Sunday, December 10

‘Sirens howl, bombs fall. We eat ice cream’: a mother’s diary of invasion from Kherson | Ukraine

Day one (February 24)

I woke up to the sound of explosions and, immediately, my dream evaporated. I looked at my phone and saw it was 4.50am. I found my backpack, woke my children and told them to pack theirs.

We decided to leave. The railway station was closed so we attempted to travel by bus instead. We waited for the 4pm bus to Poland but it didn’t turn up. We tried to hitchhike but everyone sped past. Eventually, we got on a bus to Mykolaiv because the driver assured us that we would be able to travel west from there. Everyone on board was nervous because it was announced there would be more shelling in Kherson at 6pm. We left at 6.05pm.

In Mykolaiv, we were met by an empty bus station, desperate passengers and a fast approaching curfew. The dispatcher said there would be no transport until the morning and there was no schedule for the following day at all.

I did not want to get stuck in Mykolaiv for an indefinite period. Those who wanted to get to Lviv begged a taxi driver. He refused as he was worried he may not be able to return home. He said he would take us back to Kherson though. So we went straight back to my mum’s flat. My son was asking all the time “is everything very bad? Won’t we die? Promise that everything will be OK”. I did not know what to say so I just held his hand from him.

Day two (25 February)

All night and all morning the air raid sirens howled. Shells blew up. We ate ice-cream.

The Russians had just crossed the Antonovskiy Bridge and were firing at civilian vehicles. Public transport had stopped, there were very few cars, and almost no people. Some families with sleeping bags arranged to spend the night in the garage.

We went out to get spring water and when we were in the middle of the bridge, a melody from the city clock, the song about the Dnipro river (“Oh, Dnipro, Dnipro, you are wide and mighty”) sounded nearby. It was epic.

We are in Kherson. Cut off from the world. I wanted to take the children to a quieter place, but we can’t go to Lviv, because it is a battle zone on the way, and trains haven’t been running since the day before yesterday, buses too. I was falling into despair.

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My dad collected warm clothes for humanitarian aid before he went to bed. I made a discovery – it was not just the enemy aircraft I could hear during the night but my father’s snoring.

Day four (27 February)

I went to my home and cleaned the bedroom. I sealed the window with tape and took the cat out of the house. I told my son to seal the window in the kitchen with tape. I have sealed the glass with almost an entire layer. It turned out to be such psychotherapy. I reassured dad about the overspending of material in a crisis, and showed him the second roll of tape.

Tape is stretched across all mirrors in the flat. Photograph: Olha/Guardian Community

I collected all the glass vases and porcelain figurines, put them in a box and continued dusting all over the apartment.

Later I thought many times about why I came back from Mykolaiv to Kherson. The answer is that I didn’t want my kids to stay on the dark cold station for the whole night. I was one hour away from my warm home. I thought I could sleep at home and leave for Poland in the morning.

I was mistaken – there was no transport, no opportunity to leave the next day, nor any other day. Some people left, but I knew about that later, and it was a big risk. Some of them passed by Russian roadblocks and the others were shot in their cars.

Day seven (2 March)

People took away the Ukrainian flag from Russian soldiers, which they were trying to remove from an administrative building. Kherson is still ours, just surrounded – and with armed enemy soldiers, roadblocks and internet outages.

I am still looking for ways to get out of the city but there are none. I read Harry Potter to my kids in the evenings so they don’t focus on the explosions. My son has high blood pressure sometimes and when he feels dizzy, he just lies on the armchair. My daughter sits half a day with her cat on her knees in the corner and keeps silent. I hold the children before going to bed, they don’t want to let my hands go.

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On Tuesdays and Saturdays, we have literary meetings on Zoom. It’s been that way since quarantine. Usually we read our own poems and stories, sometimes of other authors. Doing analysis, sharing thoughts, giving tips. The last meetings begin with questions about what is going on with anyone. In Kyiv, Cherkassy, ​​Lviv, Khmelnytskyi. Poems have faded into the background. We are just glad to see and hear each other and to know that we are all alive.

Olha's pet cat Venera watches the explosions from a window.
Olha’s pet cat Venera watches the explosions from a window. Photograph: Olha/Guardian Community

Day eight (3 March)

The Russian occupation has merged into one long, endless day. We were surrounded, and the approaches to the city had been blocked for several days. Russian troops are trying to rob grocery stores, but since 27 February, almost all the shelves have been emptied.

Yesterday, one of my friends walked around his district and for two hours couldn’t find an open shop. Then he ran into five submachine gunners, who asked him for directions. The soldiers said they had come from Crimea to defend Ukraine from Nazis.

Everyone is on edge. Children are afraid to sleep, parents are afraid that food will run out, I want to get out of here and I can’t. I’m not a fan of food, so I don’t care any more and I tell my mum not to worry about the children. The bakery distributes free bread to outlets and some pharmacies are open.

I don’t know what to do with the fact that mobile connections and communications are often cut and in some areas the internet has already been lost. Without objective information, it would be difficult to navigate the situation.

I read that the Russians sent humanitarian aid from Crimea to us. Are they kidding? Everything was fine with us until the Russian troops invaded, we did not need to be freed from anyone. We do not suffer from fictional Ukrainian Nazis. Russians came to our land with weapons, cut us off from the world, and now they are bringing food?

day 11 (6 March)

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Kherson residents decided to protest and say that Kherson is Ukraine. And they have said it. It is a fact that people did not take Russian humanitarian aid. Instead, we gathered on the central square for two days in a large crowd of several thousand people and shouted “home”, “Kherson is Ukraine!.”

We have little destruction in our city, compared with Kharkiv, so it’s generally silly for us to complain too much. There has been constant bombing in Kharkiv, a blockade in Mariupol, terrible shelling near Kyiv. There have been so many victims. Now hatred is in vogue but I feel sorry for people on both sides.

The Russians believe that their troops came to Ukraine to save us from the nationalists. “Nationalists” is a horror story of Russian state propaganda. In our country, this word has a completely different meaning – a person who recognizes him or herself as a representative of the Ukrainian nation and respects the culture of his people de ella. So, almost everyone is “nationalist”.

The past week (8-15 March)

The 'dog's army' created by Olha's daughter.
The ‘dog’s army’ created by Olha’s daughter. Photograph: Olha/Guardian Community

My daughter draws dogs, cuts them out with scissors, gives them names and ID cards. She makes beds, toys and clothes for them. Some dogs have puppies. Dozens of dogs live around her and defend her from the lifequake. She presented me with one dog. It’s really cute.

Despite the Russian occupation, volunteers are doing a great job. They rush around the city, delivering free medicines and products to people who need it. People who stayed in Kherson are doing their best. They coordinate taking out garbage, working in hospitals, fixing communications and carrying out repair work.

People even deal with crime without police, apart from the main criminal element – ​​the Russian invasion. They place tanks and other heavy vehicles in the streets and yards close to schools, churches and inhabited buildings.

Their soldiers disperse peaceful demonstrations with rubber bullets and shoot submachine guns into the air. Sometimes Russians come into apartments and take notebooks, other devices and even people from their homes.

They are looking for coordinators of demonstrations, not understanding that almost every Kherson citizen is the coordinator of freedom and democracy.

I am proud of Kherson and I cry about it every night.

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