“When they shot, we had only one thought - let us survive,” Lidia describes the war in Eastern Ukraine

“When they shot, we had only one thought - let us survive,” Lidia describes the war in Eastern Ukraine

9. 2. 2018

Lidia and her family got used to the sound of fighting very quickly after hearing it every day for half a year. On the morning of January 22 2015, the war reached their garden; they never felt safe again. Lidia, 58, lives with her husband, Kolia, in the village of Mironovskiy. Her grandchildren Maksim, 11, and Alina, 5, stay with Lidia when their mother is on shift in the hospital. 

Everything happened at half past seven in the morning when Lidia was trying to wake Maxim up for school. “The explosions could be heard all night a little far from here. I was making tea in the kitchen when I looked out the window and saw a red circle flying. I thought ´What is that?´” Lidia says, remembering the moment when a shell hit her garden. The blast wave left the house without windows.

The villagers started to call each other in a panic. Lidia and other parents in the village did not allow their children to go to school and to kindergarten. “And this was when the village became a target. This was when we realized it is a real war,” Lidia says. Mironovskiy is approximately 15 kilometers from the non-government controlled town of Debaltseve. The fierce battle for Debaltseve took place from January 16 until February 18, 2015. It was a horrible time for the civilians in surrounding villages.

After the first sounds of siren

The announcement said to hide in the basement when you hear the siren. “We sat for three or four hours like this. Alina was crying at night and I was holding her in my arms,” Lidia recalls. When the shelling ceased, the family came back to the house, but they didn’t know what to do because in five minutes they could be forced into the cellar again. “When they shot, we didn’t think about the water or the electricity. We had only one thought - let it not hit the house. Let us survive – God help us. But when they stopped shooting, the thought was - what will happen next?” Lidia says.

When the first shock passed, they found themselves in a sea of problems. The local Thermal Power Plant (the only source of electric power in the area) stopped its work due to the damage and blocked transport for coal delivery. The plant wasn’t safe to operate anymore and most of the workers left town. It was a bad time without electricity and hence without proper heating and water, no power to charge their phones, no way to properly prepare food. At one point around 8,500 people plus schools, kindergartens and hospitals were left without power and heating.

Life in Mironovsky has changed a lot and in some parts become particularly challenging. Pharmacies and the day hospital were operational but many of the food stores were closed and many products could no longer be found. “The schools were closed till April as they all were damaged and their heating systems were broken,” Lidia says explaining that she and her grandchildren moved to the safe town of Bakhmut for a few months to let the children finish school. Their mother stayed in Mironovskiy; as the family’s breadwinner she couldn’t leave her nursing job at the hospital.

Lidia thinks that those hours before her departure were the worst during the whole war. “The road was slippery and I was afraid of falling. They shot, they shot from all sides. I went with the children. We saw real military vehicles for the first time in our lives,” says Lidia, whose physical disabilities make it difficult for her to walk. When asked about the scariest moment, her 11-year-old son, Maksim, says: “When we were going by bus, because at that moment I was afraid for the lifves of my sister and my grandma.” At the same time, Maksim’s mother was on her way to work in a neighboring village. There was no transport, so she walked all the way under shelling.

War made them closer

Lidia’s first husband passed away in 2013, one year before the war. When they returned from Bakhmut in 2015, they found all that had been destroyed. The one positive development was meeting Kolia. “I was with Lina and the children alone and Kolia did the man’s work,” Lidia explains. The couple lives on Lidia’s pension of 1,500 hryvnias. Kolia has a health problem and does occasional odd jobs for small amounts of money.

Food becomes more and more expensive as all the prices climb up. We almost never buy meat, as we cannot afford that,” Lidia says. The livelihood grant provided by People in Need with support of EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) helped them a lot. From this money, they bought pigs, chickens, and feed for them. “Without this assistance we wouldn’t be able to buy it and we love keeping the animals,” Lidia says, adding that her husband supports her completely.

They also found great support in God. The family goes to church every Sunday. “God cannot give you presents from heaven just like that; he gives them with help from the people. God blesses us all,” Lidia says. She believes that positive moments happen even during war, like when difficulties bring people together She and Kolia, who have continued to support each other for almost three years, are a testament.

Author: Maria Lozan, PIN Ukraine Communication Officer