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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    A burning house after shelling

    “As they started helicopter shelling, I fell down and covered my child with my body” – a story of one family from Kyiv region

    Life under fire

    АвторAuthor: Lidia Bilyk | Translation: Iryna Myronenko

    30 June 2022

    Olena Bulanova is 26 years old. The girl was living in Kyiv. When she became a mother, she and her husband moved to parents-in-law to the village of Myla, Bucha district, Kyiv region. The village is right along the Zhytomyr highway. The news of the beginning of the war came to their house at dawn, when a young mother was feeding the baby. During the days of active hostilities, the family had to survive the death of two cats – Vasia and Musia, who died in the apartment, loss of housing, an extremely difficult evacuation and COVID-19, which Olena and her daughter “picked up” when they were forced to leave Ukraine. Especially for “Monologues of War”, Olena said that she does not like to share personal information, but wants the world to know the truth.

    I remember on February 24, I woke up to feed the baby, picked up the phone, and saw a text message from my dad: “Lena, are you all right?”. It immediately confused me, because although my dad woke up early, it was five in the morning, and he never writes to me at that time.

    I opened Facebook and learned that Russia had attacked Ukraine and that Kyiv was already being bombed. We turned on the TV and started packing. But then we still did not know what to do. We just shared the news and waited for the developments. We were afraid to go because the child was very small, she was not even a month old.

    The windows of our apartment went directly to the Zhytomyr highway and there was already a huge queue of cars. (The Zhytomyr–Kyiv route is a road that became the site of confrontations between the Ukrainian army and the occupiers of the Russian Federation. This road became famous because of the terrible mass shootings by the Russian military of civilians trying to evacuate — ed). We read on the Internet that people were standing for 8-16 hours in nature reserves, so we decided that we would not be able to do it with a small child. We thought that we weren’t in the center of Kyiv it should be safe.

    “We thought they had been beaten by ours and they were running away. But then I still didn’t know what was happening”

    When the fighting began, the light came on. And in the apartment, everything was on electricity. One of our neighbors, who had already left at that time, had a gas stove in the apartment, so we went there to cook, and also heated water to wash. By the way, there was no water either. It was barely dripping from the tap. But my husband’s father made stocks, then we had water.

    It was very cold  because the heating was also from the light. I wrapped the baby as best I could. And at night, when she slept, I put a candle next to her to see how she slept, whether all was well.

    The night was the worst. It’s a feeling shots was very close. We could hear all the explosions well because Gostomel and Zabuchchya are very close.

    The family was hiding in the corridor during the shelling of the house by Russian tanks

    The family was hiding in the corridor of their own apartment the day before the shelling of the house by Russian tanks

    On March 3, we woke up and saw 15 tanks moving towards Kiv. Outside the village of Stoyanka, the bridge was destroyed, fighting broke out, and three tanks returned. We thought they had been defeated by ours, and they were fleeing. But then, I didn’t know what was going on. Later, they stopped by and stood in front of our house. We didn’t see them then, because the windows of the apartment went to the other side.

    Then there was a loud shot, and that’s when I saw what “it’s close” means. The fact that we heard explosions in Gostomel was not “that” at all, it is not equal to when a tank fires near your house.

    The first shot was in a private house. I started to panic and burst into tears. This is a sound that can not be described. They were shooting at private houses, and we started packing things. I just changed my daughter’s diapers. I panicked and she is naked and crying.

    We quickly went out into the corridor, where we already had prepared things. We thought to use two walls and hide in the hallway. We didn’t go to the bomb shelter because we didn’t have one. The room is semi-basement, but there was a beauty salon and the office of our housing cooperative (hereinafter – RHC).

    But the next shot was already in the next apartment. It completely endured, and we had a crumbled ceiling. I was shaking. As I recall – it was just awful. I didn’t know what to do. There were tears in my eyes. The child was naked because I just changed her clothes. The mother-in-law took the daughter. While she was putting it on, I started reading prayers, and I just cried. I stressed. Because when it hits your house, it’s really hard to put into words.

