- “Moscow Patriarchate is a terrorist organization that must be banned immediately.”
In March this year, the 33-year-old rector of the Holy Resurrection New Athos Monastery in Lviv, Father Job (Olshansky) and his parish transferred from the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) to the Lviv Eparchy of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
By Tetyana Metyk
Fr. Job is a native Kyivite. He is quite an educated person. He graduated from the Poltava Missionary Seminary in Horishni Plavni, studied for three years at the Master program in Rome at the Institute of Eastern Canon Law at the Eastern Pontifical Institute, lived for four years and took vows in a Greek monastery on Mount Athos. He also studied International Relations at the University of Economics and Law “KROK” and Theatre at the Kyiv National I. K. Karpenko-Karyi Theatre, Cinema and Television University. He talked about being “in the bosom” of the Moscow Patriarchate and why, in his opinion, it is necessary to ban the Moscow Patriarchate at the state level in an exclusive interview for the “Vysokyi Zamok”.
– What prompted you to leave the Moscow Patriarchate?
– The first and fundamental turning point for me was the military actions in Ukraine, Russian aggression and its support by the Moscow Patriarchate. No logically thinking person can question whether it is a church if it supports the mass murder of people and violation of God’s commandments. Previously, I tried to avoid the issue of politics. I believe that people come to church not to hear about the state or social events but to meet with Christ.
– How did you get to Mount Athos? And what sentiments about Ukraine, particularly about the Tomos (the document granting the Ukrainian Church the autocephalous status), prevailed there?
– In Greece, I intended to participate in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki’s doctoral program and defend a scientific work on “Autocephaly in the Orthodox Churches”. In Rome, I defended my Master’s thesis on the same topic. I needed permission from the Moscow Patriarchate to continue my studies, and it was 2014. And I did not receive it.
While I lived there, in the Greek monastery of Vatopedi, there was no mention of the “Russian world”. Instead, there was an absolute vacuum of Greek Orthodoxy until 2018, when the Ukrainian Church was granted autocephalous status. My monastery supported the Tomos, and representatives of the OCU even served in it. It was a bit strange for me then because we were talking about people whom the Russian Church called schismatics. A small number of monasteries on Mount Athos supported the Ukrainian Church, and not openly. There were different opinions there, including that the initiators of the Tomos were schismatics and ungodly.
– But why, since Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew supported the recognition of the one local autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine?
– Do not forget about sponsors from Moscow who support Athos monasteries. Our monastery was also sponsored mainly by Russians. But the abbot was free to express his views. He did not openly support the Tomos but said that it was not a matter of faith and dogma but a matter of administrative subordination. He said grace does not depend on whether the church is subordinated to the Moscow Patriarch or the Metropolitan of Kyiv. He is a wise man. He is Greek and Cypriot by nationality. I had to return to Ukraine for health reasons and stayed here. I moved to Lviv and the church on Korolenko Street. (on September 29, at the session of the Lviv City Council, it was decided to rename Korolenko Street to Taras Bobanych “Hammer” Street – ed.) I was ordained a deacon there, then a priest. Later I was appointed here as the abbot of the monastery.
– What influence did the Moscow Patriarchate have on you?
– I was in the Russian church for two and a half years. But I always held free views. I never preached that the OCU are schismatics or ungodly. I said that they were our brothers who had different opinions. I said that we could not condemn people because they love their country and want to pray in a language they understand. The Moscow Patriarchate traditionally preserves the Church Slavonic language, and I had to work hard to explain the liturgical texts. It is absurd when a priest reads the Gospel text during the service, which no one understands, and then explains what it was about. I was a stranger among my own because I was always treated with distrust.
One priest said about me: “This is the Trojan horse of Patriarch Bartholomew. He wants to convert everyone to the union!” It was challenging. And yet there was a circle of pro-Ukrainian priests with whom we communicated closely. Almost all of them have moved to the OCU or the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The circle of our communication has remained the same.
– Can we say that all the clergy members who have a pro-Ukrainian position have left the Moscow Patriarchate? And those who have not transferred, respectively, have different views. Are there no obstacles to changing your affiliation?
– The obstacles are their own bias or dependence on the Russian church. Some of them are also dependent on Russian special services.
– How do you view the “separation” council of the UOC-MP, which adopted amendments to the statute (the principal regulations of the church institution), which allegedly levelled the dependence on Russia?
– This is a deception to calm society and relieve tensions. I am surprised by our state, which succumbed to this deception—the neutral position of our president and civil servants in general. The basis of their statute is the charter of Patriarch Alexy I, “On independence and autonomy within the Russian Orthodox Church”. Are people so stupid that they cannot understand: the first paragraph of the new charter says that this structure belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate. I am tired of explaining it. And they say: “This does not mean anything.” If it did not mean anything, half of the Kyivan churches of the Moscow Patriarchate would not commemorate Patriarch Kirill during the service.
– But now they seem to have decided not to commemorate him.
– They still commemorate him! On the second day after the council in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, they continued to commemorate Kirill. You see, this is absurd! No, it’s just that our people are considered subpar, second-class, and stupid.
– And what about the submitted draft laws to ban the Moscow Patriarchate?
– These draft laws are excellent. They contradict our Constitution, but we live in other realities in the conditions of war. Firstly, they need to be finalized regarding the proclamation of the Moscow Patriarchate as a terrorist organization and the fifth column because that’s the truth. I know this structure from the inside. Secondly, on these grounds, to ban the Patriarchate as one that harms state sovereignty.
– Do you have something to say to support your statement as someone who knows the Moscow Patriarchate from the inside…
– In the first days of the full-scale invasion of Russia, we gathered together with the clergy of the Lviv diocese under the leadership of the Metropolitan for a “beautiful” prayer service “for peace”. What kind of peace could there be? I was black with anger because my parents and grandparents were in a bomb shelter in Kyiv at that time. And my father joined the Armed Forces.
I heard with my ears the sermons of priests that we are a triune people, that we are “inseparable” from the Russians, and so on.
– Even in Lviv?
– Of course. You do not have to look long, go to the catacomb church of the Trinity on Antonovycha Street, and you will hear there the Russian language and about Banderites, Zhidobanderites, etc. They have among their saints: Nicholas II, Ivan the Terrible, Grigory Rasputin… People came to me bewildered and told me that the church’s rector claimed that Stalin was a blessing of God. And he said this during the war! They get so carried away. They cannot pray in Ukrainian because “God does not hear prayers said not in a holy language”.
– But who goes there?
– There is a lot of Russian-speaking population, and they are active. People from all over the Lviv region come to the Trinity Church. All the centres where there were churches of the Moscow Patriarchate, but the priests were patriotic and left the Patriarchy, for example, Mostyska and Truskavets.
They believe that they stand for the truth, for Christ, and that they are martyrs for the truth. And their truth is that the church cannot be divided and that the Moscow Patriarchate is the only thing that holds them together. The true canonical Orthodox, all others have lost their away…
– Do they curse you?
– Yes, of course. All unwanted ones are. As am I. I’m a dissident, a Uniate, a Banderite, a fascist.
– Did the position of your relatives also influence your decision?
– My family, though Russian-speaking, is patriotic. My relatives were at the Revolution of Dignity, and my father participated in the ATO. They did not share my admiration for the Moscow church. My father cried with joy when I left it. Recently I buried my grandmother in the Cherkasy region. I grew up there, and everyone knows me. But the local priest did not want to let me into the church, which belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate, as an apostate. He did not want to allow me to perform the funeral service for my grandmother. Local people do not know how to react to this. They are lied to that it is a Ukrainian church. The problem is that many people fall for these lies. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine does little explanatory work. We need to be more active. Bishops and leaders on the ground should be more active. I know great examples of the excellent work of Metropolitan Mykhailo. In Volyn, 60 parishes have transferred, and this is a lot.
– How many more parishes of the Moscow Patriarchy are left in the Lviv region?
– There are twenty parishes in the Lviv region. In Lviv, there are three. Until now, the church in Sykhiv, which burns from time to time, will not burn out. On Antonovycha and Korolenko streets. They even had an increase in parishioners during the war because of displaced persons. In the Ivano-Frankivsk region, according to official data, there are none left. In one church, they officially registered the parish of the OCU, but the Moscow Patriarchate still serves there. They did it so that they would not be harassed.
– Did you have any troubles or conflicts because of the decision to leave the Moscow Patriarchate?
– I was intimidated, blackmailed…
– By whom?
– Representatives of the metropolis. I will not disclose the details, but it was very unsavoury. Metropolitan Filaret and representatives of the diocese spread slander about me among other priests and parishioners, saying that I am mentally ill, a psychopath and that they should avoid me. The rector of the church on Antonovycha Street, Father Volodymyr, when the Russian consulate was still here, spent a lot of his time there. What was he doing there? Metropolitan Filaret, in my particular situation, used secret police methods. They interfered with my personal affairs and my private life.
– But you didn’t give in.
– There had nothing on me.
– So, there may be others who didn’t transfer because of this situation.
– Yes, obviously, if they have something on them. They used other methods against me because they couldn’t influence my decision otherwise. They said I illegally stayed in the monastery, called me a church raider, and said I seized property. The Moscow Patriarchate still owns the buildings of the monastery.
– And what can be done about it?
– We need the help of the authorities. This building is on the balance sheet of the regional council. The city promised us, and I hope it will help – to take the land back. The large building of the monastery (dated XVIII century), which is now being repaired, used to be a military hospital, so it was on the balance sheet of the Ministry of Defense. They transferred it to the state’s balance sheet, which gave it to the private property of the Moscow Patriarchate. It is necessary to appeal the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers to transfer a military facility to the state. This has been a project for several years. I hope that someday Ukraine will have a law on the property of the Moscow Patriarchate, which will be transferred to the ownership of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. I would not like to lose these buildings because I am looking for funds and invest in repairs. We need to develop to live. New people come to me, novices. The monastery is evolving.
Unfortunately, such unique monuments as the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra or Pochayiv Monastery are occupied. And it’s occupied by the fifth column, which now only pretends that it is not so.
– Why are these processes slowed down?
– There is ignorance of people and bias of the authorities. Metropolitan Filaret (Kucherov) complains that he is oppressed and that his freedom is contested. He plays to be poor and unhappy and knocks on all doors. He has a lot of connections in Kyiv. He may one day come here to kick me out.
You see, they show a picture that the churches of the OCU are empty, but did you see the Cross Procession to the Pochayiv Lavra? And how many people there were!
– And with Russian tricolours! And no one prosecutes them…
– Sometimes, the authorities are indifferent to church issues. I cannot imagine that Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia if Russia went to war there, would tolerate the Russian Moscow Patriarchate on their territory.
Only “adepts of the Russian world” are “the waiting ones” in the occupied territories because of their church and religious beliefs. I am serious right now. Those old ladies in scarves, coming out of the temple in Severodonetsk, who were handed these Ribbons of Saint George… “We have been waiting for you. We love you so much,” they told the occupiers. These are parishioners of a particular religious structure…
When I was at the front as a volunteer chaplain, I was asked what church I belonged to. Because after the priests from the Moscow Patriarchate came to visit our guys, their positions were shelled. And our military died. Here we need the cooperation of both the state and the church. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine has many internal problems. There must be unity, cohesion, and mutual support. And a lot of explanatory work in cooperation with the state authorities. If the state wants to win this war, it must fight on all fronts, including the religious one. The spiritual front is one of the highest priorities at this time.
- “My sister from Moscow region did not believe me when I told her we were shelled “: how life is in the villages of Sumy and Chernihiv regions and what has changed with the onset of war.
By Olga Chytaylo
The military asks us to drive the last few kilometres to Senkivka in the Chernihiv region as quickly as possible. The road is dangerous. Russians see who is coming. “There is a hazardous area; they have already shot many times at it and will easily hit a target,” says our escort, a soldier from OK Pivnich, who advises us to put on our helmets.
When the film crew gets to the centre of the village, an enemy drone drops explosives next to our car. As a result, a window and a door are broken.
We wanted to believe that there were friends on the other side of the border.
Senkivka is a unique village located on the border of three countries. Both Russia and Belarus are very close by. There is even a sign depicting three sisters at the checkpoint. A café, “Three Sisters”, decorated with three flags, used to welcome visitors until the enemy tanks crossed the border. And the locals used to believe they had friends on the other side of both borders.
We drive for a few minutes along empty streets until we meet Volodymyr. The man carries water home. He lives alone.
“We were shelled with Grads, the windows flew out, the gate.” He and many people here speak a mixed dialect of Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian. We found Volodymyr’s commentary for a local TV channel online just a month before the war. He did not believe in the attack – he believed in the friendship of the three states.
On the morning of February 24, Grads shelled his house from the side where he thought his friends lived. The man shows the broken windows of his house.
– I covered them with plastic. In autumn, I will need to replace it. I have plastic but not glass, so I can’t replace the windows. I did not expect this: we lived together as friends. But it is what it is now. I decided not to leave since I had nowhere to go.
Another resident, also Volodymyr, is working in the field nearby. He has a small farm; an old horse Orlyk grazes in the field that overlooks the border. “That’s where they mostly shell us from” – is a blue and white border sign where Volodymyr points.
We used to have good relations with our neighbours. And now everything is bust, and there will be no relations.
As in all border villages, there were strong family relations with neighbouring countries. On one of the streets, we meet Tamara; she lives here with her retired husband. She speaks quickly, in a very pronounced local dialect.
Our film crew talked to the woman last year when we made a story about the weapons being gathered at the border. Then she assured us that war was impossible.
It is hard to believe that you’ll be shelled by people from the land where you were born.
– I am originally from Russia, from the Bryansk region, but I married and lived here for 38 years. And I consider myself a Ukrainian – my children and grandchildren grew up here.
Now Tamara says the exact words with tears. The woman has a lovely house, and the yard is planted with flowers. Despite the war, she did not abandon the farm, although her home was hit.
– The windows and the roof were smashed. My cow was killed. It was standing here, our breadwinner. We are planning to move to the next village over, where we also have a house, after we collect the potatoes we planted here.
The biggest tragedy, Tamara says, is that her relatives in Russia do not believe in her trouble. “My sister lives in the Moscow region, and she doesn’t believe me, doesn’t call me anymore.”
When we talk to Tamara, several explosions are heard. The woman is crying again, and her husband, listening to the sounds, concludes: the shell arrived in Khrinivka.
Anatoliy has been watching our conversation from a distance for a long time. He is an older man who has lived here all his life. We talked to him two years ago and in 2014. He then said this about the neighbours, Russians and Belarusians: “There, when you arrive, people are hospitable. They will give you a drink, feed you, and if you get lost, they will lead you home.”
He repeated almost the exact words when we met last year. Now he is reluctant to talk about the war: politicians will sort it out; politicians are to blame for everything.
– You said earlier that people here are very connected with Russia.
– Well, connected how – we have family ties there. Someone married there, and someone married here; we also speak a mix of languages.
– Have you suffered from the war yourself?
– Yes, I suffered. Everything is damaged. My daughter barely escaped from the damaged house without a penny to her name.
– Do your relatives in Russia know?
– There are no ties left. We do not talk. On the first day, my wife called them, but they did not believe her. She told them that our whole street was destroyed, and the relatives did not believe her, they said it could not be.
Next to Tamara’s house, the neighbour’s house was destroyed. A whitewashed village stove is visible through the hole in the wall. The village was sparsely populated even before the war. Now the locals are not sure it will be around at all.
The occupiers expected a warm welcome.
“Be careful, do not ride off the road to avoid hitting a mine” – we are wished a safe journey at the last checkpoint near the village of Velyky Bobryk in the Sumy region. The navigator takes our car along a bad field road, and it gets worse when we approach the village.
I have been here twice since 2014 and have taken the same road every time. Larysa Kremezna, head of the town, meets us in its centre.
– There are a few places we won’t be able to reach. There is a checkpoint here. It’s too dangerous. The border is behind that land strip – she nods to the forest belt about a kilometre away.
And then Larysa asks us not to point in that direction because the Russians see everything.
Larysa is showing us around the village. She tells us that Russians caused issues with water and destroyed one of the water towers. Here a house was hit by a Grad. A farm was shelled. Some equipment was damaged.
A farmer, who asks not to share his name, shows us a video of his farm equipment cut by debris. The village was not occupied; Russians were passing through.
– We heard a rumble near the border for three days before the invasion. They warmed up their vehicles. And we thought they were doing drills. We realized it was not a drill at four in the morning of the 24th. There were a lot of them, long columns. They entered the building of the village council. And I was inside at that time, and I said: “Close the door behind you, don’t let the heat out”, – Larysa tells about her audacity.
– They asked me to collaborate with them. “The government will change, but you can keep your job”, they said. And I replied: “No, guys, I serve the Ukrainian people”. The Russians from the other side said: “Now we will visit you by car”. No, they won’t come here.
Our family ties with them were close; their kids went to our school. And the Russian villages on the border speak Ukrainian.
Near the village council, there is a museum of Pavlo Hrabovsky. The outstanding poet was born here. Nadiia Skoropad has been the head of this museum for many years, and fortunately, everything was saved, and nothing was damaged.
She leads us to the stand that tells about the joint celebrations in the village.
Here are Russian grandmothers, look. I, by the way, was born in Russia. But I have lived here all my life. My parents’ house is there, and you know how painful it was to realize that your supposed mother became a stepmother.
– Locals wanted to keep the border checkpoints working, but only because their relatives lived on the other side. That was our only concern. But now everything has changed – we have no ties left there.
When we visited Hrabovske last year, a saleswoman in a local store complained that there were no Russian buyers because of the closed borders, and her income decreased. When the occupants came, they robbed this store.
Ryzhivka, a village divided by the border in half, is under constant shelling.
Probably, you can’t go there today. They started shooting in the morning.
We have been sitting in the office of the head of Bilopillya, Yuriy Zarko, for an hour now. We are waiting for the enemy to cease shelling. But Ryzhivka has been constantly shelled since the morning. We wanted to see Ryzhivka because the village is divided in half by the border. One of the houses there is in the two states at the same time.
Pensioner Halyna Budilina, who lives in that house, was often interviewed about life at the border.
The head of Ryzhivka, Oleksandr Chekh, comes to the office to solve current issues. “No comments,” – he replies to our request to talk. And he leaves. We already talked to him a year ago, when the man spoke about two problems: bad roads and a closed pedestrian border crossing.
Locals wanted to keep the border checkpoints working, but only because their relatives lived on the other side.
The trip had to be cancelled. We decide to go to the neighbouring village of Iskryskivshchyna instead. “That’s where the border is; we are driving along the street that is shelled frequently,” says Oleksiy Miller. The village centre is burnt almost to the ground. Only walls remained from a local school.
– It hasn’t worked for a year, but the school is the centre of the village, and we wanted to restore it someday. Here is the workshop, our place of work, and burnt machines. Across the road, the school is smashed to pieces. But there are people in the village, and a paramedic stayed here. Repairers regularly come here to fix the Internet after the shelling.
We celebrated the village day in September to honour the village’s liberation from the Nazi invaders. The monument to those who died in that war was damaged during the Russian shelling. I do not know whether it can be restored or rebuilt.
