War in the dark

Ihor, Kharkiv region, 06. 05. 22

War in the dark

The beginning of the war

For the residents of [...], the war started with the sounds of the explosions early in the morning on February 24th. I think that everyone immediately understood everything. When I went to walk my dog at 6 am in the morning, there was a big line for the water already. When I ran out of water, I went to the nearest supermarket and there was almost no water there. It is interesting that despite all the chaos that was going on, the workers of city utility services continued working. A truck came to pick up garbage. A car from the village came – it usually brings dairy products. Many neighbors gathered and got in their personal cars. However, I saw that they returned in the next few days as they probably could not leave immediately.

Over the first 2 days, public transportation continued running, but by the middle of the first day of the war, the subway stopped running. It was turned into a bomb shelter for the civilians. By the way, me and my family (a 7-year-old daughter and wife) were hiding in the subway for the first 2 days. As far as I know, many people stayed at this station for weeks, rarely leaving to visit their homes. As it turned out, the subway is probably the safest place during bombings and artillery shelling.

Over the first few days of the war, in addition to bombings, another danger for civilians was Russian diversion groups which were sent to the cities close to the borders. Some of them were just hundreds of meters away from where we were located.

Thanks to my friend and colleague, in the next few days, my family was able to stay at his private house with a cellar. As it turned out, having your private shelter in a house is of great value during a war.

One of the symbols of war in [...] is darkness. In a literal sense. After 6 pm, there is a curfew, and none of the streetlights are turned on, and the city just ‘freezes’ still until 6 in the morning.

The most valuable thing in war iIs the ability to access information. It is important to have up-to-date information, not the old one from a couple of hours ago. For example, when the Russian military were in the city, and people had to leave to get food, they exchanged information on whether it was safe to walk around the city. Another is seeing Ukrainian soldiers and understanding that the city is under our control.

It is also important to identify the sounds of explosions. Whether it is our soldiers firing back or the city is being shelled. In order to not have to go back to the bomb shelters, which is often not convenient at all. Although, it is safest to not leave them at all if it is not necessary.

Maybe the most important thing is connection. Without connection, it is impossible to follow the updates of the information and find out where exactly the city is being bombed at the moment and be in touch with family.

The greatest valuable is power bank chargers and electricity at home. I remember the fixing of electricity after a long break as the most positive event. Another is running water at home, drinking water, food, money, as well as having medications and pet food (the biggest lines were to the pharmacies and pet shops). Having personal vehicles during the war is about the means of survival, not just of transportation.

Evacuation routes

During the Second World War, [...] was one of the furthermost Ukrainian cities from the frontlines. During the war of 2022, it became one of the frontline cities. In 1941, before the war, the city’s population was 900 thousand people, in October of that year, the population, including those who evacuated, grew to 1 million and 500 thousand people. This year, the situation is the opposite. According to the data available from the city, as of the 8th of March the population was 1 million and 400 thousand people. 600 thousand people were evacuated from the city by railway alone. As opposed to the events of the 20th century, the population is prioritized for evacuation, not the enterprises.

My family, including my daughter, wife, and mother, were able to leave by train in the beginning of March. The most difficult quest was getting to the railway station in [...], without having personal means of transportation or a driver. The prices for a 30-40 minute ride were 10-20 times higher than before the war. This angers me, although the taxi drivers in this time, were risking enough. I have to note the work of volunteers from [...], [...] and [...], who drive people to railway stations or to other cities for free or for voluntary donations.

The next step for those who are getting evacuated by the railway, is getting on the train. It can take from a few dozen minutes to over 10 hours. The priority for getting on the train was given to women, children and older people. Many had their pets with them. The road to the West of Ukraine was 20-25 hours. By mid March, as far as I know, the number of those who wanted to leave [...] got smaller, so the waiting time at the station also decreased.

“Peaceful” cities

As far as I know, anyone who arrives to [...], [...], [...] or any city in the Western part of Ukraine from Kharkiv, experiences a certain level of shock. Since the public transportation is running here, there are no huge lines to the pharmacies or supermarkets. At the same time, unlike in the peaceful time, one can see the block posts and there is a curfew. In addition, there are air raid sirens a few times a day. In a peaceful city, one can go to a hairdresser, dentist, café or buy clothes, which is impossible to do in [...], unfortunately. When I was in [...], I took part in the psychological support program organized by the psychologists from the States, called “With Ukraine.” My daughter, while staying in Lviv oblast, is able to study remotely at the local school and online art school.

Shocking news

When we were already in relative safety, our family received shocking news about the destruction of our home in [...]. The multistory building was hit by a rocket which destroyed almost an entire section of apartments (під’їзд). Next day, the fire ultimately destroyed almost all of our belongings. Thank God, by some sort of a miracle, no one was hurt.

The words of gratitude

After the mentioned event, our family received a lot of words of gratitude and generous help from our friends and colleagues from different parts of the world. Finishing this note, I want to thank many-many people from different parts of Ukraine, Europe and the US for the incredible support of my family and our country in these incredibly difficult times. I am convinced that many Ukrainian scholars have received similar support, which is evidenced by such a solidarity initiative.