Фото: Wikimedia

One Year of War. Roman, Dnipro: ‘I saw a place where our home used to be. There was nothing left of it, nothing.’

On the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we recorded several stories of people who have suffered and are still suffering from this war. Roman Zhuravsky from Dnipro used to live in that particular high-rise building that was hit by a missile during a massive shelling of the city on January 14. At that time he and his family were in the church. But his mother was at home. She was killed. Here is Roman’s story.

— My wife and I drove by this place today. We were out doing some errands. We stopped and stared at the house. Or rather, what’s left of it. It used to be a tall prefab panel building. Now it’s divided into two houses. And we couldn’t help but reminisce about that day’s events.

It was Saturday, January 14. First thing in the morning all our family, my wife, and kids, were preparing to go to church. My mom said she’d rather stay at home because she didn’t feel quite well that morning. But she said: ‘Call me later, after the service, I’ve got something to say to you.’

Roman with his daughter. Foto from the family archive

I called her in the afternoon and she started farewelling. She said that God had told her he’d take her that day. And I was like: ‘Mommy, high blood pressure is not a good reason to say goodbye.’  But she said: ‘No, this is different. And even if I can make it, you’d better leave this house and find a new apartment.’

I was going to come back and talk to her. But something kept distracting me and I was getting late. Then I called her once again and asked if I should come. We were on the phone and that’s when the connection went off. That was the moment of the explosion. I didn’t know it then. But people called me and said that it was our house and our section.

When I got there I saw a shocking view. Smoke and dust were everywhere. The dust even created a fog. And I saw a place where our home used to be. There was nothing left of it, nothing. We used to live on the fourth floor. And everything above the second floor, from the second to the ninth, in two sections of the house, had just vanished.

Of course, the voices of the people who had survived in other apartments, who were wounded and screaming for help, just intensified the horror. Lots of rescue teams, military and police officers, doctors and paramedics were already there. They tried to save these people. And about two dozen of them they managed to save that day.

When I first came there, I helped the rescue teams, I helped to take a girl who’d lived upstairs to the ambulance. Then I took part in the debris removal. My wife and kids were in the church then. I understood it was unlikely that I could find my mom alive. Because judging by what I saw, it’d been almost impossible to survive. As I heard, the explosion epicenter was right in the third and fourth floors.

The next days began with me rushing to the hospital. Another three people were brought there. They were the last ones to be found alive. Later, they brought about twenty people. But all of them were either dead bodies or parts of dead bodies. I may be wrong, but forty-six people died, then another ten. Four people have never been found. My mom was among them. No single part of her body was found.

I came there about 15 minutes after the explosion. Of course, everything had been roped off within a kilometer radius where the wreckage of the house and cars had been scattered. I had to run this kilometer. By the time I got there the rescue teams and the paramedics had started their work. A lot of people gathered there to help and remove the debris.

Actually, an air raid alert is a common thing here. We are informed when the bombers raise from the Russian territories. But quite often these are some training flights, they set out and come back. Sometimes there are up to ten false alarms per day. We just get tired of running to the bomb shelter all the time. Besides, one just gets used to it. Sometimes Telegram channels send notifications. They inform us that missiles were launched, sometimes they even provide information about their flight time. Many people know that. But air defense was so efficient in Dnipro that sometimes they could bring down up to ten or twenty missiles a day, they just wouldn’t get to us. 

But the attitude changed after this tragedy. All the carelessness is gone. We realized that the danger is so close and death is near us. Of course, none of us could expect that. We left the Donetsk region where they would shell us day and night. In April we left that place and decided to go to Dnipro. And until recently it was quite safe here. We couldn’t even imagine that a missile could hit so close.  Especially since it could hit our home. Surely, we didn’t think of it. And now it’s obvious that there is no safe place in Ukraine, I guess. Even now, living in a new place we can’t help thinking that this district can be hit by a missile too.

It’s been more than a month now. At first, we were told that the search was over. But several days ago people from the Security Service said they would resume the search. They are searching with the dogs in the landfill where all the debris had been transported. It seems they found a fragment of the body. But they haven’t informed us yet what exactly it was. Ten bodies they literally had to piece together. This one might be another piece of those ten bodies or… All of us gave our DNA samples. So they will check the DNA and then tell us. We haven’t got any messages so far.

I also have a brother and nephews. They live in Odesa. They say even if we get a single tiny fragment that can be cremated, we should send it to them. But we’ve been told right away that if she’d got in the epicenter, the body could’ve evaporated completely. Or it could’ve burnt down to the condition when there’s nothing left. But now, when the search with the dogs is resumed, we still have a thought that they might find at least a fragment.

We are Christians and we believe that the soul is the most important part of the person. Mom knew [what was about to happen], God had warned her that he would take her that day. That’s why her soul is already there. Moreover, here she didn’t feel well, she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, she would often have high blood pressure. She was having a hard time. I guess she’s liberated from this body. She feels good there.

Roman’s mother. Foto from the family archive

The first week was very hard, of course, even though I understood that she felt better than us, who were left to live here on earth and experience all of this stuff. On the fourth day, all the emotions I’d tried to restrain just burst out. I had an emotional breakdown. The last time I went to see the forensic pathologist I thought I was going to see some part, to get something that was left of my mom. And somehow I didn’t feel like I wanted it. I mean we all remember her as she was when we’d left the apartment. Then I talked to her on the phone. All these things are imprinted in my memory. And when I was told there was nothing left I felt some kind of relief. Because it’s obvious that these fragments are not a person anymore.

We’ll always remember mommy. She was a kind, pure-hearted person. She’s never wished any harm to anyone. For twenty-seven years she was a teacher in kindergarten. Kids really loved her. Even now, when they meet me, they say something nice about her. Her attitude to kids was passed on to me. In the church I’m a teacher at Sunday school. And I also used to work with kids in a mainstream school. She really left a bright mark on my life.

«Полигон» — независимое интернет-издание. Мы пишем о России и мире. Мы — это несколько журналистов российских медиа, которые были вынуждены закрыться под давлением властей. Мы на собственном опыте видим, что настоящая честная журналистика в нашей стране рискует попасть в список исчезающих профессий. А мы хотим эту профессию сохранить, чтобы о российских журналистах судили не по продукции государственных провластных изданий.

«Полигон» — не просто медиа, это еще и школа, в которой можно учиться на практике. Мы будем публиковать не только свои редакционные тексты и видео, но и материалы наших коллег — как тех, кто занимается в медиа-школе «Полигон», так и журналистов, колумнистов, расследователей и аналитиков, с которыми мы дружим и которым мы доверяем. Мы хотим, чтобы профессиональная и интересная журналистика была доступна для всех.

Приходите с вашими идеями. Следите за нашими обновлениями. Пишите нам: [email protected]

Главный редактор Вероника Куцылло

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