“I Would Whack Volker with a Stick for Telling Such a Lie!”: The Grandmother Who the US Presented as a Victim of “Russian Aggression”

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



Mariya Ivanovna was forced to live in a bomb shelter in Trudovskoye for four years, and her house was destroyed by the Ukrainian army…

The “Grad” shelling isn’t as frightening as the endless flow of cynical informational lies, from which there is nowhere to hide yourself. This can be confirmed by every Donetsk resident. Only lazy people haven’t exploited the grief of Donbass.

Expedition “anti-fake”

On October 5th, the photo of a Donetsk grandmother, which the American diplomat and special representative of the US Department of State for Ukraine Kurt Volker presented as a victim of “Russian aggression”, spread around the world. Here is what he tweeted above her photo:

Looking closely at the photo, I recognise a grandmother from Trudovskoye whose place I and the volunteer Andrey Lysenko have repeatedly visited together. He brought humanitarian aid to her – to her and 13 others who are as unfortunate as her, who are forced to live in a bomb shelter of the Trudovskaya mine in order to escape the daily shelling of the UAF. Shelling that is indeed instigated by America and Kurt Volker himself. But such is the nature of the lie – the thief always shouts “Hold the crook!” the loudest.

I went to Trudovskoye with a photo of the grandmother and what Volker said written beneath it. A sunny October brightens up even the frontline and it is hard to believe that Ukrainian positions are only less than a kilometer from here. Here on the surface it is much warmer than it is in the bomb shelter, where I entered down the stone steps.

Four years in a bomb shelter

The shelter was built during Soviet times. At the bottom of the entrance there is a reinforced hermetic door with a wheel that will protect against even a blast wave. The shelter itself consists of spacious rooms with high ceilings and can accommodate several hundred people. Could those who built it in the 50’s guess what war it will be useful for and whose shelling it would be necessary to hide here from?

For already four years those whose homes were destroyed by the Ukrainian army – the inhabitants of the long-suffering Trudvoskoye – are permanently living here. Their beds, neatly tucked in, rest along the side of the wall. Above every bed there is an icon, and next to it there is a kitchen corner. Here people sleep, eat, and cook in the dim light of the lamps with each other in plain sight – like one family. There is a shared toilet, there is water – it’s possible to live here if it wasn’t for the constant cold and damp.

The order here is exceptional – at some houses, where there are fewer residents and comfortable conditions, there is no space to tread, but here its like in the army. One’s impression is reinforced by civil defence posters that have been preserved from the Soviet era – brave pilots, tank crews, and military equipment. I remember such posters from my childhood. All these things once created a feeling of security and some permanence of peace.

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Since that time a poster of the law of Ukraine on civil defense – stating that the people of Ukraine have the right to protect their lives and health from the consequences of man-made disasters and natural disasters and can demand from the government of Ukraine to exercise this right – has remained on the walls. Here in Trudovskoye this law looks especially mocking, but in the shelter no one has paid attention to it for a long time.

Now, during the day, many of the residents of the shelter went to do their affairs: some go to the market, some visit their former homes, some go to take warm clothes, and some go to work. I can easily find this grandmother. Mariya Ivanovna Shevchenko is 86 years old, she walks briskly, leaning on a stick. In the pan on the stove she is preparing a simple dinner – stewed vegetables.

I’d whack Volker with a stick

I show her a photo and translate into Russian the words of Volker. Mariya Ivanovna even sat down on the bed in amazement, holding the photo in her trembling hands.

“Is that you in the photo?” I ask her.

It’s me,” she replies.

Yes, there it is difficult not to recognise her improvised den, with a partition, behind which there is a small stove at head height. And the grandmother wears this same blue jacket that she is wearing in the photo. Later she even found the mittens that she sleeps in during the most severe cold, which she is wearing in this same photo.

“Here is Mr. Volker, an American politician, he used your photo to accuse Russia, saying that it is its army that drove you into the basement,” I explained to her.

