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War diary from Ukraine [Part 3]: Under fire

In May we published part 1 of Riot Turtle‘s Ukraine war diary. Part 2 followed in June. In July and August, Riot Turtle was also in Ukraine. Early October, he traveled to Ukraine for the fifth time since the current 3rd phase of the invasion by the Russian army that started on February 24. This time he traveled to the front line in Kharkiv Oblast. Below we publish part 3 of Riot Turtle’s Ukraine war diary.

On October 2, I set off again for Ukraine with companions from the Cars of Hope and Enough 14 collectives. I was looking forward to seeing some of my friends in Kyiv again, and to be honest, I am also tired of the bullshit that some of the so-called “leftists” in this country are telling about a war in a country where most of them have never been. And the ignorance with which they think they know everything about the situation in Ukraine (and other parts of Eastern Europe) without even exchanging a word with comrades who actually live there. Yes, there are plenty of them. Most of these so-called “leftists”, especially the “tankies” among them, don’t seem to know much about the völkisch (folkish) ideology that is one of the pillars of the current ruling class in Russia. With love from Alexander Gelyevich Dugin.

An intra-imperialist war…. But NATO… Yes NATO sucks, we agree on that, but the Russian state is very well able to carry out its own imperialist agenda. They don’t need us for that, nor do they need NATO. “The West” has not been the only master of domination on this planet for a long time. Xi Jinping and Putin send their regards. But AZOV…, yes AZOV sucks too. Even though the fascists, unlike DUMA and almost every parliament in EU member states, were not elected into parliament in the last general elections in Ukraine. Organized fascists are a problem in Ukraine. Just like here in Germany. There was something going on in the German Army and the cops. Wasn’t it? Anyway, last but not least, organized fascists in Ukraine are a problem that directly affects our companions there. For years there have been confrontations between our Ukrainian comrades and fascists. And I do not mean conflicts, where fascists are to be “chased away” with techno music, but rather tangible physical confrontations.

In this bombed building in Kyiv, self-organized Antifa defense courses and trainings were held regularly until it was hit by a missile.

There are many anarchists and especially leftists in the West who do not want to support the comrades in Ukraine. Often for ideological reasons. In my opinion, this is not only politically disastrous, it also shows an understanding of solidarity that no one needs. Of course, a critical discussion about the war is necessary and important. However, in the meantime I prefer to have such discussions with people on the ground, because they are under enormous pressure from all sides and many of the complications are also pointed out there in concrete terms. But the conclusion is often different. Logically, because on the couch, far away from the events on the ground, nobody must fear to have to live under a repressive autocratic occupying power. All those diligently criticizing people outside Ukraine usually do not even adumbrate under what kind of pressure comrades in Ukraine are working. In addition, many texts and discussions are full of false assumptions and simply an inaccurate analysis of the situation, because the Cold War is over and this war needs a new analysis, both in terms of folkish nationalism in Russia, as well as the role of the West. Even if many Western countries support the Ukrainian state with arms deliveries, many of the often lousy analyses do not take into account that the same countries transfer billions of dollars to the Russian state for the Russian war machine month after month. Be it the United States for uranium (imports of Russian fuel rods for their nuclear power plants, these are exempt from sanctions), or many other Western states for Russian oil and gas. The sanctions against Russian oil, for example, include one thing above all: exemptions. And if Germany transfers less money to the Russian state at the moment than it did a few months ago, it is because Gazprom & Co hardly deliver any gas anymore. The majority of NATO has refused several times to accept the Ukrainian state as a member. There are reasons for that as well. There are many contradictions in the attitude and policies of many Western countries regarding the Russian state. The situation is becoming more and more tense and, of course, the Western states are also pursuing their own goals. As they always do. But we can not reduce the whole thing to an “inter-imperialist” war, as it happens in many texts from Western countries, which are spread about this war, and simply ignore people who live in areas that are under attack. This is what you do when you don’t listen to these people and often don’t even mention them in such texts. As if Ukraine does not exist. Or Georgia, or Chechnya. All this shows that a new analysis is needed and it would be appropriate not to do this with a Western view of things, but instead to develop a common analysis with comrades from Eastern Europe. I would definitely welcome that.

I suppose you have noticed by now that I find the level of discourse of some factions in this country disgusting. This diary is not intended to develope into a rant, but I do not want to let my frustration about it go unmentioned.

I feel like I’ve been living in two different worlds for months, and apart from the war, I often feel more comfortable in Ukraine than I do here. Especially when I travel with comrades who live there. Our comrades in Ukraine are in a difficult and complicated situation. Left alone by many “comrades” in the so-called West, they are fighting against a fascist Russian state and know that they cannot trust the Ukrainian state, which could launch a wave of repression against them anytime. Some say quite openly that they expect this to happen at the latest after the war ends. At the same time, there is a danger that the fascists will come out of this war stronger. But they give everything, although they know that they do not have many options, because if they do not get involved, the fascists will definitely be the third that rejoices in Ukraine. Its complicated.

