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City of the Cossack spirit. How it keeps calm near the front, helps refugees and cherishes the patriotism of Zaporozhye

August 23, 2022, 22:25 116 Author: Kristina Berdinsky nv.ua Yellow and blue ribbons, t-shirts with the inscriptions Good evening, we are from Ukraine, even bags with a stamp image of a ship - this is what the inhabitants of Zaporozhye look like today.

City of the Cossack spirit. How it keeps calm near the front, helps refugees and cherishes the patriotism of Zaporozhye

16-year-old Svitlana Augustina Polskikh took her bandura out of occupied Kherson (Photo: Oleksandr Medvedev)

Standing near her house in the village of Kushugum, 19 km from Zaporizhzhia, on the morning of August 12, local resident Lyubov recalls how four powerful explosions woke her up two days ago.

"I set my alarm for 4 in the morning, I wanted to dig potatoes. She heard the bell, decided to lie down for another five minutes, and then there was an explosion," she says. Then the woman immediately grabbed her disabled son and hid him in the bathroom. And she began to count the "prilyots": the second, third, fourth. The latter, as it turned out later, killed a woman.

Nearby, a bulldozer fills in a huge sinkhole in her yard, which was formed after the same shelling. Looking at him, Lyubov says that she and her son are very lucky, because they remained alive.

In the yard of one of her neighbors, Vira Ivanovna, there is also work going on: men are repairing the power grid damaged by the explosions. The woman herself was sleeping with her grandson at the time of the shelling. And although their beds were covered with broken glass, both remained unharmed.

"The soldiers wonder how we survived," says the woman. Her whole house - both the walls and the ceiling - was covered with cracks. From the middle, piles of earth, thrown there by an explosion, have only recently been raked out.

City of the Cossack spirit. How it keeps calm near the front, helps refugees and cherishes the patriotism of Zaporozhye

Vira Ivanivna stands at the gate of her house in Kushugum, which came under enemy fire / Photo: Oleksandr Medvedev

According to the village council, 69 houses were damaged in Kushugum by the shelling that morning. Some of them cannot be restored anymore.

On the same day, 52-year-old Tatyana was buried here: she lived alone, her house was completely destroyed by enemy fire. The funeral was organized by Tatyana's only son, a 21-year-old military man who was sent home from Kyiv for 7 days to say goodbye to his mother.

Despite the terrible events, the locals do not panic. Although there is a greater threat here, because the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, captured by the Russians and turned into a military base by them, is located relatively close. The occupiers are also constantly shelling the station, threatening to turn it into a new Chernobyl.

"They [Russians] are inadequate people. These are slaves who do not understand that they serve their master," says Lyubov in this regard. For example, immediately after the occupiers seized the NPP and its satellite town of Energodar, it became clear that this would not end well for the region. But the resident of Kushugum hopes that things will not come to an accident and a radiation leak, although she understands that anything can happen. "If they say to evacuate, we will leave, and what to do," she notes.

Cossack spirit

In Zaporizhzhia itself, there is no hint of any excessive excitement over possible Russian actions at the NPP or in the region. As in Kyiv, people on the streets hardly pay attention to the air-raid warning signals, locals relax relaxedly on the summer playgrounds of cafes.

But at every step you can see what the city thinks about the war and the enemy. "Zaporizhia - the territory of the death of the occupiers", "Where to throw a cocktail", "Russia, nah.y" - such "social advertising" in the form of billboards and various inscriptions can be seen on the 10-kilometer Soborny Avenue.

And there are also many portraits of Denys Prokopenko, the commander of the Azov regiment, who is currently in Russian captivity, with the inscription "Radish is a Hero of Ukraine."

While we were photographing these manifestations of public opinion, a man's chant was heard from one of the high-rise buildings: "Ukrai-y-y-no, I lay the faithful heart of your son at your feet." It was one of the locals who went out on the balcony and into a megaphone, and performed a famous song by Taras Petrinenko.

Yellow and blue ribbons, t-shirts with inscriptions Good evening, we are from Ukraine, even bags with the image of a stamp with a ship - all this is now a lot on the streets of Zaporizhzhia. And it's not because the city is preparing for Independence Day, it's always like that here: the front is just not far away, locals say.

