A Russian shell hit the house of Valeriy, 54, on the northern outskirts of Kyiv amid the siege of Kyiv in the first month of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. The fire threatened his apartment and the stairs collapsed in his stairwell. He tells how his wife and he were rescued and how he had to leave his city that he wasn’t going to leave.
“We didn’t plan to leave Kyiv under any circumstances. If it hadn’t happened to us and we had a place to live, we wouldn’t have left till the end. Not all people flee the city. Everyone thinks it will end well somehow because there are many people and apartment blocks… But this ‘somehow’ doesn’t work, you know,” says 54-year-old Valeriy from Kyiv.
Together with his wife, he stayed in Kyiv till the last minute. When suddenly, Russian artillery bombarded their nine-storey apartment block in Obolon on March 14 at 5:09 a.m.
Before the war, the man worked at a hardware chain store near his home. But on the first day, it was closed because of shelling. The family stocked up with food and prayed for peace every day. Valeriy wasn’t able to get through the military registration and enlistment office. And the Kyiv Territorial Defense Forces had no weapons left.
“I was waiting for Tuesday when the military registration and enlistment office started working. I wanted to know what to do. Time was passing so slowly, and it couldn’t continue like that. I had to do something: either work or be in the army.”
On Sunday, March 13, Valeriy was cleaning his apartment. Before going to bed, he prayed with his wife for people to stay alive and homes untouched. Everything seemed alright, but they had a strange feeling that day. Later on, the couple woke up from a blast.
“I think I understood what the war is in just a second. We have a three-bedroom apartment on Bohatyrska Street. There are no blocks outside our window, just the road to Vyshgorod. We sometimes saw smoke coming from Pushcha-Vodytsia and heard bombing and automatic gunfire. We were used to it, so we didn’t panic much. And then there was a blast. I was sleeping near the wall and woke up immediately. The window was blown out. It was dark and smoky. Plastic foam in the walls and window was burning. I will remember that smoke and the smell of burning for the rest of my life.
[quote]“My wife didn’t yet understand what had happened. I told her: ‘Valia, wake up!’ She got up. The blanket we covered our window with was blown out, and the windowsill. A little bit higher—and we would not exist anymore.”[/quote]
Their windows were covered with thick blankets. It saved them from broken glass pieces. Valeriy switched on the light, but the lamp went out immediately. Their metal front door was stuck. Even a neighbor couldn’t help unlock them. There was no fresh air to breathe in the apartment. The entire third floor was on fire, and the fourth floor started burning.
They were on the sixth floor.
“We tried to call our daughters but couldn’t get through. They both live in Kyiv but in different areas. I thought that if we were about to burn, we could tell at least one of them that we loved them.”
Valeriy soaked the blankets in water: there was only warm water from the boiler left in the tap. After countless attempts, the door finally opened.
“There are often miracles during the war. In life, they happen, too. The fact that the door has opened is a miracle. The three of us, including the neighbor, weren’t able to open it. I still have cuts on my hands. But then it opened somehow,” recalls the man.
They grabbed their small backpacks and passports and got to the fourth floor. There were no stairs anymore. Their neighbors gathered near the elevator. Most of them were wearing whatever clothes they were sleeping in.[quote]Then rescue workers arrived. They leaned a ladder to the wall on the sixth floor for evacuation. People took only the most precious things with them. One woman only took her dog. Their elderly neighbor was the last one to climb down. He fell off the ladder and didn’t survive.[/quote]
Valeriy and his wife survived. The man got injured, with plenty of cuts on his hands and feet as they ran barefoot on broken glass. Glass pieces damaged the walls and ceiling in their flat. Fridge doors, windows, and doors were blown out, too. The entrance hall is completely ruined, and the cars near the building are burnt down.
After the bombing, the family temporarily moved to their relatives in Khmelnytskyi Oblast. Their children stayed in Kyiv.
“When we were leaving, everyone was crying… I wondered if we would see each other again or not. Nothing has finished yet. Nobody knows how it will turn out. But I do want to come back to Kyiv. I believe that we will be back.”
Recorded by Khrystyna Semeryn. Illustrated by Tanya Guschina.
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