"I would never have thought that literally in one month, I would be in several occupations at once. At first, I experienced the occupation of Sevastopol in 2014. When I finally decided to visit my parents in Slavutych in April 2022, I found myself in occupation again. Only this time, I was not so sure about my life. I understand it more clearly after the shots from Bucha", - Krystyna, who recently made a trip Sevastopol - Slavutych - Sevastopol with two children, tells.
In early February, for the first time in many years, she decided to visit her parents in Slavutych (Kyiv oblast). She says that it was a long-standing request of her mother - to meet with her grandchildren. Krystyna has not seen her parents for more than eight years - since the occupation of Sevastopol, where she lived permanently.
"We postponed the trip for two years, but at some point, my parents became seriously ill and the requests were already in the nature of "to see the grandchildren before they die". There is nowhere to delay further. I decided to go to Slavutych for one month, not even imagining what was waiting for me", - she says.
Krystyna did not believe in a full-scale russian invasion of Ukraine. Although some acquaintances in the Crimea warned her against a trip to Slavutych. It was said that American intelligence was constantly talking about a possible big war for a reason. But then Krystyna just brushed it aside: "It cannot be like that. Maximum, they will try to do something in the Donbas".
Today, she regrets only that she endangered the lives of her small children.
"I do not regret that I came to Ukraine in early February. I had to see my parents. But I reproach myself for what my children went through. They should not have heard explosions and asked me for food when there was an empty refrigerator at home and there was nowhere to buy food", - the girl admits to OstroV.
But first things first.
Life in Slavutych under explosions
On February 24, Krystyna, like millions of Ukrainians, woke up from explosions and reports that a war had begun.
"What did I feel? Fear, panic and despair. I immediately contacted my relatives and friends from Sevastopol. They were all in shock too, but they told me not to worry, nothing terrible would happen: "They will change power in Ukraine and that is it". I calmed down after that. In principle, the first days were bearable, they did not shoot in the city itself, all the battles were fought outside it", - she recalls.
But then Slavutych was actually blocked from all sides. Food and medicine began to quickly disappear from the shelves, and there were no new deliveries. It was impossible to leave the city.
"My mother got operated in the summer, she had a sore back and legs, my father was in intensive care at that time, I had two children and there was already very little food at home. There are kilometres-long queues around for everything, I spent 5 hours a day standing in them, and I did not always get something. And most of the time, nothing at all. Plus, trips to the hospital and pharmacies for medicines were added, where there was also almost nothing", - Krystyna tells.
She recalls how the children were always asking for food, and suitable food was no longer available.
"They are already hungry half an hour later after the soup… Daryna is already less capricious, and Anhelina has accepted the fact that there are no cereals and only drinks water at night”, - she wrote in mid-March.
"In addition, my lower back began to hurt. This has happened to me often, a good massage and peace would have helped me, but there was neither one nor the other. Yes, I was tired and began to feel sorry for myself. It seems that I was still trying to hold on and not whine, because it is not time yet. I just wanted to roll myself up into a ball and have everything decided by somebody else. It is especially sad that someone was lucky in the queues, they bought something, got on some kind of supply. When it was my turn, everything always ended, or they did not bring it at all. You walk down the street, and there are people with some kind of bags of food. And you have nothing", - Krystyna recalls.
At some point, electricity went out in most of the city, including the district where Krystyna lived. It was the most difficult period.
“We were without electricity for six days. We cooked in the yards on barbecues, cars brought logs, the men sawed them and lit fires in the morning before curfew to make breakfast”, - the girl tells.
"People and enterprises organized points where gadgets could be charged, but there was a long queue and charging was very slow. In general, half of the day was spent in queues of some kind: for charging, for milk or for potatoes. You could stand in line for two-three hours, or even more. The stores were completely empty. There were few detergents and shampoos on sale. Only children's toys were sold slowly as before. Cigarettes and vodka became the currency, live chicken could be exchanged for a pack of cigarettes. However, people had almost no cigarettes either. People got used to it. They did not flinch from the explosions and did not follow the fighter with their eyes, only the children actively played war games in the yards", - she recalls.
Krystyna says that what annoyed her most was the messages and questions about why they were not leaving the city.
"They constantly write to me, offer options and ask why I am not going. I am not going, because it is more dangerous than here and now. There are military operations around, you can get caught in the crossfire. Many wrote about the trip through Belarus, but people did not understand that our border was closed. Anyway, how can you travel with children when there were active hostilities around? Every day we read messages, how cars with children were shot on the roads. This is unbearably painful", - she tells.
Everything changed at some point. On March 26, the russian military invaded the Chornobyl satellite town of Slavutych, kidnapped the mayor, threw stun grenades at people who came out to a peaceful rally and fired into the air.
According to Krystyna, pro-Ukrainian rallies were held in the city regularly, "even during air raids and to the sound of gunfire".
Photo: Slavutych City Council on Facebook
On March 26, mayor of Slavutych Yuriy Fomichev stated that the city was occupied by russian armed forces.
"Slavutych has been under occupation since today. We steadfastly defended our city. Three days ago, we received an ultimatum to surrender it without a fight, but our military and the National Police decided to defend the city. They could not do otherwise, they are military and they work for this", - he stated.
Since then, Krystyna recalls, there have been many times fewer people on the streets, and she stayed at home with her children for several days, having not even going out for food, as she was afraid not to return home.
"You cannot even imagine what I cooked and what we ate. I cannot remember it without tears. We had pasta, canned cucumbers and some oatmeal. We ate this for three days. With two small children. Of course, you could try to go out and look for food, but I was afraid, I was not able to do this", - she says.
Everything changed dramatically at the moment when the russian troops left the territory of the Kyiv oblast.
