I had been living in Shakhtarsk which is a small town with a big amount of coal mining enterprises in Donetsk region before Ukrainian war started in 2014.
I moved to Donetsk when I was 18 y.o. and entered to Donetsk Art School. I lived with my sister and her friend Nataliya near iron and steel works. It was bad to live there, a private and an abandoned houses nearby, I remember how I even called the police one day and policeman got scared of the spider in the window. A year later we moved to Ilyich Avenue, where was one room; my friend married and sister and I left to live together. That’s where we met War in Donbas.
We saw people marching on the avenue with different flags from March to April 2014. In June the art school announced that there would be no more classes and I returned to Shakhtarsk , my sister remained in Donetsk. City atmosphere was changing from moderate to disturbing calm. It was like a lull before a storm.
I turned 20 on 3 July 2014; when we were walking with friends in the town , we noticed how from just calm it had become quiet and deserted. The sounds of shots were coming often from afar. Soon my sister came to see me and said that we need to get out of the town faster, advising to take documents for admission to the academy, which was located in Kharkiv.
Parents stayed home.
last photo taken at home
The television news was getting worse by the day. It was summer and I didn’t want to believe that anything could cast a shadow over it. Friends were leaving the town.
My sister and I went by car to Kharkiv on July 16. I had to enter the academy, cling to a new life. We took some necessary things, checked into a hotel. Sister soon left for Lviv, leaving me sneakers and 400 UAH. Banks didn’t work in the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where the hostilities took place. I was left alone in an unfamiliar city, it was time to grow up and start thinking about what to do next.
There was extreme heat in Kharkiv. Exams in Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Fine Arts were held at the end of July. I wasn’t ready for them cause I was going to graduate art school firstly. The exam dates coincided with the storming of my town I was taking exams while my parents were sitting in the basement, then walking through an empty looted town with broken windows, things which were fallen on the ground, and which the looters hadn’t taken. The shells landed on neighboring houses on our street. I called my friends who sat there and guarded their homes at night, to prevent a fire in case of shell hit. I didn’t want to believe that it was my town on TV, and it was war.
I found my classmate in Kharkiv and lived with him in dormitory, full of cockroaches. There were so many of them, that stepping on the pattern carpet was unclear where the pattern was and where the cockroaches were. I remember wrapping myself in a sheet like a mummy, leaving only my head, and had a feeling that I was getting climbed all the time. Well, in fact, from there I went to the academy for the last days of exams. I didn’t know the answers, but understood, based on marks, that I had to go to contract study, for which I had no money. I got on the train in the early morning and went into Sumy to my friend Polina, with whom I met online. Cockroaches ran out of my bag at the train station, and it was incredibly embarrassing.
I felt that terrible things was happening at home, war left me alone and in the same time with feeling of complete freedom and desire for love. My psyche turned on the protection, and I thought I would just enjoy life. I used to be under the control of my parents and my sister, and that day I could do anything. I started a bright life in Sumy. I was young and fun, came back late and enjoyed every day with my friend Pauline. We found a low paying job with a little money (50-100 HRN a day), we filled out ledgers and then ate hot dogs and drank beer for this money.
Then I went to a local garage community with a «Cold house» band, where I met photographer Andrey Boyko and his friend Nazar. He offered me to hitchhike to Lviv. It worked like this: I left things in someone’s home or took a bath. It was an August, the worst month of war.
I met sister in Lviv, and she asked me to stay, but I refused because I was drawn to Kharkiv. She said «Do you understand, that you can’t go back home again and continue studying in art school ?» I understood, that I had to go to Kharkiv and do not deviate from the purpose of enrolling in the academy and becoming an artist.
