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There is no city in Ukraine where they hate Putin's Russia more than in Chernihiv
Irina Lipkina, Chesed-Esther General Manager
Irina Lipkina
I did not expect this war, and I used to tell everyone that it would not happen. I have relatives in Russia, I graduated from the Leningrad Institute of Finance and Economics… I never thought that it was possible in our time. But they started bombing Chernihiv right away, from the very first day. I arranged a place for myself in the bathroom to sit during the alarms rather than going down to the basement. Our basement is not a bomb shelter and it’s not completely safe there.

I saw a plane above me and threw myself face down into the dirt

My building is not far from the TV tower. They bombed our area heavily so that the balcony windows shattered. That's nothing compared to the 16th district nearby which suffered much more severe damage. One building there was left completely unhabitable, the kindergarten was nearly destroyed, and windows were blown out in the nearby buildings. The Rokossovsky neighborhood was been almost completely razed to the ground. By the way, they didn’t hit our TV tower.

Hotel "Ukraine" after bombing
I hardly slept at night, and during the daytime I walked around like a zombie. On March 3, I was taking out the trash and I thought I would go to the store – it’s my birthday on March 4, so I needed to buy something and treat someone. But whom? No one comes to visit anymore, the neighbors are sitting in the basement, heartbroken. I decided that I would celebrate my birthday in the basement.

I bought food, although only expensive items like salmon remained. I took what there was, and as I was leaving the store, an alarm began to sound. Well, I thought, this is not a place to wait it out. I walked past the fence of the city hospital. I heard a rumble. I raised my head and saw a plane literally above me. Can you imagine? It was ever so low. I flattened myself against the fence. A small tree was nearby, and I was standing there and thinking whether it was right to stand under a tree, trying to remember what we were taught.

Then I saw that the plane was turning in the other direction, and I decided that it was not far from home, so I could run and make it somehow. I took ten steps, and I heard an explosion. My instincts sprang into action and made me rush from the pavement to a flower bed. I threw myself onto my stomach face down right in the dirt. Well, at least not onto the asphalt …

I lay there thinking whether I was alive or not, whether the plane would return and whether it would bomb again. Then I lifted my head. I had never experienced such fear. I saw people coming out of the pharmacy and pointing to a huge column of smoke. I got up, began to collect my belongings, wondering what they hit: the blood transfusion point, the hospital, or my friend’s building. I found outit was the 16-storey building and 47 people died.

I went home and saw the neighbors from the ground floor standing by the porch. The woman was hysterical, her husband had given her sedatives, but it did not help. They had been walking back from another store, this plane also flew over them, and they dropped down just like me.

The siren started again, and I said, let's at least go down to the basement. I lived on the fourth floor, and at the moment, I didn’t have the energy to go back up. There were already a lot of people in the basement, everyone was depressed, and on top of that we entered all covered in dirt, shaking the soil off our clothes ... I thought, no, we should celebrate my birthday to raise our spirits.
The aftermath of an airstrike on a residential area, March 3, 2022.
I managed to grab a change of clothes and a 1916 photo of my grandmother

The next day I got up at 6 in the morning to manage everything before any alarm. I made sandwiches, cooked fruit compote, found a box of chocolates, cognac and wine. I collected everything, covered it with a large embroidered Ukrainian towel, went down to the basement and told them: it is my birthday, wish me well, let’s celebrate now. We had a low bench standing there – when neighbors were doing renovation, they used to drag it from apartment to apartment. I covered it with a towel and began to lay out my sandwiches. Everyone cheered up somehow, it suddenly seemed that there was no war, but just the nice sandwiches. It seemed a hope emerged that everything would change for the better.

But the fear that settled in my soul when I was lying in the mud still lingered, and when on March 10 they called from the Joint and said they were going to evacuate Chesed employees and community members, I decided to leave.

We started making lists. There was no communication, so we couldn’t get through to people by phone, and it was scary to go visiting people under shelling, so we passed information from mouth to mouth.

Many people were added from the synagogue. In total 165 people were to be evacuated. Buses were to leave from Hesed. Many people came with their pets. You can't leave them; they are practically members of the family. I took my cat too. I saw there were 300 people, no less. Many were not on the lists, but people rushed and took all the seats. But what are you going to do. Fight them?? So the Chesed clients were left to stand.

This was the first mass evacuation from Chernihiv, and it was already almost impossible to get out. The city was practically besieged.
School No. 18 in Chernihiv after the bombing on March 3, 2022
The drivers said we must move or we wouldn’t be able to leave at all A convoy was waiting for us. It was so hard to look at those who remained. Simply terrible
We were told to take a bare minimum of things: a small suitcase, at most a cage with a pet to be held in our arms. Because every big suitcase meant minus one person. So, we left Chernihiv practically without anything. I managed to grab a change of clothes and old photos of my grandmother from 1916 – to preserve the family memory.

