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Vira Savchenko



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.

In March 2014 — on my nineteenth birthday — one of the largest demonstrations took place in Donetsk. It is difficult to say exactly how the war began, and how I first experienced it, because it smoothly flowed from the Maidan into the full occupation. At the beginning of the year, we were all worried about the events on the Maidan, we were constantly consumed in the news, I don't remember anyone being indifferent. At that time, I was studying in my 3rd year of the University in Donetsk (DonNTU). And during lectures, when some news appeared (one of the classmates always monitored the news channels on the phone), the whole class stopped, the latest events were read aloud, and half the lecture pretty much "disappeared" because the said above had to be discussed. They were afraid of dispersal of the Maidan, everyone sympathized when the messages on the stream talked about someone's death. There weren't even any discussions, but it felt like we were there together with the protesters, scared for each of them and cheering for each of them. How different we all were in ordinary life, how united we became during the Maidan. Perhaps someone wanted to argue, but always kept it to himself, because the majority in our student community was still on the side of European Ukraine. And there was simply pity for the people who were "in the line of fire" in the center of Kyiv.
Maidan in Donetsk was not as numerous as we would have liked. My entire social circle in Donetsk discussed among themselves that they supported the Maidan, but for some reason not everyone wanted to gather in the evening near the Shevchenko monument. It's a pity, I was also there only a few times, because there was always no time: I studied at two faculties in two shifts and got tired. But for those who came to the rally, it was always a holiday. Some friends or relatives were "delegated" to Kyiv, and it was believed that a piece of our land was shared with everyone.
In my town, my mother worked at a school. She told how children picked up everything they saw on TV and played in “Maidan” during school breaks. Some were protestors, some were "berkuts", they built barricades from desks and did not want to dismantle them, because “you can’t do that”, under any circumstances. I miss the times when my city was within the same general context with the whole of Ukraine, but currently it has been occupied for 8 years.
Before even we could expel Yanukovych, Russia immediately began its hybrid offensive on Ukraine, starting with Crimea, continuing with Donetsk and Luhansk regions. I, like many others, did not understand at all what was happening. The term "separatism" began to appear, which we had to explain to each other, and before that to Google, since it was a completely new phenomenon. People appeared on the streets with St. George's ribbons, the State Administration and the Prosecutor's Office were seized. And then I can absolutely remember that no one liked this whole mess, and no one thought it was serious. No one knew that all the talking was about real occupation, and not about the blackmail of the Ukrainian authorities, intimidation of us, or a million other reasons. But no one understood anything, even after the capture of the RSA (State Administration: people passed by, not really reacting to anything, not perceiving it as reality. And they didn't see the point in doing anything at all: will they go themselves, or will the police kick them out when the time comes: "what kind of russia, what are we even talking about"? Although the word "war" began to appear here and there, even during the Maidan, I could not connect the peaceful protests for joining the EU and against the dictatorship with war or secession. But at that time we still did not know what IPsO (informational and psychological operation — ed.) is, and that if you impose war on people, it will definitely happen.
I studied simultaneously at two departments (one in the afternoon and one in the evening). And in the first group there was only one guy who supported the actions of russia. And in the second group, no one at all. Among the teachers, I personally did not have anyone who was pro-russia, only one person who held a certain position at the university, and one adjuster from the dean's office.
Once I was riding in a trolleybus, I was talking to my mother, and I saw that a person was standing next to me with a St. George ribbon on his sleeve. We were talking, of course, about the recent events, I remember that my mother was very scared and did not understand what was going on. Then I began to speak very clearly, so that the unknown person with the ribbon could hear that they would soon be gone, and that all this was not serious, there was nothing to worry about, and that Donetsk is Ukraine. I walked with a yellow and blue ribbon near the occupied State Administration, past the so-called "guards", and looked these people in the eye. At the time, I didn't understand what a fool I was, and that those risks weren't worth it. There was no fear then. It appeared later.