"Humanitarian aid immediately went to the city. Shops began to be filled up with food. I cried when I was able to get sausages, milk, cottage cheese and eggs. I cried! This is in the 21st century in Europe. How can this even be? We could not get enough of the fruits and vegetables we could buy and get for free", - Krystyna tells.
After everything she had gone through and as soon as it became more or less safe, she nevertheless decided to go home to the Crimea.
Road from Slavutych to Crimea
"Actually, I thought about trying to leave in May when they promised the end of the war. But suddenly, my friends were going to visit Kyiv, and I got the feeling that it was time to go. I do not even know how to explain this, the trip was cancelled a million times, in the end, I had to dress myself and children and collect all things in 10 minutes. Of course, I did not take a trunk with staff, I took only the main things: documents, money, diapers and food. I did not take anything from clothes, even left everything for children to be light, mobile and to cross multiple checkpoints easier", - she recalls.
She arranged the route to the Crimea on the basis of the advices of those people who travelled to the peninsula after the start of a full-scale war. There were many of them. Everyone had their own reasons: someone wanted to sit out active hostilities and someone thus decided to get to the mainland of the russian federation in order to fly from there to another country.
"I was very surprised when I found out how many people leave Ukraine for Crimea. Most often, these are those who want to sit out the war with friends or relatives. I heard a lot of talk that this is how Ukrainians flee from mobilization, at first, they go to Crimea, then to the mainland, and from there - to Turkey or Georgia", - she says.
To begin with, she came to Kyiv, which struck her with "a carefree and peaceful life compared to Slavutych". From there, it was necessary to buy a train ticket to Zaporizhzhia.
"We went to Kyiv at 10 a.m. with the guys. I easily bought tickets in a compartment, lower shelves, to Zaporizhzhia. The train was in the evening, so there was time. We went shopping, my reaction at the sight of food was hysterical. Especially when I saw eggs, which the whole of Slavutych is chasing, and there they were in huge numbers. And there were no queues. We bought food for our relatives and for our journey. Then we returned to the railway station. A hall for mothers with children was organized upstairs. Psychologists and a children's animator are working there now, there are toys, they will feed those who wish, you can sleep on the couch. There are a lot of people, someone spends the night waiting for the train", - she recalls.
The next step was the most difficult – to get from Zaporizhzhia, which is under the control of the Ukrainian government, to Melitopol, occupied by russian troops. To do this, Krystyna got in touch with local carriers who managed to organize the corresponding business.
The prices for transportation were different – from $100 to $170. I managed to agree for $120.
"The train was late for more than 2 hours, it is good that the man with whom I agreed in the end was waiting for people from the same train, so upon arrival, we sat down and immediately drove off. We drove by car from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., although the distance there is small. There were a lot of checkpoints along the way. At first, 10-15 Ukrainian, then 40-50 russian ones. The attitude is very different: somewhere children were given tangerines, juices and sweets, somewhere cigarettes, food and even money were taken out from the car", - she says.
The most eerie experience, Krystyna recalls, was when men at russian checkpoints were stripped and checked for tattoos on their bodies. Young guys were "frisked very much".
"They did not touch me with the children at all, only the documents were checked, and not everywhere. The worst thing is to drive through the grey zone between checkpoints, they can shoot there, and in general, the sounds of shots and explosions are heard very loudly", - the girl tells.
In Melitopol, she also found a driver without any problems, who agreed to take them to the administrative border with the Crimea.
"The driver from Melitopol took us right to the border, although he risked being late for the curfew, and there it was strict. He told he used to take many men to the border, who fled from mobilization in Ukraine. Lately, fewer men have begun to leave. He apologized for the high price ($100). He says that prices in occupied Melitopol have risen a lot, and he needs to feed his family, which flatly refused to go anywhere", - Krystyna notes.
The invaders organized a checkpoint on the "border" with the Crimea.
"A small bus was launched at the Chonhar border, pedestrians are taken to the checkpoint itself, then a document is filled out for children under 6 years old, you go through passport control and, in fact, you get out", - she says.
On the other side, friends were already waiting for Krystyna in a car, they took her with her children to Sevastopol. The road in total took her about three days and cost about $250.
"In Sevastopol, you do not feel the war at all. The life goes on here on its own, without blackout, without shots, with food and usual entertainment. Last night, I dreamed that my house was being bombed, although in reality, I did not worry about it, thank God. I have a comedown today and I want to cry, I just cannot understand what to do. Life seems to have returned to its usual course, but it seems not", - Krystyna tells.
Local residents are not willing to talk about the war, trying to live as if nothing had happened. When Krystyna talks about what she experienced in Slavutych, not everyone believes her. Some acquaintances bluntly stated that all the troubles she experienced were solely because of Ukraine. They sincerely believe that russia has a saving and lofty mission.
"However, the conversation ends quickly when it comes to going to fight, liberate or send your relatives. already forgotten. But for the most part, the locals do not want to talk about the war and notice it. The exception is flooding of the beloved Moskva, but this has already been forgotten. Now there are other concerns. The tourist season is close at hand, this is more important than Moskva and the war combined", - she admits.
According to Krystyna, it is much easier to get used to a peaceful and calm life. Two weeks have passed since her return home, and only rare conversations with her parents, who remained in Slavutych, remind her of the war in Ukraine.
"I offered them to go to the Crimea with us, but they flatly refused. They are patriots of Ukraine and their city. Now it is much easier for them, the city has returned to the pre-war period, everything is there – from food to medicine. But for them, the war has not gone away. And I have a strange feeling that I live in a city, from the territory of which missiles are launched to Ukraine. I do not want to think about it", - the girl admits.
Andriy Andrieyev, specially for OstroV