Conflicts & War

How the war has turned Ukrainian lives upside down

Lviv, Ukraine, Jan 4 (EFE).- Like all Ukrainians, Alice Shevchenko’s life has been turned upside down by the Russian war. Her brother, a soldier, has been held captive by Russian forces for months, while her parents fled their home in the occupied city of Melitopol.

From the relative safety of Lviv, in western Ukraine, where her father convinced her eight years ago to come to study rather than go to Kharkiv in the east, simply because it was further from Russia, she does what she can to volunteer and help her country’s defense.

With Kharkiv now regularly shelled and Melitopol occupied, it is from her new home in Lviv that she has been helping her family. Unfortunately, Alice’s younger brother cannot join them.

“A border guard, he was among the first to meet the Russian invasion in Mariupol”, Alice explains to Efe.

Together with hundreds of Ukrainian troops in the “Azovstal” steel plant, he defended the besieged city for almost three months before ending up in Russian hands.

His fate, and almost complete lack of any contact with him since, have become a constant source of worry for Alice, with her only source of information coming from Ukrainian POWs who have been released in exchanges with Russia.

“The treatment is not humane, it’s a concentration camp”, she reveals.

Her brother, who had been wounded at “Azovstal”, was only given a basic medical treatment, and kept without warm clothes or adequate nutrition in squalid conditions in the infamous Olenivka camp, where some 50 prisoners were killed in what Ukraine considers to be a deliberate mass murder by Russia.

She recalls that the only time she has been contacted by her brother, he was clearly not speaking in private, with his questions sounding unnatural. “He was asking whether we had left Melitopol, so I suppose the Russians were gathering information about potential opposition in the occupied city”.

She says that locals are being threatened with their houses being burned down if they refuse to collaborate. Many still refuse and even close down their businesses but others are losing hope the city will ever be recovered by Ukraine.

Her family fled after hearing about what was happening in other Russian-occupied areas. “My mother and younger sister were ready to risk dying on the arduous journey through the frontline rather than to experience what happened to people in Bucha”.

Alice now dedicates most of her free time to volunteering. While her husband and a friend deal with acquiring and delivering necessary equipment for the soldiers, such as armor plates, drones or pick-up cars, Alice is raising funds by giving out her paintings in exchange for donations.

“I painted it when I found out where my brother was being kept”, she says while demonstrating a painting which pictures the darkness, pain and destruction that Russia has brought into the lives of Ukrainians.

Alice likes to paint during power cuts that can last for as long as 12 hours. She used to complain about the discomfort, but knows that her situation is nothing compared to what soldiers on the frontline have to endure.

“Besides, for instance, there is electricity, gas and heating in Melitopol. Yet they also have Russians there. I prefer to be without gas or electricity but to be sure there is no Russia here,” she says.

Alice, a long-time Russian speaker who used to think of herself as apolitical, now exclusively speaks Ukrainian. “I have forgotten how to read or speak in Russian”. EFE


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