About This Story – I work with a small company in Ukraine that has conducted some IT development work for me from time to time. Unfortunately, since the start of the war in Ukraine, I lost touch with my primary contact, whose name is Artem. However, this past week we reconnected, and I asked if he could offer some thoughts on his experience of the war as his town was being overrun by the Russian army. This is an account by his girlfriend, Katya. It’s a gripping account of the initial days of the war in a town north of Ukraine’s capital called Chernihiv. Some parts are graphic and emotional. It was translated from Russian. This is the first of several reports that we will be publishing over the next few days.
February 22, 2022 – Katya’s Morning At The Start of the War Near Kyiv
As usual, I woke up early for work at 5:20. Usually, I don’t read anything on my phone in the morning, so I packed up and left by 6:00. When I walked, I wondered why so many people were around at such an early hour. Usually, this was not the case, and there are also a lot of cars. Finally, I got to work (to a coffee shop), went to the worker’s chat, and there the news was already circulating that explosions were heard somewhere on the outskirts of Chernihiv, and then a siren sounded.
Could I believe in what is happening? No. I could not even think that this could be in the 21st century, that I would be in the middle of a war. Some were able to distinguish the sounds of falling shells, and sigh with “relief” when they say that it is ours who are shooting at the occupiers.
Taking Shelter From The Shelling
It was hard to believe what was happening; my boyfriend and I didn’t collect things, and how could we understand what was generally needed and where to drag everything and how to manage it?
Somehow we collected some items from our house and in the evening went to his parents, they live near the school, and there was a shelter, the room was large. There were more and more people every day, and grandmothers, and a lot of children, people came with dogs and cats. We all slept in clothes on chairs sitting up the first night and then on mattresses, on school desks, on chairs, on blankets, and instead of a pillow, there was a jacket.
The shelter had no toilet. Instead of it, there was a bucket. There were so many people that it was difficult to breathe as if there was no air, I constantly wanted to go outside just to breathe, but as soon as there was an explosion or a siren, everyone ran inside like crazy, knocking each other down. When you are in such a room among people with such an atmosphere, panic and fear grow 100 times. Everyone swears, quarrels with each other, everyone is aggressive around and on edge, everyone is scared.
The Physical Stress of The Shelling In the War Near Kyiv
I cannot describe how terrible it was. The pain and tightness in my chest were every day, from any news, from an explosion, and the closer it was, the more terrible, and it seemed as if this was the end. Feel an unreal adrenaline rush when the sound of the gun sounds too close to home, and you don’t know what to do – run, stand or fall to the floor.
There were moments when the light was knocked out in the basement, and we were sitting in the dark; everyone turned on flashlights, lamps, etc. Now you are sitting, and it becomes even scarier. There were many people around; there was no fresh air, darkness. At such moments panic was catching up faster. Then the light turns on abruptly, and everyone is so happy about such trifles, but what a relief right away.
I had terrible fits of hysteria, fear. I cried when thoughts came into my head about my parents, who were further from the center of Chernihiv, in another area. They sat in the cellar in the cold basement and dragged mattresses and old blankets and heaters there. Then they lost electricity, gas, water, and it became even worse. I cried because I didn’t know how to help and how to do it. Once, we managed to collect a bag of food for them because we had the opportunity to at least go to the store, but they didn’t bring anything there, and half of the stores were destroyed.
Help From Friends, Gouging Opportunists, and Looters
We wrote volunteers in Telegram chat, and many people responded and helped to bring food there; I was glad that there were such people, and there were many of them who helped each other. But there is another side of the coin, marauders, saboteurs, all this evil that profits from people’s grief! They inflate prices for food, gasoline, housing, deceive people so that they make an advance payment for an apartment, and then disappear.
It was like that with us. Out of hopelessness, they want to earn more for everything that people need so much. Saboteurs rob shops, rob apartments, and houses kill because everyone feels impunity now, but they are caught, and that’s it. I pray that every occupier gets what he deserves when the war is over.
Why is Russia Doing This?
For me, no goal/principle/belief can justify killing a person. No one has the right to take other people’s lives who want to be free, and no one deserves to lose loved ones! What right does someone have to take away a father or mother from a child? Why are they destroying the houses of civilians who have worked all their lives and tried to do something to live in their own homes? What right do they have to destroy all this?
