‘I saw fire arrows flying from Kherson...’
Kyiv volunteer Antonina Dembitska interviews Ukrainians who had to flee the war. To preserve the voices of witnesses for the history and future tribunal of war criminals. Read an interview with a inhabitant of Mykolayiv whose apartment was destroyed by Russian grad system.
– Good afternoon, my name is Antonina Dembytska, I am 32 years old, I am a volunteer in Kyiv. Please, introduce yourself, tell briefly about yourself,about your life before February 24, 2022.
– Good afternoon! My name is Baranov Olexiy Pavlovych, I give consent for the processing of my personal data. Baranov Olexiy Pavlovych, born in 1966, on December 12. Recently turned 55 years old. My wife and I live in the city of Mykolayiv in Ukraine. A city of shipbuilders, a wonderful city. We have been living here since 1992 - this year it will be 30 years. My wife and I studied at the institute, graduated from one of the specialized "transport" universities in the country – the Dnepropetrovsk Institute of Engineering Transport. Our specialty is the construction of bridges and tunnels. Personally, I have been working on the construction of bridges and berths in our native country for over 30 years. I am currently working as a foreman, let's be honest – I used to work, unfortunately. We did a lot, left a mark. In our country we built with our guys, bridge builders - all over the country, we built many bridges. In Odesa, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv, Carpathians – Western Ukraine. In short, we work all over the country, constantly work in business trips ... My wife is also a builder, but she is now working in a slightly different field. Here in the 1999 we bought the apartment in the city of Mykolayiv. My youth were spent in the city of Kherson, I am from Kherson. But since 1992 I began to live in Mykolayiv, in 1999 I bought an apartment in a good place. On the way from Mykolayiv, on the outskirts of Kosmonavtiv Street, house 132, apartment 65, eighth floor. We liked it very much, we could always see the entire city from our floor, and from the other side we could see the suburbs of Mykolayiv in the Kherson direction. But it turned out to be good in peaceful time. Here… We love our city very much, we are proud that we live in such a city, especially today our president awarded our city the title of hero city.
– I congradulate you with this, as well as ourselves – I come from Mykolayiv and I am really proud.
– One of the good things... news that came recently. See, there are hot news from my fatherland, as they say: our city rests on my hometown of youth – Kherson. Now this Chornobayivka (note – village, where on March 26 the equipment and personnel of the Russian occupiers were destroyed 10 times) gives those bastards what for! To be honest: I have relatives near Volgograd, in the Rostov region, in the Kuban: distant relatives on the maternal line. And they are Ukrainians! Well, once upon a time, when there was a Union, they got there, someone by division, someone differently… We talked and, let's say, I would never have thought that this could happen. Until recently, I did not believe that a war could break out between Russia and Ukraine. Well, as they say, this fiction for me was unbelievable. For these eight years, let's be honest, we have often been warned that Russia is coming – before the Victory Day, then on New Year's Eve… Well, somehow, you know… I just did not believe, well, just did not believe.
– Tell me how did you learn that the war has begun?
– On February 24, around 5 am my wife and I woke up because our windows trembled a lot, and we heard the clapping of explosions. We went to the loggia, which looks towards the neighborhood: there behind us right behind the house is an industrial zone, there are no skyscrapers. Thought somewhere there was an electrical substation – well, sometimes there is an overvoltage… Then the explosions happened – we have seen them, seen the explosions from our loggia. To tell the truth, the military airfield Mykolayiv is even visible on the horizon. We saw the explosions there, it was still dark, we didn't understand – we went to the Internet, turned on the TV: so far there were no messages, it was five in the morning. In astonishment, acquaintances began to call each other, they also say that we have explosions here… We called Odessa, Kherson - they say: "The same", of course, they thought: some sabotage. It was unclear. Well…that’s it… The scariest part is that when it all slightly calmed down, around 7 am, half past six, I went again to the loggia to smoke – the explosions seemingly stopped, and I saw perfectly the road from Mykolayiv leading to Kherson. I raised my head – it was a nightmarish view. I will never forget this, as in slow motion fifty meters from our nine-story building, where I lived, a "gray cigar" up to two meters long flies by, you know? Then it passed over our building and immediately began descending, and went in the direction of the military airfield. And then I saw the explosion. Of course, it was scary. I realized that the war has begun. Naturally, the reports came at once on the television and internet, that Russia began their so-called “special military operation”. Naturally, we were all horrified: it seemed that we either had not woken up or... Well, of course, we were shocked by all this affair. Our friends called, our relatives from Kherson, Odesa, Dnipro, relatives from Kyiv called, too. The same happened there, and acquaintances from the Western Ukraine... Well, in short, we realized that a war has begun.
