I buried my neighbours as best I could, practically with my bare hands…

Dedicated to all those who survived the russian occupation

The first days of the war found Olga at her dacha. She was alone there, her husband was in Kyiv, and her son was at the front.

“They came to Gostomel, the ‘russians’, a lot of them, looking around the yard, trampling on the rooms with their dirty boots. They asked who Olga lived with. They looked at the house and moved on. They were trying to break through to the capital, because this was their first priority – “to take Kyiv in three days”.

Shooting started in the street. Opposite, a bomb fell very close by. It seemed as if the neighbouring house had just been lifted in the air and put back down. The woman recalls:

“It was a miracle that ours was not hit. But all the windows and radiators were broken…

They say that one bomb does not hit one place. But it happened here. A shell hit the building opposite and demolished half of it, and two days later another shell hit again and destroyed the other half. It was levelled to the ground. A lot of people died…

When it all started, women with children came running to me from a nearby sanatorium. I hid them in the basement. They were very scared. They stayed there for three days, I fed them as much as I could… And then they came too, but they were different – Buryats or Chechens, they asked if I was alone at home, I said yes, but they didn’t believe me and started searching the house.

And they found them… I asked them not to touch them, there were no men among them!!!

But they were taken away, taken away! Both children and women. For some reason, they didn’t take me… I don’t know their fate.”

Then they appeared for the third time, also completely different. They started swearing, shouting, searching, turning everything upside down.

“Then they put me in a chair in the basement and started asking me questions: “Do you hear me, where the fuck are your men?”

Olga replied that she had no men. No sons. She had a brother, but he died. They must not have believed me, because the interrogation continued for days and nights. They did not give me food, only water. They did not let me sleep. She was not allowed to lie down, only to sit. One of them was always with her. With a machine gun. Constantly aimed at her. She spent three days in this position.

“What was I most afraid of? I was afraid that they would kill my dog Chika. She was tied up, but she was constantly barking, trying to free me, poor thing. I asked them not to touch her, because then I would be left all alone.”

But in fact, in Chika’s kennel were hidden passports, the passports of her husband and sons. And if they were found, Olga would have been killed. And Chika seemed to feel it – she practically never left the booth.

One day they suddenly left, and Olga did not even believe it at first.

Then the occupiers who remained in the city allowed us to leave the house. Not everyone came out. Only the living ones did.

“The man who lived across the fence was lucky. He and his family did not have time to run into the cellar when the shelling started. They were bombing around the clock. It was quiet only from half past two in the morning to four in the morning, only an hour and a half. And before they could run out of the house, a shell hit the cellar… That saved them, because they were not there at the time.”

After waiting for a few more days and listening to the gunfire outside, she cautiously went out into the yard, squinting her eyes against the daylight.

The first thing she saw was her dead neighbours. They were lying in the middle of her garden…

“I knew what I had to do. I had to bury them.”

The woman does not say what she felt at that moment.

“I just buried them as best I could, practically with my bare hands.”

She also does not remember how long it took…

Olga could not call her relatives and ask for help, her mobile phone was dead, there was no electricity anywhere, everything was damaged by the explosions.

She and other people took refuge in a local school.

“There, at seven in the evening, I even remember the time, they connected a generator, all the people started charging their phones, and I managed to do it too.”

She could not call her family. It was impossible to evacuate the city, all the cars were under fire.

Olga tried to break through with her neighbour, taking her dog. They managed to move only two streets. Shells began to explode. They hid in a house abandoned by someone. They spent several days there without water and food until the “green corridor” was announced. Chika was not allowed to come with them, because first of all, it was necessary to evacuate people…

The woman will never forget these three weeks of occupation.

“Now, when I remember, I get so scared. My God, they came and did whatever they wanted.”

After the liberation of the territory, Olga and her husband returned to their house. There was not a single intact window, no doors, nothing. The occupiers had destroyed everything.

“We returned as soon as possible to the place where we left the dog. A bomb had hit there too, there was no fence, and Chika was gone… We searched for her for a long time – in all animal shelters, but we never found her…”

Olga hopes that she just ran away. And now she is in a safe place.

“We have gradually rebuilt the house. We put it in order.

But you can’t bring back human lives. Never…”

Svitlana Mazur, journalist

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