Any relationship with Russia is impossible.
64% of Ukrainians believe that it will never be possible to restore friendly relations with Russia. This is confirmed by the research conducted by the “Reityng” group in April. Another 22% believe that the restoration of ties is possible in 20-30 years.
In July, the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology studied the moods of Ukrainians in this aspect. 79% of respondents believe that the borders should be closed. And compared to February, the number of such people has increased by 35%. 89% are currently against the restoration of any relations. Only 52% of people upheld such beliefs even before the full-scale invasion.
The mood of Ukrainians toward Russians becomes more irrefutable almost every day. You can find out whether our people are ready for territorial concessions to the enemy in our material. And you can also decide for yourself whether you are prepared to concede our territories to the imperialists.
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Operational news release for 20:00 (01.09.2022)
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By Andriy Lyukhovets:
“There are three of us left” – the story of a farm that continued to make cheese even during the shelling
By Vitaly Mekheda:
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Crime, collaborators, curfew, etc. in the interview with the Head of the Main Department of the National Police in Mykolaiv region.
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By Stanislav Martirosov:
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By Tatiana Shcherbatiuk:
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- Weapons as a charity, women in the army and the country of veterans: stories of three volunteer initiatives that bring Ukraine’s victory closer
Purchase of a complex of Bairaktars and armoured vehicles, collection of millions of donations for the needs of the Ukrainian army, change of attitude towards the veterans of the Russian-Ukrainian war and help to soldiers who return to civilian life – all these are the victories and merits of the robust volunteer and civil society movement of Ukraine.
By Liudmyla Tiahnyriadno
In this article, you’ll learn about three organizations – the fund of competent army support “Come Back Alive”, the NGO “Women’s Veteran Movement”, and “Veteran Hub”. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, they have been doing everything to save as many lives of our soldiers as possible and bring closer victory in the Russian-Ukrainian war.
In the early morning of February 24, Russian occupation troops began firing missiles all over Ukraine. This day marked the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the terrorist country on the territory of an independent nation. Most NGOs prepared for such a scenario in advance, but no one knew exactly how it would happen. In the first hours, Ukrainians did everything to evacuate their relatives, help colleagues and ensure their safety. They also joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine to defend the state from the Russian enemy.
We talked with Ruslana Velychko, a volunteer of the “Come back alive” fund of competent army support, Yulia Kirillova, a veteran of the 25th battalion “Kyivska Rus” and coordinator of the social department of the NGO “Women’s Veteran Movement” and Artem Denysov, the executive director of the “Veteran Hub”. In these conversations, we learned how the volunteer sector quickly establishes its work and increases the assistance to the army, what helps them make unprecedented decisions, and what volunteers do for the Ukrainian victory.
“Come Back Alive”, or how to buy a Bayraktar for a charity fund?
“Come Back Alive” is a fund of competent army support. Since 2014, it has aimed to make the Armed Forces of Ukraine more effective, save the lives of the military and systematically counteract the enemy. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, assistance to the army has increased significantly. They support the defenders of Ukraine, who changed their everyday life to join the line of defense. The Foundation purchases equipment that helps save the lives of the military, including thermal imaging optics, quadcopters, vehicles, protection and surveillance systems. The Foundation’s instructors train sappers, unmanned aerial vehicle operators, artillerymen and snipers. They also teach first aid and facilitate covert missions. Since 2014, the Foundation has raised more than UAH 3 billion for the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and trained more than 10 thousand highly qualified military specialists.
Ruslana Velychko, a volunteer of the Foundation, says that with the beginning of the full-scale Russian aggression, “Come Back Alive” registered as a subject of foreign economic activity in the State Export Control Service. This way, they could receive permits for importing various goods: “Then the military approached us with a request to buy the Bayraktar complex. I called one person from Baykar, and we started cooperation”.
The main issue was going through all the bureaucratic procedures on the Ukrainian and Turkish sides. The Turks also had to obtain an export licence to sell the Bayraktars to the “Come Back Alive” Foundation.
“We did not immediately make the news about purchasing the Bayraktar complex public. A month needs to pass until after the goods arrive in Ukraine. We kept a pause until we finalized all the documents. At the same time, all volunteers need to understand that when they say something, write, or record a video, not only the Ukrainian side listens to them. So sometimes it is better to keep silent,” Ruslana explains.
“Come Back Alive” even signed a memorandum with Baykar – this is the second memorandum of the latter with Ukraine. The first was in 2021, signed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“We work a lot. I, for example, never thought that I would be engaged in foreign economic activity and perform the function of a logistician, engage in contractual activities, and find sellers. It would have seemed even more far-fetched if I learned that I would work with military goods,” the volunteer says and proceeds to tell how the Foundation has been working since the beginning of the full-scale war.
On the trust of Ukrainians and the collection of over UAH 4 billion
“I am proud that we are the charitable organization that turned the arms market upside down in Ukraine and Europe. We triggered the market’s reform”.
“When the full-scale war started, everyone was scared. Then people donated a lot and sometimes gave their last. People have psychologically adapted to the war, which also affects donations. As for how much and who sends us the money, everyone can see the reports on the Foundation’s website, and we even make monthly reports.”
Reporting and control are something that “Come Back Alive” pays a lot of attention to. Ruslana shares with us her “hobby” – she “collects” all the criminal cases with volunteers that are undergoing right now.” In most cases, people get into big trouble because of a bit of stupidity. For example, they were honest people but fell for some schemes trying to import military goods easier or faster. Or they made deals, imported it as humanitarian aid, and then tried to resell some of the goods they brought. We do not do business like that. We work by the book of the law,” Ruslana Velychko emphasizes.
“We are the first organization to bring not just a UAV but an unmanned aviation complex,” she said. The Bairaktar UAV is a reconnaissance vehicle – “And the complex, which has a ground control station, a friend/ foe recognition system, with ammunition – the complete set is described on four sheets – is something the army can work with.”
Ruslana adds that the “Come Back Alive” Foundation focuses on supplies from Western partners and accordingly plans to assistance to the army: so that all complexes can cooperate with artillery. “So, for example, we look at the range of what our partners supply us and select drones accordingly. The Bayraktar TB2 drone costs 4 million dollars, and the total cost of the complex we bought is $16,502,450. A part of the complex worth 9 million dollars was gifted to us at no cost,” the volunteer explains.
“Come Back Alive” always helps the army “in bulk”. The fact is that, for example, preparing the paperwork for purchasing two or 800 thermal sights takes the same time. That is why the Foundation focuses on larger quantities. This way, they also get discounts: “To be honest, when I start a conversation with sellers, I immediately ask what the discount will be, – Ruslana says, – We, with “Come Back Alive” have turned the whole arms market upside down because now the charity organization can import what it needs without special exporters as intermediaries. And this means savings of up to 30%”.
Although there are many needs in the army now, like winter military uniforms or sleeping bags, “Come Back Alive” focuses on other priorities: UAVs, optics, radio communications, and vehicles. The Foundation has already delivered about 400 pickup trucks to the front.
“Everyone knows that the artillery is the god of war. Therefore, we need artillery, unmanned reconnaissance systems, and we need Bayraktars. To protect people, we need equipment that strikes far away and does reconnaissance,” Ruslana Velychko says and adds:
“I am proud that we are the charitable organization that has turned the arms market upside down not only in Ukraine but also in Europe. We triggered the market’s reform. We do not want to overpay for anything, and doing all the work ourselves is easier. Arms sellers started to come to us and offer their products for purchase”.
“Women’s Veteran Movement” or how to help women in the trenches and on the home front?
NGO “Women’s Veteran Movement” is a union of women veterans created to increase their opportunities for self-actualization in society. The organization acts to advocate for and protect the rights of women veterans and active servicewomen and promote equal rights and opportunities through lawmaking and advocacy of the professional and prestigious security sector.
Before the full-scale war, the NGO was engaged in advocacy for the rights of women veterans and servicewomen. Also, they worked with the rehabilitation of women veterans, their employment and retraining. They even organized an entrepreneurship school, many alums of which opened successful businesses. Now the organization is finalizing the development of the Unified Rehabilitation Standard. “This is a roadmap for veterans, for first- and second-level doctors. From what a veteran should do first when they come to a doctor’s office, what tests and screenings to take and which specialists to attend, etc. This project is already at the stage of completion,” explains Yulia Kirillova, a veteran of the 25th battalion “Kyivan Rus” and the coordinator of the social department of the “Women’s Veterans Movement”.
The Women’s Veterans Movement conducted advocacy campaigns for proper medical care for servicewomen and women veterans. Yulia Kirillova says: “Here we are talking that, for example, the field of military medicine was developed with only men in mind. Thus, in some hospitals, there was no gynaecologist at all. The same gaps were in the management of pregnancy of servicewomen, childbirth, etc. Even today, pregnant servicewomen give birth in civilian maternity hospitals, and civilian doctors tend to their pregnancies. However, any servicewoman on a contract is entitled to full medical insurance. Also, medical formularies do not provide many drugs that women need. We also had to take care of the faulty logistics, as there were no fitting military uniforms since they all were designed for men.”
“She was pregnant when she enlisted”
Yulia Kirillova says that the “Women’s Veterans Movement” team saw February 24 come in many different ways. She was in Washington at the beginning of the full-scale invasion.
“Around the 20th, we met with the girls in our office, planned what we would do, where we would meet, and how we would evacuate our relatives in case of war. Of course, we took our children out of Kyiv. Our Andriana “Arekhta” immediately enlisted and went with her brothers in arms to defend the Kyiv region. Katrusia “Strila” joined the Ukrainian Volunteer Army and returned to service. Olenka Lomachynska was pregnant then, but she also went to enlist and asked if there were bulletproof vests for pregnant women. Katya Pryimak and Yulia “Kuba” stayed in Kyiv and organized a volunteer rapid response headquarters,” the co-founder of the NGO proudly tells about her colleagues.
When the number of servicewomen tripled
Since the beginning of the full-scale war, the number of women in the army has tripled. Since 2014, this figure has increased several times, and after February 24, the growth has become even more evident. Yulia Kirillova says that although some react negatively to enlisted women, the majority perceive women as equals because, first, it is about respect.
“After all, they stayed, decided not to leave, and made an informed decision to defend their country. In my opinion, the attitude has changed. It is felt even in communication. If earlier we heard some people say, “she’s a burden” or “I don’t want ladies in my unit”, now everyone speaks of servicewomen with respect.”
The “Women’s Veterans Movement” also works with logistics: they have designed an anatomically correct cut for the female uniform. Yulia Kirillova explains: “A simple example: men and women have knees at different heights, and when we buy a uniform with knee pads, it is uncomfortable for women; these knee pads will be above the knee, and if you squat or fall, the pant leg rises, and the knee pad also pulls up. Currently, there’s only talk of the change of uniforms for women, but I know that organizations are ready to sew a trial batch for the Ministry of Defence to improve the logistics. We also designed sets of women’s underwear because there is still no women’s underwear in the Armed Forces uniform. As a public organization, we also sew sets of underwear for them. Businesses join us and also sew women’s uniforms. So far, we are sending these kits directly to the girls who are fighting.”
From advocacy to rapid response headquarters
The work of the NGO has changed dramatically in recent months. If earlier it was mainly engaged in advocacy and assistance to female veterans in psychological rehabilitation, since February 24, the organization has turned into a vast headquarters. There, military personnel, the civilian population, and people who left the occupation received help. “Women’s Veterans Movement” also delivered humanitarian aid.
“When the fighting was going on in the Kyiv region, our kitchen started working from the first days; we cooked lunches, delivered this food to basements, and fed people. The headquarters also helped female veterans who went back to service. We bought cars and tactical medical kits, delivered aid to civilian hospitals. We bought bulletproof vests, helmets, thermal imagers and drones for the military,” says veteran Yulia Kirillova.
Now the organization continues to work as a humanitarian headquarters: it assists affected civilians and helps IDPs and people living in the areas of hostilities. Medical crews are also working. Now they are in Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. An evacuation team is working in the Donetsk region.
“We evacuate civilians, people with animals. We rescue abandoned and wounded animals. We help evacuated people with accommodation, take them to social protection centres and register them.
For example, when the fighting was ongoing in the Luhansk region, many people fled from Luhansk and Donetsk regions. People left en masse. At the same time, we rescued many animals and wounded animals too. We have agreements with veterinary clinics and shelters, taking them in and placing them in families. Now we can go to Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, Chasiv Yar, Kostiantynivka, Selidove, Kurakhove. We are one of the few who evacuate people with animals. Many evacuation efforts do not include animals, so people are forced to abandon their pets. I cannot give you the exact number of animals we rescued to date, but, for example, today, we have evacuated 11. Soon we are going to fetch seven more,” – Yulia Kirillova says.
Tactical medicine and a “drone workshop.”
Now in Kyiv, the organization works in several areas: as a “drone workshop” where volunteers can do almost everything – assemble drones, upgrade them if necessary, and repair them; and medical, food and clothing warehouses. These goods are what people most often lack. The NGO collects requests for targeted aid, people leave them through a Google form, and then the NGO sends them the requested help. Since February 24, they have received more than 4 thousand applications, and although they couldn’t cover all the needs, according to Yulia Kirillova, they responded positively to 60-70% of applications.
“Also, we now hold training courses on the basics of tactical medicine, general tactics, and driving. The courses are free. Both women and men come to us. We help everyone. Civilian organizations also apply to us for these courses and buy them for their employees. Part of the course money is spent on purchasing consumables, the other part – on responding to applications for assistance.”
Since the organization now also helps civilians, the biggest challenge for the “Women’s Veterans Movement” is winter. Yulia Kirillova explains: “People need to be set up somewhere for the winter, and we need to keep these living quarters warm somehow. We understand that the number of applications for assistance from civilians will increase. That is why we are now launching a humanitarian logistics centre, which will cover targeted requests for aid and carry out humanitarian missions to different regions.”
The second challenge, like for many, is the beginning of the active phase of offensive actions by the Russian invaders. “Winter is their (Russians – ed.) element, – says Yulia Kirillova, – They mostly attack in winter. As the practice of previous years shows, winters are the worst in terms of intensification of hostilities. Here we will talk about the insulation of dugouts, positions, and re-equipping of the military. And about the increase in the number of wounded. We are preparing for all this and started preparing for winter in August. We received the first batch of stoves and heaters at the end of July. We seek the best offers to purchase thermal underwear, sleeping bags and mats. We are preparing to respond to more applications for help and increase the amount of humanitarian aid. We have already started buying winter tires for our medical crews and devices for heating infusion solutions.”
Now the organization has also started fundraising. They also plan to raise funds for other areas of work. They have already launched a sewing shop for women’s uniforms. The plans are to sew underwear, T-shirts, hats, balaclavas, and maybe even thermal underwear. At the same time, they are working on weaving camouflage nets and “kikimory”. The work is in full swing.
“Veteran Hub” is a space for veterans and NGOs working in veteran affairs. The hub team provides psychological and legal assistance to veterans and their families, helps them find new professions and employment and return to civilian life.
Helping here and now
With the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Veteran Hub focused on three work areas. “It is clear that there was no question of employment at all in spring. After all, everyone was trying to protect themselves first of all, – says Artem Denysov, Executive Director of “Veteran Hub.” “And that is how we got an unofficial administrative work area. When, for example, people were still on the road, they called and asked where to come and where to stay. But now we are receiving requests from people who are looking for work. The psychological area of our work also had to change. If before the full-scale invasion, we specialized in long-term therapeutic work; some clients worked with us even for a year, and now we are talking about crisis interventions. If we talk about the extent of this psychological help, now we are working more closely with professional doctors. The demand for legal advice has never decreased, even this spring.”
Psychological support is still the main focus of the hub. How do we return veterans and other citizens of Ukraine to civilian life after the war? Artem Denysov is convinced that war experience has affected everyone: “Not everyone has and will have combat experience, but everyone has the experience of war. After all, our enemy does not care where to strike; they also strike at civilian infrastructure. You do not have to be a veteran or in the military to know what Russian aggression feels like. And these people will also need support. This does not mean that we will re-profile. It means that we as a society need to pay attention to this. And we need to do it now. If we wait for the end of the war, the victory and will only then start building something, we will lose very precious time.”
“I am convinced that since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, our country has already become a country of veterans”.
Already in 2019, the “Veteran Hub” started working on the concept of the “Veteran’s Path” – a map of the needs of ATO/JFO veterans from the moment they decide to join the service until the end of their lives. Almost all servicemen, except for those who perish, will become veterans one way or another, so the organization believes that the process of this transition can be more organic if it starts in advance. After all, some of the processes that will take place in the future can be foreseen now. Currently, the organization is rethinking the concept of the “Veteran’s Path”, and although there will be no drastic changes, improvements related to the full-scale invasion will take place.
“I am convinced that since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, our country has already become a country of veterans. Until now, we were talking about 460 thousand veterans, and now the number is much bigger. And one way or another, the whole country, all ministries and executive authorities will provide services for veterans,” says Artem Denysov. And then, he adds that the state should change the approach to veterans’ benefits because there will now be more people like that. However, the goal should not be to reduce the benefits. Instead, it is necessary to monetize the system and remove the barriers because even now, it is difficult for veterans who do not live in large cities to receive preferential services: “To minimize losses in this process, we must be prepared. We need to form a package of services from both the state and the non-governmental sector for veterans that will meet their needs. Foremost, these are medical services.”
Veterans will also need employment. Artem Denysov urges us to think about it in advance:
“The vast majority of veterans were hired workers, now many of them are employed in the Armed Forces and other law enforcement agencies and defend our country. In the future, when they return, we must be prepared to interact properly with people with combat experience. That is why we at “Veteran Hub” continue working with employment centres to provide them with tools to establish communication better and respond to the real needs of such people. So that instead of offering them random vacancies, they take an individual approach.”
Another project of the “Veteran Hub” currently deals with HR practices. It aims at non-governmental institutions that employ veterans or active servicemen: “This project is transforming the work of HR departments to meet the needs of veterans in their workplaces. For example, let’s take working hours. Sometimes after returning, a veteran may have difficulties with planning and concentration. And if the management understands that a person does not just neglect their work, but due to the psycho-emotional state, they are effective not at 100%, but 60% during the workday, then such management will simply give the person some time off. Or they will change the approach to give a person a certain task, allocate some time for its completion, and let the person choose when to work on it.”
Now the biggest challenge for “Veteran Hub”, according to Artem Denysov, is the challenge of mutual understanding and building a unified policy of veteran affairs in the state. “The state will have its point of view, they are already forming the policies, and the public sector has a different stance. We work at different paces. For example, as a public organization, we can make changes much faster, unlike the state. We must realize that now every ministry is becoming the Ministry of Veterans. And every ministry will need to face the needs of veterans sooner or later”.
- The Cost of Bread in Times of War
The war made Ukrainians whose towns and cities were besieged or occupied by Russians view bread, a seemingly trivial product, in a new light. UNIAN visited several communities in Chernihiv Oblast and found out how people provided themselves and the defenders with bread and who had to give their lives for it.
