The story of a family whose life was destroyed by Russia for the second time: “There were about 50 of us in the basement, including about ten families with children.”

East SOS
The story of a family whose life was destroyed by Russia for the second time: “There were about 50 of us in the basement, including about ten families with children.”

Olesia Porichna (name changed for security reasons) and her family were forced to run away from the Russian occupation for the second time in the spring of 2022 from Popasna, Luhansk region. Before that, in 2014, she fled from Luhansk. Despite the difficulties faced by internally displaced persons, Olesia built her own business in Popasna and started working as a sales representative after moving to Cherkasy.

Since 2014, the Charitable organization «Charity foundation «East-SOS» has been collecting information about war crimes committed by representatives of the Russian Federation to ensure justice and the right to truth. Since February 24, 2022, documenters have recorded more than 600 stories and about 700 cases of alleged war crimes. 

Mariia Biliakova recorded Olesia's story, and Oleksandr Vasylenko wrote the text.

Since 2014, I have lived in Popasna with my family. On the morning of February 24, 2022, I heard about the war on TV and could not believe it. I was getting ready for work. I thought it would happen somehow. Then, my husband insisted on going to my mother's house because our apartment was on the seventh floor, so it was not safe to stay there. From the first day of the full-scale war, we moved to my mother's house; she lived nearby.

On the night of March 2, we went down to the basement to stay overnight for the first time. We heard fighting in the suburbs, where our military encountered the enemy. The head of the condominium association had put a potbelly stove and some benches in the cellar.

At about 3 a.m., it became quiet, and we went upstairs. At 5 a.m., the explosions got louder - the Russian military started shooting in the city centre. 

We got up and ran to the basement. We had only a few minutes to get to the shelter. As soon as we closed the door, the house shook. It was hit several times. We stood there and looked at the slabs. We were afraid they would fall on us. I hugged my son, and he said: “I'm not afraid, mom”.

In the morning, we went outside and saw the shell craters. That time, they hit not only our house but also the roof of the neighbouring hospital where my friend was undergoing treatment. He later told me that they had spent that night in the basement. 

In the bomb shelter, I felt sleepy all the time. There were only benches to sit on. Soon, a neighbour that we all used to quarrel with before the war opened his barn and gave out wooden boards, and he even found mattresses somewhere. We put blankets on them, and that was how we slept. My mother and son never came up again until we left.

About 50 of us were in the basement, including around ten families with children, with the youngest being less than a year old.

Later, we estimated there were 20 minutes between shelling because the Russians would reload their weapons. We used this time to bring food and water from the apartments. I even managed to run home once - I took my neighbour by the hand, and we went. That's when I saw that the windows in the kitchen were smashed, and there was a hole in the wall above it. I took only a warm blanket because it was cold in the basement.

I was anxious to leave the city right away. And I wanted to come back when it was safe. My husband's parents had a car, and I ran a business, so we loaded the vehicle with goods. On the eve of our departure, when the shelling became even louder, I received a call from an acquaintance; my son was friends with her daughter. I heard her daughter's scream from the phone: “Mom, I can't stay here, take me out!” So we decided to unload our belongings and take this family.

 I realised that I would lose all my property again, but I would save people.

Supporters of the Russkiy mir (Russian world) would come to the basement and scare those who were about to leave. They said there was an Armed Forces checkpoint at the town’s exit, and they took men to the front line. Because of them, a family with a six-month-old boy did not leave until March 16, and the child stayed in the dark by candlelight almost all this time. We didn't fall for it. We put a sign on the car that said "Children" and drove away. I was shocked: “Where is this checkpoint?!”. Of course, there was nothing like that.

First, we reached Bakhmut. We asked the locals what to do: stop or keep going. They advised us to go to Sloviansk or Kramatorsk, but eventually, we ended up in Cherkasy. My brother has an apartment here, so we had someone to go to. The city is lovely, but I want to return home to the Luhansk region. 

I dream of returning and constantly stay in touch with the local people there. Thanks to them, I learned about the situation with our house.

They sent me a photo — it was destroyed.

I didn't believe it at first... I thought it was fake. Then a neighbour confirmed that it was really our house. Fortunately, at least my mom's apartment survived. The Russians seemed to have set up a hospital there...