russia started organizing rallies to prove allegedly that Donetsk wants to join the russian federation. There were not enough local collaborators for the right picture. There was little support in Donetsk itself, and even those who could have been sympathetic after years of propaganda simply watched everything from the sidelines and did not want to express their position on their own. There are also simply not many people in small towns. As a result, russia began to transport "extras" from the bordering regions. I remember very well how people with non-our, non-Donetsk accents walked the streets.But you don’t pay attention to those people at first, they walk around, who cares. And then those people with the same accents hit you at rallies with armature and catch you on the streets. Immediately then photos of buses with Rostov numbers showed up on the internet. To us (to Donetsk) people were brought from Rostov. To Kharkiv - from Belgorod. And to Luhansk - I don’t even remember the name of the city, which was identified by the bus number. It was Cherepovets, or something like that. But about other cities, I found out from the news. And in our city, all my friends at least once ran into such Rostov buses. And then the Ukrainian media really liked to show pro-russian rallies, to show what savages are shouting in Donetsk and calling for russia. And it still resonates with us: the people of Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea still remember it, although in most cases it wasn't even us. We were very afraid that the Ukrainians would believe in our "separatism". And I perfectly remember the motivation of people who went to pro-Ukraine rallies: to let Ukraine know that Donetsk is Ukraine. So that they don't believe that we want to be a part of russia, so that they know this is all just propaganda and lies. Such was my motivation as well. After all, many of us did not believe that it was all serious, and that everything was moving towards the occupation. We went to rallies not so much to get rid of the occupiers. But more to show them that they are strangers here, and most importantly, to prove to all of Ukraine that Ukraine does not believe in the popularity of russian rallies among locals. But still, it didn't work. And now we see the results of the eight-year hate of eastern Ukrainians. Because since February 24, we have already begun to better orient ourselves in counter-propaganda. Kherson was massively portrayed as a hero for unarmed rallies with Ukrainian flags against the occupiers, made to demonstrate that they are not welcome here. Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimean pro-Ukrainian rallies with Ukrainian flags against the occupiers, made to demonstrate that we are together with Ukraine and with nobody else, were ignored. We were traitors calling for putin, while Kherson and Kharkiv are heroes. Although the methods are the same. I really hope that one day all of us, regardless of the city, will be true patriots of Ukraine, without dividing us into right and wrong ones.
In Donetsk, there were several large rallies with thousands of people. And it seems that only one one of them went peacefully. And if I'm not mistaken, one of the politicians came. At the rally on Lenin Square, when Dmytro Chernyavskyi was killed, a very good friend of mine also got seriously injured. The police, who were invited by the organizers to protect us, lured them into the bus, and then let the Rostov titushki in there. That’s how my friend got a concussion. Many of those he came with tried to escape home and were arrested. And the police visited this acquaintance's mother in person (they came from Donetsk to my small town). They came allegedly to take evidence from the victim, but in fact they searched his mother's entire house. I was not at that rally. I can tell you about the last big rally that took place before the occupation of Donetsk.