Dmytro Gladkyi, a lawyer and deputy of the city council, explains: Zaporizhia residents do not behave like victims, despite the fact that the Russians have already occupied most of the Zaporizhzhia region. On the contrary, they show by their behavior and actions that the Russians cannot intimidate them.

"There are no signs that they would like to meet the occupiers in Zaporizhzhia. If you meet, then only with weapons," Gladky explains.

The city has a huge number of volunteer initiatives that provide assistance to people who have left the occupied territories, he says. They also help the military. For example, service stations service and repair them cars.

People join the fight as soon as they can. Thus, Hladky records the crimes of Russians with the help of a mobile phone and a special application developed by international lawyers. Like, for example, the shelling of Kushugum. They will be able to be used in Ukrainian and international courts in the future. "Years will pass, the roof will be repaired, life will return to a peaceful course. But we will ask why the criminals were not brought to justice. It is important to collect and fix everything now," Hladkyi explains.

As for the situation at the Zaporizhia NPP, the local authorities have been publishing information on the level of radiation on a daily basis since its capture. And as long as there are no deviations, people remain calm. "Zaporizhia is trying to live and work, despite the potential threat here," Gladky states.

But there is a threat.

Volunteer designer

At the entrance to Zaporizhzhia, on the Orikhov highway, refugees from the territories where the Ukrainian flag was temporarily changed to the Russian one gather every day. Here, on the site near the Epicenter, there is a hub that receives and helps displaced people.

In a large tent at one of the tables, we meet volunteer Natalya Ardalyanova. Her job is to explain to the new arrivals where and how they can leave here: to other Ukrainian cities or abroad.

City of the Cossack spirit. How it keeps calm near the front, helps refugees and cherishes the patriotism of Zaporozhye

Volunteer Natalya (at the table) helps refugees get to a safe place / Photo: Oleksandr Medvedev

We asked Ardalyanova who she worked for before the Great War. But the volunteer does not have time to answer - she was approached by a woman who had just arrived from the occupied territories.

"I would like to go to Warsaw, I worked there before the war, I have a place to live there," she says.

"There are two ways to get to Warsaw," the volunteer answers. — You can leave for the border right now. Cross the border and volunteers will help you get to Warsaw. The second option there will be a volunteer wagon with seats with seats tomorrow. From the train, we transfer to buses to Warsaw. Therefore, rest, drink tea and sign up for the option that is convenient for you."

"Then for tomorrow," says she. "I have an acquaintance in Zaporizhzhia, she will shelter me for the night."

"Rest and come tomorrow," Ardalyanova tells her and turns to us. But a new one displaced woman is suitable.

"Have you heard how it is in Ireland? she asks. "Are the children admitted to schools normally?"

"Yes, it's normal, a month is given for adaptation and two for language courses," explains the volunteer.

"We know English," says the woman.

"That's fine," Ardalyanova replies. — First, you will arrive in Bucharest, draw up a document, indicate that you want to go to Ireland, wait a few days and leave."

"It's all for the sake of the children. I don't care where we go, we are leaving for the sake of the child," explains the displaced woman.

And the third attempt to talk to the volunteer fails.

"Can I leave my bags with you until 8 o'clock?" - asks another visitor to the center.

"We don't guard things. There is no hidden camera here. But no one walks near me. Take the documents and you can put them, - Ardalyanova explains to her and picks up the megaphone. — Those who go to spend the night in a hostel were asked to feed you. The cooks have already been released there. Please eat here.”

Meanwhile, a fourth woman approaches her.

"And how should I transfer the documents to Poland for my son?" she asks.

"Don't you want to do it by mail?" - the volunteer answers very calmly.

"What, is the post office open now?", the displaced woman wonders.

And he hears in response: "It works."

Finally, Ardalyanova has a free moment. It turns out that for 30 years she was engaged in the design of electricity supply. When a full-scale invasion began, all her projects became irrelevant. Then the woman saw on Facebook that an administrator was needed at the volunteer center. And since March 16, she has been here every day, helping with the organization of people's departure.