– You have said that you have relatives in Russia. Were they in touch with you? Were they curious?
– Yes, they were, I spoke to them. Well, I’ve got a cousin, she is over 70 years old, it is a cousin on the maternal line, they have been livving there for a long time already… There is my uncle, he is 92 years old, an old man. My cousin whom I’ve never met, he is over 60 years old. But, to be honest, I talk to them. Well… they feel sorry for us, they call: “How are you doing? Stay safe! Maybe leave there!”. Well, I understand them. Something like this… And when you start discussing the events, even back in the day they had that Youtube, we could converse. I can only call a phone from my phone or send something from my TV, or make photographs … screenshots. Well… truth be told, even my sister says: “Are you sure Russia did it?”. I say “no”, I say “Liudochka! It was a UFO! When it later hit me, when a shell hit my flat,that UFO arrived and dropped that bomb. That was not you, dear”.
– They do not even believe those who…
– There is still propaganda, you understand, even though there are family ties – the people are fooled like this. They do not believe. Well, they seemingly do, but they still believe that we are misinformed here. I realize that the propaganda of any country would still defend that country. But there is no other way here, you can see the destruction and other stuff all over Ukraine. Well, and later we learned what is going on in Sumy, in Kharkiv... We’ve got relatives – my wife has got relatives in Kyiv. They were able to push through only on the second day! They went 150 kilometers away from Kyiv, beyond Bila Tserkva. It happened that my wife’s sister – she was literally our guest here, in Mykolayiv, left a week before those events. We... celebrated New Year’s Eve with her. She was 73 years old, her heart could not take it and she died. On March 2, unfortunately…
– My condolences… Let us return to February 24: what were your first actions? Well… I understand that it was shock at first,denial, and you needed time to accept and realize the events that were really transpiring. And your subsequent actions, your decisions, how you spent that day, the first day of the war.
– Well, to be honest, the thing is, before New Year’s Eve I underwent hip replacement surgery, I was hospitalized. I have only recently stopped using crutches, I still use a cane. І have almost began walking without a stick, but due to my nervous condition I have to support myself again… I walk with a cane, because it is hard, the surgery has barely ended. I was on sick leave and, well… it is hard to move in this regard, the eighth floor… As for my actions: first, my niece remained in Kherson. Unfortunately, my brother died young, she is his daughter… She has a child – 4 years old, my grand-niece. And her husband and her mother went to work in late summer. And she is alone: I was worried, I treat her like a daughter, she is 32. Well… I began calling relatives, telling, explaining… How one should behave, that she could move to live with us, she refused. But the information came from our friends in Kherson at once, that the Russian army has reached Kherson already. That Russian soldiers are already in Oleshky, under Antonivsky bridge – Naturally, it was horrible for me. Of course, to be honest, in time I would want to ask, why did Russian army reach Kherson in a day? Why did it happen? I believe, someday we will hear about it, too, why it happened. Why did the first missiles fall on our country, why they were not shot down by the air defense, now, thank God, the guys shoot them down - well done! Well… I called my workplace. Wondered how it is doing. By the way, I’ve got another problem: I work in a company whose office is in Mariupol, and all the documents are there, my employment record book, of course, and now the problems remain,I haven’t received my money for my sick leave in full. Since now I need money to live etc…
Well, in short, what actions? On February 24 my phone was red hot. My friends, my relatives and I shared impressions, shared advices, many people were shocked. People were worried for their children, for relatives. That was our condition.
– And you did not have the plans to leave, am I right? Did you plan to stay?
– Well, first, to be honest, I am not, as they say, very fit for transportation, due to surgery. First of all. Secondly: well, you know, our friends are here, our relatives, our house is here, our land, our ancestors are buried here. By the way, I wanted to add, here is why I could not believe it, because here, my wife’s father was born in 1915, my father-in-law, she is the third child – late one in the family… My father-in-law survived the Patriotic War since its first day! He was dismissed from the army in 1946, because he still defeated the Kwantung Army in China, you know? A legendary person! Awards, orders ... My two grandfathers too: one of them passed both Finland and Patriotic. One ended the war in Prague, the other was wounded in Königsberg. Pff… Hard to talk! Therefore, because of this it was unbelievable that… They have lived side by side for so many years, and because of some, I apologize for the expression, asshole sitting in the Kremlin, that's how it all started.
– Tell me how the events unfolded after that, and I understand that you moved to another house, how, how did it happen that you moved.
