Oleksandra Nazarenko together with her husband, two children, and 12 dogs evacuated in a car from the Kharkiv region. They were leaving the village of Sorokivka, which is 60 km from the border with russia and 15 km from Kharkiv, under shooting on the 19th day of a full-scale war.
The "russian liberators" tried to come to the village, as well as to the neighboring settlements. However, our Ukrainian Armed Forces are liberating the territory, so the battle is continuing in the region.
We tell the story of what living in a flashpoint over all those days was like and how it became possible to evacuate together with children and 12 dogs.
"russian army will liberate your country from nationalists"
Oleksandra and her family lived in the Kharkiv region in a private house. They kept a kennel with French bulldogs. On February 15, she was called by a friend from russia who said that soon there would be something terrible. She said apparently powerful planes had been brought to Yalta and war could start. Of course, Oleksandra didn't believe it.
On the 24th of February, Oleksandra's husband went to the window at 4:15 in the morning and saw a red sky. In a moment the sounds of explosions were heard and a rocket flew over their house. "We were attacked, the war started," Yevhen cried. He was one of the millions of Ukrainians who said these words at that ominous morning of that Thursday.
On that day the same friend from russia wrote, but as it turned out, she wrote not to ask whether they were alive. She was glad that at last "our russian army will liberate your country from nationalists." And in general she was speaking quite aggressively, saying it was their own blame.
But it was not the most terrible news. Oleksandra was born in Donetsk, but left it in 2012. Her parents and sister stayed there.
"On the first day, I wrote to my mother: 'Mom, the war started.' She answered me: 'It's far past time. We've been waiting for it for 8 years.' And she started sending links to the news about the reason why the so-called 'special operation' is taking place. I did not even open them… It was very painful. And two weeks later, when the neighbouring village was already bombed, I first wrote to my father. It is hard to believe, but he didn't ask how the things were going, he simply sent a prayer. And then he proposed to evacuate by the humanitarian corridor to Rostov-on-Don. He said he would organize something there. I answered that I don't want the 'russian world' and that the so-called 'liberators' shoot peaceful civilians, even in humanitarian corridors. He didn't believe me, of course," Sasha says.
Life under occupation
On the second day after the invasion, the electricity, water and gas disappeared in the village. Food, as well as medicine, was difficult to get. There was also no drinking water.
"Me and my husband put a big barrel in the yard, which we filled with snow. The first days were really cold, so the snow hardly melted. We planned to cook food with this water… on fire," Oleksandra says.
In addition, the dogs needed food, which had to be bought in Kharkiv. The phone service worked in the field only.
"I charged my phone in a car for a few percent and ran to the field to find volunteers who could bring some food. But they did not want to go because there was a flashpoint. I felt despair."
It was impossible to get to Kharkiv on your own, because the fighting was going on in the district near the city. One day Sasha watched the enemy columns of the invaders going to the side of Kharkiv for three hours. The only thing that calmed her down is that much less of them came back. It took an hour, not 3. They settled in a few kilometres from their village.
During the week Sasha managed to go to the territorial defense. They brought food, dog food, hygiene products, and matches.
"Almost all the reserves were exhausted. When the guys arrived, I cried. They were going under the shooting and were worried how we were there with children."
According to Sasha, the local authorities did not help the villagers, the majority left the village. There was even a pro-russian deputy who spoke for the "russian world." He gathered people in the club to plan how they would meet russian soldiers. Later, the traitors removed the Ukrainian flag from the club.
Once Oleksandra's husband went to search for bread. He stopped near the local meat-processing plant. It turned out that the owners decided to close it because of the shooting. The workers brought a lot of sausages into his trunk.
"He did not find bread but brought a lot of meat. We gave the majority to the locals."
The day of evacuation
The main reason why Sasha and her family did not leave before is the parents of her husband. It was hard to leave them.
But the starting point was the call of a friend from the village, which has already been occupied. She said that for more than two weeks she was hiding with children in the basement. And after the occupation russian soldiers went to the houses and said to local residents to get out with white "flags," otherwise they will have problems.
During a week of occupation, the villagers were given only a kilogram of rice. Many animals died of hunger. Any attempts of the Ukrainian side to deliver food ended with shooting.
"After this conversation we decided to leave. We collected the bags in 10 minutes. Smaller dogs were placed in boxes, larger dogs were placed in the back seat and under the legs. There was no place for a baby carriage. In general, we managed to bring only some things for children and dogs to the car, and the things of first necessity. There was not enough place for the clothes of mine and my husband. It was not scary. The hardest thing was to say goodbye to the parents. I have never seen the father (of the husband — Ed.) crying. It was unbearable."
With the help of an acquainted person they managed to find housing in the Ivano-Frankivsk region. The road took 27 hours. They stopped only a few times: to walk with dogs and to eat. They slept at night only for 2 hours.
"All the way, the elder son was asking to return home. At first he thought that we were going to McDonalds in Kharkiv. But the further we went, the more he asked to return. And one of the dogs was not just barking all the way, but it cried, like a human. This added a special atmosphere to our trip."
On the checkpoints, when the windows were lowered, the dogs started barking loudly. Seeing this, our fighters said: "Somehow you have been staying in the occupied territory for a long time with all these things." Sasha replied that they hoped the war to end soon. And we were sure that our boys from the Armed Forces would deal with all the orcs soon.
"When the family was passing by the Kirovohrad region, two rockets flew over the car."
At that moment they thought that they were running from danger, but would not be able to escape, because in Ukraine it was dangerous everywhere.
A new life
On arrival in Kolomyia, they settled in an old two-room apartment. Dogs were brought to one room, and the family stayed in another room. Local residents are trying to help: they organized children's evacuation, clothes, bed linen, etc.
Sasha says that she is impressed by the humanity and kindness of people.
"Me and my husband were speaking russian all the life. And even though we are now trying to switch to Ukrainian, at first there was fear of how local people would perceive it. But it turned out to be absolutely calm, without any kind of reproaches. And this once again confirms the absurdity of the situation with the invented problem of language issue."
Now Oleksandra and her family are trying to adapt to a new life. She says she starts feeling better, the body is no longer trembling.
Many Ukrainians had to leave their homes in recent weeks, as well as Sasha and her family. But Ukraine is unbreakable. Ukrainians can not be defeated at least because we do not leave each other. Even when they are twelve French bulldogs. Which are also a part of the family, a big Ukrainian family.
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