By Iryna Synelnyk
Bread has traditionally been an essential part of the daily diet of Ukrainians. Some people enjoy it so much that they eat it with almost all the dishes. Some, on the contrary, eat it sparingly to stay in shape. While in times of peace, money determines the price of bread, several tens of hryvnias do not encourage much thinking about the everyday meaning of this product. You get it whenever you feel like eating bread. And when you’re out of it, you can always get a new loaf nearby.
Instead, in wartime, the cost of bread is estimated by hours in line for it or days without it. In times of war, bread comes at a terrible price. It cost the lives of those who could not deliver the bread to the community, or those who waited in line but were gunned down by enemies before they could get a loaf.
Those unfortunate Ukrainians under siege or occupation now appreciate the bread much more.
“A Military Target”: Artillery Striking a Bread Line
Lives and health were the cost of bread to those Chernihiv residents who stood in line for it in the regional center on March 16.
Artillery shelling by Russian troops on the outskirts of Chernihiv resulted in mass murder. People lined up for bread at a makeshift kiosk. At around 10:00 Russian army carried out a heavy artillery strike. It killed 14 civilians and injured dozens more.
Among others, a 67-year-old US Minnesota citizen died from the attack. According to residents of Chernihiv, the man cared for his friend in the hospital. He was bringing whatever food he could find in the besieged city to people in the hospital ward. On that fateful day, the women in the ward pleaded with the American not to go anywhere, but he was set on going out to get some bread.
Meanwhile, in Russia, they tried to make this tragedy, like many others, look “ambiguous.” The official representative of the Ministry of Defense of Russia, Major General Igor Konashenkov, stated that “videos of civilians who died in Chernihiv, who Russian servicemen allegedly shot, were distributed on all propaganda resources of the Kyiv regime.”
“I want to emphasize that there were no Russian servicemen in Chernihiv,” he said.
However, the Russian army besieged the city for a month and subjected it to daily shelling and airstrikes.
As residents of Chernihiv slowly go back to leading an everyday life after the retreat of the Russian occupiers, they continue to share their stories about the price of bread in a war on social networks.
Thus, Lyubov Potapenko admitted that round white bread would always smell like war for her.
“I didn’t get a round white bread smelling of war and the city’s siege today. The heavenly dispatcher took pity on me, so he sent an oval-shaped loaf. And two kilos of legumes – chickpeas and peas,” she said after receiving humanitarian aid.
In the comments to that post, another woman, Nadiya Tymoshenko, shared that for her, “wartime bread is a loaf brought to her by her recent acquaintance under fire” – at that time, people shared the last piece with strangers.
The woman also told how, one day, one of her neighbors appeared on her doorstep: “We know your husband has diabetes; we have dried rye bread for him.”
Or another situation, when she found two loaves of bread in the house and took the second one to her friend’s father; the man was hiding from bombings in the same cellar where he once hid “from the Germans.” However, he was only three years old then.
“Bread in times of war means a five-minute mesmerized stare at a bread stand, for the first time without a line next to it but with plenty of fresh bread in the window,” said a woman from Chernihiv, who survived the siege.
“At-risk” Bread Trucks: Ruscists Shot at Cars Bringing Bread to the City
In times of war, bread comes at a cost to human lives. An incident with men from the Ichnya community is a testimony to that statement. 38-year-old Mykola Omelchenko and his bride’s father, Serhiy Bondarenko, went to Pryluky on February 28, according to Mykola’s sister Oksana Omelchenko. They went together to be safe. Even though there were already many Russian soldiers in the vicinity, no one thought that the trip for bread would be the last for the men.
Having loaded the truck with bread at the Pryluky bread factory, they could not return the same day due to the curfew.
“The next day, at 8 AM, my brother called to tell me they were departing. I couldn’t reach him after that,” says Ms Oksana.
Two dead men were found next to a shelled minibus on March 1, at the entrance to the village of Olshana. Marauders had already looted the truck. Nearby, another shelled car stood, facing the opposite direction. The driver of that car was taking a sick person to the hospital in Pryluky.
“No one could think that my brother would die there. He was afraid to go through the village of Monastyryshche. And the danger caught up with them near Olshana. We still don’t know the circumstances of my brother’s death,” says the deceased’s sister.
She emphasizes that the pain of loss does not subside. The loss of her brother is a great grief for the family, especially for his children. 15-year-old Ivan and 9-year-old Polina lost their father that day.
Not everyone in the village of Olshana knows about the story behind the shelled bread truck. Only the security guard of the local enterprise in the village can point to the location where the truck was shelled. He says that Russian military equipment was standing in the field, next to the road. Corn is already rising in that field. Nobody knows why the civilians were shot there.
Signs with the village’s name are still missing, but a bouquet is tied to one of the pillars that used to hold the sign to commemorate the people who perished there.
The Bread Factory Increased Production Volumes
During the war, it became clear in many communities that having their bakery, however small, is true bliss. If there is also a supply of flour available, then that community is twice as lucky. And if there is a whole bread factory in the community, it is heaven-sent.
After all, it means that not only the residents of the community but also their closest neighbors will have a higher chance of surviving the occupation. This helped the Sosnytsia community get through the darkest hours.
A resident of the Konyatyn village of this community, Ms. Nadiya, recalls that they only had some trouble getting bread in the first days of the war.
“They brought bread from Sosnytsia to the store, but there was very little of it. Our shopkeeper burst into tears because she was at a loss and didn’t know how to share the bread among the locals,” she says.
We solved this problem by giving half a load to each person. And a little later, even though the community’s population increased (those fleeing the war from other settlements came to the village), there were no bread shortages.
The Sosnytsia bread factory worked as usual even when the hostilities unfolded in the region. The head of the factory, Hennadiy Drobyazko, says that the first day of the war – February 24 – was an ordinary working day, albeit an uneasy one: because the female workers only talked about the fact that tanks were coming to the village.
The Russian military did indeed enter Sosnytsia, but they behaved quietly; they set up roadblocks at the exits from the village and did not bother the locals.
“We had a flour supply of about 15-20 tons; that should have been enough for up to a month. But if in peacetime we baked 600-700 kg of bread per day, during the war we increased the production to 3,000 kg,” the head of the enterprise says.
Drobyazko says that the tricky issues were the provision of salt and yeast. At a time, even local residents brought whatever supplies they had saved to the factory. The village education department also helped: they collected flour, salt, sugar, and yeast from all schools and gave them to the bread factory. Later, they went to Shostka (Sumy Oblast) for yeast. They tried to make sourdough, but because of the peculiarities of the production technology, they couldn’t make enough bread with it. They even tried to mix sourdough and yeast bread recipes. But then a sufficient amount of necessary ingredients finally came. When the bread factory ran out of salt, an enterprise that used to make pickles supplied the much-needed ingredient.
They also managed to find the flour. In particular, about 40 tons were brought from Krolevets, from Sumy Oblast. According to Drobyazko, trips for yeast and flour were hazardous. And the fact that these trips resulted in success is incredible luck.
It wasn’t easy to deliver even the baked bread to the community villages because sometimes the trucks couldn’t get beyond the Russian checkpoints.
“One day, the driver was delivering bread as he saw an enemy column crossing the road in front of his car. He was fortunate not to have been hit. The man stopped the truck in time because his hands were shaking from fear,” the head of the bread factory shares.
The bread came to some villages via forest roads. The bread truck would unload the bread there onto a tractor.
A special crossing over the Desna river was built to supply bread to the Zadesensky part of the community. A boat brought the bread to the village of Pekars.
Dobyazko says that during the occupation, the sense of unity was strong in the community. If flour needed unloading, the residents came and quickly did everything; if the factory required firewood, the forestry farm allocated the trees, and the people came together to cut down and stack the wood. Similarly, the employees of the bread factory worked with complete dedication. After all, their work provided bread for the Sosnytsia community and the neighboring ones that could somehow reach the factory against all odds.
Grandma’s Recipes for Ukrainian Soldiers
The center of the Kiptiv community is 50 km removed from Chernihiv on the highway to the capital; some villages are 35 km away. During the offensive of the Russian army on Kyiv and the siege of the regional center of Chernihiv Oblast, the active hostilities took place very close to the community. Ukrainian military personnel was stationed in the villages of the Kiptiv community, and they needed the support of the locals, including the rations.
“At first, feeding more than 1,000 soldiers per day was difficult, but then everything worked out,” says Iryna Dubyk, head of the culture, family, youth, and sports department of the Kiptiv village council.
She emphasizes that the community residents clearly understood that if you don’t feed your army, you’ll have to provide for the enemies soon enough! Ms. Iryna remembers how residents of the Kiptiv community shared their food supplies, even slaughtered pigs and chickens, and gave dairy products so that the Ukrainian soldiers had a tastier lunch.
Later, the food supply improved. However, bread had to be baked locally, and the flour and yeast were scarce. An old mill in one of the settlements of the community managed to solve the issue with the flour. The mill was constructed in the 1950s but it worked on a generator. A local resident, Volodymyr Shokun, and his sons kept it in working order.
While fighting was going in the outskirts, the miller ground so much grain that the millstone cracked. Now the man is looking for a replacement, although it is not an easy task. The lack of yeast did not prevent bread baking either, since local women remembered an old sourdough recipe.
Nataliya Vlasenko, a mother of a big family, also baked bread for the soldiers (after the death of her husband, the woman is raising five children aged 6 to 22 on her own). Ms. Nataliya says that cooking skills run in her family, so she remembered her grandmother’s oven-baked bread recipe.
The recipe is simple: to start the bread, you take 100 grams of flour and the same amount of water. If you add a little sugar, the fermentation process will speed up and be faster on rye or whole wheat flour. Daily, the leaven needs to be mixed over four days, and you should add 100 grams of flour and water. On the fifth day, the leaven is ready.
The recipe for her sourdough bread is as follows: 8 tablespoons of sourdough, 600 ml of water, 20 grams of salt, 10 grams of sugar, vinegar, and oil, as well as 1 kg of first-grade or second-grade flour. Knead the dough to rise and then form loaves. The ready loaves will need to rise a little more, and then they are prepared for baking.
With a professional oven, the woman could make 50-60 loaves of bread daily for the Ukrainian military.
Iryna Dubyk recalls that the bread was delivered to the military at first, and then, due to shelling, they handled the logistics themselves. According to her, the poignant moments were when the defenders took freshly baked bread in their hands and kissed it.
“The soldiers told us that they were happy to defend Chernihiv Oblast, where residents loved their military so much that they took good care of them and baked fresh bread for them,” she says.
Finally, the author of these lines has her tale of bread in times of war. The village of Lyubechi was surrounded by Russian troops almost immediately. No one could either leave the settlement or enter. All goods have disappeared from shelves in stores. Bringing food here, primarily bread, had become a problem. The loaves were baked by a local bakery as long as there was flour and yeast. Later we managed to bring bread from the village of Ripki.
The loaf was a reward for waiting in line for many hours. It was hard to resist eating it on the spot. Warm and mouthwatering. But it was necessary to bring it home and divide it among everyone.
I was very impressed by a story on television, which showed the day-to-day of a bakery in a big city and a large assortment of bread and bakery products on the shelves of supermarkets. Having lived without bread for several weeks, I was dumbfounded by this luxury.
My neighbor, who survived the Holodomor and the Second World War, never threw away any bread and used to say that “bread is the head of everything”. She taught her and the neighbor’s children and grandchildren to respect bread and the work of people in the fields.
But to fully understand what she meant, you would have to experience living without any bread.
- “Where Have You Been for the Last Eight Years?”
Stories of residents of the Donetsk region who chose Ukraine.
By Natalia Shevchuk
No matter what military intelligence analysts and local prophets warned Ukrainians about, Russia’s attack on Ukraine on February 24 shocked many compatriots. But among them, some people are forced to relive this aggression for the second time: the residents of the occupied regions, particularly the Donetsk region. After I talked to a few of them, I discarded the draft of the introduction to this article. Their stories are louder than my words.
Some people demanded that I not include their photo or surname, others – that I change their name altogether. Many were worried about the relatives who remained in the occupied territories; others felt vulnerable talking about their past grievances. Where were they for the last eight years, the years Russian propaganda parades so loudly? What was their life like? What were they thinking then and now?
I was born in Russian Transcaucasia, but at the age of six, I moved with my mother to Donetsk and lived there most of my life (Olga is in her late 40s, – auth.) I remember exactly when I left, it was August 14, 2014. We had to go for several reasons. Sometimes it was impossible to sleep. First, because of how our Ice Arena was destroyed, then because of the constant shelling of the Donetsk airport. I moved from my apartment to my mother’s house in another district, but even there, drunken local militants staged a street fight with shooting.
In general, it was scary. Imagine – at the very beginning of these events, I was walking down an avenue in yellow and blue clothes. They grabbed me; they wanted to drag me into a minibus. What saved me was that they checked my passport, and one of the Russian cities was indicated as my place of birth there. They decided to let me go at that time with a warning. I have always been pro-Ukrainian; my neighbors and people at work knew about that. (I am a social worker.)
One colleague hinted that they were interested not only in me but also in my daughters. The older one was already married and lived with her husband, and I worried about the younger one. Our family members left separately. My mother is a believer, and thanks to the church’s support, she made it to Kyiv. My younger daughter also traveled the Kharkiv-Kyiv-Bukovel route with people from my mom’s church, and I went to Odesa. We managed to meet up only after a few months.
The eldest daughter and her husband moved in with us about a year later. She had her passport reissued with her married name first, and later there was no way out of the city for a while. They managed to flee to the Russian Federation. There were also troubles with the documents there, but finally, they arrived from there to us, in Odesa.
Representatives of the church picked me up right at the Odesa train station. For about a month, I stayed with them, then for a couple of weeks in a hostel, then with another displaced woman for two years in Luzanivka, Odesa. We had three rooms for two families for a moderate fee; we were lucky. Back then, I thought that I was about to return home.
I was looking for a job through advertisements, worked in a bakery and pizzeria, and sold women’s shoes in several markets. I left Odesa for several years and worked in another city (there were colleagues from my former job), but eventually, I returned. I don’t know why, but Odesans accepted me as one of them. I guess this is my native city now, too. I returned to social work. Now I am a member of the civil movement “Faith. Hope. Love”.
I was terrified of a new war. And I knew that there would be war. I stocked up on cereals and canned meat in advance – I have a dog who needs to be fed. I was preparing, and still, February 24 was very scary. Eight years ago, I ran away from Donetsk with a tiny purse. But where to run now, when finally, after many efforts, I am back on my feet? When I am not so young and healthy and know no foreign languages.
I was depressed and apathetic, to tell the truth. I took it one day at a time. All my fears from eight years ago came to life and cast me down me even harder. The only plus was that I no longer had to worry about the integrity of my home; I’m renting an apartment here. As far as I know, some mercenaries (whether from Rostov or somewhere else) took over my apartment in Donetsk.
I was afraid of bombings and shelling, occupation, getting seriously ill – literally of everything. My brother, who remained in Russia, started writing to me more often. He bombarded me with messages: called me a Nazi, an idiot, and told me to look at my passport and see “the truth”… He stopped writing to me about a week ago, so there’s that.
And then refugees started coming to us in Odesa. “Faith.Hope.Love” actively helps them, so I also began helping others. Together with the newcomers, I went to psychological group sessions. There was a great psychologist (he is from Mariupol), and he helped me feel some relief. Starting this week, I will go to him for personal consultations. I understand that my old emotional wounds have opened again, that I need long-term therapy, and that one or two meetings won’t cut it. But I will take care of this, especially since my family members don’t want to go elsewhere. We already suffered enough of this eight years ago.
I was born and lived my whole life in Bakhmut, Donetsk region. I devoted my life to one place, one factory, where I worked for more than 40 years in engineering positions. Already in evacuation, in Odesa, I celebrated my 85th birthday. When Russia attacked Ukraine eight years ago, it failed to capture our city. But I still remember that emotional state: not fear but anger. That was my reaction to the rallies in the center of Artemivsk (the old name of the city, auth.) in the spring of that year. At them, Russian agitators (by no means local) freely, without hindrance, called for the creation of the so-called Novorossia to express distrust of the authorities of Ukraine. Russian flags accompanied all these actions.
There were 50 to 100 people at these rallies from the city where 70,000 people lived. As for the kind of people that attended, they usually convinced everyone that they were “not interested in politics.”
For the first five years out of the eight you are asking about, residents of the so-called “DNR” were allowed to come to Bakhmut. The purpose of those mass visits was to receive pensions and purchase food. I remember asking a strange woman from Horlivka: “How is life there?” She replied: “It’s good that we can come here!”. With the beginning of the covid pandemic, they no longer had such an opportunity.
Reflecting on this, I see that not much has changed in eight years. The local print publications “Vpered” and “Sobytiya” ignored the neighboring entity – the DNR – completely. And at the annual city-wide celebrations of Victory Day on May 9, we heard no mention of the threat to peace from the territories bordering our district.
This is already the second war and the second evacuation in my life. I experienced something similar for the first time when I was four. Despite my young age, specific episodes of months-long wanderings in the evacuation train were etched in my memory for the rest of my life… All I want now for my city and country is peace! Instead of the horrors of war. And I really want to go back to my city.
The man was evacuated at the beginning of April, when the military administration of the Donetsk region asked people to leave the city due to increasing threats and because his son Gennady insisted on his departure. Gennady says that his father often experiences headaches and dizziness. This is because of his age and health problems and how worried he is about his hometown. After all, you can read in all the news that the direction Bakhmut-Lysychansk is under intense fire on the eastern front.
Like every person who deals with bandits, the father realizes that at any moment, he can lose all his property, says Gennady. But there is no point in hiding something from him: he communicates with people who stayed in the city and is interested in other news. The benefit of many sources of information is at least that there are not only negative news but also encouraging ones.
What do I miss most in my hometown? And on what scales should it be weighed? Do I miss my mother’s grave, or the young oak my father and I planted on the eve of the Russian-Ukrainian war in the local park? Do I wonder about the fate of relatives who did not want to leave? The ones who had been living in a partially destroyed house in the very center of the city for a month? How about the pain of losing the local history museum’s legacy, materials on the history of the oldest town of Donbas? How do I weigh what I love most about the country that shaped me and got me through many ordeals? The same with the native city.
Avdiivka, 13 km from occupied Donetsk, is still under the control of Ukrainian armed forces; but due to constant shelling, it has turned into an army stronghold. The houses here are destroyed, and hardly any local residents are left. The woman I’m speaking with left there when the first shots were fired in 2014.
I was a private entrepreneur; I fried and sold chebureks at the market. And in Odesa, I am doing the same now, Natalya says with a sigh. In 2014, I was one of the first to leave because the health department offered to help parents with disabled children with evacuation. And my daughter has diabetes. I also have a younger son. When we evacuated, there was a train of parents like me, some with their children in wheelchairs.
