Natalia Omelchuk: "I felt a real danger when the occupying forces entered the village. When I saw their military in front of my windows. Insolent. They were sure that there would be no resistance."

The war came to my house in 2014. At that time I was still residing in Molodogvardiysk, Luhansk region. From the very beginning, it was difficult to understand what was happening and why. But when that the then mayor "surrended" our district in April, about a month before the pseudo-referendum, we felt that immediately. Because he armed "detachments of the people's militia" to defend the city from the mythical Bandera.

I looked at it as a soap opera and waited for the Armed Forces to come. Until the capture of Izvarino checkpoint, it was relatively calm at our palce. And then we became a transit zone for the movement of Russian troops to Ukraine. At that moment, I left home for the first time for "a couple of weeks - a month to wait." Actually, this experience has engraved in me as a brand. In August 2014, it became clear that I would not return home. But I had to take back all my documents, a laptop and some things. It was not easy to get to the occupied territory in the war zone, but I managed somehow. At that moment there were battles for Novosvitlivka, 15 km from my home town. I still wonder how I got there unscathed. God always sends me to meet the right people. On August 14, 2014, I left home and never returned. 

These were very difficult 8 years. But I met my husband, we were blessed with two sons, started a cheese factory and moved to Vorzel. There, after the seven -long years of the war I finally felt at home again. I started my own business and had big plans for this year. Worked at the Shelter of St. Olga, opened in our community. We started a budget advocacy, looking for partners and philanthropists, launched a social enterprise as well. Life was in a full swing. I started seeing the perspective - and dreaming. 

And I dreamed of my own house. We even found the suitable one in the neighboring village, it satisfied all our whims, so we started to collect documents for a mortgage. But something was holding us back. 

In fact, at this point, rumors about a possible full-scale invasion started to fly around, as well as the appeal to have an alarming suitcase ready. I immediately said that I would not go anywhere again. For a week I’ve been collecting documents in the apartment to put them in one folder. That's all I was capable of. I cried from the messages on Facebook - "you, the displaced people, tell us about your experience. Because it turns out to be a war, and we know nothing" It hurt. And there was even less strength left. In the first years after the relocation, I did not say where I came from, being very happy with the stereotype that people in the east do not speak Ukrainian. Based on the language criteria, I was most often referred to Podillya)))) After all, it was more difficult to prove that I did not invite Putin to my city than to deny my place of birth. 

Actually, at the beginning of the year the situation in the country was completely different than it was in my town back in 2014. We started to discuss several possible options with my husband. But moving elsewhere was something beyond reality for me. Maybe I was careless. But few of us expected Russian troops at our place. Few expected that the battle for the airport in Gostomel will eventually lead to such consequences, that Vorzel will be cut off from safe evacuation routes in a couple of days. 

On February 24th and 25th , I helped evacuate a women from the shelter. It was very dangerous to stay in the house on February 24th, and I am grateful to my husband for taking the risk and moving our women and employees to a safer place. On February 25th, I myself continued this evacuation. I was driving through the empty Bucha and felt fear and hatred in every cell of my body. I remembered my city in the summer of 2014 - it was the same. Battles were already ongoing in the city, a column of enemy vehicles was trying to brake through to Kyiv. So I used "bushes and goat trails" to take women and children to a safer place. 

And at that moment I felt that I was doing everything right. 

But there was my family - waiting for me at home and the question was, of course: will we be evacuated too? I can't explain why I couldn't pack up and go. And the phrase "don't worry, we'll be back here soon" stunned and stopped me altogether. Because I've already been through it. And did not return. And all 8 years it did not give me peace. And the safest place for me at that time was the center of Vorzel. Even when the electricity was cut off, and with it the water and heating ran out too. The hardest thing was to stay in touch, without being equipped with reliable information. Which disoriented us in space and hindered a decision-making process. 

I felt a real danger when the occupying forces entered the village. When I saw their military in front of my windows. Insolent. They were sure that there would be no resistance. That they are now the masters here, because they have weapons and are therefore stronger than the civilian population. That they could decide whether to shoot to defeat the locals or not. It became dangerous to use a car at all - they were shotting indiscriminately. 

There was a sort of an animal fear for myself and the family. For my children, who due to my conscious refusal to leave in the first hours are now held hostage. Fear of going outside. Fear to send a husband to the well for water. Fear of leaving and never coming back. It was a despair. I understood that the occupiers would not be beaten out quickly, so we had to adjust our way of life to these new conditions.

