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Maria Dzyuba



How did you experience war in 2014? What do you remember from that? How old were you? How did 2014-2015 go for you?
Please tell this story in detail.

I was born in the city of Mariupol.
The salty greenish sea, colorful patches of fields with cultivated plants are occasionally replaced by short strips of forest - and so on to the very horizon, when you leave the city. These images are forever with me, the dearest to me.
All the events of those times were closely intertwined with my 11th grade: the beginning of the school year was the beginning of the Revolution of Dignity, the end of the school year was the end of a peaceful life. My parents were obviously concerned about my safety, but at the same time, about my unawareness. I missed dates completely, everything that I saw around me did not add up to a single picture; the events of those times, which took place in my native land, one might say - right under my nose, became a real discovery for me much later. Here are some dates and events that happened at the same time, but had a completely different taste for me, big changes for my country.
My seventeenth birthday, on a March Saturday in 2014. I tried wine for the first time in my life, I think it was a gift to my parents 18 years ago. It's delicious, I'm drunk and unserious, everyone is chuckling because of me - at the same time in Mariupol, there are rallies and riots against the background of the Crimea referendum, pro-russian activists are demanding a referendum in Mariupol. The May holidays of that year were combined with Easter ones, so we went to the village for a very long weekend. During the celebration at my father's friends, one of the children accidentally found a video on YouTube: an empty avenue, — named after Lenin still — it was happening near an underpass, a drunkard is coming at an armed man in a green uniform, shouting something pathetic at him, like: `Come on, shoot!", and so he shoots, and the drunk man falls on the asphalt, a pool of blood spreads nearby. Some of the adults saw what we were watching; they immediately ordered us to turn it all off and go outside for a walk. I couldn't wrap my head around it: in my city, exactly where I passed recently and will definitely walk again, someone was killed. How can it happen, why? At the same moment in Mariupol, separatists tried to seize the city hall building, the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs burned down, there were people killed.I always passed these places on my way to the lyceum, so it was impossible not to notice such changes. The school year ended, the final exams in Donetsk and Luhansk regions were postponed, because no one could guarantee our safety during the tests. So, first, children from other regions passed them, and then we went as well, traveling to safer regions.
I took the ZNO tests in Zaporizhzhya — the first time I traveled outside my native region. I was very nervous, I didn't even think about watching any news. The only thing I was interested in then was how many points I would score, whether it would be enough for admission. It seemed that my whole future life should depend on it. And somewhere around this period, a Boeing MH-17 was shot down, and a huge number of people died. Military operations in Luhansk and Donetsk regions were already raging, and I seemed to be living in a parallel universe with my problems and troubles.
When choosing between universities, I usually dreamed of a creative circle, a lot of interesting tasks, drawing, self-development, nice and clever classmates. My parents looked at this process more pragmatically, it was important to them that I definitely enter this year, preferably on a budget (t.n. studying for free, with stipend); I didn't believe in myself so much - neither did my parents. So, I submitted documents to two universities in Mariupol, and the Donetsk Art School. "Where else? - we thought. "Kyiv is far and expensive, Kharkiv is also not bad - there are many art universities there." So my grandmother and I went to Kharkiv by train to try my luck at a creative competition - for the first time in my life I traveled by train. We were going past Donetsk, our train clearly came to a full stop in front of this city, someone heard shots, my grandmother shouted for me to duck. I did not hear those shots, or I could not identify the sounds as shots. Based on the reaction of the people around, one had the impression that nothing terrible was happening: everything was as usual, nothing out of the ordinary. I could even think that they were just making fun of me, some ordinary sounds were mistaken for gunshots.
I failed the creative competition at the academy and barely passed on the contract (t.n. studying with full-tuition payment), I was very upset about it. Going back to Mariupol we traveled by bus. At first, our train was late, and then we were told that trains will stop running on this route for the time being - this "for the time being" has been going on for 8 years. The station was already littered with sandbags, the waiting room was crowded with various people arriving and arriving, most of them with the same expression on their faces - desperation. Everyone was waiting for something, there were a lot of people in military uniforms. Such a picture could be observed at all Kharkiv railway stations of those times.
Next comes the first academic year at the university, hostilities again in Mariupol. Terrible shelling of the Eastern district of the city and many dead.
Already in a year, I returned home, new realities: there are now also many soldiers in Mariupol, there are trenches and checkpoints on the way out of the city, inscriptions in the fields "beware: mines!" and closer to the evening - echoes of not very distant explosions and shots. And most importantly, everyone once again perceived it as nothing out of the ordinary.