– We have moved in another house because… We have survived sinse I don’t know… February 27? When several tanks broke through to our city. Our guys have repelled them. We are in the outskirts, there were constant explosions, we began to realize: when they fly towards us and when our guys repel them. Here… And it was around March 7, again, around 5 am, my wife and I have awakened because of the noise, explosion and… I looked from the window of the loggia that overlooks the outskirts of the city, and I saw fire arrows flying from Kherson direction to Mykolayiv. And I realized that it is something incredibly serious. Truth be told, until then my wife and I never went to the bomb shelter. Why? We live on the eighth floor! The elevator is turned off – naturally, while I descend with my bad leg and cane, while I approach, I need to go to the school, around half a kilometer, the bomb shelter is there, the alert will end, there is no sense. And I cannot go empty-handed, I have to take some bags, and water in case of emergency, documents etc. Well, my wife and I have decided that we would remain home. There… we are builders, and everywhere in the internet there was information on where to find safer places in the apartments. One needs to have at least two walls barring the window. So, we mostly remained in the corridor, did not leave during the air alerts or artillery shelling. And then I realized that something as they say… The sixth or seventh feeling has told me that the explosions sound too close already. We only had time to hide in the bathroom. And here we barely sat down in the bathroom, when the explosion hit. A shell hit our flat. It was dark – 5 am, the air filled with thick dust, the smell like burning sulphur, could not breathe. What is interesting: not all windows were broken... The kitchen windows remained intact. I wanted to open the entrance door to let the dust out faster, but I could not open it because the trash got in it: after the explosion the concrete debris got under the door, and the entrance door was stuck shut. I started walking towards the kitchen, my wife began shouting that I should not, because it was dark, I could not see, it was such a feeling, my wife said, that there is no floor there anymore. But we went through that darkness because we could not breathe, I opened the “living” windows to create the draft, to get rid of the dust. Thank God, there was no fire. Naturally, shocked... When the dust settled down, we went to the dining room, and saw that we had a hole in a wall, more than a meter in diameter, and the carpet is hanging low from the ninth floor, from the neighbors who had it lying on the floor. Pieces of concrete on the floor, their belongings from the furnitures... I looked through the hole and saw the sky. Well, I'm not even talking about the windows that were broken on the loggia, on the balcony, in the room, in the kitchen, where there was broken glass. In the loggia, the frame was thrown out into the street ... And the hole in the ceiling, and the slab of this ceiling, where the hole is, it is all cracked, and you can see that even this plate has moved down. Then, later, the guys from our house went to the roof and saw that the engine room of the elevators were ruined in two sections of the house. Well, and the roof was broken. The windows were broken in almost the entire building. Well… to be honest, I…for half an hour I could not speak. It is a wonder we have survived, because the shards were flying hard. Two big rocks burst in our bathroom, good thing we were not hit. We have called the police, they have accepted the report that it happened. As the bomb squad explained: a “smerch” was flying, and pieces were flying away from it, they sometimes work, and sometimes they don't work. In this case, it turned out that there was a funnel in front of the house on the sidewalk, then a hole in our roof, and behind our house there is a five-story apartment building, there used to be a dormitory, but now people live there.. and the third chunk hit a section of the second floor, ruined the staircases. Thank God, there were no victims! And we thought that a five-story building is covered with out building, and they were still hit. Well… thank God, there were no victims above us, there a young family has bought a flat in August, renovated it. They have two children, a four-year-old boy, and the second one, around 3 or 4 months old: a baby. Thank God, they left to their relatives. We have contacted them later, of course, they are horrified, too... But I will repeat myself, we have called the police – they recorded it. I have called the head of the Aassociation of co-owners of an apartment building, she has also visited us and observed that situation, so, recorded it. So, after the explosion – well? We more or less regained our wits, my daughter phoned, she went to the Western Ukraine. We explained what happened, she offered us to move to the flat she used to live in: in another part of the town. Our friends… of course, I am grateful, even our acquaintances with whom we used to speak, , have answered. My friends were there, my fellows from Dnipro offered to move there to them. I also have friends in Odesa, they offered to move there to live with them. Near Mykolayiv the former colleagues from the old work also suggested to move to them, and even my cousin suggested that I should move there with my wife. But we remained in Mykolayiv and now here. Since March 7 we are in another person’s flat. Of course, we recall our condition with horror, everything.
– How did you leave the flat?
