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“They talked on the phone until his father’s heart stopped.” How Russia’s invasion destroyed my world

Ukraine war Russia
“They talked on the phone until his father’s heart stopped.” How Russia’s invasion destroyed my world
Article by: Orysia Hrudka
Edited by: Michael Garrood
Sofiya was born in Rubizhne, Luhansk Oblast, which currently lies on the frontline of Russia’s invasion, with fighting ongoing, with the ensuing devastation earning it the title of “second Mariupol.” While Sofiya lives in Cherkasy, her close ones remain in Rubizhne. Contact with them is barely possible due to the disrupted communications. Sofiya is helping them from afar while fearing for their lives. Note: Sofiya is not her real name, it has been changed for safety reasons.

My world before and after

Rubizhne, 2022. Photo shared by Sofiya

On 24 February 2022 at 5.30 a.m. my grandmother woke me up with a phone call and the words: “Grandchild, the war has begun.” I did not hear explosions and slept peacefully in my apartment in Cherkasy. My granny called me from Rubizhne, Luhansk Oblast. She was born and has lived there all her life.

“It can’t be true,” I told my grandmother.

Then I picked up my phone and started reading the news, calling all our acquaintances. It so happened that my work is connected with every city in our country, every enterprise. And so, every city, everyone from Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Irpin, Hostomel, Sumy, Krasylova said that the war had come to them. My world is now divided into “before” and “after” the war.

Before the war, my grandmother had a dacha and had just bought seeds for planting. Now she has no apartment, it was damaged. My brother had an apartment. Now it has no windows. My uncle had a charming house with a fence. There is no house now, it was hit by shells.

Now we have lost everything. Only our hearts and desire to regain our lives remain.

24 February 2022. That day I lost many things. My friends and relatives from the country that launched missiles at us are blind, they said that Russia was saving us from Nazis and doing good. They still don’t believe me.

I lost a part of myself and found a new one. It is strong and able to look for cars, funds, and cargo in order to collect humanitarian aid for my grandmother and family’s hometown.

A driver from Chernivtsi who was delivering humanitarian aid came under fire. He survived. This person is my personal hero for me.

Rubizhne Ukraine War Luhansk Oblast
Rubizhne, Luhansk Oblast, 2022. Photo shared by Sofiya

I found new friends, people completely unknown to me gave me things, helped with reposts and contacts. I found the courage to write to bloggers and journalists. I stopped being afraid of gunfire when we went to the store looking for food.

I know that I am ready to give up my life for the ones I love, especially my grandmother.

On 24 February 2022, we left Cherkasy, as was then planned, for one day, but now it is already the 50th day of the war. When we passed the Motherland monument I looked at it and at the Ukrainian flag and cried. And I whispered to myself, “I’ll definitely come back to you.”

Waiting 16 days for a single text message

We came to a small village in a neighboring oblast. Shells flew over the house every night. We covered the windows with blankets, and scotch tape and hid everything extra. We slept on mattresses behind two walls with dogs and cats.

Each time we were listening to where the projectile was flying. I prayed it would not hit our home. The main prayer was Psalm 90.

I talked to myself about my grandfather who died many years ago. I asked him for protection. When it was quiet and I could come back to my senses after panic attacks, I was texting my brother, grandmother, and friends who were in Rubizhne.

Russian airstrike Rubizhne Luhansk Oblast

Since 8 March I have been unable to contact my close ones in Rubizhne. In the town, mobile communications and power lines were destroyed, and there are no water or food supplies. Each text message I sent to them contained the words “I know you are alive,” “Evacuation,” “I love you.” Twice shells hit the nitric acid tanks and yellow smoke covered the city, moving in different directions.

Rubizhne, 2022. Photo shared by Sofiya

I didn’t hear from my grandmother and brother for 16 days. When my brother was finally able to text “I put our grandmother on the bus,” I was trembling in bed for three hours in a row. I begged heaven for my grandmother to get here safely. My brother and uncle stayed in the city.

My grandmother, together with many other people from Rubizhne in Luhansk Oblast, was brought to the town nearby. The town was not yet ready to place the refugees in one of the buildings. Food and mattresses were just being brought there.

I understood that it was very dangerous there, found a taxi number and asked to pick up my grandmother and take her to the train station. My grandmother went to Dnipro. From there to me. I cried as I ran along the platform. I sniffed her hair and cried.

My heart torn to pieces

On 9 March, at 7:33 pm, I received a text message from my classmate: “We are blocked. The house is on fire. Save us.” We started calling all the available phones. They were rescued. Black from the smoke and dust of concrete slabs, she, her husband, and her son are miraculously alive.

On 11 March, at 10:56 pm, I learned that my friend’s husband’s parents had been shot at a checkpoint on the way from Rubizhne to Kreminna. Her husband’s parents were kind people and were bringing food from the village to Rubizhne because the city was cut off from food supplies. The mother died immediately, and the father was able to call his son and say his last words. The son talked with his father until his father’s heart stopped. We still can’t find the bodies of our friends’ parents.

Rubizhne in Luhansk Oblast
Rubizhne, Luhansk Oblast, 2022. Photo shared by Sofiya

On 16 March, my grandmother arrived and told me with tears in her eyes that when they ran to the evacuation bus, on the streets of Rubizhne, there were bodies of women, children, and men with their things. Burned houses all around. People strained water with remnants of ashes to make it drinkable. She said that houses around and on other streets were destroyed and on fire.

Then there was something shocking. Our relatives from Bucha were saved. The eyes of the mother and her boy were full of grief and pain, fear of what has recently happened to them. They and we cried. The boy approached me, sniffed my hair and pink jacket, and said: “Auntie, you smell so good and you are beautiful. I love you.” The child did not move away from me, sniffed constantly, and kissed my hair. My heart was torn to pieces.

“Let’s tell our daughters we love them if we’re about to die in the fire.” How Russian shell hit my home

On 25 March, my friend’s mother was killed in the Russian shelling. She came to bring the water to the South district in Rubizhne. Her body is still there. She was an educator with a big heart.

On 29 March, my friend with two children was able to get out of the city. They ran, I quote her, “face to the sleepers and gravel, we crawled.” People fled from the city center, because Russians were already in the city center, to the outskirts of the city, where there is still Ukraine. To reach the evacuation.

Rubizhne Luhansk Oblast
Rubizhne, Luhansk Oblast, 2022. Shared by Sofiya

I know I will return to Rubizhne

Every day I watch thousands of Telegram and Viber channels where people from cities are looking for their own. Yesterday I saw a video where next to my grandmother’s house another house just collapsed like dominoes. And crosses were seen near the kindergarten with the names of people and the date 05.04.2022.

Six crosses near the kindergarten behind my house in the heart of our town. I went to that kindergarten when I was a child. My brother and uncle are still in that hell. And every day I ask the universe to keep them alive.

Only faith in our country, in myself, in my strength saves me now. That each of us has a large heart and willpower. I know that I will return home to Rubizhne, go to my grandmother’s kitchen, and be able to make coffee for myself and her. I can hug my brother and uncle, and make cherry pies. I know that my husband and I will return to Cherkasy, to our apartment with roses in the kitchen where before the war we were happy. We will get our lives back. Everyone.

Due to safety reasons, some names have been changed.
Edited by: Michael Garrood
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