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“I understand that this is genocide.” Oleksandr, 34, Kharkiv

Russia's war against Ukraine
“I understand that this is genocide.” Oleksandr, 34, Kharkiv
The project “War. Stories from Ukraine” collects the experiences of Ukrainians living through the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war. This story is told by Oleksandr who lives in Kharkiv, a city deliberately being leveled to the ground by Russian troops from the first days of the invasion. In its bid to conquer Kharkiv, Russia has been shelling the residential areas using aircraft, ballistic missiles, rockets, heavy artillery.
A building in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, destroyed by Russian shelling. 9 March 2022. Source

Oleksandr Shamrai, 34, comes from Luhansk Oblast. In 2009, he came to Kharkiv and stayed there. He is a sculptor-artist and woodcarver. Now Oleksandr is trying to survive and save his loved ones who are hiding in one of the bomb shelters in Kharkiv.

“This has been the longest 6 days of my life,” says Oleksandr. “I have a big family, I have children and elderly people. We’re holding on, we try to occupy ourselves with something in between shelling, we are preparing food, things. Also, we plan our actions in case of shelling, we arrange the basement of the house, although I don’t really believe in its reliability.”

Household chores are distracting and help to survive the war. People are used to being alert to sounds all the time. Silence doesn’t calm them down because it isn’t clear what will happen after it. It’s difficult to disconnect from the news, even though your head is spinning from the information. People are constantly waiting for good news.

“Of course people are scared. They don’t understand what this is for. There is a lot of nervous tension. Everyone is waiting for negotiations and ceasefire,” said Oleksandr.

My interlocutor has relatives in the occupied Donbas region. He says that some of them are hiding, and some are being caught and sent to fight (the occupation authorities announced forcible general mobilization sometime before the Russian invasion, and it’s still ongoing two weeks into the ongoing war – all men aged 18-65 get caught on the streets and hurled into fighting, – Ed.).

A residential building at the Saltivka neighborhood in Kharkiv, destroyed by Russian shelling. 9 March 2022. Source

Oleksandr is constantly thinking of leaving, but for now, it is impossible. The man is raising his daughter by himself, taking care of his elderly parents, and cannot leave anyone in the city. He thanks God that his house, an ordinary five-storey building, is intact. It is difficult to plan something for more than a day.

“I understand that this is genocide. And, strangely enough, I feel sorry for people with cardboard in their heads,” Oleksandr believes.

On the first day of the war, his former classmate sent a message in which he repeated the cliches of Russian propaganda:

“Sanya, I cannot believe the Ukrainian news. Zelenskyy is an American puppet. America is a parasitic country that adds fuel to the fire everywhere.”

“It was very sad to read this sh*t. Otherwise, everything is fine, we will win!” Oleksandr tells me and logs off to prepare for the next night in a city at war.
A tram of Kharkiv, destroyed by Russian shelling. 9 March 2022. Source

Recorded by Kateryna Hladka. Illustrated by Liubov Miau.

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