‘I believe the war will end soon, and everything will be fine’
I am Liudmyla Halaka, I am 64 years old. I am retired and used to be an accountant. I used to live in Borodianka, 326 Central Street. The company Silkhozkhimiya where I once worked, built housing for its employees. We have been living there since 1992. It was a five-story building, and thirty families lived there. We all knew each other.
— Did you think that there would be a full-scale war?
— No, not for a moment! Somewhere on the 20 February, my godfather called me and asked: “What do you think?” And I said: “Well, is he such a tyrant that he will attack? It can’t be, especially in our time.” I could never believe it. I now pass through the town, and everything is like a scary fairy tale. Everything was fine with us before. My mother is Russian, and I have many relatives in Russia. At first, we corresponded. Even after 2014, we kept in touch, and they invited me to visit. But they were already misled and said what I told them was false. They didn’t accept my information at all. They said that they have a TV, and they know everything. My sister is the head teacher at school; I told her: “You don’t just watch TV but go to the Internet. At least check some other sources.” She responded: “No, our press covers everything. I believe our president and everything he says is true.”
When they said on the 24th that the war had begun, I went to the center to the ATM, thinking of withdrawing money to stuck up. We had queues everywhere, a long bread line. However, ATMs didn’t work. So I returned to a small shop near the hospital. I bought cookies and some cereal there and thought: “Well, now what?”
Suddenly the helicopters began to fly above, many of them. They were like cockroaches, and they all flew to Hostomel.
They flew but didn’t touch us. Then my classmates from Shybene called and said that a large group of vehicles was coming towards us: about 300 tanks. I asked: “What are they up to? ”. They said they did not shoot yet, but many Russians were there.
My husband didn’t take it seriously, but my daughter was terrified. We went to the private sector and waited there. The Russians were already coming in, and the shooting started. At first, they walked along Central Street, near the old school No. 1. Our Terroborona [Territorial Defence Force] made a barrier out of rubber wheels. However, the tanks drove and bombed everything to pieces. My godmother has a store nearby, and the roof has been broken. The Russians saw that our military was resisting and shot. The central street was heavily bombed.
Later there was a lot of burnt Russian equipment left in Borodianka. So when it all started, we were hiding in the cellar, looking out, occasionally monitoring the situation. And then they started bombing from planes. The first hit the “Circle” (the area at the entrance to Borodianka — ed.), and the second was our house.
— Who were you with, and what did you do?
— We all were together: daughter, son-in-law, grandson, my husband, and I. We were not even afraid at first. We didn’t think it would be like this. That there will be events of such magnitude. On 25-26 February, heavily armored vehicles were moving in full swing. Helicopters began to fly. There was a non-stop shootout. I don’t know what it was. They probably fired from tanks, but I’m not an expert. There were machine guns.
— Have you thought about evacuation?
— No, at first, we didn’t. We hoped it would end soon. Moreover, the helicopters first flew to Hostomel, and I thought they would be smashed there. I didn’t know it would be like this. To be honest, we didn’t even take anything from our house. We went (to the shelter — ed.) in what we wore; we did not take any clothes. We were sitting in the cellar when our house was bombed on 1 March.
The ground had risen to the wall, and the doors seemed to give way. We were already saying goodbye because we had just heard the plane flying and thought — that’s it.
When the shell hit our house, I thought that it hit the place where we were. Then the husband came out and said no, perhaps somewhere close. When on the 2 March, we came by the house, we realized that everything was over. Part of the house was missing.
The Russians were based on the European street. There they had a barrier, and they said we couldn’t walk near. So we decided to leave — just me with my daughter and grandson. The men stayed. We wandered for a very long time. First, we went to Vinnytsia. We were traveling with one man and his family. We were scared, but we were lucky. We just got a call from my daughter’s friends, who said that if we don’t go now, we definitely won’t be able to go later.
We left. I was terrified, but 15 minutes after our departure, they were already bombing the center.
We drove through the villages of Zahal’tsi, Maidanovka, and Yazvynki. And then we went through the forest. When we were driving, GRADs [A type of Soviet artillery multiple rocket launcher] were moving towards us. We thought that these were not ours and got scared. Then there was a checkpoint, and we were told to drive quickly because a Russian column was moving toward Makarov in parallel with us. So we raced through the forest, and God helped us. After that, we picked up the road and drove further to Vinnytsia. We arrived there and found a hostel where we stayed for two days. Then we went to Lviv and further to Poland. Now my daughter is staying in Poland, and I returned home in May.
