues.

    I ran home, began to raise my wife and child, contacted the administration: it seems that the evacuation will take place from the National Police Office in the city of Sievierodonetsk. We got there on foot. But no one knew anything about the evacuation, everyone was waiting for some orders. The connection was very bad. I called my godson with grief, and he drove us home in his car. So we remained, not knowing what to do next.

    Towards the evening, my colleagues added me to a group where we talked with those who could not leave, and decided that the next day, February 25, we would meet at the office.

    20-30 of us gathered there. Since the official cars remained, we decided to launch patrol cars around the city, so that people could see: the police are there, we are working. That day, 5 cars went on patrol. 

    Saving Sievierodonetsk from starvation

    Ihor Kornievskyi: I decided for myself: if I cannot leave the city, then I will serve. I started communicating with those who did not leave the Luhansk Region during the first evacuation because they could not leave their families.

    In the first days, as soon as the invasion began, the question suddenly arose, where to get food? Because all the shops closed immediately: some because of shelling, some were afraid that they would be looted.

    The first thing that came to mind was to help. As an inspector from the activity assurance department, I knew where dry rations were located in our department. Therefore, I opened warehouses with dry rations intended for our personnel, and we transported these dry rations to bomb shelters. They were also taken to the maternity ward, where the pregnant women were.

    And on February 28, a message appeared in the Telegram group, which includes all employees of the patrol police department, that there are volunteers in the Ice Palace of Sports who cannot start their activities because they are afraid of looting. They need at least one policeman to keep things under control and keep people from going crazy.

    The policemen helped the volunteers

    Six policemen helped volunteers of the Center for Humanitarian Aid and the MCA

    The military-civilian administration under the leadership of Oleksandr Stryuk also worked in this building. I met with him and explained that, in fact, I violated the leadership’s order and did not return to Dnipro. Instead, he gave permission for me to serve under these volunteers and help the MCA. And then I called out to other policemen who were ready to help.

    Serhii Kozynka: 5 people responded: me, another guy and 3 girls. We started helping, delivering products and keeping order. Because the city was in complete chaos.

    Just so you understand, for 3-4 days there was nothing in the Sievierodonetsk stores! On the first day of work at the Humanitarian Headquarters, 800 people gathered in the Ice Palace! The queue was long, 400-500 meters. And at the same time, shelling was heard on the outskirts of the city, but people did not disperse.

    People came to us for products. We gave them what we had. But the stocks ran out very quickly, and the logistics with transportation had not yet been established. Oleksandr Stryuk, the head of the MCA, was very helpful. He negotiated a car with the postal service, and a small five-ton truck was driven to us. Oleksandr Styuk communicated with the owners of grocery stores that still had something left in their warehouses. We took the products, brought them to the headquarters, volunteers packaged them and distributed them to people for free.

    Queue for humanitarian aid

    On the first day of work, a long queue of people wanting to receive products grew near the Humanitarian Headquarters in Sievierodonetsk

    There was one supermarket here, a missile hit it, and it caught fire. And all the shelves there and warehouses were filled with products! When the fire was extinguished, it turned out that the products were still intact, but they were covered with a thick layer of soot. And I, together with colleagues and volunteers, all from this soot, saved products to give to people. As a result, we took 15 cars out of there.

    And when the city supermarkets ran out of food, fortunately, the delivery of products to Bakhmut was arranged. And the MCA asked us to accompany the trucks that started to bring humanitarian aid from there. We drove every day along the Lysychansk-Bakhmut highway, a road that is now being shelled by the enemy.

    Ihor Kornievskyi: Our girls knew how to drive cars well, they did a very difficult job at that time – drove around the city, found out how many people were in different bomb shelters, in which part of the city. And they compiled a map of the city’s bomb shelters, thanks to which the military-civilian administration knew exactly how much and where humanitarian aid needed to be sent.

    There are places in Sievierodonetsk where shelling began in the first days. There was no communication, no water, no electricity. Not only every person, but even every bird didn‘t fly there, because those areas were shelled almost every hour. And the girls went there to know where and to whom specifically to deliver the products. So, they deliberately took risks to help other people.

    Patrol police accompany volunteers

    Patrol police officer Ihor Kornievsky accompanied volunteers during the delivery of humanitarian aid

    But when it flew directly into their homes at the end of March, fear for their relatives won, and they decided to take their families to a safer place. Sergey and I stayed in Severodonetsk until April 16.

    War has an ugly face…

    Ihor Kornievskyi: There were people left in Sievierodonetsk who were either afraid to leave somewhere, or had no opportunity. There were paid and free buses, but there are people who, for example, find it difficult to move. Those who cared for them remained with them. That is, the 30-year-old daughter does not leave, because her mother does not go on her own. And the woman constantly visits the volunteer center to get help and feed her mother.

