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“Behind Her Was a Trail of Blood and a Piece of Iron”: Story of a Family From the Outskirts of Chernihiv

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Five months have passed since the start of the Russian full-scale invasion. A hundred and fifty days. Millions of stories. Thousands of tragedies. Heroes, eyewitnesses, survivors. The war continues to collect its stories to be heard. 

Volodymyr, his wife Halyna, and their seven-year-old son Maksym. An ordinary family that lived on the outskirts of Chernihiv at the beginning of the full-scale war. The father is a car mechanic, he runs a small workshop, and the mother is a school teacher. The son’s dream is to become a pilot and fly around the world.

“I don’t know if my son will ever want to fly again. Before the war, we would always try to fly somewhere on vacation. At least for a couple of days. Poland, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey… The kid was always glad we were going by plane. Everything changed after [February] 24th… Airplanes were dropping either bombs or rockets all the time. From then on, the sound of an airplane caused nothing but fear in Maksym,” – said Volodymyr.

Since their house is on the edge of the city, Novoselivka was very close by, and they had to suffer through everything the invaders had to offer. It’s hard for Volodymyr to recall the first days. He said it was as if his memory blocked everything. They were thinking about what to do – to stay in the house or to move deeper into the city:

“Everything seemed like a dream. Shooting, then an explosion… silence, only something buzzing for a couple of hours and then the same thing again. On the 26th, we decided to go to our cousins’ house on Liotna. While we were driving, the city was shelled from Grads. Fortunately, ours were not hurt, but the houses nearby were badly damaged. Windows were smashed, holes in the walls…”.

After that, they decided to “entrench” at their house. They were fortunate to have a basement and not rely on centralized heating and water systems. 

“We bought the house when the baby was born. We chose a house with a good basement, so that the entrance would be inside the house. I was a fan of various American soap operas, and there’s always a “man cave” either in the basement or in the garage. So I decided to make one for myself. Then my son and I would play table soccer there, watch TV, and hide from my wife whenever she’s in a bad mood,” said Volodymyr with a smile. “Now I understand that it was a gut feeling.”

Among the many things Volodymyr did in the basement was insulate it, provide heat and lighting, and drape the old couch and chairs. The family spent most of their time there.

On March 17, a shell exploded near the house, releasing a shrapnel hail, killing a neighbor and riddling their house. Part of the attached kitchen was destroyed by the shockwave, and dozens of metal pieces remained inside:

“My ears got blocked, the kid’s trained if there’s a sound – he’s right on the floor, I saw him crawling toward the basement. I turned my head, trying to see my wife. And I saw her slouched against the wall, and behind her, there was a trail of blood and a piece of iron two fingers wide sticking out. I moved towards her. She was alive. Breathing. And the red stain on her blouse was getting bigger.”

ФОТО УЛАМОК

As the spouses were later explained at the hospital, Halyna’s arm would most likely not be fully mobile again. If the hit was only a centimeter to the left or at another angle, it would have mangled the arm. However, only the muscles were torn, and the bone remained undamaged.

Their house would suffer more than once from aerial bombardment and artillery shelling. Seventeen times to be exact. Volodymyr thinks that the house still standing must be a miracle. Nearby, two households were razed to the ground. He intentionally counted each impact on the house, so that he could “bill the invaders” later.  

At the beginning of March, Russia did not even mention shooting “only at military objects. They were “taking Kyiv in three days” using Chernihiv as a transit zone. The Russians were shelling Chernihiv and its suburbs with everything they had:

“One day I went to the city center to look for medicine for my kid. Maksym caught a cold because however you patch up the windows, it will still be cold. He had a fever. The city was besieged by Russians, there were incoming shells not just every day, but every couple of hours. Nevertheless, volunteers managed to bring in medicines, and some supplies. I knew something was being delivered from the Golden Beach area [local urban beach], so I went there. 

I was gone for a couple of hours. I came back and there were only three walls left of the neighbor’s two-story house. A shell landed squarely on the house, blowing everything apart. Our house was saved by the fact that the neighbors had a mighty fence, which absorbed a part of the shockwave.”

So, I arrived, I see the men cleaning something up, and further ahead there were Russian APCs or tanks turning around. I shouted: “What are you guys doing there? A second one will land here, and we’ll all die.” And he answered: “Grandfather Mykola was at home”. He was the owner of the house, he was old, but he took excellent care of his household, always doing something around the house. He didn’t give a damn about the shelling, “come what may”, he used to say. Took us a couple of hours to dig him up. Unfortunately, he wasn’t alive”.

A week later, in mid-March, the house of other neighbors collapsed from Grad shelling. By the end of the month, four families were already living in Volodymyr’s basement. Due to the lack of medical supplies, a third of them became sick. Two suffered shrapnel wounds, but it was dangerous to go looking for doctors. The Ukrainian military helped out by sharing a first-aid kit, bandaging their wounds, and telling them about the situation. 

“Now these people, our neighbors, are like family. What we went through together would be easier to accept if the war were over. But now we understand that everything can still happen again. So, while it’s still summer, we’re replacing the windows and patching up the holes in the walls. We talked to our neighbors, we asked who was going where. A third of the houses were destroyed, half the people had either left the city or the country. Now, we, as long as the house is standing, we stand”.

PAVLO LISNYCHENKO

This article was produced by Bihus.Info as part of the program “Supporting Ukraine’s Regional Media in Times of War” with the financial support of the European Union and the Foreign Ministry of the Kingdom of Norway. The content is the sole responsibility of Bihus.Info and does not reflect the views of the European Union, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

Since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, 347 people have suffered from hostilities in the Kherson Region. Of these, 153 were killed and 194 were wounded. Moreover, the Russian military has been spreading misinformation that it was the Ukrainian soldiers that killed civilian Ukrainians. This is what they said about Tetiana Minlibayeva, a resident of Davydiv Brid, who was killed by a missile the Russians launched at people who had come to collect humanitarian aid.

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