— What about your house?
— I saw how it burned. It was filmed and posted on Facebook. I’m sorry for the people who died there. There were three of them. They were in the basement. Also, there were Melnychenkos, Bordukha Tolyk, Miakysh Liuba, her son from the first floor, and her sister, who came to them.
— How many people were in the destroyed part of the house?
— Three people in the basement died, including Bordukha Tolyk. On the second floor lived a mother with an adult son. They wrote to their relatives that they were going to bed and would leave the next day. They are no more. From the fifth floor, Melnychenko Olia and Yura and three daughters. They don’t exist, either. Most likely, they will not be found. They were in the basement and went home to pick up some things. Neighbor Rita saw the light in their apartment. It suggests they had not yet left when the plane suddenly dropped the bomb.
— How far were you at the time of the explosions?
— Well, maybe 150-200 meters in a private sector where we had a garage and a cellar.
— What other crimes did the Russian military commit?
— I didn’t see it with my own eyes, but I know what people told me. For example, a man lived on Pushkinskaya Str. He went to his mother on Semashko, and they shut him on the way back. At first, they gave him a smoke, but after he walked 50 meters away, they shot him. The son of my friend also got killed. I think the first day when they came in and started shooting. Two fell to the ground, but he did not have time and was shot dead. His father came to pick him up but was not allowed to take the body. There was little good. I have acquaintances, a young family, and their children were left without parents. It’s good that the grandmother is alive and taking care of them now.
— What about your property?
— It is not here. The firemen looked and wrote out an act that there was nothing. Everything burned down.
— Is the house to be restored?
— The act says that it is to be demolished. Well, it’s a panel house. So you understand ... I think it will be destroyed. Our apartment was lovely. It was one of the best projects when we built it, and everything was beautiful. Also, the later renovation was amazing.
— What are you planning to do next?
— I believe the war will end soon, and everything will be fine. We had a charming village. I missed my place when I was in Poland for a short time. I was drawn home, I wanted to come, but they told me: “Don’t come!” Russians were still bombing. But I couldn’t wait and wanted to go back. However, I could not walk along Borodianka without tears when I arrived. Even now, I still… Sorry. Eight houses (high-rise buildings) in such a state that ... And our house is gone. The oil depot was set on fire. It burned terribly, and black smoke poured. In the morning, I looked out. The sky was red and black smoke around. And those shots all the time… I’ll tell you honestly, it was horror, like a horror movie. Nobody could have imagined what would happen, and it boggles my mind.
— Has your attitude towards Russians changed?
Of course, it has changed! We thought they were our brothers. How can you do this to brothers? Do we owe them anything? Absolutely nothing! We didn’t ask them to come, and we don’t need to be liberated from anything! I told them to clean up their mess. They still have wooden barracks in Russia, and they were shocked when they arrived here: paved roads and electricity. They said: “This is not a village; it is a city.” I said that our people lived very well! We have hard-working people, and there is no need to free us from anyone. They invented their stories. We don’t have any Banderovtsy [ Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists] or Nazis, but we have patriots who love their Ukraine! We don’t come to you and do not claim your lands! Live in peace, and don’t touch us. How much can Ukraine be tortured?!
I don’t know, but it feels like the TV zombifies them. An average person cannot perceive all this normally. Well, how is it possible? We tell them one thing, and they say another. It seems that people are smart, but their actions show otherwise. They can’t even be called human, given what they’ve done. I don’t know. They are non-humans! And that’s it. Even though my family is there, they don’t listen to me. I once told my relatives that they would believe me only when their grandson was drafted and, God forbid, brought back in a zinc coffin. My mother is from Russia, but my mother is no longer there; I have a cousin and many relatives who live in Tyumen. They live well. I told them to believe in what is happening here! But no …
I have no words, only emotions. How could this happen in our time? All the time, I think: how is it possible? So beautiful and blooming was our Borodianka, and now ... And how many people were killed. It is a horror! We all lived well here! We are not like them! I used to think that all people are the same, but now I don’t think so, and I don’t even want to have this Russian blood. I don’t want! Let them live like North Korea, shut them down, and let them live there! Now Georgia, then Abkhazia, why do they mess everywhere?