Whoever you are and wherever you used to work before the war, if you find yourself in the occupation and without food in the refrigerator, you will take food out of the shops. This is a very difficult experience. Sense of dignity VS the fear of starvation. Understanding that I am now a marauder and that I no longer have diapers and special food for the baby. Or a specific medication for a mother with diabetes after cancer surgery. And you make a choice not in favor of your deep principles. You go into the broken glass of the store - and very quickly search for the necessary positions.

Cooking and constant cleaning did their job - hands and head were busy. Kids still needed to be entertained and calmed down after each heavy shelling. And a good explaination was needed why our lives changed so much at one point. Why can't we do most of what we're used to - go for a walk in the park, go to my aunt's at Yasna Polyana, play chess at a coffee shop… And a bunch of other reasons “why”. 

The decision for evacuatin was made by my husband on the morning of March 8th - when we lost heating and gas after a fracturing damage. He just started loading some random things into the car and it was useless to argue. We loaded things, leftovers from the refrigerator, a cat and went to Yasna Polyana. There in the cheese factory we once made a stove, which now was so helpful for our relatives in cooking things. This was one of the worst parts of our evacuation. After all, we were driving and did not know whether we would meet the military and be shot down, or whether we would arrive safe and sound. It was scary to the point of nausea. 

There, in Yasna Polyana, the occupiers had already begun to occupy empty houses, and artillery was stationed in the field behind the cooperative. Children had a daytime sleep in the cellar. Cold, damp, all in jackets.  

 We knew we had to move on. For two days now, locals have been collecting convoys from cars and arranging for evacuation through the occupied territories to Zhytomyr highway. We signed up to leave the next morning. We went to our LCD to talk about the possibility of evacuation and collect more things. 

Our car resembled a caravan of Roma - there were 5 people and a cat. I took a bunch of everything with me: not sure I will ever use it. But the opportunity to wear your own things somehow gives a feeling of home and comfort.

I’ve been crying all the way long: for the need to leave my home again. For the second time, my life changes completely against my will. And these sad faces nearby... Fear for us and joy that we dared to leave were right there, in their eyes . I cried when I saw the locals in the villages taking care of the column. When I saw that there are more and more cars coming. The whole column was stopped on the way out. We waited for three hours for the occupiers to allow us out. Simultaneously, they were rearranging their equipment. There was a fight nearby. And we were standing in the field in front of a Russian tank and did not know how the day would end. 

The children in the car have already started to get hysterical. My mother sat and was afraid to move. It was even difficult to say a word.

We were finally released. I don't know for how long everything I’ve experiended in those two weeks and while driving along Zhytomyr highway will be in there in my memories.

We cried when we saw the Ukrainian military. 

So now I have two completely different experiences of leaving my home in the face of occupation and fighting. Which is to leave with the clear understanding that I may never return. 

More…

У березні доставили понад 60 гуманітарних вантажів у рамках проєкту «Local Humanitarian Response Initiative»

Заявки, які надходять від територіальних громад, опрацьовували протягом березня ГО «Мережа захисту національних інтересів «АНТС» та ГО «Лісові ініціативи і суспільство», у рамках спільного гуманітарного проєкту «Local Humanitarian Response Initiative».

More…

“Українська МРІЯ” – зі згарищ в лідери вільного світу

Україна після перемоги. Зараз громадяни бачать руїни і зруйновані життя. Але виграти війну – це марафон і після перемоги почнеться тривала робота із відбудови життя. 

Українські міста після перемоги – це інновації, це комфорт і гармонія із природою. Це високотехнологічні заводи. Це мільйони українців (не лише біженців, але і ті, хто виїхав давно чи працює у Кремнієвій долині), які повертаються до рідної країни із особливою місією –  стати архітекторами майбутнього, втіливши найсміливіші мрії. 

More…

Those 2 weeks were the worst ones in my life… We’ve almost given up and lost hope

This is the first story from Mariupol our team found out about. We read it and cried over it, because it is simply impossible to believe. But it is all true. Everyday we’re going to tell you the stories of those who managed to escape from hell…  This fragile girl is Olena Filimonova. In 2014 she fled the war in Donbass, and in February 2022 she woke up from explosions in her native Mariupol.

More…

Скасування проведення оцінки впливу на довкілля може призвести до зловживань

Скасування проведення оцінки впливу на довкілля в післявоєнний відновлювальний період може призвести до зловживань з боку недоброчесного бізнесу, який встановлюватиме шкідливе для довкілля обладнання, використовуватиме застарілі брудні технології. Адже процедура ОВД наближала нас до стандартів ЄС.

More…

Our mission - to subjectivize Ukraine as a leader of the region and a "soft" power, a trendsetter of democratic transformations in the post-Soviet space and in New Europe.