I went to the stadium, where the meeting place was announced. And around one hour people gathered. We just stood, a procession was about to take place on Artem Street. There were many policemen around. This was very reassuring, because it meant everything was organized officially, and they came to protect us. But when I approached one of the policemen, who definitely had some kind of leadership position and was looking "from above" on everything that was happening, I felt, personally, that his eyes were full of hatred towards me. That he is forced to be here with us. I didn't want to think about it, so I went on my way, and picked up on the distribution of Ukrainian flags. I came alone, without friends, it was boring, I wanted to help the organizers, I got to know one group of friends and kept with them just in case. Then the organizers of the rally spoke and we started walking. Shakhtar's ultras walked ahead, which was very encouraging, they were very active, shouting slogans and lighting fireworks. And we felt safe with them. People looked out from the balconies, one woman hung the flag of Ukraine and shouted after us "Glory to Ukraine". I was very moved by it. Because I myself had already despaired, watching the news claiming that we are those "bad separatists". I saw only the best people in the world around me - pro-Ukrainian, active, determined. And on TV I was told the opposite. I walked almost in the first rows of the column, I could clearly see the ultras in front of me. And then I heard some explosions from behind. We were a little scared, not sure what it could be, but people started discussing among themselves that it was just fireworks getting lit. Then an explosion was heard somewhere inside, then again somewhere. And then I heard screams, sounding from everywhere around. Security forces with shields were already running on the sides. I thought then something bad had happened, but they intended to help us. Then it turned out that we were surrounded by titushkas from all sides. But at that moment, I could only see in front of me how the ultras were receiving blows from those athletically built thugs with armatures. I am lucky that I got to know that new friend group. One of them was already an experienced protester on the Maidan in Kyiv, went there from Donetsk, lived there and returned to protest at home. With lightning speed, he folded the huge flag into a small square, hid it in his backpack and ran. He was the one who saved me from that hell. I didn't know the city that well - only a few central streets, because I studied in Donetsk for only 3 years,  and therefore I ran after that guy. He sometimes looked back at me, encouraged me, and led me through small, confusing streets that I would never have walked into on my own. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw how a middle-aged woman got knocked to the ground and beaten with sticks. But we couldn't stop, because titushkas who wanted to do the same to us, kept running after. I could hear breathing behind me for a few more minutes, and then, it seems, they fell behind and decided to stay on the central street, beating up other people. I was holding a small flag of Ukraine in my hands, but I was running so hard that only a stick remained in my palm, and the fabric flew somewhere, I really regret it. An experienced Maidan activist from Kyiv wiped the painted flag of Ukraine from my face, cut a bunch of small flags from my bag with keys. I did the same with my things so that titushkas wouldn't find us, because they could come out of any street. We pretended that we were not from the rally. At that time, my mother and sister saw me on Hromadske TV and realized that I was in the center of events. Although I lied to them earlier that I wasn't going anywhere, so they wouldn't worry. While I was running, my mother was calling, I did not hear it and did not know that I accidentally answered the call, and my mother had to hear people's screams and how someone was running for several minutes. She was very scared then, so afterwards I had to stay in touch. The group of my new friends led me in the opposite direction through unknown streets at a calm pace. On the way, they saw many "ambulances", approached them, gave money to the victims, people of different ages, who then categorically refused, did not take it and were very angry at what was happening. What is worth noting for sure is that the ambulances worked perfectly, and until the last they helped everyone who needed it. Then I went home when it was already dark.
My classmate told me later how he wanted to get to this rally, but was late. And he got there only when police officers with shields were standing around the participants of the procession. He wanted to go to the demonstrators, but he was not allowed in, they said that everything was over, he could go home. And then a new batch of titushkas came - the police parted ways, let them inside the "meat grinder" and closed ranks again.
Since April, we have been watching the shelling of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in the news. And did not believe that everything was happening in reality. Shelling, rallies, beatings, kidnapping and torture of people. Many activists who did not leave disappeared somewhere in the basements and have not yet emerged. Then people started to get afraid. And after that people who previously were 100% pro-Ukrainian started to declare: "I don't care about Ukraine or russia, I'm a patriot of Donetsk." My idealism was very aggravated by such answers: I never shared local patriotism, which is now observed in Odesa, Kharkiv, and which was a thing back then in Donetsk. We should be patriots of Ukraine, not a city. But many did not confess their true views to people whom they did not fully trust. And I gradually became the same, sharing my thoughts less and less.
When we felt that the hostilities were approaching Donetsk, we decided that we should return to our small town. We changed our minds, returned back to our studies, against the background of which there were constant explosions, gunshots, flying aircraft, honking of "horns", and on May 25, when the battles for the airport began, I returned to my parents' house and did not go to Donetsk anymore, only for some personal things. And then the city was unrecognizable.