– Well, I have barely opened the entrance door. We have packed the necessary minimum. I would repeat, I am a disabled person of the third group, I managed to pass the MSE before the war (note – medical and social expertise). I only had to arrange those matters on March 11 in the Pension Fund. But there is also an appointment there, you need to register in advance ... I received it because my pension card did not work, but later I will have to register my pension card and my group ... My wife and I took all the necessary things, thank God, my wife’s colleagues helped with the car, because the city transport was not working under the shelling. On the next day we arrived to the flat, and two guys have arrived – the bomb squad, they disassembled that pile of concrete. They said, thank God, there is nothing there, we could calm down. Of course, we were shocked, we did not know what to do with this, a big hole, and it was cold, the floor was cracked, bent, and we began to worry that even if we somehow stayed to live in the kitchen the kitchen more or less survived, God forbid there will still be shells, explosions, just from the detonation, from the blast wave, this floor could fall. So we finally moved from there. Also, with the bomb squad guys, when the bomb squad arrived to check the flat, there was also the press with the translator from a French TV channel TF-1. I gave an interview to them on the staircase, told them what happened, they recorded it.
– And in which district of the city do you live now? Do you feel relatively safe now?
– In the central district. Further from the outskirts that are shelled. Of course, not. Here, too, literally in the last couple of days, let’s be honest: here we had the air raid alert between 11 pm and 7 am. Meaning, it was an air raid alert for 8 hours, and I understood, yesterday the missiles were shot down and yesterday the explosions were nearby. Well… meaning, there is a bit quieter here than on the other side of the city. We are now closer to Odesa side, while we used to be closer to Kherson. It is a bit calmer here, let’s be honest… But it is also… we will talk, me as a man, but my wife, if something claps, or a book falls on the floor… Well, something like a reflex works instinctively and my wife is scared. We survive it all nervously... Of course, it is all scary, horrifying.
– And what floor do you live on? Can you use a bomb shelter somewhere nearby, or you remain (note – in the flat)?
– We now live in a five-story building, in “Stalinka”. There are thick, good walls, but the fourth floor. But again, you see, when there is an air raid alert, there are residents who probably remained, half a house has moved out. The residents who remained, they descend to the basement – it is a former boiler room. They more or less equipped it. But the thing is, I watched the information reports on the TV and other news ... the basement itself is not fit, there must be an emergency exit, there must be good ventilation, as they say, it’s of no use, it can be a mass grave. We have decided ... My wife and I will sit during the air raids, when there is the air raid alert, in the corridor, behind two walls, we believe that it is no less safe than being in the basement. Let’s say it like this.
– You said that neither your wife nor you are employed now. Tell me, do you receive any help from the state or humanitarian aid?
– So: literally two or three days ago, probably, I received 6500 hryvnias in eDiya. Here 6500 are transferred on my card. My wife is a state employee, state employees cannot get this money (note – this is not true). But the thing is, I would repeat myself, I have said before, I have not received my sick leave money for two months. The thing is my company’s office is in Mariupol, according to the guys I phoned, who, thank God, broke through from Mariupol, my office building was bombarded. Of course, all salary documents, all our employment record books – all this, as they say… now I simply cannot imagine how to restore it now. No salaries for people, no vacation payment, no sick leave payment, and anyway... There is no connection with the management... As they say, everybody waits for the war to end...
We have workers and engineers from all over Ukraine, you know? That's the thing. We work on shifts: we arrived for 15 days, honestly worked 12 hours a day, and went home for 14 days resting. So we have workers from all over Ukraine! From the West, Kyiv, Dnipro, Mariupol, Kherson, Mykolayiv. Well, the number of employees in our company, as far as I know, is 600-700 people. These people are now left without a salary…This is salary for January, February. Well, and my sick leave money. This is all – the salary, business trips, and, most of all, documents. Personnel department - everything remained in Mariupol, you know. I can't imagine how it will all be restored now.
– And what humanitarian aid did you receive in Mykolayiv?
