© MSF/Natalia Chekotun
12 Dec 22 15 Dec 22

Testimonies from Kherson and Mykolaiv oblasts

Svitlana, a woman from the village of Ivanivka in Kherson oblast

“My husband and I stayed in the village until May 5, but then we couldn't stand it any longer. We had sent our children away two weeks earlier. My younger daughter had to move across the river; it was very scary to go another way.

On May 5, at 3 in the morning, we also ran away to the village of Mykolaivka where volunteers found houses for us. My children are still living there but my husband and I decided to go back home. It took us years to acquire what we have. If we leave the house, everything will be taken away from there.

We don't have our animals anymore. This spring we planted vegetables under fire. We hoped for the best, but we have nothing. The roof and windows of our house are damaged; we have had to cover them. There is no electricity or gas in the village. We have stoves, so we heat the house with firewood.

We want our children to come back. But they study online now and there is no electricity in the village. I have five children. One of my sons lives in the village of Korobky in Kakhovka district [controlled by Russian military]. We are very worried about him and his family. We don't know what's going on there and we can't get in touch with them. They can't leave their village, as they are only allowed to move towards Crimea. They don't want to go there, so they stay at home.

Before the war, there were many people in the village. We had shops and now there is nothing left. The local health post was destroyed as well.”

Liudmyla, a woman from the village of Ivanivka in Kherson oblast

“My husband and I stayed in Ivanivka for three months. Our children who live in the city of Kryvyi Rih kept asking us to leave the village.

I don't sleep well, my hands are shaking. They shelled us so badly every day that it became a usual thing for us. During one shelling I realised that my husband could make it to the basement, and I couldn't. The shelling was so close, that it felt as if hail was hitting the roof.

Before that one of our cows was killed and another one was injured. We left the cow in the garden. When the shelling started for the second time, my husband shouted to me, "Liudmyla, run away!" And I said to him, "We haven't brought the cow back."

We left the village in June and returned in early October. Our soldiers entered it on July 1.

It took us 35 years to build our house, and now it is destroyed. A shell hit between the hall and the veranda, and the ceiling fell on the freezer. We have only two bedrooms now. We swept there a little and covered the windows with plastic sheeting. When you go outside and look around, you can only see a pile of garbage and nothing else.

There was a Russian doctor in the village. People with serious conditions had to turn to him. There were people with cancer here, and there was no way for them to get their medicine. People were scared but they asked that doctor for help. When they started shelling heavily, the Russians offered people to leave in the direction of Kherson, to Crimea. People didn't want to do it. They suffered pain and stayed here despite being injured.”

Vasyl Kukhar, a man from the village of Novovoznesenske in Kherson oblast

“Some 400 people previously lived in the village. During the occupation, only about 50 stayed here. Many people have nowhere to come back to, because a lot of houses burned down. Our village was often shelled.

I had to put out the fire in my house two or three times. The fields that we had sowed burned. All the wheat burned. Many animals were killed in shelling. My cow, a sheep and a pig were badly hurt in the shelling and I had to put them down.I'm a veterinarian. I know that they were suffering.

We have already completely forgotten what light or gas is. We haven't had them since March.”

Nadia Pedchenko, a woman from the town of Vysokopillia in Kherson oblast

My husband and I lived under occupation for two months. When the Russians started letting people out, we left the town on foot. More than 600 people left Vysokopillia at Easter.

When we tried to leave the town for the first time, there was shelling. We barely made it back home. They shelled so badly that we had to drop to the ground a hundred times. I hurt my arm. Houses were exploding all around us.

Next day we decided to try to leave again. We walked 10 kilometers to Zelenodolsk, where volunteers met us.

When we learned that Vysokopillia had been liberated on October 4, we decided to go back home. On October 15, my husband became paralysed, probably because of stress.

I worry a lot. We have no one to ask for help. There is no light in the town, and every evening my husband needs an injection of magnesium. I'm in despair, I'm crying, I can't do anything.

We called a hospital in the city of Kryvyi Rih. The doctors say it is very far away for my husband to be transported there, since he is in a severe condition.

I put an IV in him and give him medicine at home. I came [to MSF's mobile clinic] to get his medicine. I spoke with your psychologist last time. It helped me so much! Now when I leave the house, I say to myself, "Nadia, don't worry! Everything will be fine."

Oksana Khodorkovska, MSF psychologist

“We work in hospitals, outpatient clinics or just on the streets. Most often, people complain of anxiety, tension, poor sleep and nervousness. We have a standardised approach. First, we talk to people about mental health and how to maintain it; we explain coping mechanisms to them and how to restore them. We use different methods from different areas of psychology.

One man came under fire and had a concussion. He came to me and said, "I don't believe in your psychology! But I feel bad. Maybe you can help me." He had never talked to a psychologist and was very sceptical about it.