We believed that this surrealism was short-lived, and we just had to wait. We didn't even complete our studies in full, they postponed everything until fall for some reason. Rumors were spreading in my town that now trains would come from the west of Ukraine to kill us all. People, out of fear, forgot what rationalism was and believed in everything, regardless of their views. We even organized our local "Maidan" - not for the EU, but inspired by the example that you can go to a protest to fight for your own rights. And people heard the word Maidan and were afraid that those were the same trains with "Westerners". We also had a pro-russian rally, which gathered around 15-20 people. And there were "Zaporebrik Cossacks" around, guarding this action. We met our acquaintances there and began to argue very persistently with them that russia is a pit, and how stupid it is not to be in favor of Ukraine. I remember how my mother and I both even wanted to be those provocateurs to draw attention to all the stupidity of what was happening. But the Cossacks began to approach us slowly, looking closely. And then we decided that we should go home: there were many of them, and there were only two of us. At least we made it clear that "russian people" do not live in our city. And then there was summer - the hottest time of our war in 2014. Daily shellings. Every morning, as if by an alarm clock, we woke up at 5, because there was an air raid. Our city was almost untouched, but there was destruction in the neighboring ones, and we immediately jumped up as a whole family, took the cat, documents and ran to the garage. We did not have a reliable shelter, but simply found a place without glass. Then we got tired of running, and we continued to sleep in our beds, even in spite of the shelling. Once during the day, we saw planes very close - they did not drop bombs, but were shooting with something small. Every day we called our relatives and asked how they spent the day/night. Shops stopped working, then some reopened for a few hours in the morning. But it was dangerous to go out for groceries. Therefore, we ate what was in the garden, saved up on everything. But we always shared what we had with our neighbors. We were given buckets of vegetables, and we shared what we grew ourselves. We shared the last water. And we didn't have water for more than a month, if not for the whole summer, and we also didn't have electricity and Internet. In the garage we survived more than one mortar shelling - as a result of one of which our acquaintances died. Once on the news they said that our city was liberated, and we really wanted to believe that. We heard explosions in the surrounding areas, we knew that they were making their way towards us. And then we discussed among ourselves in the family that we will sit in the shelter as long as necessary, let everything burn and explode, if only our troops enter. But, they never did. A little later - in August - we spent several nights watching the burning of Savur Mohyla.
Chechens entered the city. We personally did not see them, but those who did got the impression that they did not know what they were doing here and were more afraid of us than we were of them. Among acquaintances, two people from our street went to serve in the army. They were drug addicts for many years, even before the war, and the russian federation promised money for their service. As they themselves explained, they were tired of stealing from people to get a dose. And so they found some "honest work" this way. In general, the majority was only concerned with saving their lives or of those they knew, because when the city is under occupation, you lose your subjectivity completely, your ability as a person to decide something.Then, during the next two years, I found out about several more acquaintances who joined the army of occupation. But for me these are exceptions. Even people with pro-russian views did not want to fight for them. The true scale of the desire to fight for the russian federation can be seen now, when mass mobilization has begun on the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. And how many people refuse, run away from the "draft". Mercenaries from the russian federation, soldiers without chevrons, were the ones who mostly fought against Ukraine.Overall, in my own experience, many of the old acquaintances, friends and relatives were unable or did not want to leave for the Ukraine-controlled territory. And at the same time, they have a pro-Ukrainian position, but are simply forced to remain silent. And I am very scared for them. One girl friend never even crossed a single checkpoint because of fear. I knew about one other friend who has been fighting for Ukraine since 2014. Back in the summer, we heard how MH17 went down and a bunch of terrible stories from eyewitnesses. And then, closer to the autumn of 2014, hostilities began to subside, then the Minsk process began. And it got quiet in my city. But this was not what I wanted at such a high price.
Towards the end of 2014, we lived as usual, with Ukrainian laws. Even Oschadbank worked until December. And when the phrase "wait it out" got endless, we started looking for a place to study at the university. At our university, a protégé from among russian supporters showed up agitating to finish a technical university with a new diploma "without a country". Very few people were satisfied with this, and our student unions began to look where the university could evacuate to. Somewhere there was an evacuation of entire faculties, somewhere each teacher and student left separately. And so we fought, that it is fundamental that the diploma should be of the Ukrainian model. And no one was dealing with the schools, there could be no evacuations, so all teachers and school children remained under occupation without recognition under Ukrainian legislation.
