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Dreams turned to ashes

26.10.2023    available: Українською | На русском
Oleksii Sydorenko
Valentyna Vdovenko is a resident of the Korolivka village, Kyiv Region. She dreamed of a quiet retirement, growing flowers and relaxing. In early March, the woman and her family found themselves in the epicenter of hostilities and were forced to evacuate. When they returned, neither her house nor her farm were any longer there.

We couldn’t leave because we had our cows in the barn. We didn’t think about leaving, but our guys came and said: “If possible, go because tomorrow there will be a big massacre.” And indeed, as we were sitting in the cellar, the planes took off at four in the morning. There are such craters in our garden, it’s creepy. After that, we got scared and left.

Here, covered with white plastic film, is our house. It was small, but the barn was huge. We built everything ourselves from scratch. We kept cows and had many of them, sometimes 10 or 12. Everything we had was invested in construction. Little by little, we built the house, the barn, and everything else. We bought appliances, but everything in the house, refrigerators and washing machine, is now a pile of scrap metal.

Valentyna Vdovenko, a resident of the Korolivka village in the Kyiv Region

We left on the 12th, and on the 29th, everything burned down. They [Russians] were shooting something from Andriivka. Here, four houses were on fire at once. The barn nearby was on fire; everything in our house was on fire, and it was fire down there. On the second, people from the village called us and said everything was on fire. My husband arrived on 3 April, and everything was still smoldering and burning. On the evening of the 29th, they [the Russians] did it, and on the third, it was still smoking.

I called my husband and asked: “Vitia, what’s there?” He said: “I am knee-deep in ash.”

We returned, and there was nothing anywhere. Everything was burned; only the walls were standing, like here, in a garage. Before the war, we put up a fence. I thought I’d make flower beds and alleys, which would be enough — I am retired and will rest. They didn’t let us rest, and we’re working again, doing everything ourselves again, and building. Such is our life.

Ruins of Valentyna Vdovenko’s house, Korolivka village

I was scared when there was a war in Donbas, but I didn’t understand it. However, when we woke to milk the cows in the morning, and it was roaring... One man came to us and said: “The war has begun.” We didn’t even know. I told him: “Andrii! It can’t be! I thought that the Russians would not come here.” And he said: “They are already in Bucha.” But I thought: now ours will turn them around and push them back. I thought: how did they get to Bucha? Who let them in? I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe it at all.

And then it rumbled and rumbled all the time. Then rumors spread that they had reached Borodianka. But there was still no understanding of where they were going. And I didn’t think that they would come here at all. And on the sixth, the village began to disperse. At first, everyone from Kyiv who came to the village, so later, it became quieter.

I was standing with my neighbor on the road when it started to rumble! I said: “What is this?!” And she: “Let’s run!” She fell under the fence, and I ran into the cellar and thought, where is Vitia? I jumped up and held the door, didn’t close it, but it rumbled and rumbled and lasted several minutes. Then, it became quiet. I went to the door, and the lock jammed. I got scared and shouted: “Vitia-Vitia!” He ran and opened it; I went out into the yard and got frightened.

Our house was covered with foam plastic: a corner was torn off, and the cover was demolished. Something broke through an iron door in the garage and flew out through the window on the other side. I don’t know what it was.

A neighbor’s house was wrecked, and an 18-year-old guy was killed there. I came out of the cellar, stood there, looking, and couldn’t understand anything. The yard was white because of the plastic foam and everything else scattered around. I said: “Vitia, what is this? What was that?” And he says: “Grads” [self-propelled rockets]. The first time, on the sixth, we were fired upon by “Grads.” And then, from the sixth to the twelfth, we sat in the cellar. We took my mother to live with us. Only we needed to go milk the cows, Vitia would say: “Valia, get ready.” I would immediately take Corvalol [a tranquilizer based on the valerian root] and run. We milked cows, fed them, gave them something to drink — and it rumbled and rumbled. It was scary, and I would run back to the cellar. We sat in the cellar for six days.

The burned property of Valentyna Vdovenko, the village of Korolivka

And then, when the planes took off, we decided to run away: my Mom on crutches, the neighbors and us. Aunt Marusia said: “Where? Where to?” She was with her son. Where? We all hopped into a small passenger car. I don’t know how. We only asked one guy who stayed here to untie the cows. We had six cows and two calves. I said: “Sasha, come in, untie the cattle, because I can’t, I’ll fall in that barn and won’t get up.”

When we were driving, it was all on fire. The houses were burning. Absolute horror was happening.

We drove through the forests to the Zhytomyr highway. We didn’t understand anything. Aunt Marusia asked: “Valia, where are we going?” I said: “I don’t know. I don’t know where we’re going. We are going, and that’s it.” The phones were not charged, and when mine was charged a bit, I called my son and said: “Son! We left!” And he said: “Mom, I almost went crazy; I haven’t talked to you for four days.” He was in Kamianets-Podilskyi. He has two small children, and they left even earlier. He said to come to him, but we didn’t go to them. We went to Vinnytsia and stayed there.

My husband returned on the third, and we returned on the twenty-third, on the eve of Easter. We returned on Saturday, and on Sunday, it was Easter. My son came with me from Kamianets-Podilskyi, and a week later, I was in Andriivska Hospital with a heart attack. It took us twenty years to build and now we are naked and barefoot. Naked and barefoot!

Valentyna Vdovenko’s destroyed garage, Korolivka village

I hate them! I considered them people, but now I hate them, and that’s it!

This publication is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Human Rights in Action Program, run by the Ukrainian Helsinki Group on Human Rights (UHSHR).

The views and opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the US Government, or UHSHR. The authors and KHPG are solely responsible for the content of this article.

USAID is one of the world's leading development agencies facilitating the end of extreme poverty and supporting the movement of recipient countries to self-reliance and resilience. USAID also contributes to the national security and economic well-being of the United States. Its activity is a manifestation of the philanthropy of the American people. USAID has been partnering with Ukraine since 1992: during this time, the agency's total assistance to Ukraine amounted to more than 3 billion US dollars. USAID's current strategic priorities in Ukraine include strengthening democracy and good governance, promoting economic development and energy security, improving health systems, and reducing the impact of conflict in the eastern regions. For more information about USAID's activities, please contact the Public Relations Department of the USAID Mission in Ukraine at tel. (+38 044) 521-57-53. We also invite you to visit their website: or the Facebook page:

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