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The Russians shot my elderly neighbors, but they just looted my apartment
Alla Kremenchuk, head of Irpin Jewish community
Alla Kremenchuk
February 23rd is my birthday. I turned 66 years old. We celebrated, and on the morning of the 24th I was getting ready for work (I am a caregiver and a tutor), when I saw a message from a teacher “Take care of the kids. The school is closed. War.”

Our city was bombed on the first day, and the road that I used to get to my student was hit.

We hid in the cellar

All stores and pharmacies soon closed, but since we celebrated my birthday just the day before, we still had food.

I moved in with my friends, who lived by the railway station. When the sirens went off, we hid in the cellar, and almost never went outside.

The apartment of Alla's friends is on the third floor

Photo: Alla Kremenchuk
My daughter lives in Hungary. On March 2nd she made an arrangement with a taxi driver, and he took me to the Kyiv railway station. We went by at least a dozen checkpoints on the blown up roads and under constant air raids.

There were a million people at the station, and I did not know what to do next. At 11 am they started sending the first trains. I planned to get into the carriage to Chop, but it was full of little kids from the orphanage and foreign citizens.

The police created a corridor and wouldn’t let anyone through. Finally I got on a train, and it turned out that it was headed to Kamenets-Podolsky. It was a sleeper carriage that was completely full, with 3-4 people per bed. People shared food and water, but you can understand what the conditions were like. I disembarked in Khmelnitsky and switched to a train going to Ternopil. At first it was standing room only, and then I even managed to find a seat. I am thankful to the volunteers, who fed me. It was past midnight when we arrived, and there were lots of people there as well, but the volunteers offered help and food.

The train to Chop was supposed to arrive at 3 am, but it only came at 6 am. It was cold and slippery. Everyone came out to the platform, but the train doors were closed. I only had a small backpack with me. I came up to a carriage.

The conductor came out: “I am not letting anyone in, because I have people sleeping.” I got up on the step and said: “Please, please.” She asked if I was alone and told me to come in. So I went in and then a woman came out of one of the compartments and asked if I wanted a spot on the top bed.

I got on the top bed and fell right asleep. I woke up in Lviv, when some passengers got out and others came in, filling up the carriage again. In Chop the train was met by volunteers. They fed me and gave me a free ticket to Zakhon’. I got to Budapest from there, and my whole family greeted me: children, grandchildren. I live with my daughter, attend pro-Ukrainian demonstrations, and volunteer: I help sort humanitarian aid and cook…

Residential building in Irpin after shelling by Russian troops
One of my relatives died in the territorial defense forces, and a few other people I knew were killed as well
A bomb hit my parents’ house

Almost 80% of buildings in Irpin have been destroyed: all schools, the hospital, clinics, civilian infrastructure. The city does not exist anymore. My parents’ house was hit by a bomb. The high rise where my relatives lived was hit as well. The yard of a friend’s house was hit three times. My home is destroyed as well. My elderly neighbors who lived on the second floor were shot, and the Russians just looted my apartment.

One of my relatives died in the territorial defense forces, and a few other people I knew were killed as well. By the way, my daughter-in-law was also in the territorial defense forces, and she even got a medal.

Instead of a post scriptum. February 2023

Last September I returned to Ukraine, but I had nowhere to live, so I moved my things to my friend’s shed, and went back to Budapest after a month. It was a difficult month: I walked a lot through the destroyed city and even recorded a little video. I watch it sometimes to have a good cry…

Many of my friends and relatives find themselves in the same situations. The house of Irina Anasenkova (a member of our community) was bombed, and the Russists came to her mother’s place (she lives in Bucha), defecated there and stole her things.

At the same time, many people who evacuated came back. Overall, the community lost approximately 15% of the membership. But these numbers are misleading: people come and go; Irpin often experiences power outages. Those who have a place to wait it out are not returning yet. I live off my daughter. My pension in Ukraine is 2200 hrn (~60 USD), and I cannot find a job here because of my age. My daughter hosts some other people from Irpin: there are seven of us in total.

I try to help the community as much as I can: I coordinate the work of volunteers who distribute food and clothing. And I go to Irpin for short amounts of time. The community continues to work. We have two chairs: me and Irina Kaygorodova. She went to Israel, but came back. On major holidays we get up to 30 people. Of course, it is difficult because of the power outages. One time we came, and then the lights went out. Our community center is on the ground floor. We lit the candles, but there were no windows, and it was hard to breathe. Our members are elderly, so we said a prayer, made a kiddush, and went home. But we get support from larger communities: Zhitomyr, Dnipro.

It is a little scary to come back now, although I get daily calls from my friends. They have gotten used to the sirens, and just walk the streets, not paying attention to the air raid alerts. But you don’t know where and when a shell will fall. I shudder when I think about my September trip. Now when I come, I try not to walk the street: hold the celebration and come back.

The testimony was chronicled on April 21, 2022

Translation: Dr. Mariya Gyendina