Not only in 2014-2015, but several years after that, our family had this belief that we would soon be liberated. I still believe that all cities will be de-occupied, but many years have passed, and living there all the time under the laws of the occupiers is simply unbearable. It seemed that everything was delayed, but still there is some front, there is some war, and therefore we will definitely be freed. Just the feeling of "freezing" and the impossibility of returning the territories through diplomacy were very depressing - how long can this "soon to get liberated" last?

"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.

We lived with our family under occupation for 5 years. When you understand what occupation, cellars, torture, "martial law", curfew, authorization of the death penalty, bandit laws, etc. are, then you learn to be silent. We hid all the Ukrainian flags, even the gold school medal, because it also has a yellow and blue ribbon. All the years of our life there, we were afraid of searches. Threats were written to me during the first year of the war, but it is good that they did not proceed with anything. I think that the small town saved me and my family. If we were in Donetsk, Makiivka or some other big city, we might not have been so lucky. And this way nobody needs us, I hope it will stay that way. However, there were often gunfights on the street, and the occupiers looked into our yard several times. Apparently, they were looking into whether it is possible to settle in here.. The russians moved into my friends’ house in the front-line village within a day,as soon as they left it. russians, buryats and representatives of the Caucaus occupied people immediately began to settle in Donetsk: people who right away showed their non-locality and russian mentality. Even when there were still active hostilities, after shelling, every morning, the services always worked and cleaned the streets. For them, our city seemed like a piece of paradise, a modern European city. Now all of Ukraine has seen what savages they are. And at first, the territories occupied since 2014 faced this. For them, we are another civilization, and they want to continue living here, even under the shelling, which has gotten lesser and lesser over the years. They move their families into the apartments left behind by the emigrants.
We decided to stay and wait it out because we really wanted to believe that this hell would end soon and we would be liberated. But this did not happen, and we adapted to new realities. It got more and more difficult to leave. A pass regime  was introduced, which did not work adequately for a year and a half. And it was necessary to get to a controlled territory - take exams, defend a diploma. There was nowhere to move. Therefore, we slowly looked for housing, accumulated savings, and finally managed to move to the controlled territory of the Kyiv region.
Before that, it was not possible to do this for 5 long years, and right now it is almost impossible to leave. During these 5 years under the occupation, in addition to the skills of silence, many new fears appeared. We had a curfew at night, and only occupiers or people with passes from factories could move. And if a car drove down the street at night, or worse, stopped in your yard, it could mean the worst. And so I was afraid to sleep every night for 5 years. This stays with me even now: when the elevator goes, I remember old fears, because in there could be uninvited guests who could pick on anything.
My mother worked all the years at school. And it's good that she's a teacher of natural sciences, because she didn't have to teach the "history of the russian federation" or the russian language instead of Ukrainian. But we immediately agreed that if they forced us to do something pro-occupationary, we would leave. The science teacher could continue to teach according to the Ukrainian curriculum, because "no one will know about it" in a small school, and give out tests in Ukrainian, because "everyone knows the language." She gathered everyone who needed this discipline to get admitted to universities, worked with children for free and prepared for ZNO exams. In order for the children to have a future, she campaigned for admission to Ukrainian universities, prepared according to Ukrainian standards. Small, but still underground work. Therefore, I am not at all worried about the youth in the occupied territories. Many people remember Ukraine, those who don't - will be told. And in our blood and upbringing there is always mistrust of any government, and children may more often not accept the occupying power, unlike some parents.
Rubles were not introduced right away, but some time in 2015. Still for a while, two currencies were in circulation at the same time. In the markets and shops, people chased after a more expensive but better quality Ukrainian product, even if it was smuggled. It was very insultingly described in the news: smuggled diapers or sausages were not allowed to the militants on the demarcation line. As if this was a product for the fighters of the russian federation. As if children are not born who have to eat something. But still, everything was transported illegally, and all products were extremely valuable. And in general, people tried to imitate normal life as much as possible. Despite the shortage, they did not arrange battles for sugar, as is happening now in russia. They did everything they could to survive. There was always a business aimed at some certain problem.
