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“Russians are wrecking everything out of envy”: Ukrainian recalls harrowing escape, shares thoughts about Russia

Russia's war against Ukraine
“Russians are wrecking everything out of envy”: Ukrainian recalls harrowing escape, shares thoughts about Russia
Edited by: Denys Dratsky
Pavlo, a man from an ordinary Ukrainian village, woke up from a beam that fell on his face after a Russian shell hit his house and started a fire. Still in shock, he then walked for two days in the freezing cold to reach Kharkiv and then evacuated to Lviv. Only later did he notice a huge bruise on his face and frostbite on his legs. He signed up to join the military, wishing to repay the “brothers-liberators.”

Pavlo used to work in Russia for some time. He compares contemporary Russian society to the one in Orwell’s “1984.” This is his story, which Euromaidan Press recorded when visiting Pavlo at a Lviv hospital.

First days of Russian war against Ukraine

On 24 February, when the war started, I was in Karavan village near Kharkiv, working my shift at the equine-assisted rehabilitation center. I saw how it all began, how the MLRS were fired at Kharkiv. There was a roar, and then you could see how everything was burning in the city. And so it went on non-stop up til 3 March, when I left Karavan.

Kharkiv, Derhachi were perfectly visible from my location. There were only short intervals of 30-40 minutes between the shelling and explosions. Why were they bombing residential areas? Savagery and absurdity. And why fire at the Feldman Zoo, or Gorky Amusement Park, and at street markets such as the largest Barabashovo?

During this time I kept taking care of the horses. All my other colleagues left, so I was the only one not just feeding the horses, but also walking them once they got used to the constant sound of explosions, although this was not part of my job. And now I’m not there either. I don’t know if there is anything left of our center.

One day I went from Karavan to Kharkiv, to the ATB supermarket. There was a long queue at the supermarket, and bombs or shells began to fall and explode at and near the ATB just as the people queued up to buy food.

Ordinary drivers also became heroes. They were bringing water and milk to the ATB by car, despite the shelling, and free of charge.

Farm near Kharkiv destoyed by Russian invaders in Ukraine
This is Ahromol farm near Kharkiv which was distributing milk for free in the first days of the invasion. According to Trukha local media, Russians killed most of the cows near the farm. It was one of the leading milk enterprises of the region.

House on fire

On the night of 8 March, I was sleeping inside of my house in the village of Pasiky. I woke up because of a beam that fell on me, which also caused a terrible noise. The house was immediately set on fire. It was made out of wood, an old oak house, and so it burned down. It was on the outskirts of the village, so I did not see whether any other houses were also impacted by shelling.

I ran out as quickly as I could, dressed as I am now, in these trousers and sweater. I only wore a jacket, with my passport in my pocket. Both my phone and credit cards remained in the house. I did not see what exactly hit the house, but it immediately began to burn. Nobody lived there except for me. I’m an orphan, divorced.

I went outside and did not even think about the possibility of staying with some of the neighbors. I just started walking straight to Kharkiv due to the stress.

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I walked about 70 kilometers in two days. The temperature hit -18°C at night. I got frostbite on my legs, but, fortunately, nothing had to be amputated, though I can still feel some pain. Luckily, some passing cars stopped twice and brought me about 5 kilometers further. My legs could have been much worse otherwise. But, generally, there were almost no cars on the road. Few people drive during wartime.

At first, I didn’t feel my legs at all, and I didn’t understand that something was wrong. Once I finally got to Kharkiv, I immediately went to the military enlistment office to register for the army. But the office wasn’t there anymore as it was burnt down.

From there I went to the railway station and saw the Kharkiv-Lviv train just waiting there to bring people to Western Ukraine. That is how I left, wearing this jacket – these are all of my belongings. Our train kept stopping due to constant shelling, turning off the lights to conceal itself.

After I was transferred to Lviv, my legs were getting worse and worse and I could barely feel them anymore, so I had to go to the hospital for treatment.

No intention of becoming a refugee

Pavlo hopes to go and defend the country soon
Pavlo has already registered in a military office and hopes to go and defend the country soon

My way to Lviv was made even more unusual by the bruising that I received after the beam hit me. If I asked people something, they asked me in return if I was a looter. If you’ve got bruises, you must be a looter [he laughs at this point – ed]. While on the train, a woman also asked the conductor to check my documents again, as she was afraid of me.

When I arrived in Lviv, I immediately went to the military enlistment office to register, but since I have no military experience, they enlisted me to the National Guard and said that once the unit was formed they would call me.

Then I went to the bank and received the money I had in my account using my passport — UAH 4,500 ($150). I bought a phone because I left mine at the burning house. And then I went to the hospital to get some treatment for my legs. The rest of the money was spent on the treatment.