We took root here with difficulty. We spent the first summer at an old recreation center in the resort town of Serhiivka. We settled in fine, but one of our compatriots, a blind pensioner, hanged himself because someone stole all the money from his card. But closer to winter, the town’s mayor insisted that we should leave as soon as possible. However, the local people’s deputies offered him to relocate us to an unfinished building that we would have somehow fixed to be fit for living. But it didn’t work out. Then there was the Kuyalnyk sanatorium, then another eviction with a scandal because no one paid for us to stay there. I then managed to secure a spot for us in Luzanivka, at a center for people going through hard times. People who came later couldn’t stay there because of limited space; they had to make some other arrangements. We are still here, but we don’t know for how long. The center seems to be under renovation; new settlers are not accepted.
My neighbors had an even harder time. They took over empty houses to live in, some on Uspenska Street, some on Fontanka. Media covered that story a lot. In 2015, I won a grant from the charity organization Caritas to start my own business. I left the equipment for frying chebureks in Avdiivka, but I received a new set here with this grant. Now I work in Novyi Rynok. Some of my former neighbors have left for Europe with their children. They went to Poland, Germany, Italy, and Spain. But I can’t go, not again! I’m staying in Odessa, although there is almost no trade now.
My daughter grew up and studied to be a hairdresser, but she still has health problems and cannot work if it’s hot. The son is still in school. When I was leaving, I planned to later sell my place in Avdiivka, earn something from that sale, add some more money and buy an apartment in Odesa. But… I don’t have a home anymore. Now they say there will be a state compensation program for those who lost their homes. Maybe they will remember us, people who lost everything eight years ago? That would be fair.
Some of my friends who went to Europe will probably get rooted there. Some will return. And I am still here and inviting all my friends and relatives to join me. Of course, if a person is in panic, not a patriot, or does not understand “who attacked whom,” then let them go somewhere else. They won’t do us any good here. But I keep my chin up. Sometimes it’s scary, but deep down, I’m convinced, for some reason, that Odesa will remain as it was. It will remain steadfast.
The article’s author apologizes to those interlocutors with whom she arranged an interview but whose stories she did not include in this text. The material turned out to be longer than I expected. I am convinced that the topic of displaced people deserves further consideration, and I will return to it.
- Following in the KGB Footsteps: How the Russians are Trying to Win the Information War, What Does Schvets Have to do with It, “The Good Russians” and What You Need to Know about Disinformation
By Maryana Metelska
What the Russians are good at is creating and spreading disinformation. They don’t change their methods for decades but adapt them to modern realities. The rapid development of the Internet only contributes to the spread of this disinformation virus. After the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, the Russians became more active on the information front, directing their efforts to rock the boat both in Ukraine and in the West in general. Their goal is obvious; they want to weaken Ukraine from the inside and disrupt its relations with partners and, in general, with the whole world. Then it would be easier to destroy.
Russian disinformation is very diverse. If we were to describe each case in detail, we would need to write a whole book about it. However, for personal protection against disinformation, it is enough to know its general workings. “Volyn Online” briefly explains how propaganda and disinformation work, why these are two separate notions, and why you should not take their word for it from everyone who says they are against Putin’s war. It also analyzes dangerous narratives for Ukraine.
The information front of the Russian Federation – how the Russians create disinformation and what methods of information weapons you need to know about
Most people associate Russian propaganda with people like Skabeieva or Solovyov, who spout nonsense about Nazis in Ukraine, US Biolabs, and killer geese. However, hostile propaganda and disinformation go way beyond concocting primitive fakes.
First, it is worth distinguishing the terms “propaganda” and “disinformation”, which are elements of informational and psychological warfare.
Disinformation is false or manipulative information that is purposefully created to cause harm. Truth can even be a part of disinformation if it meets the set goal – that is, only that part of accurate information is presented that is needed to create the desired “picture”. A characteristic feature of disinformation is regularity; it occurs over a long time and is implemented by a group of people. One of the main tactics of disinformation is to fill the information space with numerous mutually exclusive messages to disorient the information consumer and subject them to manipulation.
Propaganda can be positive (e.g. propaganda about a healthy lifestyle). The primary purpose of propaganda is to convince the target audience of something, shape its perceptions and guide its behaviour in the right direction.
Also, you have probably heard about such a concept as a “narrative”. It means an interpretation, a description of events from a certain point of view. The hostile narrative will always target emotions and aim for vulnerabilities. E.g., “Refugees hate Western Ukraine because there are no hostilities there”; “Residents of Western Ukraine are against refugees because they will take all the jobs”, etc. The narrative always contains both true and false information at the same time. This is done to preserve some truthful information that can “hook” a reader and increase the distribution of the narrative on social networks. (why would you doubt the information that has a fact mentioned?). Narratives often contradict each other aiming to polarize society, destabilize the situation, etc. Thus, they will spread the narrative that the West is hostile to refugees in the East. And in the West – that all the residents of Donbas are waiting for the arrival of the Russians, etc.
In 2018, the New York Times created a series of documentaries called “Operation Infection”, which talked about the methods of making and spreading disinformation that Russia has been using since the Cold War and until now. It is worth briefly mentioning some of these methods since the Russians currently use the same techniques on the information front. According to the film’s authors, they had reconstructed the seven commandments of Russian disinformation. They describe a time-tested step-by-step recipe for creating the perfect piece of fake news:
Rule 1. Polarize. Find any social differences (economic, ethnic, linguistic, etc.) and inflate these differences so much that people stop believing each other.
Rule 2. Create an audacious lie so big that no one would believe that anyone would even invent such a thing. And broadcast it everywhere.
Here we can recall an example from the time of the Cold War. In the 1980s, the KGB organized a disinformation campaign called “Operation INFECTION”: they spread information that HIV/AIDS was allegedly created in the USA as a biological weapon. Articles in the press replicated this disinformation so much that eventually, it made its way onto American television. The campaign aimed to worsen US relations with countries where American bases were located.
What do we see now? Russia is taking up the old ways again, inventing news about bio laboratories on the territory of Ukraine. As reported by “Volyn Online”, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation presented a “map” with such laboratories on the territory of Ukraine, and one of them is supposedly located in Lutsk. However, times have changed, so few people fell for this fake news except for the ruscists themselves and those intoxicated by their propaganda.
Rule 3. Wrap this lie around an authentic core. The most successful disinformation operations contain elements of truth that make the rest of the fake information palatable.
Rule 4. Hide your hands: Make it look like the message originated elsewhere.
Rule 5. Find yourself a useful idiot. They define useful idiots as those who mindlessly accept the Kremlin’s messages and promote them among the target audience – the foreign population they want to affect.
Rule 6. Deny everything. If someone is trying to disprove a fake, this is what this rule is for. You have to deny everything, to insist on your point of view aggressively.
Rule 7. Play the long game. Russia wants to play the long game and invests enormous resources in things that may not bear fruit for years. The accumulation of these operations over a long time will eventually produce a powerful political impact.
These seven simple rules were a powerful weapon of the KGB, and now Russia is using them again on the information front. And now, the age of the Internet is helping the Kremlin.
Disinformation is a type of active measure. A former KGB agent Yuriy Bezmenov, who fled to the West in the 1970s, described KGB activities in detail. These activities can also be called “ideological subversion” or “psychological warfare.” According to him, KGB agents spent 85% of their time on these active measures. This is a slow, grand process of “brainwashing”, which aims at changing the perception of reality to such an extent that, despite a large amount of information, no one can draw reasonable conclusions to protect themselves, society, and the country. This process consists of four main stages.
The first stage is demoralization. It takes 15-20 years to demoralize an entire country, that is, to educate at least one generation of students in an enemy country. Marxist-Leninist ideology had been rammed into the brains of at least three generations. A demoralized person can no longer determine the truth, even when given all the facts. It takes another 15-20 years to eliminate such “programming” by raising a new generation.
The second stage is destabilization. It takes from two to five years. Destabilization of the economy, foreign relations, and the defence system are essential at this stage.
The third stage is a crisis. It can take up to six weeks.
The fourth stage is normalization. It can last as long as you like. It comes after a crisis with a drastic change in the power structure and the economy.
The most common methods during the current information war are
- the big lie method (the bigger the lie, the more people believe it)
- repeated repetition (the lie is repeated until it is perceived as the truth)
- half-truth (the lie is mixed with the truth, and the more accurate it is, the more dangerous it becomes; some facts are easy to verify or everyone knows about them, and lies are imperceptibly thrown in between the points)
- a horror story (people are confronted with two evils: a terrible and a lesser evil; people choose the lesser evil; the method is used to justify bad deeds)
- “40 on 60” (60% of information is favourable towards the opponent to maintain the trust of the audience and the rest, 40%, is disinformation)
- “information avalanche” (judgments that contradict each other are spread at the same time to disorient the reader),
- “information laundering” (information is secretly given up to a particular expert in a specific mass media to hide its origin, and then, referring to a respectable source, it is replicated as much as possible)
- the method of anticipatory version (consists of the desire to inform the mass audience about the fact, the event, and its interpretation, first, without particularly worrying about the veracity of the message or its correspondence to reality; even if refuted, only a part of the mass audience will change the opinion they already formed).
Let’s look at some narratives to see how Russia is trying to defeat us on the information front.
“The West allocates billions of dollars, and we are still raising funds for drones and bulletproof vests”. The money was stolen: how ruscist propaganda manipulates us.
When the partners began to help Ukraine, sending weapons and allocating funds actively, betrayal came rushing from all possible directions. “Aid is being stolen” is the leading narrative propagandists never tire of. Remember, if there is even a drop of truth in the fake narrative, lies quickly go along. Given the many corruption facts in Ukraine, the public consumed this narrative rather organically.
For example, Yury Shvets promoted such messages actively. He is a former KGB agent who calls himself a fellow student of Putin (but in fact, he is not because he studied in the same university as Putin but for different years). Enough evidence is that Shvets is promoted by the infamous Dmytro Gordon, known in Ukrainian journalistic circles for never following the standards of journalism and for giving a platform to various pro-Russian politicians, bloggers, singers, etc. He actively promoted Shvets back in 2017.
It is worth emphasizing that Shvets’ YouTube channel appeared in June 2021, when Russia’s plans for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine became more pronounced. At first, Shvets recorded several videos a month, but when the war broke out, he began releasing videos every other day.
For some reason, his supporters do not ask themselves simple questions: why did such a shoddy journalist promote him, why did a person suddenly decide to become an analyst in retirement, and why did he do it a few months before the war, how he promoted his channel so much money that in just a year it grew to millions of views and subscriptions. Usually, independent media achieve this in years, not in a matter of months.
How can he have time to analyze all possible news and do analytics every day if, for this, you need either to have a large team or to produce analytic pieces not so often? Of course, if it is an analytics and not ready-made scripts that you read on camera.
Shvets’ channel was created and promoted all these months, building trust in the audience, knowing that the moment would come when it would be possible to use it.
Now, this moment has come; it is an opportunity to disrupt the supply of weapons to Ukraine and, in general, to present his audience with a distorted picture of the world and brainwash them. Why would he manipulate the facts he is presenting if it’s not true? Let’s look at the following examples:
For example, in a video dated July 9, Shvets says that American taxpayers’ money is allegedly being transferred in cash for state structures to purchase weapons. According to him, various offices buy weapons, and the participants of these deals pocket 10% and higher commissions.
“The sums shaved off there are colossal, well, take a billion dollars worth of purchases. Officials pocket at least 100 million in Kyiv. For some, war is hell. For others, it’s a time to prosper, so we are talking about putting this money so that it all goes to help the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and not as a commission to a Ukrainian official,” says Yurii Shvets.
Here he mentions the US congresswoman, Ukrainian by origin, Victoria Spartz, who is said to have investigated this embezzlement. In the video, he talked about Victoria Spartz for several days in a row, calling her a person with a “high level of access”; therefore, she cannot use rumours. Victoria Spartz is not that influential in the USA. The American press wrote about her “toxicity” as she humiliated her subordinates and was even called the worst employer in 2021.
On July 8, Viktoria Spartz wrote a letter to President Biden about the need to check whether the head of the Office of President Andriy Yermak had Russian connections and expressed concern about the possible smuggling of supplied weapons out of Ukraine. In particular, the congresswoman stated that she could not be sure whether the guns would not be smuggled into Mexico, Islamic terrorist states, or even Russia.
Not to say that there are no such problems in Ukraine. Still, manipulative statements about the potential smuggling of weapons to Mexico or Syria can seriously harm Ukraine’s image and disrupt critical arms supplies. This is what the Russian Federation is trying to achieve.
On July 12, the Financial Times published an article quoting the US Deputy Secretary of State for Arms Control, Bonnie Denise Jenkins, that “the possibility that American weapons sent to Ukraine could fall into the wrong hands is being considered.”
Having gathered all these facts, Shvets speculates that the US Government is seriously looking into this issue, while the Ukrainian authorities pretend there is nothing to it. But at the same time, Shvets takes quotes out of context and does not say that, for example, the same Bonnie Denise Jenkins said: “We are confident in the obligation of the Ukrainian government to protect and report on US weapons properly.”
By a strange coincidence, all these statements intensified when the flow of aid from the US increased, mainly when HIMARS were supplied and successfully used at the front.
It is also worth emphasizing that the Co-Chair of the Ukrainian Caucus in the US Congress, Marcy Kaptur, stated that Spartz repeats Russian narratives:
“Those who spread wild narratives against Ukrainian officials during the war are recklessly aiding Putin and his propagandists. As allies, we will continue working alongside President Zelenskyi and his office to ensure this war ends.”
NATO stated that they are confident in the obligations of the government of Ukraine to properly store and keep records of the weapons provided by the allies. EU Commissioner for Internal Affairs Ylva Johansson also said that the EU is confident in Ukraine’s proper use of firearms.
The Pentagon also said they did not find any evidence of smuggling the provided weapons.
Shvets also talks about arms smuggling, apparently referring to “CNN” and “FT”, and emphasizes that everything is allegedly so severe that the EU commission decided to create a special centre in Moldova to fight arms smuggling from Ukraine.
“The EU Commission believes that this issue is so urgent that it is creating a centre to deal with it in a neighbouring country,” he says.
You will Google it and say, “That’s true. Such a centre is being opened.” Thus, the EU is creating a centre in Moldova to fight organized crime, particularly arms smuggling. It will become a universal one-stop shop allowing Europol to share information and the EU border agency Frontex to support border management and detect illegal firearms trafficking. The centre will also be aimed at combating human trafficking.
However, there is no evidence that this centre is being opened because smuggling in Ukraine has already reached high levels. In particular, Swedish Migration Minister Anders Igeman said that most of the weapons supplied to Ukraine remain in the hands of the Ukrainian military, and “only a limited number of those weapons used in the war can be used by organized crime later.” He emphasized that “there should be measures to control the flow of weapons after the war in Ukraine.”
And such manipulations are in every video by Shvets. To check this, it is enough to Google what he says, not only in Ukrainian but also in English, and see what respectable news outlets report on the subject.
Shvets manipulates information using the half-truth method here. Let’s go back to rule #3 from the KGB – wrap this lie around an authentic core. Shvets’ video is a vivid example of this.
It is logical that Shvets’ audience immediately feels angry that money is being stolen, and they want to give it publicity, so such videos and narratives from them become viral. And since disinformation is successfully mixed with the truth (there is corruption in Ukraine, there aren’t enough weapons at the front, etc.), the viewer perceives this “picture” as a whole.
And what happens to the money, for example, that the USA allocates for Ukraine? Experts point out that the financial assistance provided by the USA, to a large extent, remains in the USA.
“Most Western aid is not monetary. It comes as weapons, ammunition, medical equipment, and humanitarian assistance. The USA is the largest supplier of military aid to Ukraine. We should note right away that the lend-lease program, so highly promoted by our mass media, will only start working in October when the new fiscal year begins in the USA.
US aid is coming as part of a much-publicized $40 billion aid package passed by the US Congress in May. However, not all of that money goes towards military aid to Ukraine. Only six billion will be spent directly on weapons, and ammunition, training Ukrainian service members and providing Ukraine with intelligence. Another eleven billion have been transferred to the personal control of President Biden, and he may use some of that money as military aid. Still, we cannot be sure about that. Another eight billion dollars is designated for financial and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. The rest of the funds will go to NATO members in Europe, as well as to replenish weapons for the American army and even to overcome hunger in African countries. It is still not clear how much of this money will reach Ukraine. In June, only one billion dollars of financial assistance arrived at the National bank of Ukraine with this program to replenish its foreign exchange reserves. The program is only valid until the end of September; if some allocated funds are not used by that time, then Ukraine will not receive them.
Even though the US has allocated considerable funds for military aid to Ukraine, American weapons and ammunition are expensive. For instance, one HIMARS salvo costs a million dollars. Moreover, the US estimates the price of military personnel preparation at a high level, and the same is true of transferred intelligence, etc. Six billion in military aid doesn’t mean an ample arms supply. Ukraine needs significantly more weapons and ammunition. The same is true of the assistance Ukraine is getting from other countries.
And when it comes to Viktoria Spartz and some other politicians who state that arms supplied to Ukraine could be resold to Russia or Syria, most likely, such statements are issued for the politicians’ self-promotion. There was no evidence of Ukraine transferring weapons to any other countries. However, statements like these may slow the rate at which foreign help is arriving to Ukraine or even put a stop to it”, says the expert.
Financial and economic columnist Bohdan Slutskyi explains that Ukraine receives both military (machinery, equipment, spare parts, etc.) and non-military aid (monetary aid to cover the deficit in the state budget).
“It’s essential to note that international financial organizations and partner states do not provide funds for military purposes. Instead, they assist with humanitarian needs such as covering salaries, pensions, social benefits, including the needs of internally displaced persons”, highlights Mr Slutskyi.
Since February 24, international partners have issued almost 13 billion dollars in grants and soft loans to Ukraine as of July 14 (approx. 390 billion UAH at the official exchange rate).
“This number looks astronomical, but it’s a false impression. War is a costly undertaking. Basic financing expenses (mainly the army and social benefits) come to 320-250 mill UAH. Only 50-70 bill UAH is collected as tax revenues. The other monthly 180-200 billion UAH need to be covered from other sources,” emphasizes the expert.
An expert from the civil movement, “Vsi razom!” Yevhen Savisko explains that the US government allocates money to Ukraine is used to finance the production of weapons in the US, both to replace the ones already given to Ukraine and to fulfil new military orders for the Armed Forces. The same funds are used to cover the expenses of intelligence work, including aerospace intelligence. So the money that comes to Ukraine is distributed according to targeted programs (to support the State Budget of Ukraine, to ensure the activities of law enforcement agencies and the State Emergency Service, to finance the particular needs of the war with the Russian Federation). Also, part of this money is used to support the refugees that left Ukraine for the US.
There isn’t separate financing allocated for Ukraine to purchase weapons. The relevant US government structures buy and supply all necessary arms. One of the reasons is systemic corruption in our domestic government structures. Another one is the peculiarities of the US budgetary policies.
Other countries are covering Ukraine’s financial needs in similar ways. They finance specifically targeted programs, like refugee support, aid to victims of ruscists, or allocation of weapons or protective gear.