"I used to work with contractors, installers, and designers. Therefore, what I am doing now is not much more complicated," Ardalyanova explains. But her outlook has changed.

A few days ago, she came to her relatives for her birthday, where the table was set with various dishes. "I used to love it so much, but now it's not interesting at all. I've eaten a sausage now - and you're fine. Instead, I understand that if I don’t come here, to the center, there will be a disaster here. That's what I think about, and not about beautiful things and delicious food, ”explains Ardalyanova.

Scars from bullets and emotions

Meanwhile, there was a commotion on the street - a convoy of cars from the occupied territories had arrived.

47-year-old Nadiya and her two children — 14-year-old Sofia and 16-year-old Artem — head with their suitcases into the shadows. Everyone is smiling. It turns out that this is a family from Mariupol. The road to Zaporizhzhia took them 3 days.

HB is interested in what life is like in Mariupol now. To which 14-year-old Sofia reveals: "On April 5, we went to pick up a humanitarian worker, because there was nothing to eat, our car was fired upon. I was wounded in the shoulder blade." She lifts up her T-shirt to reveal a huge pink scar on her back.

City of the Cossack spirit. How it keeps calm near the front, helps refugees and cherishes the patriotism of Zaporozhye

14-year-old Sofia shows a scar from the wound she received in Mariupol in April / Photo: Oleksandr Medvedev

First aid was given to her in Novoazovsk, simply by washing the wound. The operation was performed in Donetsk, the girl was in the hospital there for more than a month. "I had a fracture, a crushed bone and a torn muscle," she explains.

From Donetsk, the family returned to Novoazovsk, where they were sheltered by a religious organization. Then they went to Mariupol for the day, picked up their things and headed to Zaporizhzhia.

"Mariupol has become a little cleaner. The corpses have been removed from the streets and there is no corpse smell," says 16-year-old Artem. And his mother remembers how they drove through the city and cried because of how destroyed it had become.

The family did not want to live in Mariupol and is now heading to live with relatives in the Vinnytsia region. There they plan to finally take Sofia to a normal doctor.

The girl understands that her psyche is disturbed and she needs the help of a psychologist. After all, after the injury, she cannot hear loud sounds at all - she begins to have panic attacks. "I hear the usual sound of a car door closing — and I'm already shaking," Sofia explains.

A psychologist Tetyana Balinchenko, a representative of the international organization Doctors Without Borders, is present every day in the hub near the Epicenter. Before the war, she worked as a psychologist in an orphanage. Its children were evacuated to a safe place, and Balinchenko decided to work with people from the occupied territories.

City of the Cossack spirit. How it keeps calm near the front, helps refugees and cherishes the patriotism of Zaporozhye

Psychologist Tetyana Balinchenko says that she herself offers people professional help / Photo: Oleksandr Medvedev

According to her, those who arrive here very rarely turn to a psychologist themselves. Usually, Balinchenko herself looks for someone to offer help to. "Very often people break down, they cry and that's good. After that, it becomes easier for a person," she says.

But many, on the contrary, close themselves off, sit in a stupor and do not know what to do next. "This happens: a person arrives, puts down a suitcase and doesn't even try to look for information on what to do next. That's how easy it is," says Balinchenko.

Simple questions - "maybe you are looking for a bus or where to spend the night" - sometimes manage to bring a person out of a stupor.

But Balinchenko also remembers a girl who arrived in July from the occupied territory in a warm winter jacket and never made contact with anyone.

Sometimes mothers who complain that their young children lose sleep, have nightmares, and become hysterical turn to psychologists. "Then you will calm down your mother too. And you explain that this is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation," Balinchenko summarizes.

There were many such cases when people wanted to return home to the occupied territories. And there are also many of them.

Kherson bandura

A girl with long braids sits on a trolley for suitcases next to people getting on a bus bound for Vinnytsia. She holds a bandura in her hands. Next to her is a man - her father - he is showing the sheet music.

