The rural exodus, the other side of the war in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine devastates the fields and crops, some land that has served as the sole sustenance of the families that live in Gulyai Pole, a small town situated between Mariupol and Zaporizhia. This is the town of irina, a 28-year-old mother of five children. Irina knows her locality and its tradition of peasant struggle well, as Gulyai Pole was the cradle of the Black Army anarchist movement in the early 20th century, when the peasants seized power and drove out the landlords.

There are many people who did not leave and I do not know how they will be

Irina comes from a humbler background. War expelled her from her town after seeing his house break into pieces on February 26. Days have passed and she is still confused, she doesn’t know what she is going to do. He just wants the war to end. “There are many people who didn’t leave and I don’t know how they are,” he says, as he thinks of his neighbors.

She has a four-month-old baby, who sleeps in her bed while she tries to piece together her story. His village, bombed, has been completely destroyed. “There is no church, no banks, no pharmacy, no school, no hospitals. We don’t know where to return to, or what will happen next,” she continues. His story moves everyone present and brings back the memory of what they experienced. “We want peace and for this to end,” he repeats on several occasions. He needs this nightmare to pass and get back to farming his land.

Irina and her children take refuge from the bombs in Zaporizhia. ROUGH PAUL

“One night from hell”

“We lived a hellish night; we heard explosions and we came here,” he recalls. Now they continue to live in fear, they have arrived in Zaporizhia, the city of refuge for those fleeing from Mariupol. They tell us that they are improvising shelters throughout the city, that they have enabled one of the university campuses as a shelter for children, although they prefer not to reveal more details for fear of being located. In its interior, the coats at the entrance of a classroom and the row of perfectly placed small slippers stand out.

Immediately you feel the shouting of the little ones who play carefree and oblivious to a war that they prefer to forget. “I never lied to them, I preferred to tell them the truth from the first moment. They understood it themselves because they were scared the day of the bombing,” explains Irina. No one would have imagined a university with dozens of boys and girls fleeing the war. Classrooms have been converted into sleeping rooms, others have been transformed into playgrounds. “I explained to them that we needed to go to a safe place, that we had to run away from the bombs and that they had to come here to save them,” she tells us as she watches them play with other children.

A university campus in Zaporizhia, turned into a shelter. ROUGH PAUL

A rocket fell in the patio of his house and everything was destroyed. When the basement also collapsed, he had to flee with what he was wearing. “I only took the documents and a bottle of water for the children,” nothing more, she says, because they left on foot and did not know the way. She and her mother are alone, her father and her husband have stayed in the city.

Now they live grateful for this shelter and for the help that volunteers give them. Two cabins have been prepared for them, enough for the six of them. “I am very grateful that they accepted us. They are taking great care of us,” she says. The two joined a group of people being evacuated who were escorted by police and an ambulance. “The ride was terrifying” ensures. It was a long night. “We were attacked by the Russian army in the middle of the night, we joined other buses that came from Mariupol,” she recounts with terror in her eyes as she remembers it. “But we have arrived safe and sound,” she concludes abruptly, like someone who wants to stop reliving the nightmare they experienced that night.

Danilo plays in the corridor of the university campus in Zaporizhia. ROUGH PAUL

Zaporizhia, transformed by war

The city has been transformed by war. all resources are put at the service of survival and of war. Zaporizhia has become a makeshift military base, with checkpoint and checkpoints every few meters. Tanks and military vehicles replace passenger cars that, until a month ago, harassed the bustling life of those who inhabit it.

Zaporizhia is known for having the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, currently under Russian control, as is the case at Chernobyl. The plant authorities have confirmed that nuclear safety is guaranteed. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that the nuclear plant is operational and that radiation remains at normal levels.

Children and relatives go down to the basement after hearing anti-aircraft sirens in Zaporizhia. ROUGH PAUL

But Irina knows that she is not yet in a safe place: on March 16, the attacks reached civilian areas. Life moves to the rhythm of anti-aircraft sirens that sound several times a day, each alert is a reminder of the horror they live. Suddenly, the anti-aircraft sirens sound again and the university is empty. That’s when heBasements are filled with lives contained in a sigh.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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