Image: Stolen Lives, Sasha Anismova

An EED partner describes leaving his home in Kharkiv. 

"I did not want to leave Kharkiv, but eventually I realised I had no choice. My wife hadn't slept for 10 days; she couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to join the local territorial defence as a volunteer fighter, but they rejected me, as they told me I was too old.

There were many heavy explosions near our house when the whole building and windows would shake. Hundreds of apartment blocks have been destroyed in Kharkiv. Many of my friends can no longer stay in their homes, as they are destroyed or not suitable to live in any more.

Kharkiv is one of the biggest Russian speaking cities in Ukraine and had large numbers of Russian supporters previously. Now everything has changed. It will take several generations to restore relations with relatives and friends in Russia, if I can even use the word ‘friend’ now.

In Kharkiv, I was part of a group of volunteers who removed the rubble on Svoboda Square when the Regional State Administration building and the street crossing 10 meters away were hit by two Russian cruise missiles. Two dozen people died and many more were wounded that day. The tent with a big slogan “Everything for the victory!” where volunteers had collected and stored aid materials to help city defenders and the army, was also hit by the blast wave. Thankfully none of the volunteers were injured, but the whole square is in rubble now.

I helped remove the remains of what was left in the tent. The surrounding buildings, including the Karazin Kharkiv National University, have practically no windows left.

When I realised we had to leave, I contacted someone I knew who could help us. They are helping people travel from Kharkiv every day. They hosted us and helped us travel west. It was thanks to them and other people that we were able to leave and that we were safe.

There were many security controls along the way, and there were army controls all the roads. Some bridges were blocked or in ruins and the military directed around cities. In every city where we stayed, the siren would go off each night. In one town, we had to run to the bomb shelter as there was an airstrike. I later learned that the local airport had been hit, and a number of soldiers died and many more were wounded. But compared to Kharkiv, it was nothing, and for the first time, my wife began to sleep.

We had a better experience crossing the border than many others, and we were able to cross in three hours. I saw many men saying goodbye to their children and wives at the border and watching them cross. The men were going back to defend their country.

This morning (in Poland), my wife heard an airplane nearby and even though she knows she is now in a peaceful city, she was immediately nervous. It is her subconscious reacting, I suppose."

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