“The sirens howl, the bombs fall. We Eat Ice Cream: A Kherson Mother’s Invasion Diary | Ukraine

First day (February 24)

I woke up to the sound of explosions and immediately my dream evaporated. I looked at my phone and saw it was 4:50. I found my backpack, woke up my kids and told them to pack theirs.

We decided to leave. The station was closed so we tried to travel by bus instead. We waited for the 4pm bus to Poland but it didn’t show up. We tried to hitchhike but everyone sped by. Eventually we took a bus to Mykolaiv as the driver assured us that we could travel west from there. Everyone on board was nervous as it was announced that there would be more shelling in Kherson at 6 p.m. We left at 6:05 p.m.

In Mykolaiv, we were greeted by an empty bus station, desperate passengers and a fast approaching curfew. The dispatcher said there would be no transportation until morning and there was no schedule for the next day.

I didn’t want to be stuck in Mykolaiv indefinitely. Those who wanted to go to Lviv begged a taxi driver. He refused because he feared he would not be able to return home. He said he would take us back to Kherson. So we went straight back to my mother’s apartment. My son always asked, “Is everything very bad?” Won’t we die? Promise everything will be fine. I didn’t know what to say so I just held her hand.

Second day (February 25)

All night and all morning the air raid sirens blared. Shells exploded. We ate ice cream.

The Russians had just crossed the Antonovskiy Bridge and were firing at civilian vehicles. Public transport had stopped, there were very few cars and hardly anyone. Some families with sleeping bags have managed to spend the night in the garage.

We went out to get spring water and when we were in the middle of the bridge, a melody from the city clock, the song on the Dnipro river (“Oh, Dnipro, Dnipro, you are wide and mighty”) sounded nearby. It was epic.

We are in Kherson. World Cup. I wanted to take the children to a quieter place, but we can’t go to Lviv, because it’s a combat zone on the way, and the trains haven’t run since the day before yesterday, the buses too. I fell into despair.

My father collected warm clothes for humanitarian aid before going to bed. I made a discovery – it wasn’t just the enemy plane I heard at night, but my father’s snoring.

Fourth day (February 27)

I went home and cleaned the room. I sealed the window with duct tape and got the cat out of the house. I told my son to seal the kitchen window with duct tape. He sealed the glass with almost a full coat. It turned out to be such psychotherapy. I reassured Dad about overspending on materials in a crisis and showed him the second roll of duct tape.

The tape is stretched over all the mirrors in the apartment. Photo: Olha/Guardian Community

I collected all the glass vases and porcelain figurines, put them in a box and continued to dust the whole apartment.

Later I thought several times about why I returned from Mykolaiv to Kherson. The answer is that I didn’t want my kids to stay on the cold station all night. I was an hour from home. I thought I could sleep at home and leave for Poland in the morning.

I was wrong – there was no transport, no option to leave the next day, or any other day. Some people left, but I found out later, and it was a big risk. Some of them passed through Russian roadblocks and others were shot in their cars.

Seventh day (March 2)

People took the Ukrainian flag away from Russian soldiers, who they were trying to remove from an administrative building. Kherson is still ours, just surrounded and with armed enemy soldiers, roadblocks and internet blackouts.

I’m always looking for ways to get out of town but there aren’t any. I read Harry Potter to my kids at night so they don’t focus on the explosions. My son sometimes has high blood pressure and when he feels dizzy he just lays back in the chair. My daughter sits half a day with her cat on her lap in the corner and is silent. I hold the children before going to bed, they won’t let go of my hands.

On Tuesdays and Saturdays, we have literary meetings on Zoom. It’s been like that since quarantine. Usually we read our own poems and stories, sometimes other authors. Analyze, share thoughts, give advice. The latest meetings begin with questions about what is happening with anyone – in kyiv, Cherkasy, Lviv, Khmelnytskyi. Poems have taken a back seat. We’re just happy to see and hear each other and know that we’re all alive.

Olha's cat, Venera, watches the streets outside from a window.
Olha’s cat, Venera, watches the streets outside from a window. Photo: Olha/Guardian Community

Eighth day (March 3)

The Russian occupation melted into one long, endless day. We were surrounded and access to the city had been blocked for several days. Russian troops are trying to rob grocery stores, but since February 27, almost all shelves have been emptied.

Yesterday a friend of mine was walking around his neighborhood and for two hours he couldn’t find a store open. Then he met five machine gunners, who asked him for directions. The soldiers said they had come from Crimea to defend Ukraine against the Nazis.

Everyone is exhausted. The children are afraid to sleep, the parents are afraid that there will be no more food, I want to get out of here and I can’t. I’m not a fan of food, so I don’t care and tell my mom not to worry about the kids. The bakery distributes free bread at points of sale, and some pharmacies are open.

I don’t know what to do with the fact that connections and mobile communications are often cut off, and in some areas the Internet has already been lost. Without objective information, it would be difficult to navigate the situation.

I read that the Russians sent us humanitarian aid from Crimea. Are they kidding? Everything was fine for us until the invasion of Russian troops, we did not need to be freed from anyone. We don’t suffer from fictional Ukrainian Nazis. The Russians came to our land with weapons, cut us off from the world, and now they’re bringing food?

Day 11 (March 6)

The people of Kherson decided to protest and say that Kherson is Ukraine. And they said it. It is a fact that people did not take Russian humanitarian aid. Instead, we gathered in the central square for two days in a large crowd of several thousand people and shouted ‘home’, ‘Kherson, this is Ukraine!’ »

We have little destruction in our city compared to Kharkiv, so it’s generally stupid of us to complain too much. There were constant shellings in Kharkiv, a blockade in Mariupol, terrible shellings near kyiv. There were so many casualties. Now hate is in, but I feel sorry for people on both sides.

The Russians think their troops came to Ukraine to save us from the nationalists. “Nationalists” is a horror story of Russian state propaganda. In our country, this word has a completely different meaning: a person who recognizes himself as a representative of the Ukrainian nation and respects the culture of his people. Thus, almost everyone is “nationalist”.

Last week (March 8-15)

The dogs created by Olha's daughter.
The dogs created by Olha’s daughter. Photo: Olha/Guardian Community

My daughter draws dogs, cuts them out with scissors, gives them names and ID cards. She makes them beds, toys and clothes. Some dogs have puppies. Dozens of dogs live around her and defend her from the earthquake. She introduced me to a dog. It’s really cute.

Despite the Russian occupation, the volunteers are doing an excellent job. They rush around the city, delivering free medicine and products to people in need. People who stayed in Kherson are doing their best. They coordinate the collection of garbage, work in hospitals, repair of communications and the execution of repair work.

People even deal with crime without police, apart from the main criminal element – the Russian invasion. They place tanks and other heavy vehicles on streets and yards near schools, churches and inhabited buildings.

Their soldiers disperse peaceful protests with rubber bullets and fire in the air with machine guns. Sometimes Russians break into apartments and take laptops, other devices, and even people into their homes.

They are looking for protest coordinators, not understanding that almost every citizen of Kherson is the coordinator of freedom and democracy.

I am proud of Kherson and I cry about it every night.

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