The president of the “First international development foundation for Ukraine”, Mykola Volkivsky, thinks along the same lines:
“Stealing allocated funds is next to impossible for two reasons. The announced amount is an estimate of the worth of property or equipment that will be provided to Ukraine. So it will come in kind and not as actual money. In most cases, it’s the best scenario because all the necessary munition and gear cannot be purchased at your local store. The weapons don’t just come with manuals. People must be taught to use them (except for unified models), etc. And often, the amount you hear is an estimate, not a given weapon’s net worth. The other reason is increased control over the use of finances. Sometimes the money would be provided for certain purposes: it cannot be withdrawn, the result will be verified, and sometimes there wasn’t a particular Ukrainian interest in it”.
“Our guys were left without provisions, their commanders fled, summonses are issued on the street, newly recruited are shipped to the front line”: how Russians are trying to disrupt mobilization in Ukraine
Another direction where Russians are working tirelessly is the attempt to disrupt the mobilization in Ukraine. Most Ukrainians have certainly heard messages like “Our guys are left without provisions on purpose”, “The commanders fled and left our boys in the grind, “Only people from Western U Ukraine are being mobilized to fight on the front lines”, and so on.
These messages are mainly spread on social networks, where it is straightforward to claim “betrayal”. Let’s look at the case of the so-called volunteer Oleksii Osker.
Under the guise of being a volunteer, Osker constantly discredits state and local government members, sometimes even appealing to dismantle them altogether. The same goes for famous charitable foundations, like “Come back alive”, Serhii Prytula foundation and even Soros. Baselessly accuses them of embezzling volunteer contributions while chastising the government and the military for abandoning soldiers.
In his live broadcasts on Facebook, Osker has repeatedly called on Ukrainian service members to leave the battlefield and attack Kyiv instead. These false claims quickly spread on social networks. Many pages that reposted his messages belonged to bots.
Osker has also distributed videos of the appeals of servicemen allegedly “abandoned” by their commanders. He added an emotional component by including the request of the supposed wife of the soldier. Thousands of people shared these videos to create an impression that the Armed Forces of Ukraine left some fighters to die and that no one but their wives and mothers cared for them. At the same time, there were many losses in the military in May, so his message fit the then-current narrative. Deserters recorded these videos, and there were just a few. They were members of territorial defence units, not the Army of Ukraine, according to the investigation carried out by “Hromadske”. Service members from the Ukrainian Armed Forces even recorded videos, apologized to the Ukrainians for such deserters, and declared that they no longer wanted people like that to serve alongside them.
Osker also tells his subscribers that the aid from Western partners has been stolen. Bots and useful idiots readily spread this information on social networks.
It is worth noting that this “volunteer” was once trying to sell the post of the head of the Mykolaiv regional state administration for 600 thousand dollars.
Osker’s leading social media profile has been blocked, but he just created a new one.
To demoralize our military, Russians also spread fake claims that Ukrainians are surrendering en masse because their commanders abandon them. This is not the case; there are no more than 8,000 MIA, so some may be in captivity, but this number is not nearly significant enough to be ground for such claims.
Ruscists also use the fact that summonses are issued on the streets in Ukraine. As repeatedly explained in the centres of recruitment and social support, receiving a subpoena on the road does not mean they will immediately send a person to the front.
First, the person’s data needs to be verified. Only then are they sent to undergo a medical examination to determine if they are fit for service. If the person has little combat experience, they will be sent to further training before joining active combat.
A lucrative narrative for Europe: “Putin is to blame for everything, and “good” Russians are against the war.”
This is a particularly dangerous narrative actively promoted among Europeans. It states that the “good” Russians are not guilty of anything, they are against the war, and Putin is the only one responsible for the deaths of children and other civilians in the middle of Europe.
This narrative is designed to remove sanctions from Russia and then lift the responsibility for the crimes committed by the Russians in Ukraine (since only Putin is to blame).
If only Putin is to blame, then who is shooting at civilians? Putin himself? And then, who is more than 70% of Russians who, according to recent polls, support the war against Ukraine? And who are these people who wrote malicious comments under the photo of the four-year-old girl Lisa from Vinnytsia, who was killed by a Russian rocket?
Same story with Maryna Ovsyannikova, who is believed to protest the war. If she were really against the war and not an element of Russian propaganda, they would have detained her and prevented her from leaving the country to work in Europe. Moreover, for some reason, the Western media overlooks that Maryna Ovsyannikova had been engaged in propaganda activities for years. That is, she is not just a “good Russian woman”; she is another person directly responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
If we look back at WWII, every German was responsible for the crimes of the Nazis, not just Hitler. Nobody then bothered with arguments like, “We are not to blame. It was out of our hands.” The entire German nation was re-educated, and reparations were collected from the state. And no one even thought of shifting the blame only to Hitler and his entourage. So why shouldn’t Russia bear collective responsibility now if it does nothing to stop this war?
Russia promotes the narrative that a peace agreement can only end the war, and Ukraine is delaying this process
Russia sees that support for Ukraine is vital in the European community, the USA, and many other world countries. They understand that their active measures should first be directed at those countries that support Ukraine. They believe that stripping Ukraine of foreign support or shifting the blame for prolonged hostilities onto Ukraine may help them get their way.
According to the Center for Countering Disinformation at the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, pro-Russian “experts” have already begun to promote the corresponding narrative in foreign media. They postulate that Russia is ready to end this war and will attempt to do so within a month, delivering a devastating blow to Ukraine. For example, a former colonel of the US Army, Douglas McGregor, known for his pro-Russian position, gave interviews with such talking points to foreign media.
The pro-Russian prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, also stated that Ukraine would not win the war and that a peace agreement must be concluded. According to him, European governments are “falling like dominoes”, energy prices have risen sharply, and now they should devise a new strategy.
At the same time, prices in Europe are rising, and the Russians are using this as a basis for their poisonous propaganda, trying to convince the average consumer that Ukraine is to blame for their problems and not Russia, which launched an unprovoked attack against Ukraine. In particular, the media”Controinformazione” used a manipulative headline “Europe has lost four governments due to anti-Russian sanctions… and the EU is starting to ease them up.” The text cites Orbán extensively. The media does not frame Orbán’s words as his opinion, but as a recount of the state of affairs.
Russia also reminds Europeans that a cold winter is coming in an attempt to convince Ukraine to make concessions as soon as possible.
What do we do with all this: advice instead of conclusions
You can protect yourself from hostile disinformation and propaganda. And you can start small; first, learn to verify what you hear.
A simple Google search will help you with this. You need to pay attention to the source of information: if the source is anonymous, if they appeal to your emotions instead of facts, something is fishy. At the same time, even time-honoured media sometimes make mistakes, ill-intended or not. Therefore, pay attention to the context: when was that particular statement released, who benefits from sharing this information, how established are the journalists covering the topic, and who are the experts who comment on the subject? If a person, for example, used to spread pro-Russian statements and now has changed colours drastically, this is reason enough to question their authority.
If you are unsure, you have enough skills to verify information, avoid anonymous Telegram channels, hostile media or bloggers who appeal to your emotions instead of facts, or those who manipulate the facts to serve their means (again, use Google search to check the facts). Read established media that has been around for a while. Don’t be swayed by emotional calls to action such as “Share this right now!” and by divisive narratives.
Professional propagandist Yuriy Bezmenov, who used to do the brainwashing professionally, advised fighting disinformation at the state level, in particular, to educate people in the spirit of true patriotism. He also recommended explaining the real threat of a socialist, communist, “welfare state”, Big Brother-style governance to people.
“We need to stop supporting communism because there is no more urgent and pressing problem than stopping the Soviet military-industrial complex from destroying what is left of the free world. It is straightforward: there should be no loans, no technology and money exchange, and no political or diplomatic recognition of the USSR. And, of course, no trade in grain,” he said in the 1980s.
Decades have passed, but these tips are as relevant as ever. The world did not understand then, but perhaps it is not too late to realize it now and destroy the Kremlin’s most terrible weapon – disinformation, a virus that programs us for destruction.
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- We are evacuating everyone: how the newly formed Rescue NOW project takes people out of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk regions
By Yuliia Bondar
On March 9, a post “Save Kharkiv! Humanitarian aid and evacuation” appeared on Instagram. At that moment, the building of the Regional State Administration, the Uspensky Cathedral, Karazin University and many residential buildings were already under fire in Kharkiv. On March 9, 14 people appeared trying to save Kharkiv residents from the war.
In a month, the fund’s team will increase to about 200 people, and Kramatorsk, Popasna, Severodonetsk and other cities and villages of Donetsk and Luhansk regions will be among the destinations.
Volunteering is the second front
Rescue NOW started with a small group of people who just wanted to help Kharkiv and its residents survive the war. Prior to that, future drivers and coordinators were engaged in fashion, restaurant business, photography, teaching, acting. Since February 24, the mission of these people has been the same – to restore peace.
“The volunteer movement in Ukraine is the second front. Most understand that they can do something for the victory of their country. And people don’t think about their job or personal security until we win. Because no one wants to be occupied by Russians, and understanding of some future can only be after we win,” said Georgy Zeykov, a fashion designer and volunteer.
They started with the evacuation – they took their relatives to safe places. Then other people were taken at least to the railway station, from where people boarded evacuation trains. The team grew, as did the desire of the people to leave the city. Today, volunteers have helped more than 5,000 people to temporarily evacuate to Dnipro or Poltava, and the call center and social network receive up to 1,500 calls and 100 questionnaires – those who are still waiting for help.
Mykhailo Chernomorets, a restaurateur, took his relatives out on the first day and returned to Kharkiv himself. He says this is where he belongs. However, there was no understanding of what to do – chaos reigned. He started finding people through social networks to take out in his own car. On day 3 or 4, he was contacted by an NGO that had a bus but no drivers. Yes, Mykhailo started evacuating by bus. Now Chornomorets has switched to coordinating processes and rapid evacuation from Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
“At night, I raked up applications on social networks, sat on the floor in the toilet before going down to the shelter, because everything was exploding around me. During the day I traveled and answered calls. I wrote on Instagram that I needed help. One day a friend called and asked how to help: I passed some applications. That’s how our team started to develop. We created the first registration form,” says Mykhailo Chernomorets.
To collect data, they registered on Instagram and Facebook, where they receive messages and distribute the form that needs to be filled out for evacuation, and for logistics and direct removal, they started looking for volunteers.
What does the work of the fund look like?
Volunteers first receive an application where people provide the necessary details: location, contact phone number, person’s condition (whether the person has a disability or illness), or has a person who takes in a safe place. The volunteer contacts to update the questions and informs about the time and place of the meeting. Georgy Zeykov calls it a typical evacuation.
When the war broke out, the designer did not think about work, although he did it for 10 years. He was looking for a way to apply himself and consequently found a foundation. Prior to that, he twice tried to get into the territorial defense. Now Zeykov wants to process all applications, save them, and then show the state where it is not working effectively enough.
If a person is disabled or seriously ill, they use an ambulance. They personally help people with disabilities to get out of the apartment – first they took them down on bedspreads, now they use special stretchers. The team has a list of volunteers with transport, and if a person can sit, they are asked for help.
Sometimes a team can take a person out of a specific address – it depends on the situation and condition. To do this, the fund cooperates with local taxis.
The evacuation from the region began with a blockade of Mariupol, and the fund’s resources grew. Everyone was looking for a new direction. As soon as there was information that there would be an attack on Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Mykhailo went to check the safety of the road for evacuation. However, the first attempt was unsuccessful.
The team started looking for reasons. It turned out that the evacuation was discredited in the region. Men were not allowed into the state’s one, so the whole family could refuse. Animals were not allowed either. Therefore, at first the evacuation of the fund was not shared with what the state was doing. So the foundation began to take everyone out, and also looked for intermediaries who could motivate people. They went to the employees of village councils and heads of OTG, who knew people and could communicate with them.
As Georgy explains, the fund is trying to work out potential dangerous points in advance. To do this, they read the news, follow what is happening on the front line, and communicate with most of the cities.
Driver Dan says that safe evacuation also depends on the driver.
“I was waiting in line at one checkpoint, and it was shelled. The servicemen immediately took up positions, and I understood that I had people in my car. And I needed to do something. I asked everyone to lie on the floor, because it was dangerous to get out of the car. I stood like that for 10 minutes, but kept my foot on the gas soI could move out fast,” says Dan.
It happened that the fund was looking for other ways to leave, because on the way back they met missiles in the asphalt or Russian tanks. However, Dan motivates himself with one question: “If I can, why not?”
Nevertheless, there are stories in the fund when people refuse to evacuate.
“An acquaintance asked to evacuate her mother and grandmother, who remained in the house from which the attacks began. And this is 2-3 weeks of war. They were so scared that they gathered in 3 minutes. They were in a terrible state. I can’t even explain. This is not hysteria – some horror in the eyes. They asked if we could meet the Russians or if we could get there. We even gave them a sedative,” says Mykhailo.
Georgy had a different story: a woman and her husband who had cancer refused to leave becauseRussians started bombing less. They thought it meant the end of the war. However, their area was occupied by the Russians, looted pharmacies and occupied hospitals to treat their soldiers. Therefore, the foundation had to carry medicines there several times: they were looking for painkillers, and another person was taking them from Kharkiv to Balaklia. There, another volunteer picked it up in a safe place and returned through Russian checkpoints. An injection was given in Balaklia, and only after that did the woman agree to the evacuation.
“It’s a story when you have to do everything on time. And if you don’t do that, you create problems for yourself and for others,” Zeikov emphasizes.
In addition, Chernomorets believes that due to the fact that Russian troops have left some cities in the region, people have the impression that everything is fine.
“Unfortunately, Kharkiv is leaving the information field, but the shelling is not over. It seems that the situation has improved. And people who left 2 months ago do not see information about what is happening in the city, there is a false sense of security. Sooner or later, people will start coming back, and it’s too early,” says the restaurateur.
If necessary, volunteers also seek temporary shelter for people in evacuation cities if no one meets them. On the way back to Kharkiv, they buy humanitarian aid: food, medicine, fuel, baby food, clothes. Humanitarian aid is the second direction of the fund.
The third is determined to feed people. To do this, in the shelter of one of the restaurants in the city they have opened a kitchen, which prepares about 10 thousand servings daily.
How much does an evacuation cost?
The fund managed to attract $ 300,000 from American and European foundations and donors to purchase the necessary items. However, due to bureaucratic processes, which are delayed through large funds, volunteers are looking for money through social networks – urging people to donate.
According to the fund’s estimates, the usual evacuation costs 550 hryvnias per person. For a difficult evacuation, the car from Kharkiv to the Dnieper will cost around 1500-2000 hryvnias for three.
However, evacuation is free for people – all bills are paid by the fund. That’s why Rescue NOW has created a donation form: you can pay for fuel or humanitarian aid with a card, PayPal, Google / Apple Pay, Revolut or a SWIFT bank transfer. All valid accounts can be found on the fund’s Instagram page.
It is difficult for the fund to cooperate with government agencies too. There was a case when they were refused a bus that was parked in the parking lot for fear that something would happen to it.
At the same time, it is easy to work with small towns and villages where people know each other and cooperate better. So in one village the residents themselves agreed on a school bus, and asked the fund only for fuel.
“You refuel them for 10 thousand hryvnias, and the evacuation of one costs less than 300 hryvnias if 30 people go. It’s cheap,” explains Zeikov.
However, the foundation does not say that each such evacuation costs drivers their lives, because it is unknown when the Russians will once again fire on the city, highway or evacuation bus. Dan shares his rules of evacuation: think quickly in case of an emergency, do not take your loved ones on the road, because it will distract from thoughts about their own safety, and have a few ways to travel. Also, Dan does not buckle up to jump out of the car during the shelling – the probability is higher than the accident.
“It’s scary, but nowhere without it. Fear drives us, ”explains Dan.
- ‘There Will Be a Lot of ‘Buchas’ in the Kherson Region.’ the Story of the Evacuation of a Person with a Disability, Oleh Kuharskyi, from Temporarily Occupied Kherson
Edited by Andrii Bystrov
Russian troops occupied Kherson on March 2, a little more than a week after the start of the full-scale invasion. Oleh Kuharskyi, a disabled Kherson citizen, lived for several months under occupation until he decided to leave the city to protect his daughter. Zaborona editor Andriy Bystrov spoke with Kuharskyi about partisan resistance, the secret basements of the Russian Guard and the FSB, and the evacuation through the so-called “road of hatred” – the path to Ukrainian-controlled territories through dozens of Russian filtering checkpoints, which can take a week.
What did you do in Kherson before the active phase of the war?
It is very difficult for a person with a disability to get a job. I worked as a driver on my own car, worked as a taxi. Tried to earn something little by little. I have a wife and a daughter, so I also take care of my family.
I was fond of sports – powerlifting, archery, table tennis, bicycle racing.
How did you get your disability?
In the army, I was taken to the sports company, I was an athlete in the army club. At a competition, I fell off my bicycle at high speed and broke my spine. Since then I’m in a wheelchair.
How your adaptation passed?
I am a professional sportsman, so I had character. I did not lose heart. In 1994, in Kyiv, I joined a group of active rehabilitation which trained people with disabilities in the field of sports and self-care.
I specialized in teaching people how to use an active wheelchair. See, it’s a pretty comfortable little chair, it’s very light. You can live independently, because it drives into the door, into the elevators, you can do sports. You can also climb even the stairs — you should know how to do it. I taught people how to use it properly, how to fall off it safely, how to jump on curbs, how to slide down ramps. I showed them secrets and taught them how to get out of the state of depression, unwillingness to live.
Tell us about the first days of the war in Kherson.
The daughter came running at 4 in the morning: “Mom, dad, get up, the war has started.” My wife said: how could there be war in the 21st century? And then there was panic because the explosions were approaching very quickly, they could already be heard on the outskirts of the city.
The people of Kherson started buying gasoline in the early hours, and the next day it was gone. Whoever had the car filled up could go quickly. But it is very difficult to take responsibility, drop everything and leave. We have a private house. At home, we have a cat, a dog, several chickens… And a mother who does not want to leave the farm and go with us. We stayed. It was scary and very loud. In a straight line from us to the famous Chornobayivka there are 4 kilometers.
There were active protests in the temporarily occupied Kherson, the townspeople stopped the armored vehicles of the occupiers with their own hands.
As soon as the Russians came in, they were kind of meek: “We’re liberating you.” They were smiling. At first, they did not touch the protesters, but simply stood nearby, barriers were set up, and cars blocked the street near the administration. And then the Russian Guard came and started to tighten the rules. They threw stun grenades, shot protesters in the legs. People were seriously injured and eventually stopped going to protests.
Then the occupiers began to go to the addresses quietly at night, dragging all the activists “to the basement”. Someone leaked the lists to them. Former ATO veterans began to disappear… Many Kherson residents understood that they had to flee. Because the occupiers took anyone “to the basement” and did not return them back, especially young men. They did this because of a patriotic tattoo, or some relation to the Armed Forces. Searches are currently underway in Kherson, even in garages.
How did Kherson live in the first weeks of the temporary occupation?
Different people came: so-called DNR citizens, Chechens, Yakuts, there were also Crimeans. More or less adequate were Crimean ones. And the others are dumb, it is very difficult to deal with them. They came to liberate us from the Nazis… Such nonsense! They themselves do not understand why they came here. It is believed that both Bandera residents and Nazis are here. “We came to protect Russian-speaking people.” Some have already brought their families. They find more or less whole houses – the best, of course, they find – and settle their own people there.
