″ The beginning of a humanitarian catastrophe ″: eyewitnesses of the situation in Chernihiv | Europe | DW

Round-the-clock bombing, lack of food and water, lack of communication links and hope of an evacuation – this is what everyday life looks like for the people of Chernihiv. The city is threatened by the fate of besieged Mariupol. Chernihiv residents complain, but their plight receives less attention. They ask the world not to forget Chernihiv and to report what the Russian army is doing in one of the oldest cities in Ukraine.

DW publishes the stories of three Chernihiv residents whose names have been changed for safety reasons. They describe what they are currently experiencing.

Despite the air raid alarm, Olena still managed to leave Chernihiv

“On February 24, the day of the Russian attack, I was in Kiev with my boyfriend, but I returned to Chernihiv because my whole family is there. This is my homeland, my city, which I love. I knew that” I’m going straight to the russian tanks, i cried most of the time.

When I got in and got out of the car, I heard gunshots getting louder and louder. Already the first night we had to enter the basement of our apartment building, the windows were shaking.

Since Russian troops are unable to take the city, they terrorize the whole of Chernihiv. The bullets kept falling near our house. I could only sleep for three or four hours fully clothed. We then retreated completely to the basement as it was no longer possible to stay in the apartment. There I was constantly trembling with tension, even in the few moments of stillness.

Burning down the house after the rocket struck in Chernihiv on 22 March

On March 1, the troops moved very close to the city and the bombing intensified. We were afraid to go out. Only once, and under fire, did I go to a shop and a pharmacy.

We ate what we had. We got up at 4am as it was relatively quiet back then. We cooked quickly: buckwheat or pasta. We usually ate in the basement because of the air raid alarm.

The last few days spent in the city we slept in the apartment. There were rumors that Russian saboteurs could use civilians as shields and the basement would not be locked. I slept with a kitchen knife and a flashlight in my pocket. There have already been reports of women being raped in Kherson.

But even in the apartment it was unbearable. Russian warplanes flew very low over our residential areas. We lay down in the aisle with pillows on our heads and the rumble was so loud it was like planes were flying right over my head. That feeling of helplessness and panic is terrible.

Our house is on the outskirts of the city and I knew we would come under fire if the Russian troops advanced further. The supply of electricity and water has failed. Then, luckily, a friend in the Territorial Defense was able to persuade my mother to run away with me.

Ukraine Destruction in Chernihiv

Destruction in a residential area of ​​Chernihiv

On March 5, immediately after the curfew, we left Chernihiv despite the prohibition of the local authorities and despite an air alarm. I was in contact with volunteers who know more or less safe escape routes. Already the next day we would no longer be able to take this path.

Even after so many days spent in a more or less safe place, the roar of planes still rings in my mother’s ears. We both react to every sound. When I first heard a siren after escaping, I wanted to hide under the bed. Now I have calmed down, but the situation in Ukraine and Chernihiv, where we still have relatives who do not want to leave, worries us.

My brother and my grandmother are now sick because the house, which is now not heated, is very cold. They also save the battery power of their cell phones and only turn them on for a few minutes to contact us. The feeling of being abandoned and having no information is very depressing for them. We tell them the news. I try to get them to leave the city while they can, because Chernihiv can become another Mariupol. But they don’t want to leave. They say that somehow people survived the Second World War and will survive this war. “

Dmytro volunteers to help the people of Chernihiv

At the start of the war, Dmytro was in a village near Chernihiv, where fighting broke out immediately. After two days in the basement, he and his family managed to escape to the city, which in peacetime had a population of 285,000. There, together with friends, Dmytro founded a volunteer initiative that provides people with food and medicine.

“Every day the situation in the city becomes more difficult. Russian troops have destroyed half of the city: sports facilities, libraries, schools, monuments and civilian buildings. The planes bomb constantly, as if they were programmed.

About 100,000 civilians remain in the city, mostly retirees. You see them on the streets, even if it is dangerous to walk around the city. Those who are mentally accustomed to the situation go for a walk with the dogs and read a book outdoors. But there are also people who can’t get out of the basement. Many have mental problems, but there is no help. There are also many bedridden people.

Ukraine Destruction in Chernihiv

A rocket hit a residential area in Chernihiv

Electricity and heating have long been out and there is very little water. Therefore, people collect rainwater or empty radiators. There are also major problems with power and communication, as cell phone batteries cannot be recharged.

Indeed, a humanitarian catastrophe has long since begun in Chernihiv. The city has been completely besieged since the bridges were blown up. Some shops are open, but the shelves are empty and the prices are high. Initially they asked for milk, meat, eggs, but now people just hope for a piece of bread and a glass of water. We also get many requests to go to specific addresses to see if relatives are still alive.

My team buys everything in stores, so we have something in stock. There are many reports of people suffering from hunger. Tears come to my eyes as I read these cries for help. I suspect we have already starved to death. Fortunately, we recently managed to find a deal with a bakery that will deliver a thousand loaves for a lot of money. I think this will also be possible in the future. Some pharmacies are still working, but there are big problems with medicines.

We also get requests to help dig pits. The cemetery works and it is possible to bury people in a civil way. The scale of civilian casualties is difficult to estimate. Many people are still under the rubble.

Chernihiv is lucky with doctors. Despite the difficult conditions, they work hard and also carry out complicated operations.

Many people who are still in town want to go out and contact us as volunteers. But an evacuation is currently impossible. “

Oleksandr never left Chernihiv

“On February 24 at 4:30 am a siren sounded, I heard two loud explosions and I felt shaking. People with children and animals got into their cars and left the city with few belongings. But our car was damaged. from the blast of an explosion.

Hundreds of cars lined up at petrol stations to fill up with petrol. In general, panic reigned in the city during the first days of the war. There were lines for groceries, household cleaning products and all basic necessities such as flashlights, telephones, power banks.

Ukraine Destruction in Chernihiv

Many shops in Chernihiv are closed or destroyed

By the 34th day of the war, most of the people had left Chernihiv. There was no official escape corridor. All roads are busy. No humanitarian aid arrives. Canned goods and vegetable supplies in garages and basements are now the salvation.

Water is only available in certain parts of the city. It is brought and distributed in water carts, but there are also wells. There is no electricity, only through the generators, but they run on fuel, which is scarce. There is still gas, but not everywhere. People prepare food on the fireplaces in the courtyards. The holes are dug out of necessity.

The sirens haven’t worked in the city for two weeks, probably because there is no power. The outskirts of the city have been under constant artillery fire for the past two weeks. I can’t remember a day when there wasn’t an explosion in Chernihiv.

When the initial panic subsided, survival mode began. A disability makes me unfit for military service, so I volunteered. I distribute the essentials to people. When you are busy, the days go by faster. This helps to keep calm and not to slow down mentally.

War is something very terrible. This phrase may sound trivial, but those who have not experienced war firsthand do not know how true this phrase is. “

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