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War through the eyes of Ukrainian artist Marina Stognieva

Open to cooperation  translators and publishing houses around the world > > e-mail: art_stognieva@ukr.net



Chapter Ⅱ


"Basement"



   They say that people are mainly divided into two types according to their reaction to critical events and fear: the first - begins to panic, fuss, nervous, cannot stay in one place, strives and resorts to any actions to change something; the second type freezes, tenses up from stress, falls silent, thoughts slow down, confusion blocks his actions, he observes, trying to understand what is happening, looks intently at the situation in order to make a more correct decision. Judging by the fact that for the third hour after the explosions started, I was lying wrapped in blankets and fur coats on the kitchen floor, intuitively following the rule of "two walls" and simply cursing in terror, I belonged to the second type of people. When events like Russia's attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022 occur, any decision can be fatal.

       My 26-story building was almost completely emptied in a day, there were no more than 15 people left in the section, I heard how the neighbors bustled about packing their suitcases, how dozens of cars rumbled and left the parking lot. Some of them, believing that it was safer outside the city, went to Bucha, Makariv, Irpin, where the most tragic events unfolded from the first days of the war - the shooting of civilians by the Russians. The same drama could happen in Kyiv; I really consider myself very lucky. I lived in the capital without my family, the war started for us back in 2014. Then I lost my home in Luhansk and, fleeing the hostilities in the east of the country, moved to build a new life in Kyiv.

     While watching the news feed, I realized that the city is in huge traffic jams, there is panic all around, queues at shops, taxis, the railway station is full of people wanting to leave. I called my friends, most of them were still in town. While talking to one of them, I heard on the phone what happened before her eyes: "Marinka, a rocket just hit the neighboring high-rise building and destroyed several floors"...

    For the whole day, I never left the house, did not approach the windows, I just waited for the development of events. People were urged to go down into bomb shelters, to look for safe places during the war alert. It was like a very scary dream. Just yesterday we were planning the future, enjoying life, and today we are hiding from rocket attacks. In the evening, I realized that my life is undergoing devastating changes, and I am in the midst of large-scale historical events. It confused and frightened me so much that it was impossible to stop the tears, my appetite disappeared for several days, and my body was constantly freezing.


    The night was disturbing, I woke up many times to read the news. The huge Russian horde continued its advance, hundreds of thousands of enemy soldiers and armored vehicles brazenly invaded my country, mercilessly killing and destroying everything in their path. Explosions were heard outside the window - there was a struggle. In the morning, I decided that I should go look for a place where my neighbors are hiding and stock up on food and water. I remember one of my fears: I was afraid to catch the eyes of thieves, it seemed to me that they had already started to search the empty apartments. I was wary of chaos, which could cause me bodily harm.

     Approaching the window for the third time in an hour, I saw an SUV with a special sign on the hood - our military was patrolling the streets, monitoring order. It gave me hope and faith that everything is not as bad as I imagined. Descending to the first floor, she drew attention to the empty place where concierges usually sit. A couple dozen people were standing on the street near the parking lot. I learned that the grocery store is open and even has fresh pastries and coffee, that people are hiding from the rockets here, in the parking lot, or in the basements of our house. I decided to go around all the shelters to understand where I should spend the night.

    The basement was dark and cold, it was divided into several parts, some had light. I chose a place near the wall, where the light did not reach and there were almost no people. From the apartment, she brought large pillows that served as the back of the sofa in peacetime, a blanket, warm things, water, cookies, candies, saltine crackers, wet wipes, moisturizing face creams, medicines.

    My house is a new building, so the basement is in satisfactory condition - there is a toilet, sockets, there is no excess junk and moisture, the mobile Internet works. I spent almost the whole day there ... In the evening, people began to gather. The increasing intensity of the explosions drove the most resistant underground. A dozen more "connoisseurs" of dark corners spread their "beds" near me. We got to know each other, shared opinions and forecasts.

    "Not even a week has passed since the breast plastic surgery, today I needed medical help, but everything is closed. I walked 6 km to find a working pharmacy, but there were no medicines that would help me," complained my neighbor in the basement. I looked at the thin blanket on which she was sitting and offered another one, it was scary to imagine what complications such overnight stays on concrete could end up with. At the same time, the first children of the war began to be born in the Ukrainian underground, and their frightened, tearful mothers prayed for our heroic indomitable doctors and for the happy, peaceful future of our country.

    We all already understood that the Russian horde wants to surround Kyiv, take the civilian population hostage and force us to agree to accept their occupation power. Putin's henchmen-collaborators from Luhansk, with whom I once studied at the institute, went to the same coffee shops or lived in the neighborhood, began to write me letters on the Internet that the Ukrainian government would be overthrown by noon. They had great confidence that the capital would fall in a maximum of three days. Using this opportunity, I greet them all: "Pack your suitcases, we will not let you lie in wait, and after criminal cooperation with the Russians, stay to live on our land. You started to be happy and angry early.

   I fell asleep on the first night in the basement peacefully and sweetly, remembering my travels to Nice, Paris, Rome and Florence... Under the sounds of shells bursting in my memory, walks on antique benches, vintage fairs, delicious breakfasts by the sea... The inner feeling was very strange - confidence that everything will be fine. There was a radio in the next room; everyone who did not have sleep had the opportunity to make tea and listen to the latest news. We didn't know what tomorrow would bring, or whether it would even be…

       Every day the situation became more tense, sadness and despair gripped my heart, every minute could become the last. Leaving the city was almost as dangerous as staying in it: trains and cars were shot, our enemy was a sadist who killed even women and children without mercy. Realizing that they could not capture Kyiv so easily, the Russians began to destroy our food warehouses, expecting to doom the inhabitants of the capital to death by starvation. It was through hunger that they wanted to force people to agree to their "good Russian future." Even then, they did not know what strength of spirit and unity we Ukrainians have, that this shameful enemy horde would break its rotten teeth against our evil Cossack power!


    The nights in the basement were getting colder and more disturbing, the news was announcing the capture of the nuclear plant by the enemies, the possible landing of Russian troops in the city, and subversive intelligence groups operating in Kyiv that could break into the basement at any moment and shoot us all. From such fears, my whole life passed before my eyes and it became really scary. Strangers treated me with food more and more often, I had everything and was not hungry, but they did not accept refusals; this concern was very inspiring and opened my eyes to what kind of benevolent society I live in, that while the Russians count on our ruthlessness to each other and slaughter for a crumb of bread - we care and become even stronger by helping each other.

   Children's drawings appeared on the walls of the basement: flowers, yellow and blue flags and family portraits. Together with people, their pets - cats and dogs - hid from the war. All the neighbors got to know each other, prepared joint dinners, shared phone chargers, encouraged each other. I went outside only to the supermarket, which surprisingly worked and provided us with everything we needed. I was very happy about this, filmed a video and posted it on Instagram. The Russians reacted very indignantly to these food "stories", they were promised on their TV that we should already capitulate after experiencing hunger. "Finally die there, everyone!" - a summary of their messages to me.

    It was the 10th day of the war...


Read more >> >  ІІІ Сhapter "Catherine"



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