«Tanks drove over flowerbeds, clotheslines, young trees» Occupation in Izyum

Raisins. Autumn 2022. Photo: Yevgeny Vasiliev

Anastasia (name changed) is 50 years old. She has lived all her life in Izyum. The Russian invasion of Ukraine came as a shock to her. Having sent her daughter and grandchildren to evacuation, she herself remained in her hometown. Anastasia tells about what she had to endure during seven months of occupation - without light, heat and water - in the "Eyewitnesses of February 24" project.

- We read about it on Viber that the war had started. At six in the morning I woke up on my alarm clock. We hadn't been bombed yet, but the information was already coming in. They wrote from work that we weren't going on shift today. Because there was a war. We were attacked. I got scared, because there were two small children in the house.

It was hard to understand what was happening. I turned 50 recently, I was born in the USSR, I was brought up on the idea that we were all brothers, we were all Slavs. I had a feeling that it was all a bad dream. There were rumors that war might break out, but I did not believe it. I thought that war was impossible in the 21st century.

Izyum's central square. Autumn 2022. Photo: Yevgeny Vasiliev

We usually stock up on food on weekends, for a week. February 24 was a Thursday, so we were almost out of food. My daughter ran to the store - there were long lines everywhere, it was impossible to buy anything. We could not get any money from the ATM either, there were lines, and the cash ran out quickly. After a few days, we started getting bombed.

At the beginning of the war there were five of us in the apartment: myself, my husband, my daughter, and two grandchildren. When the bombs started raining down on our city, we first hid from the bombing in the corridor. It was very crowded. It was on the fifth floor and you realize that two walls in the corridor would not help much to save you from the bombs from above. Then we went to the kindergarten and hid in the basement with the children. Then we decided to evacuate the children. My daughter and her grandchildren were put in a passing car, in the trunk. I stayed in Izyum.

Raisins. Autumn 2022. Photo: Yevgeny Vasiliev

On March 27, we saw them [Russian soldiers] driving. They weren't driving along the road, but right under the windows - between the kindergarten and the yard of a five-story apartment building. With submachine guns, with the muzzles of these tanks raised, in Ural trucks. Through the flowerbeds, through the clotheslines, through the young trees...

I felt the whole occupation on my own. I was lucky, I did not encounter any Russian military personnel. My only contacts were constant document checks at all checkpoints. And questions: Where is your daughter? Isn't she in the AFU? And so on.

Raisin. Basement of the Central City Hospital. Photo: Yevgeny Vasiliev

After the first bombing on February 24, the gas pipeline that supplied the city was bombed. And immediately the heating was cut off. There was still light and water. Then somewhere else flew in - there was no light or water for a while. It got cold in the house, but we could still get dressed. We gathered snow to melt it - to wash our hands, to flush the toilet. Then we went to the local well for water.

And since March 9, I remember it well, because that was the day we managed to evacuate my daughter and grandchildren from the city, we no longer had water or light. Neither the heater, nor the electric kettle, nor the microwave could be turned on anymore. It was good that we had a charcoal grill in the garage, we brought it home. We went to pick up trees, which had been cut down by the shelling. It was three degrees in the apartment, it was impossible to wash anything.

Photo: Yevgeny Vasiliev

We used to go to the other side of town for groceries when there was still a footbridge. My brother-in-law had a vegetable garden there, and my husband used to go there under bombardment. We used to make a pot of stew, with five potatoes the size of a chicken egg, some grits, and carrots the size of little fingers. That was our lunch and dinner. And in the morning we made tea over the fire in the yard. And pancakes. The first week there was flour. When it almost ran out, whatever was left was used. A couple of spoonfuls of oats, a spoonful of semolina, and a spoonful of flour - that was the way we made pancakes. But we were happy to have them, since there was no bread. Once we managed to get some fruit and vegetables. In March, at the local market, the owner of the container was handing out frozen tomatoes, pears, and tangerines. And we were happy to have them.

Along with the light, the connection was gone. There was only one place to catch it. Near a television tower, which had also been bombed. I used to go there to call my daughter. But it took a long time to get a signal there, too. If I could talk to my daughter for 10-15 minutes, it was very good. To hear from them that they were healthy.

A mass grave site in Izyum. Photo: Yevgeny Vasiliev

I have a relative in Russia who still writes that we are "Bandera people" and that "don't worry, Russia will come and liberate you. I write to her that let her come to you and liberate you. This is a relative who does not believe in what we feel and what we have experienced. And there is another acquaintance, not a relative, a former Iyumchanka, who passed parcels to me through some of her ways, so that we could somehow survive. She made arrangements with someone, paid them.

I was in Izyum for seven months without communication, without electricity or water. My husband took the toys apart, took the batteries out and made a radio to get at least some news. We had two radios, one Ukrainian and one Z-Radio, which they turned on for us. And it was clear to see where the truth and where the lies were. My husband was in his room with the Ukrainian radio, and I was in the kitchen with the Russian one. The Russian radio tells me that the Ukrainian army was defeated in Balakleya - completely defeated, Izyum is under our control, everything is fine. My husband comes in and says, Balakleya is Ukrainian. Even Izyum, when they took it, they [Russian military] were gone for two days, and my daughter tells me that Russian channels say that there is a fight going on, Ukrainians are dying. But here we have two days of silence. It's very hard to believe the Russians.

Raisins. Photo: Yevgeny Vasiliev

I don't want to lump everyone together. But there was World War II, and Russians and Germans, and Ukrainians and Germans are now in normal relations and can communicate. But I cannot say when Ukrainians and Russians will be able to communicate. And whether they will be able to.

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