The volunteers helped a lot. I was really surprised by how well people treated me here in Lviv. They provided me temporary shelter at a school while more permanent housing was being arranged at an apartment, where some kind people are hosting.

But I hope to go and defend the country soon, to repay our “brothers-liberators.” Victory will be ours, because we are defending our land, and they [Russians] do not know why they came here. We have no other options. A lot of people like me go to the military enlistment office and after a month of training are ready to fight. It is not the case that someone is forcibly enrolled. Here, everyone is eager to learn faster and become part of the Armed Forces.

“People are always in fear” – thoughts of Ukrainian about Russia after working there

Oh, the Russian mentality is that only after they’re personally affected, only when they come to the store and the price of toilet paper is three times higher, only then will they begin to think a little bit. But they’ll still very likely just end up complaining but doing nothing.

There is a novel by Orwell called 1984. It was written earlier when 1984 was still in the future. But it’s all about contemporary Russia, about how people are turned into zombies.

The country is at war constantly. That is, people are always in fear. People give everything they have for the army that doesn’t really fight anywhere. Here are the analogies with the book that I see.

I worked in Russia for some time. In the cities, people still live more or less ok. But if you drive 20-30 kilometers to any village, there are no roads, and the walls of houses are propped up by sticks.

Apparently, after entering our [Ukrainian] villages, Russians are destroying out of envy, because they have never seen people living in a village like that. [It is worth noting that people from villages and remote towns are disproportionally more represented in the Russian invading army – ed.]

Most people in Russia say that they allegedly “maintain neutrality” and do not get involved in political affairs. If you ask for their opinion, everyone will support the government out of fear. As in 1984, people are intimidated. Also, there are, in my subjective assessment, 30% of those whose behavior can hardly be called human. They say that “Oh, Ukraine must be wiped off the face of the earth.” I then ask any of those men:

“What exactly did Ukraine do to you? The fact that your government cannot provide proper services for you, the fact that your government robs you, these are your problems. What does Ukraine have to do with this? We live freely, we choose our own president and our own future, and we do not interfere in your internal affairs.”

Well, this is a beastly attitude in this part of society. I can’t understand such people. And then there are those horrific tortures and rape. It drives me crazy. If I’d met one of the bastards doing this, he would have died very painfully.

But if the Russians are told about the atrocities that their soldiers have committed, it is easier for them to believe that it is all fake, and nothing like that has ever occurred.

I had been talking to one acquaintance from Russia recently. She said: “Well, let it all end and then everything will be fine.” I told her that things will never go back to normal again.

We have never been “brotherly peoples,” and after this, we definitely never will be. We have a different mentality. And the language is completely different. If we communicate with Belarusians and Poles, they fully understand us, but if you talk to Russians in Ukrainian, they don’t get half of what you are talking about. [Pavlo’s mother tongue is Russian, but he says he prefers to speak Ukrainian after the Russians attacked – ed.]

And this language issue that Putin was talking about – it was absolutely made up. Article 10 of the Constitution of Ukraine protects all languages of national minorities. And the fact that a person in Ukraine should know the state language – Ukrainian – is also obvious.

About the Russian and world reaction to the Russian invasion

Hope has been expressed that Russians might begin to protest. No, they can’t. And not even out of fear. In our country [Ukraine], when there was the Euromaidan revolution in 2014, only about 1,000 people came out at first. They were beaten by police and it was shown in the news. And then 5,000 came, then 50,000 and 500,000.

Don’t pin your hopes on anti-war protests in Russia

If people in Russia go to protest they will be detained and they will simply cease to exist, no one will even know where they are. Nothing ever happened, state TV would say, and everyone would believe it, or at least pretend to believe.

Their propagandist Solovyov first said: “Hmm, Ukraine, we can conquer it in a blink of an eye.” But afterward, he said, “Well, we’re at war with Europe’s second strongest army after ours.” And no one notices this contradiction. Those who do notice are silent. I don’t know what needs to be done to change anything in Russia…

It is difficult to understand the meaning of this war that Putin had started. It just destroys our cities and pushes Russia further and further back in time. They could soon be not far off from the 15th-century levels there, back when they were riding in horse-driven carriages. They’ve got a huge landmass, just use and develop it. Instead, they are making up fairy tales about a threat from NATO.

They say that NATO will attack. If NATO really wanted to attack, now is a perfect time. Come freely from Latvia, Estonia, Norway, or the USA. But everybody keeps strict neutrality. In general, it would be good if Japan remembered the Kuril Islands, which were taken away by Russia, Georgia mentioned Ossetia and Abkhazia, and, finally, Moldova and Azerbaijan also took back their territories, which were previously stolen by Russia.

More war stories from Ukraine:

Edited by: Denys Dratsky
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