Kyiv region. During the last trip, we asked a few proactive villagers for their phone numbers, so this time we were prepared.
“Shovels, hoes, buckets, and nails for 13 households,” says our new acquaintance Sasha over the phone. “And we need blankets too.”
First, we go to the village of Pidhaine. In general, to find someone in the village ready to distribute goods according to the list and then report back is nearly impossible. But it’ll save you time and nerves, avoiding communication with those who “need everything and right now”, despite those who have lost everything next to them.
“Up to the last moment, my son and I had been avoiding evacuation. We would run from one house to another to extinguish the fire. But then we buried in our yard the most expensive things, like the boiler and washing machine, and left.”
We walk along a completely destroyed street. Black and red ashes look even scarier on a green grass background.
“On our way back we took this side road,” we look at the destroyed lane. “We were walking on the street full of debris, taking away firebrands and nails with our bare hands, crying because if there are no houses left, ours must be destroyed too. But then we saw it — almost untouched. Well, the windows are broken, the roof is damaged, but it is there!”
Lena unloads things from the minibus.
“You’re like Bruce Lee.”
The village of Teterivske. The electricity is back. The locals are happy.
“We’ve got everything we need. Better go to the Zhereva village. It’s right there over the field, but the bridge had been blown up.”
“Approximately 20 kilometers. Let me show you, I’m on my way back there. Bought a radiator here cause mine was shot though.”
So we follow him. We stop in Pihhaine because the electricians blocked the road to repair a broken electric column.
Taking the occasion, I go to the damaged households to gather information about the civilians injured by shelling.
“My mom, Zhenia, hurt her legs. And Sasha, my neighbour, injured his arm hard, he even got operated.”
The only thing left from the houses is just brickbats.
“Where are you living now?”
“They gave us an old house at the end of the village. But our vegetable garden is here. So we are planting stuff here.”
Lena sorts the food. Serhii gives away pillows and blankets.
“Thank you. Living in someone else’s house with no one living inside for years is tough. But now my mom will sleep like a queen.”
We pass a few villages. At one of the crossroads, we say goodbye to our guide.
“You go straight from now on. After you leave the village, there will be forest and ammunition on the left. You pass it carefully, and then there’s the village. You’ll see it.”
Near the battlefield, the deminers are working. Here is Zhereva. Every second house is ruined, and almost every single one of them is damaged. Two women, neighbors, live next to the forestry. One did not even leave and hid in the cellar during the occupation.
“They were shelling all over this place like crazy. Then the tanks with V on them came. One stood right in the yard. What can you say to them?”
“Hope they didn’t humiliate you at least?”
“Nah, who needs us, just two old grannies. Only sometimes they wouldn’t let us take water from the well. You never know what is happening in their mind.”
Cats are emerging from everywhere. Seems like they really are everywhere.
“All cats gathered here. Probably they know that nobody will hurt them.”
We leave some food for the animals. At the next crossroad, we meet a family. They are very happy to get some female stuff, saying that no one is coming here because there aren’t many people in this village.
“At least now we have electricity. No shop, no telephone connection.”
Our guide is back. His wife is also in the car. We talk about life.
“Well, we live in Teterivske. But the orcs got into our house, so there is nothing left, for now, we are staying at our uncle’s place. There used to be a bridge between the village, but it got blasted. The detour takes about 20 kilometers.”
“Take the blankets.”
“Maybe someone needs it more than us.”
After all, we give them a couple of blankets and one for the baby. They refuse to take food, but help us find two grannies we probably would’ve never found by ourselves. A State Emergency Service of Ukraine worker from that village shows us the way to the third old lady.
“I didn’t want to evacuate. I thought they would not harm a firefighter, but the military told me I should leave because they are slaughtering young men. So, they’ve saved me.”
The corrugated panel is completely ripped off of the gate, but the old woman still locks the frame. As a habit.
“Just don’t take pictures of me,” she says, crying. “I am afraid. What if they come back?”
“I am not taking photos of you,” I put the phone in my pocket. “Don’t worry.”
“Why on earth would they come here? Why did they destroy our houses? Did we bother them anyhow?”
And she starts crying again. I hug her and calm her down. We return to the crossroad, where Lena and Serhii have already given away the supply.
“Thanks for coming.”
We return to Kyiv with the understanding that despite the enormous human suffering, everything around us starts to revive. And one more thing. Now we have a few more telephone numbers of those who would inform us about their needs on the spots.
The photo by Hanna Salivon of a woman cooking borscht in the oven of a ruined house has spread all over the Internet. Indeed, as Ievgen Klopotenko said, borscht is about life!
I’ll show you that borscht up close.
Ukrainian Text by Ruslan Gorovyi, translated into English by Ukrainianvancouver team — Jun 7, 2022