The Russians do not care who they kill, children, women. They bombed the maternity hospital in Chernihiv, Mariupol, on purpose and ruthlessly; this was not an accident. The invaders break into houses in the villages, kill people, and settle there because these creatures have nothing to eat, take away phones. And in the worst case, these creatures kill husbands, and women are raped, drunk, and having fun. And then they call their wives and tell how they shoot “dills” here and take away expensive things, TVs, jewelry to close the mortgage in “russia.” (I write with a small letter on purpose)!
Flee or Stay The War Near Kyiv
People are forced to leave their homes, cities, families to survive. Whoever has the opportunity goes abroad, and everyone has the right to do this, and someone remains, sort of like in a safer place, but who is definitely at all knows how secure it is. In such a situation, many in their heads just want to make money and earn more, so those who are richer go abroad, including men.
And what about those who do not want to fight? And no money to cross the border? What if I don’t want my boyfriend to go to war?
I can’t leave him, so I just have to wait.
My Parents Experience
Every time you call your mother, you ask how they are. Mother constantly cries; they don’t sleep at night because shelling, aviation, rockets, and 500-kg bombs begin on residential buildings and city infrastructure as soon as it’s night. And every time you cry, you are terribly worried, and you don’t know what will happen next.
I can’t say that I was a strong believer, but I began to pray to myself because I knew that everything would be fine. If only everyone were alive, you cry into your throat and pray. At night it was the worst, especially when we spent the night in the house and not in the basement. Then, planes began to fly, and I couldn’t convey the sensations that we experienced at that moment; we were lying under the table near the window so that in case of an explosion, the windows would fly into the middle of the room and not at us. We didn’t sleep, constant alarms, and then planes flew, and already by the sound, you understand that it’s not ours that are flying, but Russians!!
So loud, and as if directly above the house, you hear how he drops shells, and loud explosions begin. My husband and I clung tightly to each other. I tried to close my ears so as not to hear this. Adrenaline and panic were impossible, and I prayed if everything was fine, I mentally said that we would survive and everything would be fine.
Yerning To Return Home to Chernihiv
The only thing I want is to go home to my native Chernihiv. There is an opportunity to go abroad, but I just want to be at home with my family. This horror lasts for a long time, and no one knows when it will end. How long do we need to wander around cities and houses like this, looking for a home? People around want to make more money from us because it is relatively quiet in western Ukraine; those people have not yet experienced the war like in Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Sumy, Mariupol, Melitopol! They still do not understand how painful and scary it is to leave their home and be separated from their loved ones, so they just want to cash in.
There is no gas in the house that we are renting now, there is no bed, one electric stove burner works, if there is no light, then there is no water, nothing can be cooked, there are simply no human conditions that should be for the amount they want, and this is 30,000 Hryvnias! ($1,016)
I read the news all the time, and half will not show what is happening to people. Even a hundred times worse, when you read these stories of people, you just do not believe that this is happening in 2022! Russian (soldiers) are not people, they are bloodthirsty beasts who like to kill children, and everyone who gets in their eyes, they shoot their parents in front of the children, they enjoy it, they have no sting and regret, I pray, and I believe that they will be responsible for all their atrocities for many more years and centuries, it should not be otherwise, they are a danger to the whole world!
I will add a few more stories of people and what they are going through now.
Stories from Mariupol
“In order to feed the children, I was ready to kill a dog…
Mariupol, people, escaped from hell. Hold on as best they can; they came to the headquarters for a food kit and disposable tableware. There is emptiness in the eyes, and you only offer to help. People could not hold back the tears, and I hugged the woman. From fatigue, she began to fall and lose consciousness. Water was brought to her; she stepped back a little and continued. He says, “I had a business and a life, and a few days later, I saw corpses and mutilated bodies. We cooked in the yard on the stones, put a saucepan, and cooked. Then there was shelling, their shelter was destroyed, who could run out.
They buried people in the yard. Russians were not animals taken away, and their bodies were taken away. Every second I prayed that the children would survive. There is no food, no water. We accidentally found the basement where we were sitting when we ran between the bombings. Raw and the squeak of rats was heard. She told how she pressed the child and how she did not sleep for a second, sometimes from impotence.
They were overwhelmed, and it was dangerous to scream. Russian soldiers would simply kill; they would kill for pleasure. They like the feeling of power. They revel in human grief. There were already various thoughts of hunger, such as killing our dog and eating it to last a few more days. She was already ready, but suddenly she heard: “Is there anyone alive?” I thought they were hallucinations, but no, the military dug them up and helped them get out of hell.
