Through the broken windows, the draft boldly rushes into the house. And follows us like a watcher. From room to room. The draft has no problems with broken doors or cracked windows. Come in whenever you want, no one will stop you. Mr. Anatolii stops every two steps. It is difficult for him to walk, as after a complex surgery he has artificial joints in both legs. It is hard for him to recall the past which remains in this apartment,"This is my room, over there is our bedroom, and there is a living room", the man freezes in the corridor, as if in between time. Everything here was once carefully arranged by his hands. Modern renovation, comfortable furniture, favorite books, flowerpots with flowers... Here is the kitchen where his wife Valentyna used to bake pies every weekend. The draft will never know how fresh pastries smelled in this apartment. It will not understand what the expression memories are like a fresh wound means. Nor will it understand for sure why such a noisy nine-storey building, where life was in full swing in each entrance, suddenly became empty. Shabby wallpaper and sagging wires... Crushed glass, broken brick and concrete creak under foot like lost days. There is a calendar for 2022 on the kitchen floor. It was supposed to be a happy year. But the flow of time cruelly changed at dawn on February 24.
The first powerful shelling, Anatolii recalls, happened on March 2. Here, in Irpin, on Severinivska Street, out of the window of his apartment he saw two enemy planes dropping bombs on the city. A hundred meters away - a direct hit in a neighboring house. Explosion. Fire. "My wife says we have to move, Tolia, to my sister. Lilia also lives in our city, but in the private sector, we can hide there, they say, at least in the cellar…" We took almost nothing with us, only the most necessary things. All we thought about then was to get out and take my mother with us", the man recalls.
My mother-in-law, Anna Tymofiivna, lived nearby, in the next apartment, with her granddaughter. She is 96 years old, she cannot walk and cannot manage without help. But her mind is clear, so she remembers everything. She thought her most terrible experiences were when she was young, during WWII, and that they would never happen again. Oh, how wrong she was...
Hanna Tymofiivna remembers the day of evacuation from her own apartment with pain. How difficult it is to forget those continuous explosions! The sky, where helicopters were circling almost overhead... She remembers how she prayed incessantly. And how kind people helped her son-in-law to carry an elderly woman from the 5th floor. And how worried she was that the children had to carry her in their arms to the basement of the neighbors, where they all spent the night together.
The shelling did not stop, it became closer and louder.
"Everyone lived with us - Valentyna and Anatolii, our mother, all our children, grandchildren,"Mrs. Lilia recalls, "We have two dogs for two families. Animals were trembling from the explosions no less than people. My younger daughter suffered from panic attacks: she hid in the door compartments and screamed loudly. "Where to go? Where to look for a way out of this hell?"
And although a lot of time has passed since then and it seems that the worst is over, Mrs. Lilia cannot hold back tears. She apologizes for having to stop the story from time to time. The metal fence near her house cut by shrapnels is an ominous monument. "One morning - we all lived here then - a rocket hit the house opposite. Our windows and doors were blown out by the blast wave, the roof moved... There was no light in the house, no gas. We decided we had to leave, to save ourselves. But how? The occupiers were a few steps away, there were almost no "green corridors"..."
On March 9, the "green corridor" was finally allowed. "We drove by cars to Stoianka, to the destroyed bridge, stood there for almost a day, then we were told that the occupiers would close the corridor at 5 p.m.", Mr. Anatolii picks up the thread of memories. "There were many buses with children coming from Vorzel. But the Russians turned them around at the checkpoints. No one was allowed to pass... And before that, on March 5, the bridge was heavily shelled, many people died... . I decided to leave the car near the bridge, then we went on foot, through the footbridge. Our soldiers helped to carry my mother to the other side of the river. They helped us all the way..."
On the same day, a rocket hit Mr. Anatolii’s house on Severynivska Str. The fire engulfed many apartments... The terrible news caught up with the family in the village. There, in Ocheretiane, Kaharlyk district, they had been living with friends for almost two months. 13 people - in one house. But lack of space does not mean lack of warmth, says Anatolii. "People shared with us everything they had. It moved us to tears." And in April, after the stress, his wife had a stroke. Treatment and rehabilitation are still ongoing and take a lot of effort and money...
Upon returning to the city, Mr. Anatolii found his car in the same place where he left it. This is the only thing that survived from the family property. "You are lucky, grandpa", the military said. The car, which was in front of ours, was burned down. The one behind was smashed.... And the man did not dare to enter his house for a long time. After the explosion, the front door to the apartment was jammed. Because of this, the occupants could not take anything out of the apartment. Although they tried, as the door was mercilessly shelled.... They were looting like crazy. They broke all the doors to the apartments. "A neighbor from the seventh floor - the only one who remained in our building - said that the occupants had broken into her apartment, threatened her for a long time, asked why she had not left the city. Finally, they forced her to go downstairs and wait for them. And then they had a hearty dinner and, fortunately, forgot about her. The poor woman was hiding for three days on the ground floor, in the former pharmacy. And then our military entered the city and rescued her..."
There are very few habitable things left in Mr. Anatolii’s apartment. Everything was broken, mutilated, soaked in gunpowder. Clothes came apart after washing. Only some dishes could be washed from soot. And the next apartment, where Mrs. Valentyna's mother lived, was burned to the ground. Only the table with a candlestick, where Hanna used to put a candle when she prayed, remained along with a bed where she sat, making daily prayers to the Lord. She sleeps on this bed now in the house of her daughter Lilia. Now it is her amulet. Like her whole family, which is always together, for better or for worse.
As part of the Family to Family project, Mr. Anatolii, his wife Valentyna and Anna will receive monthly financial assistance from Polish families and parishes of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland. The project, which Caritas-Spes Ukraine implements together with Caritas Polska, aims to support Ukrainian families affected by the consequences of the war in Ukraine.