Man saved 1,000 people from hunger during the Russian siege of Chernihiv

Dmytro Tkachenko, 41, bobsledder and volunteer. Photo by Orysia Hrudka 

Featured, People of Ukraine

Article by: Orysia Hrudka, Bohdan Ben
Edited by: Michael Garrood, Kate Ryabchiy

Editor’s Note

Ukraine’s northern city of Chernihiv faced starvation during the Russian siege of March 2022. Stepping in to the rescue was 41-year old bobsledder Dmytro Tkachenko, who every day with his family and friends delivered food, water, and hygiene products to over 1,000 people, keeping a bakery running despite Russian ceaseless shelling.

“Everyone understood the value of bread and water,” he says of those days.

Bobsledder Dmytro Tkachenko volunteered to feed and rebuild Chernihiv

“I understood that there would be a war,” bobsledder Dmytro Tkachenko, 41, says. “It’s just that we didn’t want to believe until the last moment that everything would be on such a scale. Everyone wants to hope for the best.”

We meet Dmytro at a large warehouse where yet another team of volunteers store food, medicine and hygiene goods which they distribute among victims of the Russian invasion. The sky can be seen through the holes in the roof after this building came under Russian shelling in March.

The first days [of the full-scale war] I was a little worried about what would happen, whether the Russians would capture the city. And then, as soon as the volunteer movement began, there was no time for such thoughts,” Dmytro says.

Dmytro’s team delivered 1,500 bread loaves daily, even though it was no longer sold in stores

In his team, there were mainly his family members, including his wife and elder daughter with her family, friends, and neighbors, who were sorting aid and making lists of addresses where help needed to be delivered. Further assistance came from Dmytro’s many contacts in the global sports industry.

“I understood that the bridges would be blown up and we would be cut off. Therefore, in the first days, we filled the warehouse fully with food and everything necessary, and only then did we deliver it,” Dmytro says.

The man adds that the city authorities helped too, and they took help from the city when abandoned warehouses were opened by the order and transported food to the residents.

Warehouse volunteer Ukraine Russia war

The warehouse, where volunteer aid Dmytro’s team distributes among Chernihiv residents, is stored. Photo by Orysia Hrudka

During the siege, everyone understood the value of bread and water. There was not enough clean water and bread too. We gave the ‘Bulochka’ bakery 10 tons of flour, and then they baked us 1,500 loaves of bread per day, which we then delivered. Since I had my water in my house, we also delivered water to people.”

Dmytro’s team fed 1,000 people every day. He says many hygiene products and diapers were also in colossal demand.
“I was shocked at how many disabled people were lying and not being taken out, despite not getting the assistance they needed,” Dmytro admits.

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Dmytro Tkachenko in warehouse where volunteer aid his team distributes is stored. Photo by Orysia Hrudka

“My 9-year-old son was carelessly jumping on a trampoline during the shelling”

His whole family stayed with him in the warehouse all the time. Dmytro says that all people react to the shelling differently and some start to panic, while his nearest and dearest remain calm.

“When the mortars and howitzers were firing, my nine-year-old son was jumping on the trampoline, and my eldest daughter and the whole family were working, packing boxes. I was calm. Well, if the projectile hits, then I will pass into eternity. If it does not hit, it is good, and I continue working. Once, strong men came who were supposed to transport humanitarian aid, and a shell fell nearby. They dropped the boxes and ran away. And my son then asked: Dad, why did they run away?”

volunteers chernihiv Ukraine Russian war

The warehouse, where volunteer aid Dmytro’s team distributes among Chernihiv residents, is stored. Photo by Orysia Hrudka

One day a Russian shell exploded really close and damaged the warehouse building too. It was at 1:40 in the morning of 15 March, Dmytro says. The volunteers were hiding near the warehouse; the houses around the warehouse were on fire.

It’s only a miracle that we were not hit directly. At first, it was impossible to drive here, and everything around was in rubble,” Dmytro says. “Despite the shelling, we were able to save the warehouse from the fire. We all used fire extinguishers to save it, and then the firefighters came to help, otherwise everything would have burned and disappeared,” he adds.

“You arrive to help, see no house but two graves in the yard”

Another time Dmytro was under fire in the city center when a Russian mine exploded 15 meters away while he was in the car. The car was damaged, but he was almost unharmed. He only suffered a concussion.

This event, as well as the complete destruction and the danger he witnessed, influenced his entire attitude towards life,” Dmytro says.

Now he continues to help people by sending volunteer aid to addresses where they know there are urgent needs.

Consequences of 2022 Russian invasion of the north of Ukraine, Chenihiv, summer 2022. Photos by Orysia Hrudka

“Many people who spent their whole lives building a house and hoped that it would be passed on to their grandchildren lost everything. When you arrive, there is no house, and there are two graves in the yard, where a person buried his parents who died from shelling because there was no way to even get the bodies out. You look at all this and do everything you can to help people at least a little,” Dmytro says.

After the de-occupation Dmytro volunteers not only with goods delivery but he is helping people repair their homes. His team assists in repairing windows and roofs, as the cold season is approaching. Besides, he is helping the Ukrainian army buy pick-ups for the soldiers.

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Edited by: Michael Garrood, Kate Ryabchiy
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