I spent some time in a dormitory with friends from Kharkiv, sneaking past the janitor to the girls' room. I was looking for a place to live by asking friends and finally found. I also needed a person with whom I can pay for a room. One girl responded to my post on "VK" social network by writing a comment, « I’m looking for a room and by the way, we are from one art school». We met and moved into new place on the same day. It was a two-bedroom apartment, where a married couple with a cat lived in one room, and we were in the second. We slept together on a torn couch. The first night there was very hard for me, I realized that things were going to change a lot and that I was uncomfortable. It was a hysteria in a strange city without family. And who were these people? I mean it was not a temporary residence, it was a closer connection with people I was not probably close to.
I had to do something and earn money, so I became a model at the Kharkiv Art school and later at Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Fine Arts. I had been sitting naked for six hours, observing how students drew, and then started drawing with them. I also met teachers and went to their training courses. I wanted to go to an academy , because being an artist was important to me.
I went to the academy in 2015 and moved into its’ dorm. I found two girls from Donetsk, then the three of us started to live in one room. I couldn’t get along with my roommate, she closed the door at 10:00 at night, and I couldn’t get into the room, spending nights at my neighbor’s. I had constant thoughts that I have to survive by ignoring my basic needs. I hadn’t seen my parents for a year.
I moved to a friend’s apartment in my fourth year, but we didn’t get along and just a week later, I moved again. It was hard to tell people about what happened with my home and what was the real war. I had a feeling of being traumatized, I needed to have soil under the feet, took root. I found a room in a communal flat and finally started living on my own.
Moving is a lot of stuff, checkered travel bags and a lot of junk to get rid of. I remember the next apartment, on Pushkinska Street, where I didn’t even unpack my bags, because there was no place to put them. I can’t say it was convenient, but there was still some autonomy I can afford. I lived there alone for a year and a half. After that, I lived in another communal flat, and than moved to my boyfriend’s apartment, where we have been living for 1 year. I’m not afraid of changing the location, but I’m afraid of living in bad conditions. I care about security and always close the doors with all locks now.
What’s home to me now? Of course, I’m still feeling, that I had something ripped out of my body. And there is rooted understanding that getting to parents would be impossible. The feeling of home is gone, I can’t have the chance to believe that I’m doing so well and can nest.
When you lose ground, your home, you lose trust globally. You lose confidence in being anywhere, which is the biggest trauma. This total weakness sometimes blocks movement and pulls back. Someone decides for you, it means that if they want, the same thing would happen anywhere, and the most frightening thing is weakness. You’re so powerless, it pisses you off. Something good is perceived as temporary. You’re mentally prepared to lose everything again.
The worst part is that you can’t change anything. But it’s important to talk about it and tell people, to awaken awareness of what’s going on, because there are a lot of people like us in the country and world in general.
When I came to Occupied Shakhtersk in 2015, it was like a phantom city or closed capsule with sluggish movement. I came in hometown, but had a feeling of frozen dream. It’s hard to describe, but there was something heavy in the air, it was like this whole area had been crushed by an invisible slab. There is a view of two terricones on my street, sister and I got a tattoo with these coal mountains in 2018. I regretted about everything what had happened and promised something to this place.
I used to blame myself for not being able to move my parents to another town, that I had a profession, which doesn’t make a lot of money; it’s so easy to wrap yourself in these thoughts. I worked on this post trauma with a psychologist, clinging to my favorite occupation, for believing that the effort would be justified. But the constant feeling that the people, who have the power can decide for me again is left.
a thing that constantly moves with me
The important thing to understand is that you’re doing everything you can and blocks you put in are just your blocks. No one comes and says that you can’t do something, or you won’t be self-sufficient, that’s what people say to themselves, I think. I try not to think about it all the time, because this thought keeps me from moving forward. That’s how I survive. It’s important for me to talk about it. it’s very important not to feel alone in this situation.
It taught me a lot, but I don’t want to cultivate trauma as a decision point. It’s a great interesting journey and you see the volume of the situation at once.
My project is a series of interviews with people who have found themselves in situations like this endless moving and looking for something better. Will we find the best, or just continue to wander in search of our place?