«Ukraine was and will be after Putin»: witness of the fascist occupation of Kharkiv about the Russian attack

Margarita Nekratova interviewed the witness.

Valentina Tochilina is almost 91 years old. As a child she survived the Nazi occupation of Kharkov. When the city was liberated, she was 12 years old. The same age as her great-granddaughter, with whom she survived the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Valentina Yegorovna is now in Bulgaria, in a home for disabled refugees called Zheleznichar. She volunteered to tell Eyewitness about the two wars she saw, her attitude toward Russians fleeing mobilization, and explained why "boy" Putin will never defeat Ukraine.

Tell us about yourself.

- I am Valentina Egorovna Tochilina. I will be 91 years old on November 3. I myself am from Ukraine, from Kharkov. I am a technical person, I worked in a factory for forty years. The plant was called "43rd". We were part of the Defense Ministry and we made things that were needed for our spaceport, namely, we manufactured equipment for the underground part of the spaceport. I came to the plant as an "empty person", not knowing anything; I took a job as an apprentice copier. Then I retired as head of the labor and payroll department of the plant.

Your first thoughts and feelings on February 24?

- This war started as a nightmare, which I experienced in '41. I was 9 years old when the war started, and Kharkov was liberated when I was 12. Now, unfortunately, it turned out that the war started, and my great-granddaughter is 12 years old. Her whole childhood is broken.

There were three of us at that moment: me, my granddaughter, and my great-granddaughter. We couldn't figure out if it was true or not. Ukraine had never attacked anyone, never harmed anyone. And suddenly Ukraine was attacked by a country that was like an older brother to us. There was no malice against Russia in Ukraine.

Whose fault is it?

- It is not only Putin who is to blame for this war, but the people who surround him, the people who incite, thinking that they will prove themselves during the war. I am so amazed that the artists who were here, who were applauded, who made money in Ukraine, are now saying nasty things.

Oleg Gazmanov, a man who used to use his charm in Ukraine and receive money, now speaks of Ukraine with outright anger. Where did he get it from? If you count how many times he has been here? Maybe so many people wouldn't know him if he hadn't been here. 

A Russian invasion is like an attack by Hitler's Germany?

- No, it doesn't. It's not like that. As for Hitler and that war: even war has some rules, some limitations, some intelligence. When the war started, a group of SS men entered Kharkov. They were intent on conquering the city, but they had restrictions and military discipline all the same.

There was such a thing (you know, a lifetime memory): I went out to the market and saw three people hanging. I was a Soviet child, and suddenly I saw this... The hanged men had a plank around their necks with an inscription: "Who will climb into apartments and steal - everyone will be hanged. There was also such a thing: in Kharkov they used to take prisoners of war and keep them in prison. Prisoners of war would die, they would be taken out on horses and the corpses would simply be dumped [into the ditch]. It was like that.  

When the SS men were gone (to the other side), ordinary soldiers, conscripts, came, they treated us differently. They bombed us too... But they didn't bomb us so senselessly, just to bomb us. There was no such thing. 

We lived with three families in a two-room apartment. And they started to move Germans into the apartment, there was no place for them to live. And four Germans were moved in with us. They must have been young, but we were children, and we thought they were old. There were four of us children, and the Germans brought us each a piece of bread for all four of us. That was the first time I knew what melted cheese in a tube was. We used to think [in tubes] was toothpaste.

We were girls of 9 and 10 years old. Now they rape such girls, beat them up. Men get their genitals cut off. This is not war. It's bullying. Are your genitals being fought? That's not a man doing that. It's a beast in human form. You could have a baby like that! 

They don't think about it, they don't think about anything. And those who were taken out of prison, who killed, who raped, who mocked, who stole, are now Russian servicemen. It's a disgrace for Putin. I haven't heard that in 90 years.

Why has Ukraine survived?

- I believe that Ukraine is strong because of what we have - to hold on to a person, to help a person. Ukrainians have a very strong friendship, a strong respect. But if they start to hate, then hold on.

What I want to say to Putin is: Hang in there, boy. No operation will help, no generals who came out of the servants' hall will help. Ukraine was and will be after Putin. But Russia will also be after Putin. Force never wins. You can't take anything by force. And Putin has forgotten this. 

All he admits now is, "I said, I want, I want to be even better than Napoleon. There will be no such thing. There will be no Putin, there will be no Putin. There will be Russia. Another Russia. Maybe with which Ukraine will still be friends. In any case, I hope so. 

Ukraine will win. That's the way people are here. I want to give you one example. My granddaughter's classmate was an ordinary boy. Now he is no longer a boy. He is transporting people out of the newly liberated points. He went there himself, voluntarily. And that's where the Russians leave the dead. He's not only rescuing the living from there, but he's been taking the dead out as well. And he was wounded in the arm.

He got behind the wheel and drove the car with his left hand. The Russians he had in the car were not alive, but dead. He drove them out. That's what Ukraine is built on. I kneel before such people. As long as we have such young people in Ukraine, no Putin can defeat us.

Has Ukraine changed for the better since the collapse of the USSR?

- Yes, absolutely. Ukraine itself began to develop. We did not agree with everything, but we put up with it. Everything changed when we started to depend on the dollar, on the euro. We started to catch up. Not everything was already stifled. Because before we were being told, we needed to be told "yes" from there, we needed to be told "yes" from here. The factories were developing, everything was developing, the whole world. And every person in Ukraine tried also to keep up. Because before he was still being pressed.

How do you feel about Russians now?

- I have no anger toward Russians. After all, how many Russians who don't want to fight have left Russia, even though no one bombs them! It means that a person has a soul. He is Russian, but he doesn't want to hurt someone who has done him no harm. And they are considered traitors to the motherland.

They are human beings. They don't want to fight. If you go with a young husband, they grab him. He's cannon fodder: he didn't fight, he wasn't prepared, they took him and [sent him] there [to the front]. So I wish the Russians to have peace in every family, to keep their families intact.

What do you wish Ukrainians?

- So they don't lose hope that we will win. So that they don't lose their anger. But not at a man, not at a Russian, but at anger, [to] cool down the ardor of these... I can't call them an army.

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