The equipment drives all day long – not by one car, but by 2-3. They patrol all the streets regularly, keep an eye on them. “For intimidation.” They don’t go alone – they go in groups of 5, 6, 10 people with automatic weapons. It is noteworthy that the occupiers are wearing balaclavas all the time, hiding their faces – even in 40-degree heat.
A curfew was introduced in the city, roadblocks were placed. We tried to leave in our own car at our own risk. You get to a roadblock, documents are checked, the trunk is checked, boys of draft age are undressed… If you don’t like something, they take you out of the cabin. It is better to be silent and not provoke them.
They brought a lot of alcohol of unknown origin. They drink a lot and there are drunken gunfights over in the city.
Do the people of Kherson manage to save their own businesses and property?
The Russians somehow believed that they captured Kherson – and that’s all, it’s theirs. They engage in looting. They break down the doors of apartments and garages. In the first days, all warehouses with products and household appliances were robbed. They took away everything: TVs, phones, laptops. All Foxtrot, Comfi, Citrus, Allo, Eldorado stores were looted.
Stores began to sell off the goods they had at a 50% discount. And in the middle of the day, Russians drove up on buses with machine guns, went in, took what they were interested in, and took it to the temporarily occupied Crimea. All new cars went there from car dealerships. Goods, warehouses where there were Ukrainian products — everything was looted, taken to the temporarily occupied Crimea.
They visited the farmers: “70% of the crop is for us, 30% for you.” Such an attitude: if you don’t want it, we’ll take everything. Agricultural machinery was taken from people and everything they had grown. Our region is known for growing vegetables. There, in the villages, agricultural products were taken away for a pittance. They say to Ukrainians, you plant, and we will come and take everything away. Friends traveled in the direction of the temporarily occupied Crimea and saw columns with agricultural machinery and products.
In the villages, people slaughter animals because the “orcs” will eat them! They come to the village, gathered meat and left. They ate it all and come again. In a neighboring village, a herd of sheep is being eaten on a farm. The Russians more or less have their own food, and the so-called DNRovites have nothing at all. They were thrown here, they rob, loot. Looking for food, moonshine, hungry, want to drink.
The problems started with the cash hryvnia. ATMs were robbed. And only a few shops accept cards, and they have already closed. There are funds on the card, but it is impossible to buy food with them. Pensioners who receive pensions through Ukrposhta have stopped being paid. Ukrposhta has closed, there are no funds. Ukrainians are self-surviving.
Now there is a lot of talk about collaborators from Donbas and Mykolaiv. How do you think the situation in Kherson looks like? How many people cooperate with the Russians?
Unfortunately, there are collaborators, but there is a small number. Some collaborators are forced. For example, Russians started threatening the family. Russians are interested in teachers, community leaders, civil servants, but ordinary people are not very useful for them. The occupiers need to establish an educational process, manage a village or a city somewhere.
[Former mayor of Kherson, now a collaborator Volodymyr] Saldo came to manage our city. Where did he come from? He was once a mayor, then a member of the Verkhovna Rada, “Party of Regions”. Such persons began to appear… Kherson residents do not want to take Russian passports. Although there are queues for passports, it is forced. If you don’t have a passport, you are nobody.
What does the humanitarian situation and general life in Kherson look like now?
There is still electricity, gas, and water in the city. Outside the city, in the villages where hostilities are taking place, none of this is there anymore. People there… I don’t know how they survive. There is no work, everything is closed: shops, all enterprises. No one wants to cooperate with the Russians. There, you either cooperate and pay Russia, or you close your business.
Ukrainian television was immediately turned off. Many elderly people try to watch Russian TV. And I see how people are changing their attitude towards all this. Right in front of your eyes. The person was normal, then watched Russian television – and I see that he is already saying something wrong. Then they turned off the Internet. The cable from Mykolaiv was damaged. Then they connected the Internet from the temporarily occupied Crimea. It was a different Internet — not the one we have. Access to many sites is already limited, only through VPN. The quality is bad, the speed is low. But we still tried to communicate via the Internet, because there was no mobile connection. When the connection was lost and the Internet began to disappear, we already start to think about how to get out of there.
There are difficulties with pharmacies. People immediately bought everything that was there. And there is no new delivery. It is a terrible trouble when there are no reserves. Thank God, volunteers helped – they brought medications against blood pressure and kidney diseases, painkillers.
It is also impossible to call an ambulance because there is no connection. You realize that if something happens to you, no one will help you.
How many residents remain in the city now?
About 70% have probably already left. 30 percent remain in the city. If you don’t have a car, you can leave by bus – because there is gasoline in the city, it was brought from the Crimea. For example, a ticket to Zaporizhzhia costs 5,000 UAH, and to Odesa — 8,000 UAH. It is necessary to stand there in the bus for 4-5 days.
You have joined that 70%. When did you decide to leave the city?
We left on July 17. We tried to survive, we had food supplies: we had cereals, we had water, we had a little bit of vegetables. The prices for vegetables in Kherson were not bad, because there is nowhere to take them, and other foods were already a problem. They started importing from Crimea, but the price is 3-4 times higher.
We have been waiting for so long for the announcement of the liberation of Kherson. And in fact, it didn’t happen. We could hear the fighting approaching. The fighting went to Mykolaiv, and then we felt that everything was getting closer-closer-closer to us, already very close to us. And when it was very close, we decided to leave. Such an awareness: if [the Armed Forces] expel [Russian troops] across the Dnipro River, then they will shoot at the city from the left bank. And there is no green corridor, nowhere to go. At our risk, we broke through Melitopol to Zaporizhzhia, through Vasylivka [a town in the Zaporizhzhia region]. Maybe we, the adults, wouldn’t go – we did it just for the sake of the child. She is a little one, she gas to study more.
How old is your daughter?
16. We were worried about the children so that nothing would happen to them. Because the girls are 16-17 years old, they can take them away.
Do you know such cases?
It happened more in the villages. Where the Russians stood, around Kherson. There were also cases in the city, but not as many as in the villages. There will be so much of this. We will have many “Buchas” in the region. Because there are such villages where there is absolutely nothing left. Large villages were destroyed, people sat in basements. And they took away the cars, and raped the girls, and shot them. And it happened that the bodies were lying around, people were not allowed to take them away.
How did you leave? How was it organized?
There were six of us. My wife, daughter, niece, and we also took a neighbor with a 2-year-old child. The main motivation was to save children. I studied the routes, we only had one exit – through Vasylivka. A little earlier it was possible to leave through Snihurivka, through Davydiv Brid. There is fighting there now. Civilian cars that went there were simply turned back. We went down this long road. There were more than 30 checkpoints from Kherson.
There is also a second exit – through the temporarily occupied Crimea. It is safer, but I didn’t really want to go there: there is filtering, FSB, inspection. Then it would be necessary to drive either through Georgia or through the Baltic states.
What does the filtering process look like?
This is a conversation with a representative of the FSB, where every person is checked from A to Z. Phones, laptops – everything is checked. You hand over the equipment, the FSB employees sit there and check everything for a while. Then a person is called for a questioning. This interrogation can be [conducted] several times, up to 12 hours in length. If you didn’t answer some questions properly – then sit down. Then they dig and dig. They have some databases. Everything is re-examined: did you serve in the army or not; what did you do; your position; where you worked; what relation with others you had.
How did you pass the Russian roadblocks?
Verification of documents. “Open the trunk.” They may inspect things, or they may not. We saw: here they check our documents, and there they pulled a guy out of the car and beat him with a rifle butt. He said something wrong or they did not like something.
There was a terrible roadblock in Vasylivka. The system unit of a [stationary] computer was seen in the trunk. They say: “Turn it on and show what’s there.” The wife says: “Well, how can I turn it on?” They: “Well, then throw it away.” The daughter was in tears: why should we throw away our computer? The wife offered both money and cigarettes. He says, “Pull out the hard drive and throw it out.”
The attitude towards Ukrainians is boorish. People are just bullied. Children are crying. It’s hard. We arrived 501st in line. And they pass there barely 100 cars per day. We would stand there in the sun for 4-5 days without a toilet or basic human amenities. To a person with a disability, it is generally… How, where? I don’t know what I would do with the toilet at all. Where to look for that toilet in the steppe? [Fortunately, the Kuharskyi family was allowed through at the end of the first day because of a small child].
And the products there will be spoiled in a day or two. This is how people eat and live under the sun. We were preparing to leave. We understood that it might be necessary to spend more than one night there – we took a tent, air mattresses, and an umbrella with us.
When you arrived, was Zaporizhzhia your first stop?
There were also roadblocks, but it was our boys, it was joy. These are already our guys! Everyone works there: the military, SBU, police, and volunteer girls help. We arrived and immediately they asked everyone, wrote everything down, checked the documents, told where to issue what. Volunteers immediately came and told what to do. We spent the night [in Zaporizhzhia], then came to Dnipro, then to the country house of friends. And already in Dnipro, I was looking for options, where to go next (either abroad, or to stay in Ukraine). And here, thank God, we stayed in Kyiv.
There is a secret resistance in the city. Does the average citizen of Kherson notice the activities of the partisans?
They are invisible at all. We only hear their work. They shot a collaborator here, blew up a car there – they set such traps. They write announcements, paint fences with the words “Ukrainian Army is near”, draw Ukrainian flags. There is resistance!
How important is it to the locals? Are they counting on a partisan movement?
It’s important. It is a feeling that we have not been abandoned, that they are close, that our guys are on the way.
- “To put it mildly, it is unpleasant when they walk around the house with automatic rifles.”: Stories of people who fled the occupation in the south of Ukraine
By Anna Hakman
February 24, 2022, is a day that changed the lives of all Ukrainians and the world. February 24 became a fateful historical milestone that divided life into “before” and “after”.
On February 24, from four to five in the morning, the territory of Ukraine was subjected to rocket fire from the Russian Federation. Explosions were heard in the Kharkiv, Dnipro, Chernihiv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Kherson, Mariupol, Kramatorsk, Volnovakha, Lutsk, Khmelnytskyi, Sumy, and Vinnytsia regions, as well as in Kyiv and Kyiv oblast.
The war had begun.
The first siren sounded. The first night had to be spent in a bomb shelter with strangers.
The first affected house in the neighbourhood. The first close acquaintance died from Russian missile strikes. The first attempt to fit the most necessary and important things in one backpack. The first trip abroad, not as a tourist, but as a refugee.
A groundless, invasive, bloody, merciless, cruel war is happening in our land.
Every human story is worthy of attention. But now, we would like to share the stories of people who lived in the temporarily occupied territories.
Radion, 25 years old, a resident of Kherson, was forced to leave his hometown, his house, and his job. He lived in two places under occupation, the first time in the village of Tomyna Balka and the second time in Kherson.
“I heard an explosion, immediately went to read the news – the war had begun.
I was in Kherson when the war started, but I decided to go to the village of Tomyna Balka. 7-10 days later, the town came under occupation.
We understood that the village was occupied immediately. You go outside and see a bunch of Z-marked tanks coming from Kherson. Clearly, something terrible was already happening because there weren’t any of our troops in Kherson. And then everyone started saying that the Russians had entered the village.
They went inside our houses and checked documents and cell phones. They went to my grandmother’s house and checked everything, including the basement. To put it mildly, it is unpleasant when they walk around the house with automatic rifles.
Going outside was scary, especially in the first days. But going to the store for bread was necessary, so we started venturing outside. Many were afraid, but there was no choice. Most of the shops were closed; only one was working,” Radion says.
“We are not giving up. We are part of Ukraine!”
This phrase sounds daily on the streets of cities and villages of the Kherson region. People peacefully protested the presence of Russian troops, saying that no one wanted them here and that they should leave.
“Once, I went into a store and saw Russian occupiers buying food there. They wanted to pay in rubles, and the saleswoman could do anything about it. They reeked of alcohol, looked dirty, and took out crumpled money. The saleswoman looked at them and said: “I don’t accept rubles,” and they responded: “Well, let’s imagine that the exchange rate is 1 to 3.” And she had to take the rubles.
We lived in the occupied Tomyna Balka for about two weeks and then returned to Kherson. First, there were many soldiers in the village, and explosions became frequent. And it got so bad that the windows and doors in the house kept rattling.
The Russians dug trenches around the village. And I heard a rumour that there was a house on the outskirts of the village where they charged phones, but I cannot tell for sure.
There were about four checkpoints before Kherson. Only men’s passports were checked there. We lived in Kherson for about a month. The city became empty. Very few people and cars were on the streets, but the lines in shops were monstrous.
Finding regular products was challenging: there was no meat, pasta, buckwheat or sausage. I almost forgot what it looked like.
The Russian military was driving through the streets, and several times I saw two burly men in black uniforms with the Russian flag walking down the streets, probably patrolling.
It was psychologically hard. Then I heard rumours that people were kidnapped right from the streets, pushed into cars, and taken to an unknown destination – this was alarming.
We decided to leave in two cars. I was driving one, and my father was the driver for the other, both cars with women and children. We went through Snihurivka. I definitely remember that the last checkpoint of the occupiers was in Snihurivka. It was good that there were only women in the cars as passengers. They checked only my passport, and I said I was driving them out of town. The drivers usually had to pay Russians off to transport the residents without questions, but we were lucky; we passed free of charge. They also asked about the trip’s purpose and when we would return.
When we stood in line at the last checkpoint, we saw how 300 meters from us, they launched rockets. It was terrifying. We didn’t know where those rockets aimed – in our direction or further.
I have friends in Kherson, they say that there is no work, the prices have gone up a lot, the only thing is that vegetables are cheap, but they have always been cheap there.
Also, phones were always checked at checkpoints and asked if we had any tattoos. I don’t know why they check for tattoos,” Radion says.
“We spent 18 hours driving from Kherson to the controlled territory of Ukraine.
Do you know what was the most difficult? You get up every morning and don’t know what to expect or what will happen next. You understand that you need to buy something to eat. The meat for sale was not cleaned, not chopped, 250-300 hryvnias/kg for pork. There is no work, but we need to eat something. We went to the shops at 8-9 in the morning and returned at 12:00-13:00. After 15:00, the city died out. No one walked or drove; everyone was afraid. We had a curfew from 20:00.
But it was worse in Tomyna Balka. We heard rockets launch and land there.
Russian soldiers do not understand that they came to kill us for no reason, that we did not wait for them and did not ask them here. There was a case when I was walking with my mother to the store, and the “Z” cars were driving towards us, they stopped near us, we walked on, we did not look at them, a military man got out of the car, probably the one in charge, and asked us:
– Good afternoon. May I have a few words with you?
– Does someone bother you here? Any nationalists around?
– Everything is fine with us.
– We have come to protect you.
– “Everything was fine with us,” we repeat.
There were a lot of Russians, and they went back and forth around the village all day.
When we got to the Ukrainian checkpoints, our soldiers asked where the occupiers’ checkpoints were to strike them,” Radion says.
In occupied Kherson, the new reality is high prices, shops filled with Russian products, rubles, an absence of education, and doctors being forced to work in military hospitals.
Next, we talked with people who lived in occupied Snihurivka.
The occupiers began shelling Snihurivka a week after the start of the full-scale war, and on March 19, they entered the city. The occupiers searched the residents, and the drivers of the humanitarian transport travelling from Mykolaiv were detained and taken prisoners.
Anastasia, 24 years old, is a resident of Snihurivka. She lived in the occupation for a week.
“The first week was quiet at home. Then, from March 10-12, planes began to fly overhead, and residential streets were bombed. Many houses were damaged. On March 19, they entered the city. We didn’t believe it immediately, but my dad’s colleague came in and said Russians were already spotted in the town. Their soldiers entered the houses – looking for the members of territorial defence, war veterans, etc.
They also came to our house and searched it. Once I managed to hide with the neighbours because no one knew what was on their minds. The second time they came, I was at home, they entered the house, looked at us, and asked us to show our cell phones to them, but the phones were dead because there had been no electricity for a week already. I know that they took away things, vehicles, and weapons from many.
We had some food saved, but not much, like everyone in the village. There were problems with water. Mom managed to save a whole tub of water, but it ran out in a week because our family was not small. We had to figure out what to do about it. We also ran out of drinking water, and our store was not working, but thank God, some people had wells that saved us.
Some occupiers firmly believed that we needed to be saved from Banderites. They said they were sent to help us and establish a new government, although we told them we did not need it and were doing well.
I managed to leave the city. There was a checkpoint – they checked the documents and the car. They had a list, and they looked for my name there. I think that the list included members of territorial defence; they tried to capture these people. And then the Russians barred the exit altogether. No one could enter or leave the city.
Of course, in 3.5 months, people somehow got used to living without electricity and water. The market is working, you can buy at least some products, but the prices are very high, because the goods are brought from Kherson, and they cheat us here too. But you can still buy something. I know, a pack of coffee costs UAH 500. But at least we can purchase some products. Of course, people are afraid. I’m waiting for at least some good news,” the girl says.
Sofia, 21 years old, is a resident of Snihurivka. She lived in the occupation for a week.
“I was really looking forward to spring. It’s my favourite time of year, but plans have changed…
I was sleeping. My sister woke me up, she was petrified and said the war had started. I didn’t immediately believe it.
Russian troops entered our city. They started searching the houses, and then we got scared because my mother was in the military, and I know that the Russians mistreated the people who were somehow related to this. We were primarily afraid for my mother… That’s why we hid everything that looked even remotely related to the military.
When they entered our house, there were eight of them, then five stayed behind, some went to inspect our home, and the rest came with power banks and started charging our phones. We already had no electricity for a week.
I had a piano, and the soldiers asked who played the instrument. I said that I did. One soldier asked: “Can we come later and listen to you play in the evening?” After that, we didn’t spend the night at home because they saw only women in the house (we were four girls – me, my mother, my sister, and my friend). They started offering to “exchange the power bank for a musical evening”, and it scared us, and we decided not to sleep there. We spent the night with neighbours.
We had it easier because we had a private house: we could warm the rooms with a stove, and there was a well, so our friends came to us to draw water. We ate everything we had stored in the freezer. It was scary at night, and we slept on the floor beside a wall.
I know that the occupiers took away our belongings in sacks. But stealing is not the worst that could happen. The main thing is that the house was intact.
The only bomb shelters were in the school basements, and that’s it.
We lived in the occupation for a week and then managed to leave. We sat at the door with all our things packed for five days, searching for a way to leave the city. We were lucky to find an acquaintance who was taking his daughter away. He agreed to take us, too. At checkpoints, they checked our phones and belongings.
They know they have come to kill us, to seize the territory, but some told us: “It is your military who are bombing you.” I have few acquaintances left in Snihurivka. Cell service and light are still missing, so it is tough to keep in touch,” says Sofia.
We must always scream, speak and write about the pain the occupiers have brought us. They crippled our fates and lives and even took some of them. We will never forget it, but we will persevere. We will win. Ukraine will definitely win!