"Where were you these 8 years?".
How has this time passed for you, what changed in your life since the events of 2014?
What has influenced you the most during this time?
Please write in detail.

Actually, all my time from the moment of admission I spent in Kharkiv. At first, I received a bachelor's degree in the specialty "Ecology", but I could not give up my dreams about the Academy. I completed preparatory courses and entered "Graphics", immediately for the second year studies. The academy was finished within three years. Serious relationship, first serious job. Even later, I reflected on my decision to enter Kharkiv and realized that it was the war that pushed me beyond the borders of my native region. Before that, I had never traveled further than Sviatohirsk. By the way, I came across a study which explained that the residents of Donetsk and Luhansk regions did not communicate much with other regions, so they stewed in their own juices, formed their own elites, their own concepts about the needs of the country; if they did go somewhere, it was more likely abroad, first of all — to russia, very often contacts with the western regions of Ukraine were overgrown with stereotypes and fables, and the attitude towards the residents of those regions was sharply negative.
I think getting admitted to Kharkiv influenced me the most. Entering anywhere outside of my hometown would have affected me the same way. This separation from parents, which is so important for the development of an adult, took place. A completely new way of life, everything with a clean slate, where only you yourself are responsible for your actions, set personal goals, look for a new self or simply discover yourself, and, of course, learn to overcome difficulties.
It was great to be in a new city, everything turned out well, but I can't say that leaving home wasn't very painful for me. Having left with my things in mid-August, I did not see my relatives until the very new year (the bridges on the way needed serious repair after the hostilities). It was difficult to be away from home for so long.
I know for sure, if it were not for the beginning of the war, I, like all other students, would have been able to go home more often than twice a year. I could spend more time with my relatives, without choosing who this time I will spend all my time with, and whom I will run by for a couple of hours due to lack of time.
All this time, I understood that my region is dangerous: since the beginning of the war, the teachers have not avoided this topic; classmates, whose relatives would sometimes get in touch, then disappear again; the arrival of shells to the yard of someone's parents...
But at the same time, the topic quickly became a commonplace one — the danger and fear that were reported faded away. Probably, the starting point, a point when I simply broke down with horror and despair because of the the events that have been happening in our country for so many years, but  everyone is so used to them that they love to invite russian singers and shout: "Art is outside of politics" - so this starting point for me was watching the TV series "To Catch the Kaidash". My boyfriend and I watched this series in the spring of 2021. The events take place in an ordinary Ukrainian village between 2004 (from the beginning of Yushchenko's presidency) and 2014 — before the invasion of russian troops into the eastern regions. The main thing that I felt was how much trouble we were in, how much we had already lost in this war, and most importantly, how we are used to taking losses lightly, because they are somewhere away; but the main thing is the idea that this war is not our war at all, and it is unacceptable to reconcile with the mundanity of this terror and to ignore it.

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What was February 24, 2022 for you like?
Did you believe that a full-scale offensive would begin?Where are you now? What do you do?

What do you think about your future now?

