Irina (37), Yelizaveta (14), Klimentiy (9)

April 10, 2022, Pruske. Day 45 of the war.

She was able to turn the monastery room into a place where you feel at home. Home is a friendly, cozy and heart-warming place to which you like to return. "A village in the valley, my heart hurts," are the words of the song I have in my head as I listen to her telling me her story. Her home is in a small village, without any strategic importance. Even so, the Russians came there.

"Yaremivka is a nice little village on the edge of the Kharkiv region, just 5 km from the border with the Donetsk region. I never thought that the border would become real. We have only 100 people living in our village, almost all of them are already retired, we have 15 children. They used to walk across the bridge over the river to the neighboring town of Studenok. This bridge was the first thing which has been destroyed at the beginning of the war. We had to carry bread across the river by boat. Our village is in the valley, it has no strategic importance, and even so, the Russians came there. Someone showed them a spot where we were able to wade the river and they blocked us. On one side there were the Russians, on the other, the river without a bridge, and then only the area where the war raged. The Russians came to us from the neighboring village of Kamyanka, which they literally treaded down into the ground. When the people learned that the Russians were coming to us across the river, they got into cars and fled, running against the flying bullets, heading for the war. My friends' tractor, and a shop burned down." 

“Finally, our local Ukrainian troops came to the village, there were 3 full buses of them. They stayed in 4 houses, but the enemy found out about them. Those houses were bombed, many perished there. My father is a member of the municipal committee and went to ask the Russian soldiers to allow us to bury our soldiers. They told him that they would bury them, but the bodies laid there for several more days. Only later did they start forcing our people to dig graves for our own defenders. It was difficult to put the bodies of young boys into the ground.” 

“My husband evacuated me and the children on a boat. We took it down the river to Svyatohirsk before the Russians arrived. Then my husband returned back. In Svyatohirsk, we slept in basements, and every time we heard the sirens we fell to our knees praying that the bomb would not fall on us. My husband and I are in constant contact. He tells me which of the neighbors houses has burned down. We have a farm there, we have 13 cows and calves. I wanted to stay there with my husband. My father tried to escape on a boat. The Russians didn't let him go, they started shooting at him. Another time he tried to cross the river. The water was cold, they fired at him again, but they stopped after a while. He tried to swim underwater for as long as possible so they wouldn't see him. He is now in the Uzhhorod region. Our neighbor also wanted to stay, but a rocket fell on their farm, their house was destroyed, their tractor burned down, so they had to flee.” 

“We lived in fear until our defenders told us to pack the children and leave. We hid in the basement. The Russians were bombing mainly the area in our vicinity, but every now and then they hit our surroundings. We only went to the house to make tea, and when we saw something in the sky, we ran back to the shelter. We lived underground for weeks without light, without hot water, we only brought a little oven there. We had a generator that gave us 20 minutes of electricity a day. At least we managed to recharge our phones a bit. My husband has been living there like this for another month.” 

“Every time a rocket flew over our heads, we thanked for not hitting us. The children are still terrified when they see planes. Whenever they hear one, they run to my room and tell me that a plane is coming. Even though we are already safe in Slovakia. The walls were shaking, cups were falling down from the shelves when the planes flew at low altitudes. And the children? They just looked at us with their eyes full of fear. In fact, we gave them a lot of sedatives just to overcome it.” 

“As for the food, we lived in the village, so we had something to eat. We have cows, so we also have milk, cottage cheese, butter, but there were people who had nothing. At first, they brought humanitarian aid, bread, milk, groats, sugar, salt, but then they stopped bringing it. I asked my husband what he does with so much milk now. He told me he was handing it out to people around the village. The Russians robbed my parents’ basement.  They had little pigs. Five 6-week-old pups. They asked my husband to come and take them, and to feed them milk. However, the Russians saw it and told him that if he did bring them, they would shoot them. He tried to convince them that they were too small, but it didn't help, he had to obey. Now they are promising a second wave of attacks. We don't know if our house will remain standing. Are we going to have a place to go back? Even if we don't have a house, we will definitely return home, we will live in tents if necessary. My husband is planting potatoes so we have something to eat. It was very difficult for us, and especially for the children, to listen to the constant shooting and to live in the dark, without any light and heat.” 

“We arrived in Slovakia on April 5. We traveled for 3 days, we went from Kramatorsk to Lviv, and from there to Uzhhorod. There the volunteers got us a taxi, and from there we came to Slovakia via Vysne Nemecke. I think that 3 days is not too long, there are people who traveled for 5 - 6 days. There were a lot of people on the train, there were huge crowds everywhere, and everyone was trying to get on the train. Those who left by train prior to us told us that their train had been shot at, that they had to sleep on the floor. Fortunately, we did not experience this.” 