– Well… Let's be honest, God bless us all! I would like to take this opportunity to thank our mayor, Oleksandr Senkevich. And even more so, our well-known governor in Ukraine, Vitaly Kim. Thanks to them, they are, of course, great people, they support the residents of the city, do everything necessary, the utilities are working fine, and most importantly, people were evacuated from nearby villages. Thanks to them, we constantly receive a message on the site: where to go, where to get humanitarian aid, but we still have everything. The food and everything else, thank God, now – here for the last week, in Mykolayiv the supplies are arranged, in the stores, let’s say, like before the war. You know, such a terrifying thing: a saying appeared, “before the war”. When will we say “after the war” or “there was a war and there were such terrible things”? Scary to say, here, “Before the war”. Meaning that I see in the city, thank God they (note – Kim and Senkevich) are doing everything for the defence of the city, to protect the citizens. Currently, resettlement is ongoing from villages that were destroyed by the occupiers. That is, I see it like that,more or less… Today, truth be told, today my wife went to buy bread – even the Central market began working. The stores, many people outside. That is, I have looked: there is confidence, as they say, people reacquired it... Many stores worked that were closed before, medicines appeared in the pharmacies. You can’t say how the situation is in Kherson. When Kherson was occupied, of course, my heart bleeds, there... They say that there will be a humanitarian disaster soon. They do not take the humanitarian aid from the occupiers, while the stores, and especially the pharmacies – my uncle fell ill there, infarct, he is lying in the hospital, and the medicines… I see that our supplies are more or less arranged, I understand, from Odesa, and add the fact that the region began to repel those bastards around. The roads are being freed, provision of supplies is easier now. Even, let’s be honest, the governor reported that he wanted to make a big relaxation concerning the alcohol over the weekend. See how it happens even concerning this. Meaning that our region and city heads make efforts for the business and transport to work – there are constant reports on how the transport works, the routes, how the pharmacies work, where are the points of humanitarian aid. So they work normally, I think. But I want to say another thing: you know, I look as, usually, God forbid that would occur, but the woe has united the population, the people! Here we arrived here – to this flat, where the residents met us with understanding. We even go outside, we are asked: maybe, you need help, we can give you some products… Well, human attitude, which is very good and I am proud for our people.
– Well… I am glad that currently the situation is more or less controlled and stable, and that residents of the city do not require anything. We all believe that it will all end soon, And, as you say, we will have the opportunity to say: “How it was! During the war”. In the past tense.
– And “where there was the war”, let’s say, “when there was war”! (note – laughs). Of course, I would want such saying to exist and not the… Well, although my wife and I suffered, we understand, in our way. Sometimes my wife is called from the workplace, she goes there and she is scared because… well, you understand, using the transport – we still have frequent air raids, air alerts. Today she went to buy bread, she barely left and some rumbling started. Probably either a missile was shot down or I don’t know. Well, we are also trying… My wife, when we were still living there, in the previous flat, she collected the things we had… warm clothes – it was still cold then. She brought them to the reception point for the army, then we even transferred a certain sum for the victory of our armed forces! Well… as we could, as they say.
– Everybody participates how they can. Nobody is left indifferent.
– We are not going to leave. Nevertheless, we believe in victory, we believe in our armed forces, we believe in our President, we believe in our mayor and governor, of course. I am very, as they say, like everyone else, not that I am enthusiastic, but I am proud that there are such young people among us who know how to lift and maintain the mood. Like Arestovich, like same Kim, our Vitaly. Well done! Young men, well done... God bless them! For their support of the population, as they say… you understand me. Special thanks, of course, to our Territorial Defense, and to the guys who killed these bastards here at the beginning of the fighting, who managed to get on the central avenue - their tanks left. We will hold on, we will believe in our victory. We have no other way...
– The victory will come, it is just the matter of time.
– Yes! Of course, we would like it sooner.
– Well, we are doing everything for it.
– And you know, it is somehow... sometimes, when I think about it, as they say, that the thoughts are material. And we have an old house where we temporarily live, I think, “Stalinka”, around 70 years old. And you know, this feeling - it will end, and we will survive to see it, and we will see and participate in this when the victory comes. The people, the residents, will go in the yard and will take everything, everything they have, for the common dinner table. There will be enough top drink and to eat, to drink to victory, they will recall the people who died as heroes, both military and civilians, everybody! I believe, it will happen. I think, it will happen soon.
– Yes, we believe in this, too, I wish you good health, patience, I thank you for your time, that you found time to give this interview, it is very important. This will be all.
– Thank you! The most important thing I was worried about was that they would not announce an air raid alert, so that we could talk. What to do? I was very pleased to communicate with you (Antonina Dembytska - Mutually!). May God grant you happiness in the family, well-being, women's simple happiness, beauty, and, of course, a peaceful sky above your head. By the way, when I was still ... well, like ... a child, a kid or what? When parents, older relatives met at the table there: New Year or birthday. And we still said this back in the 70s: “If only there was no war!”. You know, Antonina, I didn’t understand them then, I didn’t understand them until February 24th. When the old elderly people toasted to the fact that there was no war. But they are, as it were, children of the Second World War, but what about us, how is it? Grandchildren! My generation... And now all the children of this... I don't know what it will be called: Ukrainian-Russian, or Russian-Ukrainian, but this war is a terrible thing. This is the last thing on Earth - this war.