- City by the Sea with an Ocean of Opportunities
What would Mariupol be like if the war hadn’t disrupted the plans?
“These were just our hopes and dreams, and now everyone has seen them come true. And now we are confident that the city can handle the most modern and ambitious projects…” These words of Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko open the document on the city’s development strategy until 2030. The war crossed out its implementation. It concerned education and culture, youth policy, health care, ecology, and the development of the transport network.
What did Mariupol dream about?
In 2017, we adopted the first real Development Strategy until 2021 in our city’s history. It became the starting point for the changes that have taken place over the past five years. The main vectors that we included in this document were communal services and municipal services. They were to become the foundation that forms the comfort of life. We turned the key and opened the door to a comfortable future for every resident of Mariupol.
Now is the time to set new goals. We have reached a point where we can start a new discussion about possibilities. Together we have developed a road map for the next 10 years. We face even more ambitious challenges and a great mission – to become a city of Ukrainian miracle.
We had hopes and dreams, and now everyone has seen them come true. And now we are confident that the city can handle the most modern and ambitious projects. The new strategy consists of 14 directions with more than 100 target indicators. This is a voluminous document with deep meanings. The central focus of the Strategy remains unchanged – people. Everyone must have the opportunity to fulfill their potential in their hometown. So that everyone has opportunities for development, a comfortable life and options for leisure.
We spent 1.5 years developing this document together with the community. Students, the public, experts, specialists in various fields contributed to the formation of the city’s vision. One goal united us: we want to shape Mariupol’s future. Together, we have identified key growth points that will allow us to become the development flagship. This document contains not only numbers – it contains pieces of the heart and soul of the people of Mariupol, it reflects our love for our native city and our common pride, determination and faith in our strength.
The sea is our symbol and the biggest tourist magnet. We are forming a vision of our future coast with international experts. We are fully modernizing the Left Bank, the Central Bank and the Sand Beach. This will be the reset point for Mariupol. The city should look at the sea, be filled with its energy, and see a new horizon every day. We will continue to create a comfortable environment: with updated parks, beaches and affordable housing. We are supporting new universities that provide European quality education. We will develop the IT sector, where more and more young people find their calling. We activate new points of economic growth. We will continue to systematically improve our citizens’ comfort and quality of life.
We are open to cooperation and thank every partner who joined us and helps implement strategically important projects for the city. We will also welcome new friends and partners.
I am sure that the 2030 strategy will become a reality. We are all united by one desire – to make Mariupol comfortable for life. To turn our city into a source of inspiration for all of Ukraine. After all, Mariupol is a city by the sea with an ocean of opportunities.
An amusement park was going to appear in the city, the document mentions it by the name “Mariupol Disneyland”. They also planned to build “the coolest water park in Ukraine with its unique idea and philosophy” there. It would not only be a place for amusement but also introduce the visitors to the city’s history and legends.
Directions of city development
18. Construction of an amusement park. An amusement park will become a Mariupol “Disneyland”. It will be a fabulous place where visitors of all ages will briefly return to their childhood and experience pleasant nostalgia. The design of attractions may take after the sea creatures inhabiting the Sea of Azov, making the park unique.
19. Construction of a water park. Mariupol set itself the goal of creating the coolest water park in Ukraine with its own, unique idea and philosophy. The water park will not only entertain guests but also introduce them to local legends and the history of the city. The entertainment complex will include 4 swimming pools, 13 water slides, a restaurant, a SPA center, a night stage for events, and an amusement park with 24 attractions for the whole family. The water park design will begin after the Central and Right Bank embankments in Mariupol.
They also outlined the plans to reconstruct one of the city’s main streets, Bohdan Khmelnytskyi Boulevard. It would become a cozy, comfortable area for walking and cycling, doing sports and yoga.
“We will build children’s, basketball and volleyball courts, a mini-football field, a skate park, and a sledding hill on the boulevard. There will be places for table tennis, chess, dominoes, and badminton. The renewed boulevard will stimulate everyone, young and old, to lead a physically active lifestyle. For those who want to be in a quiet environment, a rest area has been devised, where you can chat, read or admire the beauty of the city landscape,” says the document. We have the Strategy text here in the editorial office of the Green Portal, but is not publicly available anymore since active hostilities started, for security reasons.
Directions of city development
The working group in the field of “Education” has prepared several projects, the implementation of which will contribute to the innovative development of the city’s education system. These projects consider the decentralization and reform of the educational sector, ensuring the quality level of providing educational services, schooling and comprehensive development of a competitive personality.
1. Creation of the “Science Museum” will expand and strengthen partnership cooperation between schools and institutions of professional and higher education. It will contribute to the popularization of STEM professions.
2. Creation of the Mariupol Small Academy of Sciences. This will make it possible to modernize the city’s out-of-school education system by creating new structural subdivisions of the National Academy of Sciences: a school of intensive intellectual training, an academy for student youth, a STEM laboratory, and a business incubator.
4. Creation of the first IT school in the city: revision of the educational process, teaching staff, modern innovation space.
6. Creation of a “Kitchen Factory”, which will organize high-quality, safe food for children, preserve all the useful properties of products, and ensure the implementation of control over compliance with sanitary and hygienic standards.
7. Career elevators – this will give students a chance to take an independent step in building their career in education, gain useful and practical experience and necessary knowledge, and then choose higher education and a profession.
8. Reconstruction of kindergartens. Creating a modern educational space for pupils and parents.
# Indicator Unit 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025 1 The percentage of users of public school facilities that feed the pupils on site % 60 65 70 75 80 2 The number of teachers who have successfully passed state certification to confirm a high level of professional skills unit 5 10 15 20 25
They were going to open the Mariupol Small Academy of Sciences and the first IT school in the city. This would make modernizing the city’s out-of-school education system possible and stimulate the development of a modern innovative space.
They also paid ecology considerable attention. In particular, continuous ecological monitoring was carried out in the city. Mobile laboratory “Atmosphere” began working for the population to have quick access to the results of monitoring on environmental pollution in the city.
Directions of city development
Urban design and road and transport infrastructure
Strategic goal Operational goal Programs A comfortable city facing the city 1.1 The city develops towards its embankments 1.1.1 Reconstruction of the embankment in Livoberezhnyi district 1.1.2 Reconstruction of Meotydy str and Mosrkyi blvd 1.2 The city reconstructs its embankments and beaches 1.2.1 Reconstruction of the beach premises on Velyka Morska str in Prymorskyi district 1.3 Ukrzaliznytsia’a infrastructure does not cut the city off the sea 1.3.1 Reconstruction of the embankment in Tsentralnyi district 1.3.2 Reconstruction of the Michman Pavlov square in Primorskyi district The city preserves its unique nature and history 2.1 The city preserves authentic historical buildings and delicately develops them 2.1.1 Reconstruction of houses with a spire. 2.1.2 Reconstruction of the buildings recommended for granting the status of historical heritage. 2.2 The city unites existing parks and squares, embankments into a single green framework 2.2.1 Reconstruction of Bohdan Khmelnystkyi blvd 2.2.2 Building of the recreation and entertainment park on Primorskyi blvd in Primorskyi district 2.2.3 Reconstruction of the Yuvileinyi park named after Hurov 2.3 The city revitalizes degraded areas in the central areas of the city (industrial, communal, residential) 2.3.1 Сapital repair of Architect Nielsen street 2.3.2 Reconstruction of the “Yakir” alley 2.4 The city creates comfortable recreation areas in the attached settlements 2.4.1 Creation of cozy squares and recreation areas in the attached settlements The city of sustainable mobility 3.1.1 Building of new traffic lights in hazardous road areas 3.3 The city of comfortable, reliable public transport, a multimodal city with convenient transits 3.3.1 Implementation of the automated payment and travel control system 3.3.2 Increasing residents’ transport awareness (electronic scoreboards) 3.3.3 Creation of MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) routes with high capacity. 3.3.4 Increase and renewal of rolling stock 3.3.5 Increasing the share of electric transport 3.3.6 Carrying out repairs of electric transport infrastructure 3.4 A seaside city with water transport 3.4.1 Creation of infrastructure – sea berths 3.4.2 Creation of public transport routes along the Azov coast 3.5 Development of external logistics 3.5.1 Restoration of air traffic through the construction of an airport 3.5.2 Reduction of the transit time of the Mariupol-Kyiv train to 10 hours 3.6 Reconstructed road infrastructure 3.6.1 Capital repair of the artificial structures (bridges, overpasses, flyovers) 4.1 Presumption of openness: minimal obstacles, free access to institutions 4.1.1 Capital repair of the territory of the hospital premises on Myru prospect, 80. 4.2.1 Control of construction projects and objects for compliance with building regulations and standards for inclusiveness and barrier-free accessibility 4.2.2 Construction of centers for the provision of administrative and social services in the Tsentralnyi and Kalmiuskyi districts.
The city also developed a project to modernize its outdoor lighting. They planned to replace old devices with energy-efficient LED bulbs to save electricity by up to 50% by 2025.
Reconstruction of the biological sewage treatment system was supposed to prevent pollution of the Sea of Azov. Rainwater would be collected and reused, for example, for watering the city’s flowerbeds.
“I presented the project, and the next day we woke up to a rocket attack at four o’clock in the morning.”
In the first photo, Albertas Tamashauskas, an employee of the city council of the Mariupol transport department, presents a part of the project dedicated to the city’s bicycle transport concept. On the second, participants work on a potential map of bicycle routes.
The workshop lasted until late on February 23, 2022, and on February 24, the war began.
The Green Portal contacted Albertas and talked about what a modern city should look like and what the future may await Mariupol, which will need to be rebuilt from scratch.
“Just before the invasion, we adopted a city development strategy, within its framework we saw a city of sustainable mobility; with accessibility in all districts, self-sufficient, with a fully developed bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. We wanted to transform Mariupol from a car-centric city into a city for people.
But the war destroyed the city, and now we are waiting for liberation.
On February 23, we presented the strategy concept to the cycling community, we showed our draft maps, and also held a workshop to confirm or refute the ideas proposed by our department. We wanted to compare what we agree on, what people like and don’t, to minimize mistakes and create a new bicycle transport network with maximum benefit for the citizens.
“I presented the project, and the next day we woke up to a rocket attack at four o’clock in the morning. They hit the airport ten kilometers from my house. From that moment, our blockade life began,” Albertas recalls.
Fig. 1 Current pyramid of transport mobility (Strategy 2030)
Fig. 2 Target pyramid of transport mobility (Strategy 2030)
Getting around on foot or by bicycle is an invariable part of the transport system
An essential component of urban design is the transport and logistics system development. As we see from the examples of cities that lead the comfortable living charts, public spaces with a concentration of various activities must develop around the transport axes and nodes outside the historical centre.
The most efficient modes of transport, namely trams, trolleybuses and buses, should be prioritized in modern cities. At the same time, getting around on foot or by bicycle should be an invariable component of the transport system.
“Mariupol already had the best transport system in Ukraine: trolleybuses, trams and buses of high and increased capacity already carried out more than 90% of transportation.
We worked on developing the bicycle infrastructure together with the cycling community. We launched two polls asking people how interested they are in cycling as a mode of transportation and what key points are essential to them. We drew draft routes to understand where from and where to people are travelling to establish movement priorities,” says Albertas.
In Mariupol, the level of motorization and the road network load increased yearly. This resulted in a chaotic arrangement of parking lots; cars were left on the roads and sidewalks. There was a need to streamline and organize parking spaces and create conditions for reducing loads on the city’s streets and road network.
The development of road infrastructure, considering bicycle and pedestrian mobility, would allow implementing the principles of “15-20 minutes” distance to all necessary infrastructure facilities and reduce the use of private cars.
2.4. Data analysis of the city’s transport model
According to the research performed by the A+C company that interviewed 4,760 residents of the city during the development of the transport model of the city of Mariupol, the share of movements by bicycle in the total amount is 0.8%
The level of cycling is 75 units per 1,000 inhabitants; in turn, the level of motorization reaches 134 cars per the same number of inhabitants.
Picture 1 (bottom left)
Actual movements of cyclists
75 bicycles per 1,000 inhabitants
134 cars per 1,000 inhabitants
Legend (Quantity of movements between transport districts)
Dark red 7-8
Picture 2 (top right)
Potential movements of cyclists
The scheme of potential movements of cyclists reflects which areas of the city connect those movements, which would be possible with appropriate infrastructure. The key types of bicycle trips are:
- Tourist routes (sea coast, parks, recreation areas).
- The need to go to work/on business.
- Leisure time.
Picture 3 (bottom right)
Movements under seven kilometers
Potential movements up to 7 km. There is an apparent increase in potential bicycle movements in the Tsentralnyi – Primorskyi, Tsentralnyi – Kalmiuskyi districts of the city and intra-district movements in Livoberezhnyi and Kalmiuskyi districts.
In an optimistic scenario, with a safe and convenient bicycle transport infrastructure, the share of cyclists can increase to 10%
“It is unclear how people will move around.”
“My neighbourhood was utterly destroyed. Two blocks of flats are gone in the house where I lived with my wife before the war. We lived in the westernmost point of the city, and in the first days, we thought it was a fairly safe place, but then the town was surrounded and practically destroyed.
We dream of all the occupation troops disappearing from here or being destroyed because we did not want them here. Then we want to develop the city according to our strategy. But since there is little left of the city now, it will be necessary to rebuild everything from scratch.
Therefore, based on the new reality, it is necessary to understand how many residents will live in the city, and with this information, to form new plans. Even though this sounds cynical, cycling is now the city’s dominant transportation mode because transport and roads are destroyed. I travelled by bicycle during the blockade.
We tried to analyze the possible further developments, but it is impossible without an on-the-spot assessment. To form a transport network, you need to understand the points of attraction. Since now everything is destroyed, it is unclear how people will move around,” says Albertas.
In our pre-war strategy, we planned to reduce the share of bus transportation to 20% by 2025 so that 80% of residents would travel by electric transport. The city authorities wanted to expand the trolleybus network so that transport would connect the remote areas.
We need to put the concept of suburb to sleep.
Urban design suggests the planning and developing of the urban space as a network of convenient, self-sufficient districts with independent life support systems. This should be an organically connected barrier-free space with a developed infrastructure network as a single organism.
“Our typical suburb is a child of industrialization and a modernist approach to the territory. Transport appeared, and now it was convenient to take people to work from a specific point of residence. The suburb is a kind of human factory and is sometimes jokingly called a human “ant colony”. There is one place where you work, another – where you sleep, and a way of getting from one to the other. We must put this concept to sleep.
In my subjective opinion, restoring old Soviet panel buildings makes no sense at all. It is necessary to form self-sufficient quarters. Instead of ten destroyed high-rises, build an interconnected neighbourhood with a multifunctional structure. This neighbourhood should host businesses, housing, and a cafe – everything necessary for life should coexist as a system in one place.
In the context of Mariupol, this is still up in the air. Because until the end of the war, we do not understand what we will end up with. As far as I know, the whole transport network – trolleybus and tram – has now been destroyed. Therefore, at the first stages, the transport will be limited to buses, bicycles and pedestrian traffic”, – believes Albertas.
Examples of social advertising developed by the creative agency TABASCO together with the cycling marathon “Kyivska Sotka”
Picture 1 (top left)
- Take it easy!
Your doors are dangerous.
We’re sharing the road.
Picture 2 (top right)
- Hey, driver!
Keep your distance, please.
We’re sharing the road.
Picture 3 (bottom left)
We be of one road, ye and I.
Let’s respect each other.
Picture 4 (bottom right)
City light says:
“We be of one road, ye and I.
Let’s respect each other.”
“Azovstal”: from a metallurgical plant into a memorial
Many people worked at the Azovstal enterprises and the Ilyich metallurgical plant before the war. It’s important because these two enterprises were significant focal points for passenger traffic. At the time, traffic was adjusted to the shift schedule of people working at these factories.
“After the war, such points will most likely be absent for some time. Perhaps the “Azovstal” plant will have a second life. For example, it could become a memorial. My colleagues and I have already discussed that there is an example, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (Spain). Of course, its history is not as tragic, but we can draw many analogies. It is also located “on an island” and surrounded by a river. Perhaps this territory will become the new centre of the city. There are many options. And production can be moved outside the city. The Ilyich plant is located in the northern part of the city and, in my opinion, it is more logical to place two enterprises next to each other outside the city and give the centre to the people.
It is unclear how educational institutions, hospitals and state institutions will factor in the traffic because all these objects have also been destroyed. Only one school and one hospital still stand. There are too many variables, so it’s a guessing game now. We may plan anything, but we will have to figure it out only after the war”, – believes Albertas.
The vision of Mariupol: Sea city with an ocean of opportunities
The mission of Mariupol: To be a showcase of the restored Ukrainian Donbass, to become a city of Ukrainian miracle
Mariupol is a city of solid steel and gentle sea, modern technologies and green spaces, cold years of experience and hot young inspiration. The sea and industry are integral parts of Mariupol’s unique identity. We are proud of our sea – the warmest and unlike any other body of water. We’re proud of our port and mighty metallurgical plants, with which Mariupol grew from a small town into a large industrial centre. Therefore, the sea and the development opportunities are the main components of the Strategy’s vision.
Mariupol extends towards the sea. We preserve and modernize industry but strengthen the logistical attractiveness and capacity of the local port. We are building tourist infrastructure and a new economy near the sea – embankments and beaches, an industrial park and new economic clusters. Reconstructed streets and avenues, parks and boulevards, modern transport and a cable car, will lead people to the sea. New opportunities will be created for the development of the city and the entire country – through leadership, infrastructure development, and high quality and comfort of life.
Mariupol has become a bright beacon for the occupied territories in five years. It embodies the great opportunities for development that Ukrainian cities have. We do not forget about the higher goal – to be a showcase of the restored Ukrainian Donbas. Only under the condition of total de-occupation of the region can we consider our mission completed.
But we also strive to be even better and brighter. Mariupol has the potential and ambition to become the city of the Ukrainian miracle, demonstrating how quickly and comprehensively each town in the country can develop if it follows the path of transparency and best practices. Today, Mariupol is the miracle of the city of Mary, which is beginning to take on actual shapes. We create new opportunities for citizens and all of Ukraine. We are building Europe in Mariupol, and if we can do it, so can Ukraine. The success of Mariupol means new opportunities and the success of the entire country.
A city that the whole of Ukraine takes as an example. Mentor city. Magnet city. The city of success. These statements are the basis from which we formulated the mission of Mariupol. Behind these theses is the complex challenge of an unprecedented acceleration of development and achieving high standards of living comfort for citizens. But we confidently say to the whole world: by 2030, Mariupol will become the city of the Ukrainian miracle.
The war changed many things. This is not an event in which you can look for any advantages. However, it is still worth mentioning that the destruction of Mariupol will allow building it from scratch to make the city comfortable and modern.
“Because of the war, many things that have not been resolved for years have already been resolved. It is no secret that there was a conventional mental division into West and East in our country. Now, this issue is so trivial that no one thinks of it; it cannot trigger a single argument. Such problems have taken a back seat, and now people are helping each other as much as possible. The war united us, and after it, our cities will become even better. The level of people’s unity and awareness of the importance of further development of our country is very inspiring,” says Albertas.