We drew together, did breathing exercises and many other things. After the first time he felt better. I thought that was it but he came one more time and said, "It made me feel better. I want more." When he was leaving us, he said, "Okay, let me kiss you!"

Serhiy Nikolenko, MSF driver

“I have been seeing this since 2014, although back then they didn't use such heavy weapons. I had to move twice due to the situation. In 2020, when it all started, I was living in Kramatorsk with my family. The frontline came very close to Kramatorsk, so my wife and I decided to leave the city with our two children.

I was one of the first to join MSF’s project in the city of Kryvyi Rih. It was in April. During our trips, I see terrible things that should have never happened. We meet a lot of people whose houses were hit by a missile, as well as those who lived under occupation for five or six months. People told us that they lived without food, water and medicine.”

Nadia Kasimova, MSF ambulance paramedic

“I am an ambulance paramedic. I worked in the city of Lysychansk in Luhansk region for four years.

On February 24, I was at work when I saw the impact of the hostilities. There were a lot of wounded people arriving. At the same time, many doctors were leaving the city, so there was not enough staff. In Novodruzhivka (a town near Lysychansk) people were queuing for water when there was an attack. I had to send three or four ambulance teams to Novodruzhivka that day.

Lysychansk was occupied in June. Two weeks earlier, I left it through Russia. Then I immediately travelled to Lithuania, Latvia and Poland - and then I got back to Ukraine. It took me three days.

In August, I started working for MSF - first in the east of Ukraine, and now in the south. We go to hospitals in Kherson region to pick up the wounded and take them to the hospital in Kryvyi Rih.

I remember that a month and a half ago the city of Zelenodolsk in Dnipropetrovsk region was shelled. There were many wounded. People told me that they were waiting for a bus. And then the shelling began.”

Ivan Khokhlov, MSF emergency room doctor

“I have lived in the city of Lyman in Donetsk region for the past two years. That city had everything I needed: nature, parks, a river, blue lakes, a forest full of mushrooms and berries. I bought a house there. On February 22, I made the last payment. I lived on the outskirts of Lyman. In March, when they started shelling about 50 meters away from my house, I told my family that we had to leave. I never returned to Lyman again.

We moved to Dnipro and in September I started working with MSF as an emergency room doctor. I remember a case when the city of Zelenodolsk was shelled and 19 people were injured. They were brought to the hospital where we work.

I also work in MSF mobile clinics. Several people who approached us had previously had surgival operations and were constantly in pain. They just needed pain killers, which they did not have access to in their village. They have no paramedic, no doctor, no pharmacy nearby; some people receive medicine as humanitarian aid, but they simply don't know what to do with that medicine.

We met one man who needed dressing for his wound but he didn't have anything. He had no disinfectant solutions, no antiseptics, no dressing materials. He just washed and reused the dressing.

I once met a doctor who was a pediatrician all her life. Because of the war, she had to become a cardiologist, a therapist, a traumatologist, a resuscitator... this is very scary.”

Volodymyr Todosenko, a medical director and a urologist in a hospital in the town of Snihurivka, Mykolaiv oblast

“Russian troops entered Snihurivka on March 19. I stayed in the town until August 15. In the end, there were just a few doctors in the hospital – me, an obstetrician-gynecologist intern, an ultrasound doctor, a trauma specialist, a therapist, an addiction physician, a psychiatrist and a dentist. We had no surgeons at all.

People with shrapnel injuries were brought to the hospital every day. We helped them.

Gradually we were running out of medical supplies. I had to go to the Russians and tell them that we had nothing to treat people with. For example, we did not have urethral catheters which, are needed for people with serious injuries who are being treated in intensive care and cannot get up. We had to soak these catheters in special solutions and then reuse them. We didn't even have urine collection bags and used bottles instead.

There was also a pressing need for medicines for people with diabetes and high blood pressure. Most of the people who stayed behind were elderly and had chronic diseases. They used to come to the pharmacy and buy medicine but they couldn't do it anymore.

Russian soldiers simply destroyed pharmacies. They took what they needed there. Then the locals looted everything that was left.

Once the Russians told us, ‘Write down the list of medicines, we will give you everything.’ I must have given them those lists 10 times. The list consisted of 86 items, and they gave us only 16 - bandage, gauze, plastic bedcovers, cannulas, syringes and a few medications such as painkillers and anti-inflammatory pills. I asked them, ‘How should I treat, for example, hypertension or diabetes?’ "

Natalia, a nurse at the hospital in the town of Snihurivka in Mykolaiv oblast

“Only few of us kept working in the hospital, but we became very close; we were united. We knew that no matter how scary it was, we had to help people. I have been living in the hospital since March 21.

We, nurses, worked in shifts. Shrapnel injuries, fractures, cuts - this is what we had to deal with. There were a lot of hungry dogs left behind in the town. They attacked people, so we also had patients with bites.

We made the peroxide ourselves. We tried to manage the situation as best as we could.”

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