And then we decided that we shouldn’t waste our life and youth living in occupation, that we are now ready to move, and we managed to do it before the covid pandemic. The move was difficult mentally. And it was hard to leave the house, animals had to be given away. But the most frightening thing was to pass the checkpoints. Because every time there are new rules, but in general there are no rules, the occupiers could pick on anything. Many people die at checkpoints from exhaustion, and some disappear in an unknown direction. 
But in general, after several days of wasted nerves, everything went well. We settled in a wonderful city among wonderful people, and started to fully breathe in the free air. Until February 24. In a few weeks, we had to become displaced again. Fortunately, we have already returned home and believe in the victory of our Ukraine!

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?

On February 24, I went to bed after three in the morning. I slept for a long time, and when I woke up, my family told me: the war. I was sure that there would be a full-scale offensive. I haven't had any doubts about it for many years, I just didn't know exactly when. And when world intelligence began to report about it, it was clear that it would happen very soon. Even when going to bed on the night of the 24th, it was a pretty realistic thing to assume that on this date a full-scale invasion would start. It was unlikely to believe that we would de-occupy all the territories through diplomacy. And it was impossible to believe that russia would be satisfied with what it had; plus Ukraine, fortunately, would never give up its territories. And there was a feeling, or logic suggested it, that we will be able to get liberated only through war, only when russia receives an answer with force, and not with words. russia does not want only the Donetsk region, Luhansk region or Crimea. Russia did not attack Donbas, “the war in Donbas” is a wrong wording. russia attacked Ukraine, but was able to occupy only small pieces of the east and Crimea. But they need all of Ukraine, and the bombing of Kyiv did not surprise me at all. We know the enemy very well, how cynical and ruthless it is. Except I never wanted to think that this war would turn out to be cruel. I wanted to think that the shelling would be scarce and only provocative, and the war would leave our country from where it was, in the east. But they have created real hell for Ukraine, and they are not going to stop at anything.
On February 24, explosions were heard all day. I live in Irpin. But this invasion literally started from the neighboring city, when the russian airborne forces landed in Hostomel. And we followed every piece of news, there were many encouraging ones then even. Our troops seem to have kicked them out of the airport several times. But that day was very scary. We packed the emergency grab bag before the New year’s, when we only hypothetically discussed whether there would be an invasion. But we were not going anywhere. We believed that the Russians would not succeed. However, after they destroyed Borodyanka, went to Bucha, partly entered Irpin, and constant air raids in the city began, we decided that the moment had come when it was necessary to save lives. “Waiting it out” wasn’t be a possibility: we did not want to endure either the bombing or the occupation any longer. The worst day was my birthday, when we spent the whole day in the bathroom, there were no sirens, and during the shelling it was too late to look for a bomb shelter. And the next day we went on the evacuation train.
We waited out the whole line, but that day the track was blown up, and the train got canceled. Then the guys from TDF told us that we can cross that already, unfortunately, famous broken bridge. We took our colleagues and their cats with us and went to it. The military helped civilians a lot, a huge thanks to them for that. Literally everyone was dragged by the hand to the other side of the bridge, and supported with kind words. The best people. Evacuation buses to the Kyiv railway station were already standing there. At the train station, it was not possible to get into the wagon the first time, but miraculously we boarded one to the west, where our acquaintances - already good friends after all the events - found us shelter. We lived there all spring and now, fortunately, managed to return home. Thank you AFU! I wish this to every Ukrainian.
At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, I was actively looking for work, and now I continue my search. But every month I transfer all my savings little by little to different funds. As does my whole family. I am a web and graphic designer by profession, and I plan to either continue working in this field or try myself in a more socially active field. So far, the future is very difficult to plan out, although there are many thoughts on it. Currently, from home, I assist my volunteer friends with evacuation from dangerous regions of the country.

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