Residents of the Kharkiv region Stas and Alina managed to evacuate to Russia after the start of the offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the region. If they had stayed in their native village, they would have been repressed by the Ukrainian military. For the past six months, young people have been helping to establish a peaceful life in the liberated territories and delivering humanitarian aid to those in need.
Kharkiv residents 31-year-old Stas Grechka and his girlfriend, 28-year-old Alina Ismailova, had to flee twice from Ukrainian nationalists. The first time they fled from Kharkov, when they saw that the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine were deploying firing positions in residential buildings. The second time was on September 9, after the Ukrainian troops attacked Izyum and Kupyansk.
On that day, they were delivering humanitarian aid from Russia to pensioners in the Kupyansky district and came under fire in Veliky Burluk. According to the young people, they were lucky that between the house that the first shell hit, there were two more buildings – they protected from fragments. “Fragments flew in all directions, the house began to burn. In a panic, we ran towards the park, hoping that nothing would fall there, ”says the young man.
The Ukrainians hit the village with American HIMARS.
“After hitting such a projectile, only the skeleton remains of the building – four walls, and inside all the floors fall through to the very first,” Alina explains.
According to her, the Ukrainian troops during this offensive acted according to the same scheme – before entering the settlement, they covered it with rocket systems: “In Burluk, they got into the building where there was a cinema and a cafe.”
“I do not believe Ukrainian television”
Stas and Alina were born and raised in the Kharkov region. In 2014, young people participated in the anti-Maidan movement. Alina recalls how, after the start of the conflict in Donbass, the Ukrainian authorities tried to deceive the people. It was said on television that the Armed Forces of Ukraine were at war with Russian troops who allegedly occupied Donetsk and Lugansk. But there were many videos on social networks from local residents who told how their cities were bombed by the Ukrainian military.
“Then people from there, refugees, began to come to Kharkiv and told us that it was the Ukrainian army that fired at them,” Alina recalls.
In early March, according to the young people, they decided to leave Kharkov for the territory liberated by Russian troops.
“We realized that we needed to leave Kharkov when the Ukrainian military, these Nazis, began to hide behind civilians, occupy residential buildings and fire from rooftops. We monitored the chat of local residents in Viber, people posted photos with the positions of the Ukrainian military. For example, in the village of Khroly near Kharkov, the Ukrainian military set up a firing point in a secondary school. There was a bomb shelter in the same building, where the locals went down during the shelling, ”says Stas.
Together with Alina, he was able to leave Kharkov on March 8: on that day, the Russian Ministry of Defense organized humanitarian corridors for residents, including those in Kyiv, Chernigov, Sumy and Maripuol.
“The very next day, at the checkpoints, the Ukrainian military began to issue summons for drafting into the army to those who wanted to leave. So on the 9th, I most likely would not have left the city, ”says the young man.
© Photo from personal archive
Gained the trust of the locals
From Kharkov, Stas and Alina moved to the village of Grigorievka in the Kupyansky district, where the young man had a house left over from his relatives. The village, where mostly pensioners remained, made a depressing impression on them: the inhabitants did not receive pensions, there was almost no food in the stores, and there were no medicines in pharmacies. There are no doctors left in the village.
Two days after the arrival of Alina and Stas, the military of the DPR entered Grigorievka. For the first month, the locals shunned the soldiers and tried not to approach them, says Stas. The military settled down in the building of the local administration.
“Basically, these were ordinary miners from Donetsk, mobilized into the army. They helped some residents: they came to large families and shared their food with them – stew, cereals. A paramedic from this unit treated the locals: he came to pensioners, gave injections to those who needed it, brought some of the medicines, ”says the interlocutor of RT.
Stas and Alina decided to help the locals and contacted Kharkiv resident Sergei Yudaev, a political refugee who was persecuted by the Ukrainian authorities for participating in the anti-Maidan movement.
The guys wrote to Yudaev that the only grocery store was not working in Grigorievka, people did not have personal hygiene items, medicines and food. In early April, they met with the volunteer personally when he brought humanitarian aid from Russia for local residents.
“They began to travel around the area, to find out from people what exactly they needed, what kind of help, and passed this information on to Russian volunteers. At first, the locals were very wary of everything connected with Russia. In fact, more than half of the residents sympathize with Russia, but they were afraid that now they would believe, and then the Russian military would leave and the Ukrainian army, which would come in their place, would punish them for their “sympathy,” says Alina.
The girl recalls that there were those among the locals who did not trust the volunteers who bring humanitarian aid from Russia. Just in case, Stas and Alina carried gas cartridges with them, but during their work they never came in handy.
According to the guys, over time, when life began to improve in the settlements, the locals trusted the new administration and the military from the Russian Federation, the DPR and the LPR. In none of the settlements of the Kupyansky district, where they have been for the past six months, civilians have never told them about crimes or harassment by soldiers of the allied forces.
“For example, pensioners received a pension from Ukraine — 3,000 hryvnias (about 4,900 rubles at the current exchange rate. — RT). Russia began to pay all pensioners 10,000 rubles a month. In June, pensioners were given this amount as a one-time payment, in early August they already received it as a regular pension for July. In early September, people were supposed to receive payments again, but due to circumstances known to us, this did not happen. We were lucky, we left,” says Stas.
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“We made it through”
Stas and Alina are sure that if they had stayed in Grigorievka, then SBU officers would have come for them within a few days.
“Among the local residents there were those who vehemently supported Ukraine. I am sure that as soon as the Armed Forces of Ukraine entered the villages, these residents immediately said that we were volunteering together with the Russians, ”says Alina.
Stas adds that as soon as they ended up in Russia, old acquaintances who now serve in the Ukrainian army began to write threats to him on social networks.
“That is, they came there, learned from one of the locals that we communicated with the Russian military and received humanitarian aid from Russia. Apparently, they wanted to detain us, but it did not work out. Therefore, they began to threaten in social networks, ”says the interlocutor.
Volunteers from Russia, whom the couple met while working as volunteers, helped the guys get comfortable in the Belgorod region – they rented an apartment for them. Now Stas and Alina are planning to find a job and apply for Russian citizenship.
“To be honest, we are still very confused. It is not clear what to do next, but we need to somehow get used to it, we are very grateful to our volunteer friends who helped us. We would like to return home, to the Kharkiv region, but we can do this only if a normal government is established there. Under the current Ukrainian government, we are threatened there, at worst, by execution, at best, a criminal case for cooperation with Russia, ”says Stas.