In the meantime we somehow survived. I covered the broken windows with cellophane, inserted crooked temporary doors, screwed the windows with self-tapping screws, and filled them with polystyrene foam. But since heavy shelling continued, doors and windows could be blown out four times a night. I only left heating on the second floor. The roof however remained leaky, since I didn't have time to fix it. At first, we prepared food in a slow cooker, and then we began to save fuel and started to cook on an open fire in the backyard. Ordinary life turned into survival.
A few times I ran across Russians. Once they robbed a nearby store, put everything into cardboard boxes, and then two military officers wearing well-tailored crisp uniforms and sunglasses – I have only seen such people in Hollywood movies – started giving it away as humanitarian aid while filming the whole thing. And the fact that the product were all Ukrainian - who cares, the pretty picture is already ready.
“You were given three days to leave”
On March 16th some Russians came to our house to take a look at our backyard. Can’t you see the backyard? And our fence was almost demolished from the explosion, - everything was in full view. They went into the house, walked around on every floor, and said it was a great firing position. They asked me if I was connected with the Ukrainian army, if Ukrainian soldiers have been here, etc. Before they left, they were surprised how it happened that our house was hit by the shelling but they didn't hit the dairy a few blocks away.
Another time I went to make a phone call – it always took three-four hours; once I managed to catch the Internet at a certain angle on the 8th floor of a half-burnt house, and under mortar fire. Anyway, I went to make a phone call and forgot my ID in another jacket. They stopped me at a checkpoint, pulled me off my bike, and started undressing me. “When did you change your clothes? Where are your accomplices?” I told them I lived nearby, five minutes on the bicycle, I can bring my ID. Yeah, right, and so we should let you go!! So in the end, they sent me home with two older soldiers, in their forties. I got lucky, I would say. They could have locked me up or killed me, easily. They talked to me on the way, told me that in Ukraine they publish kindergarten books calling Putin “khuylo” (dickhead). What books for kindergartens with Putin? Even so, I asked, is this a good reason to kill civilians? One of them seemed a true believer, the other one was just silently angry. He was jittery, when they stopped me, he immediately put a gun at me. He fiddled with his gun a lot as we walked. His partner told him to take it easy, that I was not dangerous. He was very scared of shelling - kept telling me to get off the center of the street, to turn here, to walk there, to warn my wife when we arrived, that they would be ready to shoot etc.
So we are walking, and the grumpy guy mutters: “You were given three days to leave, why are you so stubborn?” And then I couldn’t take it anymore and asked him: “Do you have a home?” He says,” Well.” I say:” Just imagine, you are living at your own home, you have documents for it, you spent your childhood there. And suddenly some asshole comes and orders you to move out in three days! Will you pack your stuff and leave?” The rest of the way home we walked in complete silence…
So I showed them my ID, got my bike back and rode towards the trade college. There, under a canopy, lay the corpse of a man with a torn face – this is already like a feature of the street - the bodies just lie there, you walk past them, you take a look.
It wasn't possible to make a call then, but the next day I got a connection. While I was away, the Russians came. They banged on the door, just when my wife was feeding the baby – so they broke off a piece of the fence, climbed into the house, saw my wife and left. That’s how we lived. I went to check on my parent’s building, their apartment was destroyed by a direct hit. They lived on the fifth floor, and the sixth floor fell on top of it, resulting in a two-story building.