The drivers said we must move or we wouldn’t be able to leave at all A convoy was waiting for us. It was so hard to look at those who remained. Simply terrible. We drove to Kyiv for six hours through some villages. Then it turned out that this was quick and we were very lucky. We arrived and saw the streets were lit up – we didn’t even understand at first, it was as if we had returned from the war to peacetime They took us to the Brodsky synagogue, we had dinner there, and then we were settled in a hotel: it was designed to accommodate 80 people, and there were 200 of us: people slept in the aisles and sat on the steps. But at least we had a roof over our heads and a place to wash up. In the morning we had a breakfast in the synagogue and returned to the buses. This time, there were guys with machine guns at the doors, and everyone went in according to the list.

Only after a month in Israel did I started sleeping at night

We left in the daytime and spent all night waiting at the border. It was very hard for the elderly, but everyone understood that we were trying to escape, and beggars can't be choosers. At six in the morning, we arrived to Chisinau. We had a breakfast, and then we were distributed: some to Israel, some to Europe.

They treated us very warmly in Moldova. Only once the driver let slip: “Why are you at odds with Russia when you are the same?” “It just seems like that to you”, I said.

We were based at a holiday camp. The conditions were fine. Only we had to wait a long time for the Israeli consul. Although some say it was not that long: a little over a week.

Shlomi, Israel
In Israel, we were very warmly welcomed. There are a lot of refugees, and the fact that such a small country took in so many people is incredible. What struck me was the huge number of volunteers, people were constantly bringing us clothes, shoes, children's toys, asking what we needed.

We lived near the lovely village of Shlomi, and there is a community theatre there. They invited us to their performance, sent a bus for us, and reserved the: the locals stood to watch while we were sat. And for Pesach we were invited over by local kibbutzim.

I live in a hotel in Goren, near Nahariya. At first, I was afraid to fall asleep, because I had nightmares. I would sit up like a zombie, thinking, if I fall asleep, I'll scream in my sleep again. I had terrible dreams: Russians in German uniforms, killing. You have to run away. I only started sleeping after a month in Israel. Although maybe an overstatement, I’m lucky if I get three hours a night.

Even the holiday villages were bombed. And what they did to the Chernihiv cemetery was just horrible. On the 27th, the anniversary of my grandmother's death, knowing that the cemetery was destroyed, I called my relatives and said, asked them to at least look to see whether her tombstone survived. But they couldn’t go there: the cemetery had been mined.

They destroyed the church of the Moscow Patriarchate and, next to it, the Afghani graves. Three thousand monuments have been destroyed – not only are they fighting with the living, but also with the dead. They also hit the hospital, although Russian war prisoners were being treated there.

The German took pity, and the Russians killed

In the Jewish community, there are also victims. Among the clients of our Chesed was Viktor Petrovich Bychek – his mother was Jewish, and during the war villagers hid her, while her children, including 6-year-old Vitya, lived with their Ukrainian grandmother. Nearby lived a German major, who understood that these children running around were Jewish. But he didn't tell on them. The war ended, and both Vitya and his brother Volodya remained alive.

And now Viktor Petrovich and his wife came under fire. His wife managed to drop down onto the ground, but he was killed... The German took pity on him, but the Russians killed him. On the eve of the Holocaust Remembrance Day, Bychek had an interview on local TV, and then we held a rally at the mass grave of executed Jews, and he came there with his son. Everyone spoke, but he said, “I can’t speak anymore, That’s enough.”. He was an unusually kind and decent person.

I have a relative in Chernihiv, and her son lives in Moscow – a retired military man, lieutenant colonel. During all this time, he never called
I have a second cousin in St. Petersburg, a very smart woman. Her sister from Jerusalem called her and said, “Chernihiv is being bombed, Ira could be killed at any moment.” Do you know what she answered? “Well, she can come to me, there are airplanes …” Some people are so ignorant of what is happening.

Another thing that amazed me. I have a relative in Chernihiv, and her son lives in Moscow – a retired military man, lieutenant colonel. During all this time, he never called, never asked how his mother was doing, whether she was alive or not.

Even before the war, another second cousin living in Russia told me about the terrible “Banderites”. He never called. Imagine how horrible things are: people do not understand what is happening, who is killing whom.

We have an exceptionally beautiful city, a wonderful mayor who put all his energy into protecting it. I tell everyone that there is no city in Ukraine where people would hate Putin's Russia more than in Chernihiv. Regardless of ethnicity.

Many have changed their attitude, but how could it be otherwise if you are being bombed? The Russians came to kill people who had done nothing wrong to them. And our city is multinational: Belarusians, Armenians, Georgians, and Gypsies live here. I know that the Belarusian community in Chernihiv sympathized with Lukashenko. I wonder how they like the bombing. It came from Belarusian territory. Is he still their same beloved Lukashenko?

There are ethnic Russians who left not for Russia at all, but for Europe or Western Ukraine. Somehow it never occurred to anyone that they needed to look to save themselves in Russia.
The testimony was chronicled on April 24, 2022

Translation: Maya Milova