Even a Kind Word

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23 June 2022

Even a Kind Word

Helping Kharkiv

by Don Urquhart

Mug shot of Don Urquhart

It is the classic problem of wars in distant lands.  If you do not wish to be a combatant how do you help?  In the case of the Russia/Ukraine conflict our government has elected to help by providing weapons and by housing refugees in the UK.  But the simple fact is that many people there are starving and under constant bombardment. Dmitriy Yakovliev has stayed in Kharkiv and set up a communal kitchen for survivors. He sends videos and messages to anyone interested in order to spread the word that his country is in ruins and many people are barely subsisting.

Dmitriy’s friend Anya took refuge in the Winchester house of Stella who has collected Dmitriy’s interviews with Kharkiv survivors. 

Here is the transcript of one of the interviews.  It is with Fyodr, a middle-aged man in a green T-shirt:

My name is Fyodr.

What was your job?

Energy specialist.

How did you find out about the war?

I was at home with my wife. I practically didn’t sleep. The first artillery sounds were heard at 4.35am.

I live in Saltyvka (district of Kharkiv), there is my house over there. The shelling started and we packed our things and ran – myself, my wife and our cat. We reached our local substation depot and took shelter in the basement; we had no choice. We spent almost 20 days in that basement without electricity, with nothing. We had a guy bringing food to us (when the war is over, I will find him to thank him). He was great; he drove a car damaged by shelling. Four of us survived in that basement, myself and my wife and our cat and our neighbour and his wife. When the shelling stopped we decided to run and to stay with a friend; we couldn’t stay there any longer.

Was it hard to stay there?

It was not just hard. I found myself under shelling for the first time in my life when I left the basement by the substation. I emerged from the basement to look around and see the damage that was done. On the sixth day I didn’t tell my wife anything. I didn’t want to upset my wife after what I had seen. Our garage burnt out. I was very upset myself but there was nothing I could do about it.

And when our block (apartment block) was knocked out and I saw 150 millimetres (?) shell flying by, landing near the substation, leaving a hole in the ground of two meters deep and three meters wide, we decided to leave the basement. People started moving about in the basement… If we were bombed there no one would be able to dig us out… We were running under the shelling… we kept in touch with our friends who gave us shelter. Then my wife got injured. I went out to take rubbish out, one missile landed here (he was nodding in the direction of the place) and then another one exploded behind me (again nodding in the direction of explosion) as I was running (towards the house), part of the fence was bombed out. The explosion deafened me, and I could not hear anything for two days afterwards. I could hear someone calling ‘Natasha! Natasha!’ (the name of his wife); she was running from the missile and fell over, she was brought into the house as white as a whitewashed wall, the exploded missile shards hit her right shoulder. She spent 56 days in a hospital. We moved between places under shelling. Afterwards, we kept a window open so that we could hear the whistle of the approaching missiles and had some time to take shelter. Our military guys were very good, they saw the state of my wife and let us through the checkpoints quickly so that I could take my wife to the hospital and then to change dressing. …. (Describing what was done at the hospital).

Thank to ‘Dmitriyevna’ (must be the patronymic name of the person) who gave us a shelter and all.

We have been here for over 100 days now. Our apartment block that we lived in is destroyed.

Several entrances are so badly damaged that I can’t imagine that they can be restored. The shelling is relentless and all in the direction of our district. Thanks to volunteers, we have food to eat and clothes to wear. We left just in what we were dressed. The shelling targets lights. Our streetlights came on just unexpectedly and the shelling started at 1am and lasted till 5am. It didn’t stop for four hours; we were hiding in a basement. We were moving very cautiously. My wife is frightened after her injury and jumps up in bed (when she hears explosions). We are with my mother-in-law because her apartment block was hit too, she is 93. Where can she go? So my wife with a broken arm, my mother-in-law, our cat and I – we are all together.

Please, tell us how we as volunteers help you?

Of course, you help us a lot, without a doubt. Since the nearby shops were bombed and the food supply stopped. If not for you, what would we do?  Potatoes, meat… all staple food… toiletries, pasta… we had a guy who travelled from Ternopol village who brought us humanitarian help from Western Ukraine. People put together whatever they could as one family.

(Some unclear speech) we have a bell now and we take shelter when we hear it. When the basements are shut you can’t get inside… When we are in the basement, we can’t communicate and we can’t call each other. (unclear speech about 20 people…)

What can the west / GB help with?

What help? We need help undoubtedly. What can we do without help? Even a kind word goes a long way.

I am very worried about my mother (names the location which is ten km from the border with another village which was bombed). We thought she was safe in her village, but she wasn’t. The area is not occupied but she had to flee to the nearby village thanks to the kind neighbours who took her with them. The shelling started in her village at 4am one day. She left the house in whatever she was wearing… I hope to evacuate her to the Western Ukraine. (A conversation between Dmitriy and Fyodr about help with that).

Thank you for sharing your story.

Slava Ukraini! (Glory to Ukraine!)

The Kharkiv Communal Kitchen comprises people who until February 24th were going about their normal business and now risk their lives daily to deliver hot food, clothing and the other necessities to compatriots living in the ruins of their once fine city.

Anya and Stella are members of the Help Kharkiv group which provides The Kharkiv Kitchen with moral and financial support.  They have a hot line to Dmitriy who lets them know daily what his team is doing.  It’s a war in a far away country but there is a way to get involved.  If you would like to know more about the Help Kharkiv group please email [email protected].

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