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Stories that you confided to us

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Kateryna Shynkariova

«Аt the age of seven I found myself amidst a terrible fairy tale called “war”»

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Kateryna Shynkariova, Kindrashivskyi Lyceum, Kharkiv region, Kupyansk district, Velyka Shapkivka village

Her essay for the competition of creative essays "One Day" took 1st place.

Аt the age of seven I found myself amidst a terrible fairy tale called “war”

The word “war” is known to us from textbooks of literature or history, as well as from movies about some heroes and their feats. However, earlier I would have taken the fact that the war from those stories could come to my home rather like a fantasy or a miraculous fiction. Unfortunately, it turned out not to be a fiction...

Everyone has a moment in their life that divides their existence into two parts: “before” and “after”. In adult life, we take such events more consciously, based on certain life experiences. But when such a day befalls us in childhood, at first, we look at everything with certain curiosity and wonder. What is going on around us? This is probably some game, but what will happen next? Who will win? And over time, we start realizing that everything around us is a terrible reality.

Today I am 14 years old, and seven years of my life I have lived in Kharkiv region till now, having the status of an internally displaced person from the temporarily occupied territory of Luhansk region. My family is near me: my mum and my older sister, and my new acquaintances and friends too. But the rest of the family: my grandmothers, my grandfather, my brothers and sisters, and even my father – are there, on that side of the contact line, and so far, it is not possible for me to meet with them.

A quiet life. My dad is employed. My mum is a teacher. A house near Chornukhinske water reservoir and a large forest, almost next to a children’s health facility and a sanatorium for miners, as well as one of the best poultry farms in Ukraine “Chornukhinski Kurchata”. Fresh air. Summer. Holidays. But...

Twenty-seventh July 2014. This date is engrained on my memory for a lifetime. Everything was like in a movie. At first, it was very curious for me, a seven-year-old girl, to watch a huge tank run through our vegetable garden. A real tank. A tank that shoots so that even the house shakes! And people with machine guns poured out from the forest that started at the end of the street. There were a lot of them. They were running and shooting.

All this resembled an anthill moving up the street towards the highway Debaltseve – Luhansk. It had been repaired, renovated just in spring. And now tanks and armoured vehicles were standing on it and firing in our direction. While we, not understanding anything at all, stayed inside the house, prayed and looked at everything through the window, as if watching it on TV. And this “horror movie” continued until it got dark outside.

There was no light because the electricity lines were cut and the poles were twisted and turned out by explosions. The village dogs were silent because they were also scared. Even the birds did not chirp, although it was July outside.

Our neighbours from the upper street were running up to us with a small kid, falling down at moments of explosions in the bushes and covering their little one, covering him with a pillow so that at least he would stay alive, if something bad [catches them]. And their old grandfather with sore legs was hiding in a ditch because he could not make it to the cellar. He was so frightened that he could not get back to his feet again. He was not able to walk any more. And about a week later, the old man hanged himself not to be a burden to his family.

During three days, nobody from locals was allowed to hide the bodies of the killed soldiers from the sun, or at least to cover them with something. But they were also someone’s children after all!

That was the summer. That was the day... And there was also a birthday of my brother whose hair turned grey those days at the age of 18, because while working in the mine, he was in a brigade that was removing the rubble and debris after the explosions, pulling out the wounded and collecting the bodies of the dead.

Our mother still hoped that all that would be just for a short time, and that everything would be fine: she collected some vegetables in the garden under shellfire for us to have something to eat, and made some jarred food. While our father said to her: ‘Don’t you understand what’s going on?! We live at the frontline!’

So, in the morning, after that terrible fighting, realizing that the war had really come to our home, we had to flee to my grandmother, where it was at least a little calmer. However, that silence was really short-lived.

Without lights, without gas and water supply, hiding during the shelling, first in the cellar and then in a remote corner of my grandmother’s house, with documents and a loaf of bread in hand, just in case, we lived through the autumn, going to school once a week.

And only on the day when under terrible shelling, my mum and my older sister Sofia were running away from home, where they returned in order to take some warm clothes, we realized that we could not delay it any longer. We packed up some things, collected some documents and left for Kharkiv, and then in December, we moved to Kupyansk district, where we have been living since then and until now.

That is how, at the age of seven, I found myself amidst a terrible fairy tale called “war”. Today, looking back to those times, looking at how people live on “that” side, I understand that we would not be able to live there further on, having a character that always seeks justice, dignity and self-respect, having the opportunity to freely express our views.

Talking to other people who have the status of IDPs, watching the news, I see that not everyone lives a good live. Many find it difficult to adapt to new conditions.

It seems to me that a lot depends on people themselves, their character, their ability to communicate, adapt and defend themselves in society. My family had support from many people, volunteers, government agencies, the local community in the area we moved to. We were not left alone face to face with our problems. We received help, and this help was sincere one. No one harassed or humiliated us: neither at school nor in the local environment.

Surely, we crave for comfort, security and stability. We want to be happy. But happiness is impossible without your loved and dear ones close to you. How can I be happy when I am not able to hug my grandma or my grandpa, when I cannot communicate with my sister and brothers, my aunt, and my childhood friends?

The war and life away from the near and dear ones made my sister and me grow up earlier and become more independent, adapt to life in the village. The motto of our small family, separated from other family members by the contact line, is: “We have nobody else but ourselves!” This is how we survive in new conditions.

But you should not feel sorry for us because that life experience at this age of ours made our characters stronger and made us become grown up, reserved and also dignified!

I am a Ukrainian, a citizen of the state that, although not smoothly but confidently, moves forward on the right course to a better life, looking around with pride and hope for a bright future! And, despite all the horrors we have lived through, I believe that everything will be fine, not only for me, but for my whole country.

When quoting a story, a reference to the source – the Museum of Civilian Voices of the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation – is mandatory, as follows:

The Museum of Civilian Voices of the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation

Rinat Akhmetov Foundation Civilian Voices Museum
Chornukhine 2014 2021 Text Civilian's stories youth moving shelling safety and life support housing the first day of the war Separation from loved ones Essay Competition 2021
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