In occupation. My thoughts are silent

Founded by Zaporizhzhia Cossacks to protect Sloboda Ukraine from Tatar raids, this city was under the enemy control three times. The first time was during World War II. Then the invaders didn’t rule for a long time – in January 1943, Rubizhne was liberated from the Nazis.

It seemed that after that peaceful life would reign here forever. Generations changed, and this confidence was passed from one to another, and remembrance lessons were held in schools to remind of the terrible times. However, not everyone learned those lessons, because the terrible times returned. And again occupation, again battles, again liberation. That was in July 2014 during the Anti-terrorist operation in the east of Ukraine.Since then, the feeling of threat has become commonplace. Everyone in Rubizhne heard that the war was going on somewhere nearby. But who could have imagined what it would do when it returned to the town. There’s everything in this story – warm memories of childhood and the cold reality of today.

The ruins of one of the city’s schools. Photo from social networks

Warm memories

My name is Yulia (name changed at the request of my interlocutor – ed.), I am 29. I was born and grew up in Rubizhne. At first, my family lived close to the former cinema in the city center, and later, as an adult, I moved to the eighth district. I went to School 7 and then entered our institute.

My whole life is connected with this city: I have warm memories of my school years, my youth. Evening walks in the old part of the town near the park and the loud laughter of my friends. Talking to my boyfriend on a bench in a courtyard near the Polytechnic Institute and dancing at a disco called Sitka. Picking mushrooms with my granddad and fishing with my dad on the Siverskyi Donets, his white car, which he continuously repaired in his garage behind the hosiery factory, cotton candy on Family Day and sunsets that can be seen from the upper floors of the fourteen-story building.


Photo: Svitlana Pravda

Family Day in Rubizhny. Photo: Trybun

I didn’t always appreciate it, which I regret now. Unfortunately, only losses make you learn the true value of things. I think, while reading these lines, almost everyone will recognize themselves, so consider me a collective image.

“The town was killed before my eyes”

It’s like Tetris – first it keeps coming, and then the next line disappears. So houses, streets and entire neighborhoods disappeared one by one. But you can’t just turn it off or put it on pause to collect your thoughts, because you’ll be killed. I’m sorry for such a comparison, but it occurred to me as I was standing in a line for water and saw them bombing Sylikatne.

“So they may hit here, too, I have to hurry,” I thought.

Rubizhne, March 2022. Photo: Artem Semenyuk

When you are in a situation like this, your perception of yourself and the world around you changes. The course of time changes, values are reassessed and people around show their true faces. Some of us carry light, and some of us just ooze pus. I’ve seen both.

Once, in a shelter, a little boy handed me a candy he himself had been given. You know how children love sweets. He held out his hand and said: “Auntie, would you like some?”, and I could hardly keep from crying. It was embarrassing in front of so many strangers, otherwise I would have definitely done it. It piled up. “No, Andriyko, thank you,” I answered and hid my eyes, and he ran to his mother, who scolded him: “Sonny, don’t bother people.”

Rubizhne, March 2022. Photo: Artem Semenyuk

At the same time, there were grown men beside us, who stole cigarettes and other things from each other.

Early in March, those men looted shops, naively believing that they would need a microwave oven from a Foxtrot in the afterlife.

That’s how we lived: some helped their neighbors in every possible way and others deepened an already depressing atmosphere.

It was cold, damp and dark. At night, in pauses between gunfire and explosions, silence was broken by someone’s dry cough. I wanted to run, but there was nowhere to run. At some point, not only the benefits of civilization but also some feelings disappeared: for example, joy seemed forever blocked. Fear and hopelessness had captured us even before we were in real captivity.

Rubizhne, March 2022. Photo: Artem Semenyuk

The months lived in the occupation taught me a lot. Everything we thought was valuable and dear turned out to be totally unimportant. The only thing that mattered was human life. Although death accompanies us throughout life, there was too much death in Rubizhne. Like mushrooms after the rain, scary crosses made by neighbors from available materials, appeared in every yard. The earth welcomed everyone: children, their fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers. There was so much grief that people did not have time to mourn their dead. Corpses in the central streets became something common and did not horrify people anymore.

Rubizhne. Photo from social networks

“A bad dream, but pinching yourself is useless”

Mad Kadirovites, miserable LPR militants, and other camouflaged goblins were crawling all over the place like locusts. They ransacked our houses, raped women, organized massacres. I can call them nothing but a dirty horde. It was especially scary for young girls. I thank God, who has always protected me. Fortunately, I escaped unscathed. They insulted me only with vulgar jokes and lustful looks.

Of course, there were those who welcomed the invaders with open arms, but soon most of townspeople realized that they had been deceived. Russian television had promised them a full refrigerator, but there was neither a refrigerator nor a TV set.

Pensioners, who had complained about low payments, had to stand in queues for water instead of queuing in supermarkets. Workers who did not like the salary swept yards for 12,000 rubles. It was no longer necessary to pay the high utility bills, because public utilities disappeared.

Rubizhne, March 2022. Photo: Artem Semenyuk

They could not express discontent, because with Ukraine they lost freedom of speech, which they had never valued.

Of course, most of the pro-Ukrainian residents left the city back in February-March. Those who remained had to be very quiet and discreet, because the slightest negligence could cost them their lives. I was lucky that, gritting their teeth, the neighbors did not yield me to the kadirovites, either during the “cleanup” or after it. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t read this story.

Rubizhne, 2015. Photo from personal archive

I left Rubizhne in June. In order to be safe, I had to go a long and difficult way of several thousand kilometers. It cost me tens of thousands hryvnias and a lot of nerves. Now my loved ones are beside me, and this is the main thing.

Will we ever come home?

I believe that Ukraine will return what belongs to it! Its territories and people. Today, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, with the support of the entire civilized world, are fighting for our future against the insidious past that has hooked its talons into us and does not want to let us go.

Oleksiy Artyukh