“The kids are telling you, mom, look, we were standing there a few days ago! (Ref.: Russian attack on the railway station in Kramatorsk on April 9, 2022) Our remaining family is afraid to leave after this incident. My husband would also have to cross the river in order to escape. But it would be like choosing either a bullet or a grenade. He could die during the escape, so he preferred to stay home. We call each other 2 times a day. He has already learned where to go when there is an attack, to recognize where the missiles are flying from, our men became used to it. He reassures me that everything is fine, but I can hear those sounds on the phone. Tonight, however, the fighting was going on about a mile from us and he was not sleeping at all. Nobody understands why this is happening. When the Russian troops went to Kiev and Kharkov, it was still far away. When they were in Izyum, they could be heard, but no bullets could reach us. No one could have imagined that war would ever come to our unfortunate village. Nobody knows when and how they will leave. On one side there is the river, on the other Ukraine. Russian soldiers got stuck right there, in our little village.” 

“My mom, father and 18-year-old nephew are in Uzhhorod, they can not cross the border. My mother and father did not leave with us because they would not let the young man cross the border. Someone has to take care of him. They live there at school, they have things to eat, they can survive. My sister had to leave her son at the border, that's terrible. You know, our house isn't that important either. The most important thing is that we are all alive. We have our land there, we will build a hen house and live in it if necessary, but we will be together, alive and at home. We really want to go home. The children come to me and ask when we will go to see dad, when we will go home. My husband also asks how we are. I tell him that we have everything we need here, they give us food, they gave us clothes for the children. We'll rest and go home. I just hope that they don't take over the whole Donbas. Our whole neighborhood is ravaged, why do they need these small villages? My husband used to tell me that I was tired from working on our farm, that I should go somewhere to the spa to relax. Now I can say I'm in a sort of spa, and I can relax. It’s quiet here. At home, when the planes flew over, I didn't even tell the children to hide in the corner. I immediately grabbed them and threw them on the mattress which we had placed in the safest parts of the house.” 

“My daughter liked to dance, she used to do partner dances. Then she became interested in hiking, she likes to climb rocks. She even participates in competitions. My son likes football, he is not interested in rocks climbing. He says he is afraid of heights. We had so many plans, and now everything is gone.” 

“We didn't know where we were going at first. People kept telling us to go to Poland. We stayed in Lviv and tried to decide. My sister told us to go to Poland, so did my father. However, a friend who has been already in Slovakia called us regularly and told us that she would help us, that we would have a place to sleep. Somehow I managed to persuade everyone to go to a place where we already knew someone. We came here wearing the same clothes which we wore when we left, we didn't expect it to take that long. My husband also believed that the conflict would be over in a day or two. We waited in Svyatohirska for a week, but it was only getting worse.” 

“We cried when we came here, because they received us so well here, they gave us everything. It was a transition from hell to paradise. They gave us a lot of things at the border already, they gave the children sweets, they still didn’t eat it all. Once when I went to the store at home, and I heard the plane, it seemed like it was flying straight at me. I threw myself on the ground, curled up in a ball and waited. I was alone without my family, without children. The plane really flew just a few meters above me, maybe 5 floors high above. When they launch a "grad", it means there are at least 15 rockets being launched. If all 15 rockets would hit our street, none of us would survive. We don't have a fence anymore. One of the grenades landed in our neighborhood, we have shrapnels from it in the house, stuck in the door. My sister no longer has a house, nor a tractor.” 

“Nothing happened to us in 2014. We heard something was going on, but I never imagined it would come to our unfortunate little villages. Why are they attacking such small settlements? I understand that they attack the cities, but us? Why? One rocket is enough to clear the whole village from the face of the earth. Now they want to go to Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, I have a lot of friends there. I don't know what's next.” 

“Thank you for accepting us here, feeding us, dressing us. The main thing is that everyone stays alive. My husband told me to leave, so he wouldn’t have to look behind when running away and swimming across the river if something happened. He asked me where I lived so he could come to us. He will not be allowed to cross the border, but he could go to Uzhhorod. He says he can manage. So I have to endure fear and wait for him. I just have to hope and believe everything will be fine. Our daughter just turned 14 years and we were supposed to go to Izyum to collect her ID, but the town burned down during the last attacks. We had everything there, schools, hospitals, offices. Everything turned into ashes. We are without pay, without pensions, without documents, because everything in Izyum has burned down. We do not know whether we will be Russia or Ukraine. We have Russians and our friends in Studenec have Ukrainians. A friend told me that we will become a part of Russia and that she will stay in Ukraine. How could it be? After all, we went to the same kindergarten and school together. We really don't know how it will turn out. Even if we were part of Russia, I will forever remain the Ukrainian I was born into. However, I have to adapt, I have to survive somehow.”