Fourteen people were driving in one car, sitting on top of each other. Sophia, we all believed in God. They still do not understand that they are already safe. They squeeze a bottle of water and cry all the time bitterly.
I am writing now, and my hands are shaking. We could not hold back the tears. We just pressed them to ourselves and sobbed. This is all the crippled life of our people, our Ukrainians. In practice, we fainted in the morgue, and here small children see hundreds of mutilated corpses and parts of human bodies. How to live farther? I hate…”
“Hunger caused Hallucinations” – The story of the survivors from Mariupol.
There is an atmosphere of unbearable pain and human grief among many people. Few people want to talk about this; it hurts, you need to experience it inside yourself, but these stories need to be shared. The whole world must know the truth!
A woman in her forties stuttering began to tell her story.
“On nervous grounds, there was constant vomiting and dizziness. The problems that worried “before” sharply disappeared. For me, war is different—the unbearable smell of urine and feces, vomit, blood, and decaying bodies. People deal with stress in different ways. I know people die of pain and grief. The heart is failing, and there is no cure. So are diabetics and cancer patients.
Everyone says a humanitarian catastrophe. I want to explain the meaning of this for women, you have critical days, and you are in one pad for five days. There is no water, napkins, and even toilet paper. There are pieces of clothes, but I think you understand what I want to say. On the 4th day the food ran out, hallucinations and convulsions began from hunger on the 7th day. We were in the basement, sat on a rag, and no longer cried. We thought about how to get out. How we closed the mouths of the children so that it would not be heard that we were here. Everything that we read about the history of the Nazis, we all felt it many times worse. Because these non-humans came precisely to destroy and for them to kill a child or rape a woman.
Dead In the Street of Mariupol
We have never seen so many corpses in our life, there is a smell of decomposing bodies on the street, and maybe yesterday you had a wonderful, satisfying life; today we have nothing material, but we have Faith and God is with us. Children lose their parents; they are shot before their eyes.
How long can this go on? Survivors of the concentration camp, which staged Russian nonhumans forever remained crippled. And if physical wounds can ow be cured, although not all of them, then psychologically, they have been broken, which is already irreparable.
And after all this, a million questions were in my head. Will it ever end? What to do next? Where are your friends with whom there is no contact from the first day? Why is everyone silent about Chernihiv? Or help him, but very quietly? Why does the journalist ask if there is a cafe in Chernihiv? Do they understand anything? A lot of volunteers, but nothing in the city
When Will the Suffering End?
Enough … is it just not enough? Or disappears? Need more? How much more? Where to get more? Why do people make money? This money? Why don’t people from other areas understand that is happening to us? Why have house prices gone up so much? Where do people who escaped from hell get that kind of money? Where to place them? Do they even return home? Are we coming home? How to take everyone out? How to help people? How to help people who have already left? How help those left behind?
Every day you think – that’s a little more, and that’s it. But more is needed every day. I do not stop believing that this will end and Ukraine will win. It has already won, but we need the whole world to help us fight the Russian evil; we need to write everywhere, not let anyone forget what the Russians are doing to us in Ukraine now! Close the sky over Ukraine! Give us weapons. We all want a home. We all want peace.
Part Two – Photos From Chernihiv
Photos From Chernihiv is the second part of a series of stories written by a young Ukrainian couple who has managed to submit accounts of their personal experiences of the war with Russia. This is an account by Katya, a recent college graduate living in a town north of Ukraine’s capital called Chernihiv. Some parts are graphic and emotional. It was translated from Russian. Our first report from Ukraine, Letters From Chernihiv – A Personal Account Of The War Near Kyiv, Ukraine, has received excellent reviews. This is the second of several reports that we hope to be publishing over the next few days.
About The Author
Katya is from Chernihiv. She graduated from Taras Shevchenko University with degrees in elementary education and art. Before the war, she worked as a barista in a cozy coffee shop in the center of Chernihiv.
Support This Series Letters From Chernihiv With Your Donation
This will fund two young people who are refugees in their own country. Katya and Artem are offering us stories about the War in Ukraine for Thumbwind. We are paying them for their accounts of the war and the horrors they experience. They will use the funds to pay for living costs as refugees in their own country as they are displaced from their hometown of Chernihiv, which was occupied by the Russian Federation Armed Forces.