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I was walking the dog in the morning and thought I saw gas tanks on the road, but then realized they were bombs

Svetlana, head accountant

I was getting ready for work in the early morning of the 24th, when I got a text: no public transportation. We are close to Belarus, and we were among the first to be hit.

Air raids started immediately; lines formed at the grocery stores, then there were water shortages, and the electricity was cut off. My father is on crutches to, and my mom uses a cane. In the first few days I stood in line at the pharmacy and managed to buy some blood pressure medications for my parents. And then I got a phone call from Hesed: I went there by bicycle (I would not have gotten there otherwise), and they gave me medications and adult diapers, everything.

They did not spare bombs for our block

We still had some cereal onions, and apples: everything was stored outside the window, since the fridge wasn’t working at that point. I would buy some sort of frozen sprats, thawed the little icicles and fried them up coated in flour. It’s good enough: especially when you are nervous, you don’t really want to eat. There were no eggs at all, and we occasionally baked some bread. It worked out: we survived; there were always potatoes at hand, from them alone, you can make 20 dishes.

It was good that we still had gas. We turned on the burners and the space was heated. We would boil the water, pour it into plastic bottles and take it to bed with us. We put on two pairs of socks, and sweatpants — and still woke up from the cold.

Ruins of a building 50 meters from the respondent's house

Photo courtesy of Svetlana
There were explosions and shelling during the day, and at night Russian planes used to drop heavy bombs at random places, but at about the same time every night: at 11 pm and at 4 am. We lived in a residential neighborhood in the city center in a one-story building with six apartments, but they didn’t spare bombs for our block.

We had a good greenhouse in the garden, where we used to grow cucumbers and tomatoes for the kids. It was completely destroyed. The glass cracked and kept falling out until the morning. Old trees were cut down as if with a knife. It’s terrifying. I had to change gloves three times before I gathered all the pieces of glass. And then I still found shards in the garden; they were small, but heavy.

I lived in apartment #6, and there was an elderly couple in apartment #1. They had adult children, and these elderly folks would go to feed the dogs that their kids were breeding. Once this old granddad went to feed the dogs with his son’s friend and a 16-year-old boy, and that was when shelling started. The old man and the teenager were killed on the spot, and the other man got a stomach wound and lost his leg. He was taken to the hospital, and we had to rummage through our first aid supplies, trying to find anything, even nasal drops. He had a head wound as well, and there was fluid collecting in this nose, so they were afraid of possible brain swelling.

They were buried in a small forest in the city center, just in black bags

Our neighbors who live about 100 yards away were impacted. Their house, outbuilding and temporary shed were all burned down by airstrikes. I was walking the dog in the morning — at first I didn’t realize what it was lying in the road. It looked like gas tanks, but it turns out they were bombs. And another house was hit 150 yards further away. The blast wave blew out the front door with the frame, and all the windows in the hallway and the entryway.

The city hall, kindergartens, schools, a dental clinic and a children’s clinic were bombed. I mean bombed from the air, not shelled. Even our cemetery Yatzevo was bombed — the graves of the soldiers who fought in Afghanistan, the monument to ATO (Counter terrorist operation) soldiers, and the little chapel were hit the hardest.

On Purim we went to the synagogue and bought flour. My friend’s husband baked the bread himself; I had some onions and made a cabbage salad, so we managed to celebrate. Our gathering was quiet, not like a typical Purim, there was a 6 pm curfew we had to go back home, turn everything off — a complete blackout. That was our daily routine: go to bed at 6 pm and get up at 3 am, because the plane would arrive shortly.
Next to us is the Gagarin stadium — three huge aerial bombs were dropped there — I jumped on the sofa with each strike;, the ground shook. Once, as I went to visit my parents, and the shelling started, so I had to fall to the ground and wait for it to end.