The possibility of a russian attack on Ukraine was seriously discussed already in 2021 (but to be precise, such a possibility has been discussed continuously since 2014). The number of russian and belarusian troops  near our borders constantly increased. Everyone talked about it, thought about it, but few could believe it till the end.
Of course, I was preparing. At some point — already in 2022 — I realized that if the russians don't attack in the end - that's great, but if they do, it would be very unwise to face a war unprepared. The main thing is that during this time, from the appearance of air raid sirens to the full-scale invasion, I got used to living with this thought, and had time to somehow mentally prepare myself. The brochures from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine became the source of the rules for collecting an emergency bag and thinking about other issues. Probably since January, I started talking to my mother about the need to put together an emergency pick up bag, and to arrange a place where they can wait out the shelling. It was also important not to frighten her with these words. A wave of anonymous reports about mines swept across Ukraine: the office building where I worked at the publishing house was also on the list of "mined" several times - deadlines were missed, it paralyzed work, somewhat frightened, but mostly - infuriated.
Time went on, the "emergency bag" was gathered, the topic did not become commonplace, but everyone got tired of waiting for something. People were preparing to meet the enemy and had things to show him. I heard stories about completely sold out stores with weapons, about the initiative of shooting courses for all those willing, about the complete staffing of the Ministry of Defense and military units of various regions, to the point where even all the reserves were full. And more than that, everyone wanted to live a little before a possible encounter with a terrible distress. On the last Sunday before the war, I had a desire to walk around the city, even take pictures, make notes of the things as they were then, and meet old friends. It didn't really work out - it was too late to call someone, so instead I walked around the bookstores located in my neighborhood, looking for some special book. Everything was already breathing like spring, a warm soft rain was falling. Even now I am happy to remember those times, it was a completely different life.
Then followed the work week with its routine. On Wednesday, my boyfriend and I watched a series until late at night, then discussed tomorrow's trip to the city after work, in order to find a suitable shelter in our area, and also thought about what else we need to buy for our "emergency bag". I didn't feel like going to work in the morning at all.
Boom, bam — that's how my morning began on 02/24/2022 at 5:00 a.m. (I had heard these sounds before near Mariupol, so I had no doubt what had happened.) I stood up and said, "It has started." At first, I tried to control my feelings. I started to update the news feed, air alarm sounds, some information - all in vain, my internet went down. I began to shake from panic. Then more explosions, Ihor (my boyfriend) woke up, he turned on that stupid video with an appeal "about the denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine", I was shocked: what kind of implausible, pulled out of thin-aired bullshit is that? We heard the whole house running around, people hurrying out to the store, neighbors trying to withdraw money from ATMs. For some reason, I tried to finish cooking borscht - I expected we might be out of gas or electricity on the first day. We went to the store, found iodized salt there and the required amount of groats, and took more high-calorie sweets, but this would be enough for a week at the most. At that moment, the subway was already being set up as a bomb shelter, there were a lot of policemen around, explosions were heard somewhere far away, and smoke was rising. Then we got to the basement in our house, very tired. Every morning we woke up to explosions. We never left our yard anymore. On one of these mornings — 2:03 a.m. — we were already ready to flee the city, waking up again to the explosion. We understood: they are getting closer and closer to us. No one thought that there could be 2 such explosions on this day. So, we packed some things, I watered my flowers, gave all the remaining food from our basement to a group of neighbors - we were ready to go and were waiting for the taxi driver. At around 13 o'clock, Ihor and I heard a terrible whistling sound, which quickly became louder - it was a rocket falling into the house right next to ours. I just remember, as if in a slow-motion video, us running towards the basement, I feel the impact on the neighboring building throwing me up in the air a bit, everything around trembles, a loud crunch from all the windows flying out. We didn't get a single scratch, although at the very moment of the explosion we thought it was the end. The next morning was a long road from Kharkiv — first to Poltava region, then to Lviv. I also lost contact with most of my relatives from that day. All of them were then in Mariupol or nearby. Waiting and a long period of watching how the russians turn the city of your childhood into an all-round cemetery and ruins.
Thinking of my future goes like this: I can die every day, it doesn't matter in which city of Ukraine I am. But you have to keep working. Who knows, maybe I will live to the end of the war? And this is a good opportunity to further develop Ukrainian art, to pave the way for future generations.
At the moment, I am reflecting quite strongly on the topic of my home. The memories from my childhood, which, it turns out, lived in the buildings with which they were connected, together with their destruction were seemingly released and flew away, waking up in my head. I try to save and record all of them. So this text is also a kind of attempt to say everything I want to say since the beginning of the war, to remember everything that happened while it lives and is not replaced. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, I have painted only a couple of portraits, this is what I associate most with the war. In the future, I have many ideas that lie waiting for the right time.

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