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There will be nothing left of Kharkiv soon
Dmitry, box and kickboxing coach; Alena, police officer. Both are active athletes.
Dmitry with his newborn son
Dmitry. On Feb. 24th I was woken up at 7 am by a call from my friend, who told me to get ready. I thought that he was inviting me for a training session and started saying no, who goes to the gym at this hour of the morning. “It has started! They are attacking!” — he screamed. I started listening more carefully and could actually hear the explosions outside. People on the street were panicking. I stood in lines for an hour to buy water, and another hour to buy groceries. At that point my pregnant wife was on bedrest at the hospital.

Alena. I woke up from the explosions and thought they were fireworks. I went to the hallway and saw a few women with late term pregnancies being completely hysterical, so I tried to calm them down. But I soon saw a notification in the work chat, that everyone was called on duty.

Dmitry. I remember everyone laughing at the announced date for the start of the war (Feb. 16th), and then when the forecasts did not come true, they poked fun at this topic even more mean spiritedly. Because of this everyone was shocked on the 24th. Nobody was expecting that. It’s amazing how brainwashed the Russians are: they sincerely believe that it is a small special operation, that the civilian population is not being bombed etc.
A residential building in Northern Saltovka, Kharkiv after shelling on March 3, 2022
A rocket stuck in the ceiling of the apartment
Alena. I am disappointed in some people, who used to represent Ukraine, and who now say that there is no war going on. One of such athletes is the boxer Lilia Durneva, who won silver and bronze medals at the European championships. She currently lives in Moscow. She straight up wrote on her Instagram that Ukrainians are at fault for this, that it serves them right. And at the same time her new compatriots are hatefully destroying the biggest Russian-speaking city of Ukraine.

Dmitry. We lived close to the Belgorod highway, and I could hear perfectly well when Russians broke through at Budarky (a village 4 km from the border with Russia — ed.). The explosions were practically next to us, so we moved to my parents. And before the evacuation I walked 10 km to pick up our stuff. At that point we were without hot water and power for four days, and the shellings were a kilometer away.

Alena. The building next to ours was hit the day after we left. But we do not want to find out what is happening with our apartment, because there is nothing we can do about it. Our parents cannot pick up our things as well, since it is impossible to get there.

Dmitry. I was pretty calm about the whole thing. We got used to the explosions and rarely went down to the basement. Yeah, there are constant explosions; the windows are shaking; we would be woken up at 5 am by shells exploding and we would just turn around and go back to sleep. But my wife was seven months pregnant, and it was really dangerous to stay, especially since the explosions were often very close to us. I went to the supermarket, and when I got back our apartment building looked red from the flames: a rocket hit a private house, and it was ablaze. And there was a shell sticking from the asphalt at the spot where I walked just a few minutes before.
I went to the supermarket, and when I got back our apartment building looked red from the flames: a rocket hit a private house, and it was ablaze. And there was a shell sticking from the asphalt at the spot where I walked just a few minutes before
When the war started, most pregnant hospital patients were sent home, and the rest were transferred to the basement: they spent the whole day there. One of the women gave birth there in these unsanitary conditions. And next to her were moms with newborn babies, I mean 2-3 hours old, and male patients as well. In the end, Alena was sent home too, even without the discharge papers. It was clear that if something went wrong she would not be able to get medical help at home.

Three days after the invasion it became impossible to move around the city. Taxi drivers were asking for 7000 hryvnias (approximately $230) for a ride to the railway station. A person without a car was locked in their neighborhood, and that’s not even accounting for the issues with gasoline supply.
It took us almost two days to get to Lviv on Jewish Agency's buses. They gave us shelter and food. The volunteers tried to organize our routine, but it was impossible to go further, given how big the crowds at the bus station and the railway station were.

By some miracle Alena found a minivan heading to Chernivtsy. Nobody announced its departure, and a ticket cost 700 hrn. We are not rich, so we made a deal with the driver: Alena sat on my lap, and her younger sister (11 years old) sat on my mother-in-law’s lap, and we made the trip like that. Those five hours were nothing compared to the two days it took us to get to Lviv, when we would stop in the middle of fields for a bathroom break. I don’t know how she made it, being pregnant and all…

In Chernivtzy we were welcomed by the community of conservative Judaism “Aviv”: they are giving us food, water, and shelter, and our gratitude knows no bounds.

Alena. And we still would like to return to Kharkiv at some point. I used to have a job and a home there….

Dmitry. I am ethnically Russian, but I was born in Ukraine. I saw how Kharkiv was growing. And today the city is destroyed. Entire blocks of houses in the Saltovka neighborhood have been burned down. Nobody knows how long it would take to rebuild the city and how much that would cost. And I have a family.

I took part in fighting championships, got multiple injuries, spent a year in the hospital. I had fractures of my arms and facial bones. I fought to make it to the tournament finale, where the main prize was a car. I made it through five fights, and there was only the final one left. It was scheduled for April 2nd. The cost of the prize was approximately equal to an apartment. And then, bang, the war started.

Where am I going to work? People moved away, even the gym where I worked out, was hit. It was on the ground floor of an apartment building, and a rocket hit it causing the windows to be blasted out. The gym owner is a friend of mine; he let five families move in. And next to the gym there were corpses of civilians lying on the street. It is a residential block. The main street of Ukraine’s former capital is in ruins. Landmark buildings have been blown up. Soon there will be nothing left of Kharkiv. And all this was done by people who came to “liberate” us…

Instead of a post scriptum

In July 2022 Dmitry and Alena welcomed a baby boy. He was born in Berlin…

Dmitry and Alena with their son born in Berlin
The testimony was chronicled on March 14, 2022

Translation: Dr. Mariya Gyendina