- Unbreakable Kherson. What is happening in the occupied city?
By Maria Shevchuk
Kherson region was under the control of enemy troops almost from the first days of the full-scale Russian invasion. They fired artillery, launched missiles and used aviation to shell the region from the territory of Crimea. Social networks are still debating how it happened, who betrayed who, and who allowed this to happen in the first place. However, the invaders put considerable effort into capturing the region and quickly put Kherson and all its inhabitants under occupation.
The war came when journalist Oleh Baturyn was in the Kherson region, in his native Kakhovka. The city was occupied from the first days, and this area remained virtually cut off from other Ukrainian territories. Despite these circumstances, he continued to cover the events in the region where the Russian military began its rule. What he saw and heard was very different from the images that the Kremlin propaganda tried to present to people. The occupiers did not care for the man’s activities, and on March 12, they kidnapped him.
The journalist was held in captivity for over a week; on March 20, he was released. All this time, he spent almost without food. For several days he was not even given water. The man was threatened with death, humiliated, and beaten, and they tried to break his spirits. He was not sure that he would return alive. According to the CT scan results, Oleh was diagnosed with fractures of four ribs after the captivity. It was dangerous to stay in the occupation, so the man and his family left the Kherson region.
“I advise everyone under occupation to leave, to find a way to get to the Ukraine-controlled territory. There are huge problems with medical care and all kinds of drugs in the Kherson region. All goods and foods are very pricey, except for vegetables. Local farmers are forced to sell them for next to nothing. Vegetables and fruit are the only things that are now sold for pennies. But it is hard to imagine what will happen in October when you won’t be able to pick something in the garden or the field and eat it. It is already difficult for people who can not leave because of their illnesses or the illnesses of their loved ones. It is difficult for them to get medical care. And there is no hope that this situation will improve for as long as the occupiers remain there,” – Oleh Baturyn said.
Of course, the way to evacuation is not easy. The road, which usually takes several hours, takes several days now, even without considering artificial delays created by the occupiers. Routes are constantly changing because some areas are shelled more, others – less. There were cases when convoys of cars trying to leave the occupied territory were gunned down. No green corridors have been created, and residents of the Kherson region leave for the Ukraine-controlled land at their own risk.
According to Oleh Baturyn, leaving was easier for those who had their transport. In March-April, only car owners could leave the occupied territory. Even then, there was a black carrier market of drivers who demanded outrageous sums of money for transportation. However, since mid-April, there has been virtually no problem finding a carrier that will take a person anywhere for a price. However, some residents do not have such funds.
People in some settlements, particularly in the Kakhovka district, believe that it is possible to wait out this horror somehow. They made peace with their situation and are trying to survive. Some people do not care if there is war or prefer not to notice it. And some are ready to pick up the Russian tricolour, but few people are like that.
Despite the difficult situation, the region’s anti-Russian resistance is still going strong. In the early days of the war, people actively went to rallies against the occupiers, demonstrating their position. Now, this is a rarer occurrence. The occupiers began to kidnap active residents with a pro-Ukrainian position.
Many people, who worried about their safety, left the region. However, there are still people waiting for liberation. One is an accountant, Maryna (name changed – ed.). The woman won’t leave her native Kherson because she wants the “Ukrainian spirit” to remain in it.
“My love for the city keeps me here. I love my home, the streets and paths familiar from childhood. And people who are close to me and share my views. And in general, if everyone leaves, then who will stand ground until liberation? We are waiting for the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Kherson, and we will keep waiting. Incredible and unbreakable Kherson residents inspire me every day. For some reason, ruscist flags are falling daily, and yellow and blue colours are flying on every pillar, fence, and house. Our well-known volunteer uncle Grisha drives around the market with a loudspeaker, which yells, “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the nation! And f*ck the Russian Federation!”. You look at them and understand: we are strong and unbreakable. We will survive! And faith in our military also keeps us going!” – Maryna expresses her position.
According to the woman, life in Kherson has changed dramatically, and, unfortunately, only for the worse. It’s as if the city went back thirty years: the nineties are back, there is no work, no money, and food prices have tripled. The town has turned into one continuous bazaar because this is the only way people can somehow survive. Many of them are in an information vacuum. Cell service and Internet work poorly, and people walk around the city searching for Wi-Fi points. There are armed Russian military men everywhere, checkpoints, and a curfew.
Kherson’s residents are trying to hold on, not to give up. Survival is the most crucial task for them now. Maryna says that people live only by faith in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and everyone wants liberation from the Russian occupiers. Liberation of Kherson is the most significant thing Kherson residents dream about, pray for and hope for. Of course, everyone is scared. And everyone who stays in the occupied city feels this fear.
Despite everything, the Ukrainian spirit is felt here.
Residents of Kherson are scared when missiles fly over their houses, it is scary to hear explosions outside the city, but the biggest fear is that everything will remain as it is now. Patriotic Kherson residents do not want anything to do with the “Russian world”; they resist with all their might to keep the Ukrainian sky above their heads. The footage from pro-Ukrainian rallies, which the occupied city’s residents attended, spread worldwide.
Russian invaders have been ruling the Kherson region for almost four months. They either commit war crimes against the population or create oppression and a lack of understanding that make people question how to go on living. Many people have left and dream of returning home at the first opportunity. And many remain, waiting for the liberation of their lands.
Those who left and stayed debate who did the right thing, and everyone believes their decision is correct. There are different points of view, but every choice deserves respect. There are no clear-cut solutions and answers. The most important thing is that people feel confident and safe. But this is hardly possible as long as the enemy army is at their homes.
- The Road to Freedom: Seven People in a Lada on a Three-day Escape from Berdyansk to Zaporizhzhia
By Alyona Semko
“Where are you going? At least they don’t shoot people here,” I often heard. People who decide to stay in the occupied territories don’t feel comfortable there, but their fear of the unknown is greater than their will for freedom.
Before the war, a minibus could make the 230 km trip from Berdyansk to Zaporizhzhia (via Vasylivka) in 3 hours. In May, people from Berdyansk and Mariupol spent three days on this route, terrified and uncertain about their future. This was the price of their freedom.
The City Looked Older Now
“We left after all. I couldn’t breathe in Berdyansk anymore,” a friend wrote to me on a Telegram app a few days ago. That’s exactly how I felt during the last few months.
Ukrainian supermarkets were closed in my city, and Ukrainian-produced goods had disappeared from the shelves. Russian and Belarusian ones appeared instead, and at exorbitant prices, too. Mostly, it was humanitarian aid, but the locals were charged for it in markets and stores.
Soldiers with assault rifles walked along my boulevard. I saw them look with menace at a little girl holding yellow and blue balloons, and listen to what mothers talk about near the playgrounds.
From my window, I could see a military base where the occupiers were stationed. When I would hang my laundry on the balcony, I felt like I was being watched.
Almost every day, I would find out that they took someone to the colony for “re-education” or recruitment. A tension one couldn’t get used to hung in the air.
The city looked older now; it regressed by several dozen years. There was almost no cell service, hucksters got rich at poor people’s expense, wartime songs played on the radio…
ALMOST EVERY DAY, I WOULD FIND OUT THAT THEY TOOK SOMEONE TO THE COLONY FOR “RE-EDUCATION” OR RECRUITMENT.
Every morning, I sat on the bed and told myself: “I have an interesting day ahead of me.” However, it was the same as yesterday and a month before. I would hunt for food and take my son for a walk next to the military base where the Russians settled.
Those who left hardly showed their new life. They seemed ashamed to be happy when their hometown drowned in depression. However, more and more people would leave every day. Official data stated that about 30% of Berdyansk’s residents had left, but the actual number was much higher.
Up to $250 per Passenger
It took me three weeks to find a way to get from Berdyansk to Zaporizhzhia. I joined various groups on social media, monitored announcements, and asked for help… All in vain. There are several groups on Telegram and Viber where some people are looking for ways to get out of the city, and others are offering their carrier services. But the demand exceeds the supply by a mile.
Finding a driver to get out of the city was also challenging because the trip back from Zaporizhzhia to Berdyansk was grueling. Cars would sometimes be detained for weeks at checkpoints. While waiting for permission to enter the occupied territory, drivers had to spend all their earnings on rent and food. The people driving their first group out of the city usually ask for 200-250 dollars per person. Others raised prices “only” to UAH 2-3 000 per passenger (this trip cost UAH 1 000 at the beginning of the occupation). Asking people with cars for a ride is also an option, but drivers are reluctant to take on strangers.
On May 10, I saw a Facebook message that a group of volunteers from Israel was organizing an evacuation from Berdyansk. They were only gathering women with children and retirees to pass checkpoints easier. For men, a similar journey is a much more complicated undertaking. Men with a Donetsk residence permit aren’t allowed to pass; every man has to show their military ID, and then there’s a thorough check of his name on numerous blacklists.
Later that same night, a woman who introduced herself as Anna called me and told me that the bus from Berdyansk would leave at 8:30. In the morning, my son and I arrived at the meeting spot we agreed upon. A few older women from Mariupol were waiting with us.
“This is my third attempt to leave Berdyansk; it didn’t work out before. I am staying at a sanatorium, and I’m ashamed to go back again if this falls through”, — one of them complains. She’s wearing light slippers over warm socks and holding a sizeable checkered bag and a few plastic totes.
A car drove up to us. A young man came out, called himself a volunteer, and said that the bus driver was held up at one of the roadblocks. The volunteer offered to take us to our homes and told us to wait for further announcements in the Facebook group. He talked on the way:
“In this situation, I am most worried about the driver. I was in his shoes. I was taking people and goods in and out of the city, and once, they stopped my car at a roadblock and started to grill me. They didn’t like my beard. They made me undress and examined my tattoos. They suspected me of being a soldier from the Azov regiment. So they took me to a cell and beat me several times a day. If the door opened, I knew they would beat me now. Buryats are the worst; each one eagerly awaited his turn to hit me. There was one normal Dagestani soldier. He brought me a blanket, and once he said: “They will keep you for a few days and release you.”
My relatives raised the devil when I disappeared. They came to the commandant’s office and demanded that I be released. They told my relatives that I wasn’t held captive, but no one fell for that. The laziness of another Dagestani soldier saved me: he did not take my car away; he parked it right in the yard of the commandant’s office. Relatives pointed it out to the Russians.
Only then did they agree to let me go. The first thing I did when I returned home was hug my wife and children and shave my beard. I never go to Zaporizhzhia anymore. I’m helping out inside the city where I can”.
That time, our evacuation was interrupted. On that day, an announcement appeared in the group that the bus went missing with the driver (to this day, his fate is unknown), and there was no cell service in Berdyansk the following day. Luckily, I was able to arrange another escape route. A husband of my acquaintance would help my son and me leave the city.
Day One: a Road to a Trap
We had the following plan: my son and I would spend the night at my acquaintance’s place. We were to leave at 6:00 in the morning as soon as the curfew ended and join the convoy. Hundreds of people were waiting for this trip for several weeks. Since May 1, no one dared to transport people because of the complete absence of cell service in the city, and then everyone was afraid of Russian provocations on May 9. Evacuation to Zaporizhzhia was finally allowed on May 12. About 400 cars left Berdyansk that day.
At first, we told soldiers at checkpoints that we were going to Crimea. The Russian military did not hold up cars that went in that direction, they only checked passports and birth certificates of children, and sometimes they opened the trunks. We also wiped our phones in advance in case Russians would want to check them. But this cover story worked only as far as Melitopol, from where one road leads to Dzhankoy, and the other goes to Zaporizhzhia. As soon as we turned on the road to the Ukrainian-controlled city, the events took a dramatic turn.
No one was let through at the checkpoint in Vasylivka. They said they were waiting for an order. It looked like we would have to spend the night on the road. A Chechen soldier drove by, offering water from a tank. He assured us that it was potable. We poured some into a plastic bottle and used it as process water.
There were seven of us in the old Lada car: three adults and four children aged four to 11 (the driver, my son and I, and a woman with three children). We tied white ribbons on both sides of the car and put up sheets of paper with “CHILDREN” inscribed on them. The driver blocked the back doors from the inside so that the children would not jump out onto the road in the event of shelling or explosions.
Nina (the mother of the three kids) had not dared to leave the occupied city for a long time, although her husband, who worked in Poland, had been asking her to join him there. When the cell service was cut off again for a long time in Berdyansk, he could not stand it anymore and came to Ukraine. He waited for his family in Zaporizhzhia.
“He’s such a loon, quitting a good job like that. Now he needs to make a lot of documents to return there”, she complains.
She had no job prospects, and the kids were out of school since the beginning of the war (even though officially the school year lasted till May 2), so she eventually decided to evacuate.
All the way, Nina took sedatives and smoked a lot. Her kids reciprocated her nervousness and constantly quarreled. The fact that they could barely move didn’t help. To go to the bathroom they stepped out of the car, but we wouldn’t let them wander off into the grass, lest they come across mines. Nina promised us that she would quit smoking when it was all over.
In the evening, a strange woman offered mothers and children to spend the night in the hall of the local lyceum. But because of the fear to be forcibly deported to Crimea (there were a few cases already), many spent the night in their cars.
Day Two: a Convoy in Captivity
It was the scariest night of my life. Children slept on top of adults, and adults were afraid to close their eyes. At approximately 1AM, we saw Russian soldiers get out of a car standing in the convoy and quickly head towards the gas tank (the convoy stopped near a burned-down gas station). They returned just as quickly.
“Keep calm. If the Russians were planning a provocation, they would not have returned. We need to watch them and see if they will go”, the driver warned us.
And we watched; we peered into the darkness and shuddered at the explosions somewhere very close. Fatigue gave way to restless sleep. Two shots at the checkpoint woke us up at 3AM. Suddenly, the nearby cars started to turn on their lights and engines, and the military began to shout.
– What’s happening? Are they shooting at us? Do we need to leave?
Our questions hung in the air as the driver got out of the car to see what was happening. Finally, he returned.
– Idiots! Some people decided to drive to the front of the convoy while everyone else was asleep. They turned on the headlights and startled the orcs. Russians fired into the air.
He swore and said that if Russians got angry at the convoy now, they would hold everyone up for another day. And that’s precisely how it went.
Nervous clashes began. People were angry at the audacity of the night “daredevils” and threatened to slash their tires. Then the crowd agreed not to make the bad situation worse. Everyone calmed down.
In the morning, the convoy “captives” ate the food they brought from home. A man in a big car was boiling water on a travel burner for others. He also took pout a large bag of cookies to share. He often travelled this road, so he was prepared for this scenario.
– It might rain in the evening. If it rains, we can all turn our cars back. The road will be flooded, and no one will be allowed to pass for several days.
That prospect looked grim. The women with children who spent the night in the lyceum came back. They said that they were fed and allowed to sleep on some mattresses on the floor there. It was cold, but they felt safer sleeping in a building than in a field. There also was an option to rent a dorm room with beds and carpets for 100 UAH per person. We took note of this information.
The day dragged on tediously. People tried to entertain themselves as best they could: they lay on the grass, weaved wreaths, and walked around the convoy. Little ones could finally stretch their legs, and pets – dogs, cats, hamsters, fish, and even a Chinese sparrowhawk Kiki – could get some fresh air. However, just like Kiki, we felt caged.
As the day went by, the Russians voiced a few reasons for the holdup: there was no order to let people through, Ukraine did not want to let us in, there were military actions on the road to Zaporizhzhia, and finally that a truck got stuck in the mud on the highway and blocked the passage. Several vehicles from the “Ministry of Emergency Situations of Russia” went to rescue the truck, by the way. Others could already go through in the afternoon, but they still didn’t let us out.
On May 13, new cars joined the convoy. About 800 vehicles and minibuses have already gathered at the checkpoint in Vasylivka. More than 4,000 people altogether were trapped on the road.
In the evening, Russians brought us tea and coffee. The Chechens (or Dagestanis), who poured the drinks into our bottles, kept saying: “Go back before it’s too late.”
– Back where? I have cancer. I need to go to the regional hospital in Zaporizhzhia, one woman cried.
– Soon there will be no hospitals there, the Chechen warned her.
There was a rumor that Russians would soon let the line of cars from Zaporizhzhia through, and then they would let us go. A young soldier approached the cars and shouted: “We need women with babies and pregnant women!” There were several dozens of cars with such passengers.
He ordered them to line up in a separate line to the left of the checkpoint. My neighbor and I showed that there were four children in our car. He looked at us and mumbled: “Get in the line!”
We joined the lucky cars in a separate line. But half an hour passed, an hour, another half-hour… No one paid attention to us. When asked when they would let pass, a young Chechen man in a balaclava started shouting:
– Who told you that we would let you through?! What soldier? He already changed shifts! And where will you go if there is shelling and the road to Zaporozhye is closed? What kind of mothers are you if you are taking your children under shelling? Did you give birth to them to have them killed?
– We gave birth to them to live in peace, said a young mother.
– Then go back!
The woman choked on her tears but said nothing to the Russian not to annoy him even more.
We just stood there. A man in black clothes arrived. We told him: “We have four children in the car. Please let us go! Help!” Suddenly, he waved his hand and pointed to the vehicle in front of us to let it pass.
– We are next in line!
– Okay, go fast before I change my mind!
Three cars rushed off this line of vehicles with “women with babies and pregnant”. We passed the following checkpoints without any issues, and at the last Russian roadblock, they shouted at us: “The road to Zaporozhye is closed. Go on, though – maybe they’ll kill you faster that way!”
They held our cars up for the night at that ultimate checkpoint. The Russians let us park the car at the beginning of the convoy that had already been held up there for four days.
A woman approached our three cars and invited us to stay at her house. Thanks to the kindness of Lady Vera, women and children were able to wash their faces, have dinner and sleep lying down.
Day Three: Hugs from Volunteers
At 06:00 in the morning, we were already in the car and ready to depart. But the “back-and-forth” began again. At first, the Russians told us that they would let us go at 8AM, then at 9AM, and then they stopped promising anything. All this time, there was heavy fighting very close to the highway. To calm the children who started crying, we learned and repeated the prayer: “Save, Lord, from all evil”.
Adults from different cars began approaching the checkpoint one by one and begging the Russians to let us through. At 11AM., they took pity on us. We passed the last Russian obstacle and rushed through the mud in the village of Kamianske with enthusiasm.
Both adults and children cried at the first Ukrainian checkpoint. The soldiers handed out candy to the children and shook their hands. The boys were beyond themselves.
When we arrived at the center for displaced persons (the military and police instructed us to go there), we could finally relax. Volunteers took down our data and led us to the UNICEF tent, where children received backpacks with coloring books and necessities (shampoo, shower gel, wipes). I received a warm blanket and hygiene products. Then we were invited to a free canteen and offered transport services. It turned out that we could get to any city in Ukraine and even abroad (for example, Poland or Romania) from Zaporizhzhia for free.
In the evening, my son and I waited for the last participants of the convoy to catch up with us. Then we started the ultimate stretch of our journey to freedom on a Red Cross bus. Most passengers, like us, did not want to stop for the night.
We wanted to keep going. Now we were not scared anymore.
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