    And some came up and said: “Let me pass without waiting in line, I am a disabled person of the second group.” And I even had to resort to a not very pleasant reception. I turned to the queue and asked those who also have the second group of disabilities to raise their hands. And when every 15th person in the crowd raised their hand, I explained that everyone is equal here – either the disabled, or those who care for them, or cancer patients, or diabetics.

    I personally helped an older woman when she fainted because her blood pressure dropped. I dragged her into the Ice Palace and rubbed her, and some medicine was brought to me.

    “I personally helped a man who got sick because his sugar level dropped, and he urgently needed something sweet. I jumped into the warehouse, grabbed the chocolate. Then he came to me for another week and thanked me for that chocolate bar, because it prolonged his life”.

    I have also seen a situation when a woman gets sick, has a heart attack, and the older woman next to her, knowing that there is nowhere in the city to take medicine, gives some of her own: “Take it, you will feel better.”

    But there was also a lot of indifference, misunderstanding, when people thought first of all about themselves.

    Serhii Kozynka: When we first started volunteering, driving and looking for shelter, there were places where people behaved like savages. I remember it was some kind of school with three huge basements filled with 300-400 people. We bring products, and people can’t even organize themselves. No one wanted to take responsibility, and people in three basements simply could not share the food. Some managed to grab it, some didn’t… The strongest survived, it was very wild… I had to go there extra, try to bring at least some order there.

    Or we were asked to find utility workers to support the city at least a little. We went around the basements and asked the utility workers to respond. And everyone is silent, averts their eyes and does not admit. They only thought about themselves. They were sitting in these basements without electricity, without water, but to go upstairs in bulletproof vests, to at least repair something with the guards… Not only do they want to do it, but also to admit it. They sat like mice. This, in my opinion, is the height of cowardice.

    And once, women came to our volunteer headquarters to ask for products. We did not understand how they would convey all this, and offered to bring them to the shelter. We arrived, and we were met by strong men. We asked why they didn’t come for the products. It turned out that they were afraid. The women came, they were not afraid, but the men… It was scary to watch how people went wild. And the further away, the more.

    When fear is not about the instinct of self-preservation

    Serhii Kozynka: People lived in inhumane conditions. Already in the first 2-3 weeks, the new districts of Sievierodonetsk were without electricity, without water, and partially there was gas. As long as there was snow, people drowned it, cooked on fires in the yard. And when the snow melted, they began to take water from puddles, from punched water pipelines, where water flowed like a river on the ground. Then they began to dig pits so that the water would settle. In a word, they got out of it as much as they could.

    And there were so many dead that, when the shock had passed, emotions seemed to atrophy.

    There was shelling near Ice Palace, the ambulance was taking away the wounded, and I went to see. And there, the woman’s body was all cut up with fragments. I went around the building, and at the service entrance – a crater and some rags 5-7 meters from it. At first, I didn’t understand what it was, and then I saw a human leg in that rag…

    And I saw this quite regularly. It was scary. But we knew that there were people in the city, and they needed help. If not we, then who? Someone had to do it. That’s why we stayed there.

    Ihor Kornievskyi: I was not afraid for myself. I’m generally one of those “stupid” guys, as my friends say, who lacks the instinct of self-preservation. In 2014, I climbed the mountain to watch planes bomb Pervomaisk. But I am very afraid for others.

    It was scary when I couldn’t get through to the girls who went to do the task. And you are in panic. God forbid something happened, because I asked them for help, and they responded. And it will be my fault…

    It was scary when it flew into the Ice Palace. I was a little covered, and I thanked God that it happened at 8 o’clock in the evening, and not in the morning, when there were a lot of people.

    Serhii Kozynka: April 2 was the day I was born in a shirt three times.

    At MCA, I was asked to go to one auto parts store, where the missile landed. We agreed with the owner that we would take some goods from him, and drew up a deed so that the city authorities would then compensate the owner for the value of the goods.

    We returned to the Ice Palace, and across the street from it is the design institute. Before we had time to get out of the car, a rocket launcher fired into this institute. The palace was damaged by debris, the car doors slammed with an explosive wave, it was slightly hit.

    It was the first time we came under fire and survived. Because fire from a rocket launcher is a scary thing. It can tear it to pieces  – God forbid!

    Ice Palace after shelling

    Ice Palace of Sports in Sievierodonetsk after shelling

    We unloaded the auto parts, and the MCA asked to bring products from Bakhmut. We arrived at the base, I went to talk with the military and there was something like roaring.

