"We live day by day": people from Donbas fleeing the war for the second time

Olga from Luhansk left in 2014 for Severodonetsk, where fighting is now taking place. “Until 2014, my life in Luhansk was normal – an apartment, a favorite job, a man, children who go to school.

I worked as a hairdresser, taught hairdressing courses, and couldn’t even imagine what would happen. In the spring of 2014, I did not understand what was happening. The propaganda was terrible – we were told that Ukraine was attacking its territory, and someone else – who was not there – was defending the people. I understood that Ukraine could not shoot on its own.

“Eight years of occupation”

Until then, I had not heard of the separation of Donbas from Ukraine. Some said that in Russia people live better and it would be good to have the same in our country. People in the city had the misconception that Russia was good. If so – take your suitcases and go. Until 2014, I felt comfortable and safe in Luhansk – I could not imagine that we would have eight years of occupation, but I did not take this circus seriously. I hoped that the security forces would put an end to all this – but it did not happen.

My husband and brother worked in law enforcement. The separatists asked them to side with them, but they refused. It is good that they had previously applied for leave – we took advantage of this and moved to Severodonetsk, where my husband’s job was transferred. Everyone thought it would be temporary – that we would be back soon, but it never happened, the return was always delayed.

In 2015, I opened a hair salon in Severodonetsk and things went well. And it never crossed my mind that things from 2014 could be repeated. On the morning of February 24, they called us and told us that a war had broken out. We quickly packed up and left in just three hours. Almost all the equipment of my hair salon remained in Severodonetsk. Our whole life remained in Severodonetsk. I’m out of work again, and my husband’s hives – our main source of income – have remained in the occupied city. ”

“They brought people from somewhere for the separatist demonstrations”

Nikolai Osichenko is from Donetsk, but since 2018 he has lived in Mariupol, blocked by Russian forces since March. Until 2014, I lived in Donetsk, I was the main director of the Donbas TV channel. Our son was born in 2009, I had renovated my house not far from the airport. In 2014, I could not imagine what would happen. The rallies in the city center struck me – they were not attended by locals, but by people brought in from somewhere who had difficulty navigating. to these people as to the urban madmen.

After the pro-Russian separatists occupied Donetsk, an order was issued to ban our TV channel, but even after that we did not leave the city – we did not want to run away. We believed that Donetsk would be liberated – how could they drive us out of our city.

But when the fighting for the airport started, which the child was very afraid of, we decided to leave. We went to Mariupol – supposedly for a few weeks at sea, to wait, but gradually we realized that we will not return soon. In 2018, I was offered to head the television of Mariupol and our lives began to take shape. We spent three of the happiest years of our lives there.

“There was hell”

On February 24, I learned about Russia’s attack on Ukraine from the news. I assumed that there would be problems with communications, food supplies, with withdrawing money from ATMs. So I withdrew all the money, bought food, candles, medicine – I calmed down that I had protected my home and family. I thought I had already seen war in 2014.

I have undergone all kinds of training – how to behave in case of shelling, if you are captured, at the front. I thought I was ready for anything. But 2022 showed that I was not ready for anything – it was hell.

The city was left without electricity, water, and heating first. After the besieged us, they stopped the supply of food, fuel, and cash. Then the mobile connections failed – people found themselves in an information vacuum. In the first days of the siege, the shops were still open, selling the leftovers until they started shelling the warehouses.

On March 13, our block was bombed and it was no longer habitable – we all moved to the basement and slept there: the children on mattresses, the adults on chairs. It was the warmest room, but I have to explain what was considered warm then: 12 degrees in a room full of people. Outside the temperature was minus 10 degrees, and in the apartments with broken windows – minus eight. People were wearing all sorts of clothes.

“There were corpses everywhere”

Every day I went up to the tenth floor, where a signal could be picked up, and recorded small video blogs about the situation in the city. On March 14, I realized that we had the opportunity to leave the city through a humanitarian corridor. I gathered all the people from the block and told them – we must leave immediately because if we stay, our chances of survival are minimal. We joined a column of 2,500 cars, we traveled slowly – explosions were constantly heard around us, bombs were falling. I did my best not to let my son look through the glass because there were human bodies everywhere. Now we have rented an apartment in Zaporizhzhia, but we have no plans – we live day by day. “

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