    The apartment neighbors, which was shot by a Russian tank, is on fire

    The apartment of Olena’s family’s neighbors, which was shot by a Russian tank, is on fire

    Then there was a shooting at the entrance. We could not understand what was happening, maybe the Russians came into the house. People started shouting “help!”. Someone did something there, a woman came to us, but I don’t remember what she said. It was all a blur. Later came a guy from Terro Defense, (ed. Territorial defense – separate troops in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, their main task is to protect the city from the enemy) he showed us where to go. At that time, the shelling continued.

    There were glass windows at our entrance, so they could see people from the tanks. The guy was trying to gather everyone who was still in the house. He walked on the floors, so it wasn’t fast and we moved quite slowly.

    “They saw that they were ordinary people. They saw a woman running with a child, but they still fired. They did not stop”

    I remember we ran out of the doorway to the horrible sounds. When the tank fires, a whistle is heard. If it hits somewhere, it’s just a horror that can’t be put into words. We ran along the broken glass because the windows were blown out of the apartment. There was black smoke in the air. At that moment, houses were already on fire.

    We ran to the basement of the next house. And the tanks were still standing on the Zhytomyr highway, and they saw that we were running, that they were ordinary people because this highway was right next to us. They also saw that a woman lived with a child, but they still fired. They did not stop.

    From tanks rushed to all houses, shot wherever thay saw. They did not know where to shoot, just grumbled in our direction and all. Even there they fired machine guns. But I don’t remember that, because of the shock. The father-in-law has already told me this.

    Completely burned sixth floor in the house

    Completely burned the sixth floor of the house where Elena lived. Their apartment is second to none

    I ran with the baby in my arms, it’s good that she fell asleep quickly. I hugged her so tightly that when we ran into the basement, I even asked my husband to listen to see if she was breathing.

    There were a lot of people in the basement and it was very hot. We didn’t even have a place. Then the man, who is the head of our RHC, will open another room for us, where there was a beauty salon. It was very cold there.

    And when we ran to another shelter, they started to gasp again. The mother-in-law and the father-in-law managed to run over, but we didn’t. The man said, “Run back!” Heavy shelling began. Then we somehow run over, we sat there for several hours. Then we already knew that our house was on fire.

    Firefighters reportedly arrived, but they were unable to reach our home, and then it turned out that there was no water in the reserves. I don’t know how it turned out. The man went out into the house a little more, completely on our sixth floor. Our apartment was not occupied at the moment, but we understood that most likely, firefighters did not put out the fire quickly, because there was a fight.

    Destroyed entrance

    Destroyed entrance to Olena’s house

    I don’t remember how long we stayed in the shelter, maybe three hours. The mother-in-law still wanted to go and choose a bag with documents. But the most important thing is that our two cats stayed there. When the shelling began, they hid from those terrible sounds. As we gathered, I thought about them, but there was no time to look for them. I thought that they would hide, stay, and when it’s all over, we can go pick them up. We did not know that everything would catch fire. And when we saw that our apartment was on fire, we realized that we could not save them.

    To be honest, I try not to leave it, because we loved them very much. One cat – male parents, and the other – ours. He is a family member who has lived with us for many years since he was a child. And that’s why it hurts so much. It seems to me that they gave their lives for us. While we were there, how many times could we die? And if that shot had been a little to the left, it would have been our apartment.

    Everything burned down in that apartment, we have nothing left. Later we ate food from the neighbors who left us the keys because their apartment survived. And yes, in what we were, in that we left. My father-in-law was in his pajamas. 

    Because it is very cold in the beauty salon where we were sitting, it is unrealistic to sit there with a small child. My mother-in-law asked my husband, who is the head of RHC, to take us in while all this continues. It had a private house right next to our complex. He gave us a room.

    “I went to bed and lay on top of the baby. I had a hope that if we were shot, then maybe she would stay alive at least”

    As we ran to a private house, we started firing from helicopters. Not having time to catch up, the man said: “go to bed!”. I lay on top of the baby. I had a hope that if we were shot, then maybe she would stay alive at least. I am lying, my father-in-law is in front of my eyes. He also has fear in his eyes. We thought that was all, to be honest. Because we understood that everything is visible from helicopters, and they see that there are people there. Maybe God saved us all.