This family has just arrived here from occupied Kherson. "When you walk around Kherson, you want to cry because you don't recognize your native home - Russians are everywhere," says the girl, 16-year-old Svitlana Augustina Polskikh.

She has been playing the bandura for 10 years and dreams of entering the conservatory. In order to take the bandura out of Kherson, father and daughter invented a legend for enemy checkpoints: for example, it is a Slavic instrument, it is also played in Belarus and Russia.

When one of the Russian soldiers checked the girl's father's computer and found a recording of his daughter's speech, he said only one thing: it's a good tool. And allowed to go further.

The daughter's Vyshyvanku was also taken out of the occupation, packed inside out.

Svitlana Augustina Polskikh says that at 3:00 p.m. Kherson streets are empty, people do not go outside their district. For a long time, the family hoped for a quick de-occupation of the city, but decided not to wait any longer.

"The people of Kherson are such a heroic people that they were not afraid of explosions, but on the contrary went out to the balconies to film and show off, or maybe it's ours," says Mykola Polskikh. Many of them have already given up hope, he admits.

Father and daughter left primarily because the girl needs to study further. From Zaporizhzhia, they will go to Odessa, where they have neither acquaintances nor relatives. But the Polskis hope that they will be able to find a new music teacher and not lose a year and continue their musical education.

At the moment when Svitlana Augustina played and sang an excerpt from a Ukrainian lyrical song, which included the words "You can't live without a dream", the woman next to her, who also left Kherson, burst into tears. "Everything will be fine. You can't live without a dream," the bandurist's father reassured her.

Schools without students

Another family from the Kherson region, which we met in the Zaporozhye hub, came here from Novaya Kakhovka. And then he will go to Germany.

73-year-old Alla Kovalenko, her brother Valery, who suffered a stroke a few years ago and is in a wheelchair, and Alla's daughter Maryna with two children aged 3 and 5, moved out of Novaya Kakhovka for free thanks to a charity organization. Although people usually flee from there, using the services of carriers who charge 134,71 $ for travel to the territory controlled by Ukraine from a person

The Kovalenki family also wanted to use the services of carriers, but none of them agreed to take a disabled person in a wheelchair. Therefore had to wait several weeks for a bus of benefactors.

City of the Cossack spirit. How it keeps calm near the front, helps refugees and cherishes the patriotism of Zaporozhye

The family from Novaya Kakhovka arrived in Zaporizhzhia and is on its way to Germany / Photo: Oleksandr Medvedev

Marina described what life in the occupation looks like now: ATMs do not function, there is no work. Only hospitals and markets are open. The Russians are trying to introduce the ruble into circulation, but people are doing everything to avoid using the enemy's currency. In the markets, the settlement is in hryvnias, in some shops you can still pay by card, which people do. Similarly, the occupiers failed to attract the cooperation of teachers and kindergarten teachers.

Marina says that in the school next to their house, where about 700 students used to study, only 1 teacher agreed to cooperate. The occupiers said that among the subjects children will only have mathematics, Russian language and literature, as well as history.

Considering the fact that people do not want to send their children to such schools, the Russians began to threaten local deprivation of parental rights. Therefore, residents of Novokakhov predict that even more people with children will leave the occupied territories on the eve of the school year. Even now, mostly elderly people stay there.

Explosions are constantly heard in Nova Kakhovka and it is becoming more and more tense. Alla Kovalenko says that when the Armed Forces of Ukraine fire at enemy warehouses around them, it is not so scary. "It's scary, but nice," adds her daughter. But when a rocket is shot down, it is frightening, because it is not known where it will fall. Therefore, the family decided to take the children away from the hostilities, and are convinced that Nova Kakhovka, like Kherson, will be deoccupied. "We are ready to wait a few months, until the New Year or however long it takes, just free our cities. I don't believe that they will remain under the Russians," says Marina.

Her whole family is already on their way to the bus, which will first go to Odesa, and from there to Germany.

NV goes to the center of Zaporizhia, and from there to the station, where the siren sounds.

On the evening of August 12, already after the departure of our train, the Russians shelled the seemingly calm and peaceful Zaporozhye. One woman died.

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