    We rushed to the stairs, covered each other just in case, and then there was an explosion, and then silence. We raise our heads – 30 meters from us in the building sticks out a blank from “Hurricane”. Thank God, she was shot. Otherwise, the building would have been blown away and we would have been buried under the ruins. We were lucky again, we survived.

    And the third time I was saved when we had already returned from Bakhmut. By that time, I had already taken my family out, and we usually gathered in the evening in the reception hall in the Ice Palace to communicate with relatives via the Internet. Thanks to Elon Musk for Starlink. This evening, fortunately, there were not many of us.

    The shelling of our area began, and the first missile landed on the road. The windows flew out, we jumped out into the corridor, and in a couple of seconds the missile fell 3-4 meters from our building. And then the third missile flew right into the reception room, where we were a minute ago.

    Remains of the reception hall of the Ice Palace

    This is all that remained of the reception room in the Ice Palace of Sports after the shelling

    The missile broke through the roof and destroyed the reception room. Fortunately, no one was hurt. It’s just a miracle that we had the opportunity to jump out of there.

    The story of one rescue

    Serhii Kozynka: After the shelling of the Ice Palace, the volunteer headquarters moved to the Nova Poshta warehouse. A couple of days later, 10 UN cars arrived there with products.

    We did not go to Bakhmut that day. We are me and a 17-year-old boy, Misha. Although he was an underage, he knew how to drive a truck, and I accompanied him. I finished making a list of those to whom the product packages should be delivered and went to the warehouse. And then the shelling began.

    Ihor Kornievskyi: I was in Ice Palace when the missile landed in “Nova Poshta”. I saw a column of smoke rising from there, and I know that my workmate is there, that volunteers are there. I asked the military to take me there urgently.

    “I arrive and see that my partner does not look like himself. I try to understand what happened, I turn to him, and on his face I read only hatred for these russian scums”.

    Serhii Kozynka: I heard the shots, understood that they were hitting the building, and ran to the entrance to the warehouse, because I knew that our guys were staying there. The first thing I saw was Olya crawling, the head of the Humanitarian Staff, and our driver Dmytro. I jumped up to them, they could move on their own, and then I saw the rest.

    Volunteer Artem was lying under the wall with a wound on his leg. Military Mykhailo was hit in the back, 2 fingers below the bulletproof vest. Unlucky, shot in the spine. And 17-year-old Misha was screaming, and he just doesn’t have a knee.

    I had a vacuum in my head at that moment. I didn’t know what to do. I was honestly confused. And then I saw someone and asked him to fix a tourniquet on Misha’s leg. And I began to think about how to take the boys from the parapet. I ran to the warehouse for a wooden pallet and hydraulic pallet truck. We hid the wounded in a warehouse to protect them from further shelling, and then called an ambulance.

    By the evening I was in such a state that I could not find a place for myself. Because the boys miraculously survived, and who knows what will happen to them next. One has a leg on parole, and the other does not feel his leg at all. The smaller Misha was injected with painkillers, but he still screamed. It hurt so much… It’s terrible. It was all very scary.

    A difficult moral choice

    Ihor Kornievskyi: We left on April 16. Neither I nor the five policemen who stayed with me did all the verbal commands of our leader. We had an agreement with the military-civilian administration so that we would not be fired for treason. But when there was an order from the patrol police department that the patrol policemen of Luhansk and Donetsk regions should leave, we had no right to disobey.

    When we arrived in Dnipro, I fought for a long time for us to be sent back…

    And recently I saw a photo on social networks of the completely destroyed Ice Palace, where I spent both days and nights…

    Serhii during the service

    Serhii Kozynka during service in Severodonetsk

    My parents were in Toshkivka with my younger brother also under fire. They left, and a few days later their house was directly hit. Little is left of it.

    Serhii Kozynka: If it were not for the Military-Civilian Administration, we would have been released. But we didn’t leave, because people stayed there.

    My wife and child were in Sievierodonetsk until mid-March. She did not want to leave, although I persuaded her. And when the shelling of our area began and all the windows in the apartment were blown out, she agreed. And I served with my comrades in Sievierodonetsk until April 16, while the Military-Civilian Administration protected us.

    “The feeling of guilt that we went from there and left people there, it hasn‘t gone anywhere…”

    But, for whom we also stayed there, this is Olya, the head of the volunteer headquarters. She put a lot of things on her shoulders. We tried to support her.

    Oleksandr Stryuk, the head of the Military-Civilian Administration, is a good person. He stayed until the last, drove under fire, was an administrator who tried to maintain life in the city so that it functioned as much as possible under those conditions. We still keep in touch with him.

    My mother-in-law’s apartment burned down. The apartment I bought for my family is most likely already destroyed, because the house is actually unlivable. But I’m young, only 33. We’ll still earn and live.

    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: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Violeta Shenkariuk

    Life under fire

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