    The room was very small: my husband and daughter and I slept on the couch, and my mother-in-law with a father-in-law on the floor, because there was no room. All these days there were fights. Both in the village of Dmytrivka and in our country, hailstones were used. The lights were not turned on at night. It was so scary that I just prayed all the time and didn’t know if we would leave or not. The surrounding settlements were occupied, so no one organized the green corridors. It was scary to go because you don’t know where you can run into Russian tanks. We just didn’t know where to go.

    The burning house

    The burning house of the man who was in charge of Olenin RHC

    I remember being stressed because they were shooting all the time. They did not stop day or night.

    We stayed there for a few days, maybe three days, and then the defense defended the news that tanks from Dmytrivka were coming to us. We understood that if we didn’t leave, we might stay there. Later we found out from the news that in our village of Myla, there were about 50 bodies of dead people.

    The day before this news about tanks from Dmytrivka, I learned that people whose apartments had burned down could have left. Someone took them. And we didn’t have time, because we were not in a shelter with everyone, but in a separate house, so we didn’t see that people were leaving.

    The man got their phone numbers and they told me how to leave. The problem was that we had very little gasoline. But thanks to this main man from RHC, I can leave, because he found a can of petrol for us.

    The mobile connection was poor. In our family chat, I wrote: “Does someone want to leave because driving a car on my own is scary?”. We knew guys who had a hard time evacuating. Also joined a few more cars. We all rode together.

    I noticed that people were being shot at around 9 am. Apparently, they rested a bit and then reappeared. So we had to leave by nine. But that day it all started earlier. They began to hail. And then we learned that tanks were coming towards us from the village of Dmytrivka, which is very close to us.

    On a bus to Warsaw

    Olena with her daughter on a bus to Warsaw. Olena’s husband is outside the window

    The boys, who were riding in other cars, drove forward. On the phone, they coordinated with us and told us where to turn and where to go under the forest. The most important thing was to get to the first Ukrainian checkpoint. And we can.

    The Zhytomyr highway was like an apocalypse. I have never seen such a thing in my life. I couldn’t imagine what I wouldn’t see at all. Cars were burned but they were scattered anyway. It was very scary, I tried not to split it.

    The man just turned on the gas because they knew the tanks were coming. We could just stay on that track like a lot of other people. And when we approached the first Ukrainian checkpoint, my God, it was the best moment. We at least understood that there would be no more Russian tanks here.

    First, we went to Vinnytsia, where woman’s daughter from our house complex lives, she sheltered us for the night. Then we went to Ternopi and stopped at my second father’s house. From Ternopil we went to Warsaw, and from there to my husband’s sister in Germany. It was such a difficult road. And we did not visit it in the first days of the war, but we still stood for 7-8 hours in “trains”, such as traffic jams and queues.

    And at the border … God! We crossed the border by bus and thank God, but there were people who walked, there was such a crowd. They stood with children, even with babies, it’s snowing, it was cold, but they still stand. It was horrible. You will not wish this to anyone. I don’t know how we got there at all, because it was a very difficult road. And then on the way to Germany, we fell ill with covid with the baby.

    Remains of the family's apartment

    Olena with her husband and daughter stand in their own apartment, which is evil

    Two months later, we returned to Ukraine for many different reasons, including health. It all affected my health. When we returned, we were first in Transcarpathia, we were sheltered by very good friendly people – Mr. Mykhailo and Mrs. Nadiia. Today we have already returned to Kyiv, my mother and grandmother finally saw their granddaughter. Because before that the mother had seen her granddaughter only once, and the grandmother had not seen her at all.

    It’s like a nightmare. I have the impression that ten years have passed, because of how many have survived. We are ordinary people who earned their own living on everything we had.

    My husband says that he didn’t even have any children’s photos left to show later to his daughter when he was little. The worst thing is our burnt cats. I do not understand at all how they acted. They fired at ordinary people. That is non-humans!

    I wanted to tell my story so that the world would know what cattle came to our land! And also because I have relatives in Crimea. They somehow sympathized with us and said that it was ours, our president. And it’s such a pain because I saw it all with my own eyes. I haven’t heard what language they speak?!

    And one of the friends said: “Lena, it’s yours!  Ours only hit objects”.  My classmate was a Russian prisoner, and many Western media outlets even interviewed him. But they (relatives and friends from Russia – ed.) still believe their news, not my words.

    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: Lidia Bilyk | Translation: Iryna Myronenko

    Life under fire

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