Olena has fled the war twice before and has reached rock bottom.
She fled the war twice. The first time was in 2014 from Donbass. She went to the city of Chernihiv, there she worked in the economic sphere. From there, she fled again, because that city was also surrounded by Russian soldiers, so she experienced the same situation again.
"For me, the war started back in 2014 in Donbass. Many people were displaced. I myself had to leave my whole life in Donbass. The soldiers occupied the most important places, such as the station, the city office, the post office. People started to riot, they organised demonstrations. The first one was peaceful, during the second one they said that whoever would make demonstrations would be killed. It was risky to leave from there, people had to leave their car to the soldiers for military purposes. It happened that when someone was at home, the soldiers came and occupied their house. They targeted rich people, moved into their houses. To us, too. So, we could stay in the basement and wait to be killed or leave. Ukraine ceased to exist in Donbass. If they found some Ukrainian indication, like a flag in a mobile phone, they took that person, put them in a basement, and they never came back."
"We were travelling over landmines. It was a risk whether the mine would explode or not. The massacre that took place in Buche was terrible. But the same thing was happening in Donbass, only nobody knew about it. Later, the Adventists accommodated them, but they did not provide everything for them. "I also went over the garbage containers, although I had worked all my life and had my dignity. When winter was about to start, I would find old things in the garbage that I would repair and remodel."
She remembers the outbreak of conflict in 2022 this way: "On February 24, they started bombing civilians' houses. Everything started falling, so we went to the basements. All the people were in that basement, you could not breathe in there, there was low pressure, people were passing out in there, people were having panic attacks, they were claustrophobic. We were there for 10 days. We only came out when, for example, they had not shot for half an hour and they had a break in shooting. Chernyhyv was surrounded. I experienced the same thing a second time. When we were in that cellar, a neighbour came in and said I had half an hour to pack up. He told me that he was going to his car with his family and he had one free place there. But it was dangerous because everything was mined. We were leaving in three cars. Two cars behind us were shot by the soldiers. Those people who decided to leave risked a lot because everything was mined.
Irina survived the occupation of Kherson.
They no longer had money for food, the soldiers took their car, their daughter experienced panic attacks. Irina experienced the occupation of Kherson first-hand. The former manager and teacher also told us about the impossibility to leave, about the landmines planted on the roads, but also about how it was impossible to buy basic food and medicine.
"Every time we left the house it was very dangerous because we did not know what the soldiers would want from us. We always had to tell them where we were going, what we were going to do there. There were seven checkpoints in the city, and at each one they looked in the car and everything they wanted. The soldiers also asked us for information about people who had left their homes. Because they wanted to move their families there, so there were areas in Kherson where Russians were living in other people's houses like that. But the worst thing, in my opinion, is that the Russians did not allow volunteers to go to Kherson and help the people who were left without any medicine. We did not have any pharmacies because they destroyed them all and took the medicines for the Russian army. Many people were left without work and without money. At the same time, volunteers bought food for the children, but the Russian soldiers did not allow them to come to the town. And many volunteers were killed by the Russians. Once we were in great danger because there is a forest very close to us, it started to burn and the Russians did not allow the firefighters to stop the fire. The second thing that people were very afraid of was that the soldiers would take them and put them in prison. They took people, they put them in handcuffs, we did not know what they did with them. Some even helped the Russian soldiers. For them it was a way to stay alive."
"The Russians did not allow anyone to go out of Kherson. Anyone who wanted to leave was taking a risk. I left in May with my 16-year-old daughter. We had to leave because we had no money even for food. On top of that, she started having panic attacks because every day we heard bombs flying near us."
Viktoria wanted to stay in Ukraine, but the fate arranged it differently. The war was literally breathing down her neck.
Immediately after the outbreak of the conflict, the suburb where Viktoria and her family lived came under fire from the Russian army. Some of the rockets with which the Russian soldiers shelled the area landed directly in her garden.
She herself described the experience to us as follows:
"We knew that several rockets were fired near us in a quick succession. Several of these rockets exploded just five to seven meters from our house and that is why it broke all our windows. We took shelter inside the house where we were lying on the floor. Everything was shaking. After this experience, we decided to go to the basement of our house. We spent about a week in there with other people, there were about 20 of us. We could not go back into the house; it was too dangerous. But the last evening we spent in the cellar was different from the others. We heard a big noise and we knew it meant that there had been a big attack nearby. At that moment a lot of houses were destroyed because about five missiles from the missile system landed there. I remember it was on the 5th of March when one of these shells hit our yard and damaged the house. We were very scared and realized that at any moment we could die. We were in the basement when part of the rocket hit the yard."