“Get Up! The War Has Finally Begun!”

NEW – September 23, 2022

Anastasiya Shilina from Gorlovka turned 19 on the day the special operation began. That morning, her father woke her up with strange but understandable words: “Get up! The war has finally started!” As Anastasiya said, Dad was really happy on this day! On February 24, she recalled her entire childhood, which actually did not exist, because she grew up in war. Anastasiya shared these memories with the “Zavtra” newspaper.

It all started in 2014. At that time, I was 11 years old, I played in my yard, not expecting any danger, I sometimes caught a glimpse of my parents discussing politics, but I never listened, did not believe, and could not imagine that war and fraternal bloodshed would ever begin…

As I remember now – it was 11-12 o’clock in the afternoon, I went out into the yard, fiddled with toys, rode a bicycle. At some point, I heard a very loud hum. In the pre-war period, we flew planes and I thought that this is the most ordinary plane. But it turned out that this was not so – it turned out to be a real military fighter jet, which flew over my head and fired missiles at the civilian population of our city, our Gorlovka… It was on that ill-fated day that I learned that war had come to us.

I remember running into my mother’s house, crying and shouting:

“What was that, Mummy!?” – she was talking to my dad on the phone when he was at work, and it was he who said it was an enemy fighter jet, and then my mom told me:

“My daughter, the war has begun…”

After some time, around the beginning of August 2014, our family decided to leave for Russia. With each passing day, the shelling intensified, and there was no hope of escape except to run away from the city, abandoning everything and taking only the most necessary things.

I remember that before we left, we went to my great-grandmother to tell her that the war had begun and it was time to evacuate. But she didn’t believe it until the last moment! Being a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, she exclaimed: “I don’t believe that the war has begun! It can’t be that a brother goes against a brother!”

And it was at exactly this moment, during a conversation with my grandmother in the kitchen, that we heard a loud explosion. We went to the window and saw a trail of smoke in the sky. Later, Dad explained that it was an enemy fighter plane that was shot down.

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Of course, one of the most terrible moments when we left was the information that if we left the city we would be shot, but still we managed to escape by detours.

We left, arrived in Belgorod, where we settled into a hostel. We stayed there for about a month. I remember how now – my father and my older sister are sitting, and for the first time I see tears in my father’s eyes, tears of despair and hopelessness, the understanding that he does not know what to do next and how to do it. At that time, we thought that we had lost absolutely everything… And then the time comes, we are evicted from the hostel, my sister with her husband and a small infant leave for Tomsk, and we, in turn, go to Podolsk near Moscow. We are very lucky that Dad has a childhood friend who took us in. He said: “I won’t let you stay outside with a small child!”

We have been living in Podolsk for the last two months. The children were already starting to go to school, but I was very afraid to go to a new school, because I didn’t know how other children would treat me. I remember how my mother cried and wanted to go back, how we called my sister and thought that we would never see each other again… But there were also pleasant moments – to cheer me up, my dad took me to the forest to pick mushrooms. Then I remembered our last family trip to Lugansk, how we collected mushrooms. Then I collected 4 large bags with my mother, while my father was completely lost! But, fortunately, he came out of the forest on the road and was given a ride to the place where we were staying; then we went home and my parents bought me delicious food for my efforts.

Time passed and… we decided to return home.

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We arrived at the beginning of November, by which time everything had more or less subsided, and we were allowed to go to school. It was hard for us to realise that we were not returning to the former quiet and cozy city, but grey and deserted, like an exclusion zone. Even at the moment when we stopped by, we were very afraid to put on the St. George ribbon – even for such a small thing, the nazis could shoot us if we got caught by them. We hid them, despite the fact that in Russia we calmly put them on. As I remember now, at the entrance to Gorlovka, there was a sign at the checkpoint “Welcome to HELL”. My parents and I laughed, but we also knew that we were really back in hell.

It’s been a while since I arrived, I went out to study at school, it was my 5th grade. As I remember now, I’m going to school at 7 o’clock in the morning and the shelling begins. It was outside the city limits, but it could be heard very clearly.

I remember that it takes about three weeks, we do a test and it is at this moment that the arrival [of a shell – SZ] begins within our school, we begin to be taken to the bomb shelter. And I understand that my dad is just near my school at work. I start crying and frantically dial the number of my mum and dad, but there is no connection, “the number is not available”. My teachers are beginning to calm me down, and just when I was more or less calmed down, one of the teachers called my mother and let me talk to her. Mum told me that, thank God, Dad is fine.

The year 2015 begins, winter, school holidays are announced, and it is this ominous winter that pitch-black hell begins. As I remember now, the morning begins with sharp flashes under the window and exciting sounds of arrivals. Me, mum, dad start going down to the basement, throwing everything in there: things, documents, I even took the cat with me. After everything calms down for a couple of moments, information comes in that Ukraine has started firing phosphorous bombs. I didn’t know what it was at the time, until dad explained that phosphorus bombs burn through everything when they explode: metal, bricks, but the worst part is that a tiny particle of phosphorus that gets on a person’s body burns the flesh alive without hindrance…

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The shelling continued for many days, it was very scary to go out even to buy food, shops were not open. On one of these days, the lights went out for a week or two. We couldn’t sleep well. As soon as a red light flickered outside the window, it meant that they were rushing to the shelter.

Time passes, there is more or less silence, we begin to adapt, my sister arrives and I, being still a small child, begin to explain to her what “Grad” is, what a mortar is, how to distinguish our people from our enemies…. I would never have thought that at such a young age, I would learn the nomenclature of military equipment, ammunition and learn to distinguish them by sound.

After some time, we finally adapted – there was a certain silence, when the sounds of explosions were heard only on the outskirts of the city. We began to live a more or less peaceful life, but always waiting for an arrival.

February 24, 2022 marked the 19th anniversary and in the morning at 5:30 we learned that the special military operation had begun in Donbass… It was during this one day that I remembered everything! I remembered everything that happened in my childhood. It was on 24.02.2022 that our lights were turned off, there were arrivals, whistles, flickers, but we were happy, because we knew that this was the beginning of the end! To this day, I will never tire of talking about it: it is very painful and scary to realise that even at school, in peacetime, we were told about the Great Patriotic War, showed films and we watched with horror and did not even know what it was like, and then for a moment we understand what war is. We realise that we didn’t have a childhood and we can’t get it back.

Dmitry Vinnik

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