My friend was standing in line for bread (something that would take up to four hours) and said that there were two strikes so she hid in the yard of the next house over. And then there were more strikes, but some people were still standing in the queue. When she stepped out of the yard, she saw 14 black bags
In Chernihiv 700 citizens died. My friend was standing in line for bread (something that would take up to four hours) and said that there were two strikes so she hid in the yard of the next house over. And then there were more strikes, but some people were still standing in the queue. When she stepped out of the yard, she saw 14 black bags. But, since the cemetery was already closed, they were buried in a small cluster of trees in the city center were no coffins, nothing. Just black bags. A terrible sight.

We understand that Russians have not been our brothers for a long time

Chernihiv is a fairly well educated city; doctors, teachers and military personnel settled here. Our family spoke Russian, and we started learning Ukrainian from the fifth grade. In the 1970-s the apartments in my parents’ building were given to healthcare and educational workers. My ex-husband actually lives in Moscow, and now he came to visit his child and ended up under “his own” bombs. His parents live in Novy Belous — this village was almost completely destroyed, the bridge was broken . My poor ex was so scared that he fled through Repky, which is 40 km from Chernihiv. He had to circle around through some fields, because civilian cars were being shot at. It was like in a safari.

A judge I knew and her 12-year old son wanted to leave in her car. She never made it out. We saw condolences from her colleagues on Facebook. They said she died attempting to leave the city, So, we understand that Russians have not been our brothers for a long time.

Nevertheless, nobody expected this. Many years ago I was on vacation in Sevastopol and saw some Russian channel on the TV. I was shocked. An economic crisis is looming in Ukraine, famine is beginning, and people are on the point of eating their children. I immediately turned off this nonsense, but Russians have been listening to this for years.

Girls from 3 to 10 years old with torn genitals were being brought to hospitals — only three survived, the rest died from internal bleeding
Our neighbor from apartment #2 told me that she has relatives in Poland who work in a hospital there. Girls from 3 to 10 years old with torn genitals were being brought to hospitals there — only three survived, the rest died from internal bleeding. They were all from Yagodnoe: it’s a village close to Chernihiv, where Russians have been stationed since March 3rd. There were tanks hiding between the houses, right along the walls. They robbed and they raped. There were soldiers from Buryatia. Their names were identified; I saw the photos later…

They stole electric kettles and slippers. People’s lives were taken for such trifles. Many of the residents of our building have parents who live in the surrounding villages. They were saying that the soldiers took everything from the summer cottages, even though there was nothing special to take there. Our neighbor Natasha received a call saying that her house was broken into all her food was eaten, and everything from inside was stolen including her underwear and socks, her bed linen and panties. Plus shoes and the microwave.

We accidentally found out about the evacuation buses arranged through the synagogue

The only source of information was the radio — my neighbor connected it to me through a mobile phone, and attached a wire in it. We charged the phones from our neighbors’ solar panels. But there was basically no reception, only live communication. I would go out, chat with the neighbors looked at which direction the black smoke was coming from. And run back home.

All the bridges had been blown up, and there was no connection with the outside world. We didn’t even know that evacuation buses were leaving from the synagogue. And then word of mouth reported that everyone had already left and the only person remaining was the husband of some employee who is sometimes on duty at the synagogue.

Later, when the Ukrainian army recaptured some territory, the pontoon bridge was restored and buses started leaving again. My friend and I found out about this by accident. She has a school-age kid, and on April 20th, we walked over to the synagogue, and the three of us left. We drove through the outskirts across the Snov river, through Oster — we saw burnt out abandoned equipment along the road, charred limbs – no one was cleaning them up. The village burned down; the survivors fled, and everything just stayed like that. There were burned out houses on both sides of the road: a store, a bank office, gas stations, everything burned down. Usually it would take an hour and a half hours to get to Kyiv, but this time it took 4.5 hours, and it was all through fields and back roads.

In Kyiv we waited a week for an evacuation bus from the synagogue in Podol to Hungary – where my daughter and grandson live. Already in Budapest, I contacted the Israeli embassy, passed the consular check, and on May 10th the Jewish Agency put us on a flight. My first impression was: these are my people. We were met by a group of soldiers at the Ben-Gurion airport. Their badges read: Sergei, Anton, Roman, Dmitriy…

The testimony was chronicled on May 17, 2022

Translation: Dr. Mariya Gyendina