“If I could reach, I would whack this Volker with this stick from behind for telling such a lie. How can one invent such a thing?! I have never killed a chicken in my life, but him I would knock out, I admit,” she indignantly said, militantly shaking her stick. “We are shelled by the Ukrainian army every day, precisely in accordance with the order of the Americans. I had an apartment, now the kitchen has been destroyed, there is no balcony and no window. Everything flew from Ukrainian positions. And I, at my age, am forced to live in constant dampness. And the other day there was such shelling that even in our shelter the door shook and everything was howling. How could I imagine that I would live up to a time when our own army opens fire at us?”

Kinder, kaput!

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“Do you remember the great Patriotic war, babushka?” I ask her.”

“And you also remember it? How can I not! We lived right here in Donetsk, on Kirova Street,” she describes. “I was 8 years old, the other children were even younger. I remember that there were ruins around, our house was destroyed by the Germans, everything burned down. We had no clothes or shoes, in the February frost we had to huddle together. And the snowstorm was frightening! We were practically covered in snow. I remember a plane flying low over us and a German. He leaned out, saw us, and shouted that it is ‘kaput’ for us. He called us, children, ‘kinders’ in German and said ‘kaput!’ loudly. I can still hear his ‘kaput’ even now, when I close my eyes. We realised that now it is the end for us. But suddenly we heard an explosion, the plane of this German had exploded in the sky, and the ground was showered with pieces and parts. And now it is our Ukrainian army, these monsters, that stages ‘kaput’ for us. And also we saw how the Germans threw our people into pits alive, filled them in with lime, and poured water out of barrels onto it. I will never forget how one man was thrown into a hole by fascists, and he shouted from there: ‘my children, forgive me. We will win!'”


The grandmother looks terribly upset. Suddenly from behind her back a boy pops up – the grandson of Mariya Ivanovna.

“You don’t have Lego? I dream about it so much! With a black little dragon! Because I play dominoes instead of playing Lego,” quickly said the 4th class student Sashka, and then pointed to the tricky labyrinth of worn dominoes.

Sashka is being raised by a single mother, and while she is at work he huddles with his grandmother in the bomb shelter. Here he has a vast expanse to play in. A cat with a kitten, as well as a shaggy dog, rubs up against his feet, and there is also an additional exit out of the shelter with a gentle slope down which it is so lovely to run down.

“Come, I’ll show you,” Sashka grabs my hand and leads me out of the cold bomb shelter, and we find ourselves on the sunlit slope, strewn with leaves. “In the evening here there is often shelling. And my mother and I live nearby, our apartment is still intact. Once we were sleeping at night and something went boom, and then boom again, mother grabbed me and we sat for a long time in the corridor. But in general I’m not scared, I already got used to it.”

“And why aren’t you at school?” I ask Sashka.

The little guy immediately loses all interest in me and runs away. I apparently found something to ask!

“He became a bit ill, he coughs, that’s why he is at home with me, he’s my helper,” said a smiling Mariya Ivanovna. “And he studies well – he gets good grades.”

Punish them!

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Someone is moaning behind the partition. I peek there. Another elderly woman, wrapped in shawls, is lying under blankets, and her daughter Lina sits near her feet.

“This is my mother Anna, she is 80 years old. We have also been living in a shelter without sunlight and in the damp for four years,” she says in a colorless voice. “My mother is constantly ill, and now she has swelling of the feet, and she hasn’t been out to the street in a week. We really need a heater. And we haven’t been able to live in our apartment for a long time already – the roof has been destroyed, there are no windows. And there is no end to this mockery in sight. When will Ukraine be forced to come to its senses?”

“But you, my dear, try please to write the truth, punish the liars! Let them know that Russia hasn’t offended us in any way, we have seen only good from it and there was a need to distort this [referring to Volker’s lie – ed],” Mariya asked me as I left. “And for Ukraine shelling us isn’t enough – it also took away my pension – I haven’t received it since July 2014, and I don’t have good enough health to go somewhere through checkpoints to prove my right to earn a pension at the age of 87. Let them choke [on the looted pension – ed]. And the victory will be ours anyway, you’ll see!”

On the way from Trudovskoye I noticed stones that enclosed a corner of one of the houses. Someone’s skilful hand gave a human appearance to one of the boulders.

And behind the waste heap, on the other side, on the contrary, people with hearts of stone have been destroying Donbass for four years, improving themselves with the help of America in order to do it in a more refined way.

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