I was born and raised in the city of Donetsk. Furthermore, I can say that I grew and advanced with the city, which has gone an incredible way from an ordinary mining area to a comfortable European city.
My city of Donetsk was very different. Several characters seemed to be fighting in it: Post-Soviet, harsh, and industrial. The city, at the same time, was intelligent, businesslike, and progressive.
Today I live in Kyiv, which, by and large has become my second home. Once, a couple of years ago I was asked where I would go having an opportunity to go to any country in the world to settle permanently. I thought about it and realized that I probably will not be able to live in another city but Kyiv. Unless it is Donetsk which existed in 2013. I mean if a time machine was invented.
It is not so difficult to move alone at the age of 21. I have seen way too many completely different situations in my native district during six years the armed conflict has lasted. Absolutely different people were fleeing the war - different ages, social class, single and family, rich and poor, self-confident and depressed, optimists and pessimists. I left alone though. At that time, it was impossible to take out all those who would like to leave.
War is a turning point. It is like a scalpel in the hands of a surgeon without anesthesia, who cuts your life into ill-fated version before and after.
To be honest, now I can hardly remember my life before the war. It feels like it was a long and pleasant dream lasting 20 years. Then abruptly you wake up again, because another shell has exploded somewhere.
It took almost a year of such living conditions to develop the skills to pop out in another room at the sound of volleys, quickly move around the living space and sleep in snatches picturing no dreams, because you will have to pick up again and run to the safe place of the apartment.
My first war encounter
Like many citizens of Donetsk, it took place on 25-26 May 2014. By that time, military operations in Sloviansk and Kramatorsk had been going on for a month and a half, but this whole situation seemed surreal to us. Well, this cannot be happening in the 21st century, right!?
However, Donetsk was already restless at that time: regional government department was blocked by strange people with a vivid Russian accent, and heavily-built men wearing balaclavas and carrying police batons were walking on Pushkin Boulevard. In General, balaclava, rallies, fights and constant anxieties were a complete set that describes the spring of 2014 in Donetsk.
In those days, we all looked at the sky: they told on the news that some airstrike is on the way. In the same period, we had to pass the last exams and the state certification exam at the University, and then - entrance exams for master's degree.
I remember exactly that I was going to a guiding consultation before the exam. A Turkmen classmate called me and asked with all his Eastern flair, "Ara, is the consultation still happening? Fighters are in the air." I didn't believe him at the time. I just didn't want to believe that a real war would be in the city.
Finally, my hopes that all the horrors of armed actions will pass us by were dispelled on 5 July 2014. At that time Hirkin's fighters entered the city, and it became clear that the war was no longer just knocking on our doors but swept their feet with full force.
By that time, we had completed our studies at the University and even received bachelor's degrees. In some respects, the award ceremony became the swansong of our peaceful life in Donetsk. This happened on 2 July. Three days later, we noticed the ominous reality around us.
I remember the video message of the Donetsk City Head Oleksandr Lukianchenko. He said that he was forced to leave the city because the mayor's stay there became life-threatening.
Then a month of folk horror stories and fairy tales followed about the Right Sector, which had already shredded the entire town of Marinka, Trudivske and Petrovka, and is now on the way to inflict punishment to the inhabitants residing on Tekstilshchika Street.
Impressed by the word of mouth, the neighbours rushed to equip the basement, but due to logistical problems (the entrance to the basement of our house was only on the outside) abandoned this idea soon.
Every morning, day, evening, and night was escorted with cannonade. Someone could not stand it psychologically and had a nervous breakdown. Someone drank their fears away. Someone just prayed.
I sided with the latter category on 5 August 2014. Then the most serious shelling during the entire period of military operations happened on Tekstilshchika Street. It is very difficult to get used to constant explosions even with the systematic artillery engagement.
It all happened in a couple of minutes. The clear sound of volleys and the loudest possible sound of shells bursting in the vicinity of residential buildings. The building shook and for a second it seemed that if we are lucky, we would be left without a roof over our heads.
Even when everything went quiet, the pulse couldn't normalize. A 79-year-old grandmother, who still kept the Great Patriotic War memories of her childhood, was crying in the room. Then we heard a neighbour asking if everyone was alive.
The sound of someone's car alarm was coming down the street. I distinctly heard the sound of several consecutive explosions. That was the time when I first started thinking about leaving in order to escape from the war.
We learned to live without electricity, but we are forever grateful to DTEK power engineers who risked their lives to get it back. We understood what life without water is like. We knew what it is like to live without computers, TVs and gadgets. Finally, I had time to read a book by Oleh Bazylevych about tactics and systematic work in football. My brother and I played chess by candlelight in the evenings. In general, we tried not to let any depressive thoughts get to us in every possible way.
That year's autumn was the most difficult. The remote work money were sent to the card, but it was impossible to cash it in that reality. Grocery stores where you could pay via bank transfer were a pull through. In particular, the Brusnichka stores. When they shut down, things became very difficult. It's like a noose tightening around your neck. Life there became a quest, the purpose of which is survival.
The Rinat Akhmetov Humanitarian Center came to the rescue by providing food to all vulnerable social groups. Then it seemed that this is almost the only emergency exit to a peaceful life.
If not for the activities of the Foundation and volunteers who provided the formation and delivery of kits, the humanitarian disaster in Donbass would have been inevitable. It is indeed very difficult to overestimate the contribution made by the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation to support the civilians who are on the brink of survival.
The most terrible thing at war is that tens of thousands of people may die. There is no greater value in the world than a human life. Even if you are lucky enough to survive, there is always a psychological threat.
Having left Donetsk in 2015, I couldn't sleep properly in the beginning. I assume it was reflexive at first. Later, I could not sleep worrying for relatives. It took me 3.5 years to learn not to associate extraneous shelling noises and to cope with evil thoughts.
The Donbass war has seriously changed my worldview and formed a new set of values. The threat that my life might end at any moment has taught me to value every day I live.
The biggest wish now is to see your parents when you really want to. Unfortunately, instead of spending an hour in the kitchen talking to my mother or watching a football game with my father, I could only hear their voices on the phone and see them once a year. Alas, it is not a unique case. This is a large-scale story.
These days I have only one dream - to end the war and return to peaceful life in Donbass, So that the clouds of fear and confusion would spread over the city of a million roses, and the native land would flourish and suffer from grief and ruin never again.