In Slovyansk, April 12, 2014, which is Saturday, by the way, was supposed to start for me with the planting of the "Alley of Journalistic Glory" in honor of Igor Oleksandrov. At nine o'clock in the morning, a subbotnik for journalists was scheduled. But I didn't get to go.
As soon as I left the house and went to the city park to plant trees, my friends called me and said that the city police station was being taken over. At first I thought it was some kind of a bad joke... But suddenly I heard a shot. So instead of the subbotnik, I went to the city department.
Opposite the street on which the building is located, in Slovyansk is the former Universam. Walking around it, I saw about 40 people in camouflage clothing and balaclavas. Police officers were still inside the building at that time. I took some pictures. Immediately some man with a "sawed-off" jumped up to me, put a gun to my chest and said: "Delete them." I had to delete the photos I had just taken in front of him.
About half an hour later, my colleagues from other publishing houses began to appear at the scene. At that time, the building was already occupied.
Around ten o'clock in the morning, a meeting of representatives of the so-called "militia" took place with the head of the Slavyansk City Council, Nelya Shtepa, in the council building. It was after this meeting that Stepa addressed the residents of the city who had gathered near the police station - that's when the videos about "our boys" were filmed. They filmed it literally with a hidden camera, because people from the crowd could jump on those who tried to make any footage. There was also an attack on one of the Ukrainian activists, but the fight was quickly stopped.
Soon after, the attackers broke into the premises of the city police department. Some of the locals, and by that time a large crowd had gathered, ran to buy food for those "boys" at the nearest supermarket (I think it was "Brusnichka").They brought food in carts...
Before lunch, barricades were put up near the city office. Locals actively helped in this - they brought tires, some boards, iron barrels, sandbags. The entrances to the city department were partially blocked with barbed wire.
In the afternoon, the SSU building in Slovyansk was captured. I did not see how it happened. But already after lunch, camouflaged "militias" (that's what those who captured the city department called themselves) with weapons in their hands were on duty near it. By that time, they had already got their hands on the rifles, which were kept in the police armory. Closer to the evening, barricades began to get set up there as well.
Around 4:00 p.m., the flag of the so-called "DPR" was hung near the building of the police department.
In the evening, there was an "assault" on the city council building. Around nine or ten o'clock, my colleague and I were drinking beer nearby (near the city library, and at that time we had not yet broken the law). Suddenly, the lights on the central square and nearby streets got turned off. Several armed men sneaked up to the city council building. One of them approached us. The following dialogue took place:
He: What are you doing here?
Me: Drinking beer.
He: Get out of here. We are capturing the city council.
Me (almost to myself): Ten to one unarmed guard?...
But we went.
In the morning, the city council was already under the control of armed men.
This is how the occupation began. Many locals helped set up checkpoints and barricades. Then some remained on duty for them. Later, shelling began. There were also press conferences of the "people's mayor", at which he talked about his vision of the situation. Pro-Russian rallies were organized regularly.
Hard times have come for the press. Armed men broke into many editorial offices and simply forced them to produce the materials they needed. There were times when they literally worked under the barrel of a rifle...
Regular shelling began near the end of May. During the occupation of Slovyansk, I myself came under them several times literally on the street...
Many civilians died. In the high-rise building where I lived, a mine hit the kitchen window, where a woman was having dinner at that moment. She was torn to pieces. Her husband miraculously survived because he went to answer a phone call (on a landline) at the time of the hit. Her mother, who was in the next room, also survived.
Many people left the city, but many remained. Slovyansk lived somehow. Some shops were open, utility workers tried somehow to maintain the economy in a more or less normal state (which was not easy due to shelling), even some doctors remained.
I moved from the city center to a friend in the private sector. Because the center was left without gas, water, or electricity. And he had all this. There I waited for and met deoccupation.
Some of my former friends signed up to serve for the "militias". And then they ran away from the city. Most of them continued to "serve" in the future. One even once told me how he once fired at a car marked "TV" in Donetsk...
In general, a lot can be said about life in the occupation. It was scary, sometimes funny, sometimes unbearable. But those are separate little stories.
After de-occupation, I continued to work in the media. Changed several editorial offices..
To say what influenced me? I don’t even know. A little bit of everything. Both the stories of the soldiers of the AFU and the NAU, or border guards, about whom many reports and broadcasts were made. And how they restored what was destroyed by the war. Not always on time and far from always, in my opinion, adequately, but... The work of volunteers and public organizations, especially those who worked closer to the demarcation line. And, even, sometimes the way business helped people rebuild their lives.
What has changed? Well, a lot of things. The attitude towards some stories from people who "know everything for sure" and to the information you get from official sources. And the attitude towards the surroundings. But the most important thing is that the belief emerged that Ukraine can do it. It will be able to become a full member of the EU, it will be able to overcome corruption in time, reform the courts, tax, pension, and education systems. It will be able to become a country that others will emulate. At least, I would really like for it to happen.
February 24 of this year, I met in Sloviansk. They hit Kramatorsk so hard we fell out of our beds. I did not believe until the last moment that there would be an invasion.
In mid-April, I left Sloviansk to go to Lviv. Now I'm "hanging around" in shelters for IDPs and looking for a job in my specialty (preferably one where the salary is enough to rent a place, and at least there's still some left over for food ).
It is difficult to even think about the future now. I would like to return to my city. There will be plenty of work to restore everything there. But... I understand that the winter there will be extremely difficult. Therefore, this is a very painful question, to which I cannot yet give an answer.