Their trump card is the high degree of self-organization in Ukrainian society. Many people know that they cannot rely on the state and therefore support each other. Mutual aid takes place everywhere in Ukraine, far beyond the bubbles of the usual suspects. This is where opportunities lie and they are being used. Many comrades know that they also (but not only!) have to fill this gap, so that the field is not left open for the fascists. Other comrades act against new neoliberal reforms in Ukraine, which de facto completely abolish the already meager workers’ rights. Nevertheless, this is not a reason for them not to fight against the Russian invasion. Of course it isn’t. Who would want to live in a homophobic autocracy with strong fascist elements? Well, I don’t. This should be kept in mind on many comfortable couches in the FRG and other western countries. Many queers who fled from Russia and Belarus to Ukraine in the past years are now fighting against the Russian invasion (With a reason!). Under extremely difficult conditions, but they don’t really have a choice either. Of course, it would be better to fight the Russian army with armed anarchist forces but who will come to Ukraine to form such combat units? Who will supply them with the necessary arms? The anti-militarist positions of anarchists still have their legitimacy and are still right, yet I can understand that there are comrades* in Eastern Europe (not only in Ukraine, but also in Belarus and Russia, for example) who fight in the territorial defense against the Russian army due to a practical lack of our own alternatives. The idea of having to live under occupation of an autocracy is a horror scenario, especially for refugees from Belarus and Russia who are fighting in Ukraine. For this reason, pushing back the Russian army is at the top of their priority list. These people are fully aware that the Ukrainian state is not their friend. Or as my grandma used to often say about the resistance during the Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, “We often coordinated our actions with conservatives as well, who later became the Christian Democrats. We knew that they were not our friends. We were also aware that these same people would take action against us after the war and that we would lose. But the fight against the Nazis was our priority, and without coordination with these groups, the resistance would have been weakened. We didn’t really have a choice.” Now of course that was a very different war in very different times, but that doesn’t erase the fact that in my opinion it’s legitimate to take up the fight against a war of aggression by autocrats and put it on top of the priority list.

For me, it was never a question whether I would support people fighting against an imperial invasion by a state that supports pretty much all fascist political parties in Western Europe. This kind of “things must be nipped in the bud” still applies to me. And yes, we will have to get our hands dirty in the process. If we don’t, then we might as well stop fighting Orban, Le Pen, AfD and other fascists in European Union member states (and beyond). Not that I’m impressed by the “chasing away” fascists with techno music in Berlin and other cities in this country. This kind of event activities, in my opinion, does not do justice to the situation and will not bring the struggle against fascism one step further. In Ukraine, too, many people are aware that even if they succeed in forcing the Russian army out of Ukraine, the whole thing is not over. In the end, it must be about changing the existing conditions. Everywhere.

Fighting fascism without fighting the current conditions is like wiping with a running faucet: pointless. But for me this does not mean that in a war situation people should not (temporarily?) decide to defend themselves first against the attacking army. Even if this is not without risks for the development of one’s own movement. I actually consider it more critical here in this country. All these anti-fascist alliances in Germany, where the Social Democratic Party (SPD) is also involved. One of the parties that is jointly responsible for thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea and a racist deportation policy. It makes me want to puke and in my opinion it is counterproductive. But they still exist over here: people who take the struggle against fascism and the existing conditions seriously. To change the conditions here, I recommend to read Post Covid Riot Prime Manifesto by “Doc” Mccoy. There you will find interesting thoughts and approaches. Far away from “event activism”. Last month, Part 1 of the third series of Post Covid Riot Prime Manifesto was published. But I digress. Or maybe I don’t, because all these struggles are connected with each other, even if it’s often not that obvious.

October 2, 2022

Originally we had planned to visit Ukraine in September, but we had technical problems with two of our cars, so we decided to take care of that first and postponed the trip to October. But now we were finally on our way to Ukraine again. We all knew that this mission would be different from the previous ones: We will travel with companions from Kyiv to the front line in Kharkiv Oblast. We had been planning this with companions from Kyiv for quite some time.

In July, we participated in a Tac-Med [1] training in Kyiv and learned, among other things, how to treat gunshot wounds, what to do in case of phosphor on the skin, how to apply tourniquets, and so on. What we learned there is only enough for temporary first aid, but until the emergency ambulance arrives, this can be crucial. Of course, we also talked a lot about the dangers that each of us might face on the front line and where our limits are. About the motivation and goals we have for ourselves and as a group. We also decided against consensus decisions regarding these risks. Everyone has the right to drop out immediately if it is too much or too rough for him or her. The rest of the group would then look at how to reshuffle certain responsibilities. But we also talked about issues like what can and can’t be photographed. About vital things like not leaving the road close to the front line, because many areas are mined in the areas only recently retaken by the Ukrainian army but not yet marked. Possible booby traps were also an issue. Don’t touch anything, don’t walk in half-bombed buildings that are not cleared yet, etc.

As we drove past Magdeburg, I wondered if we had overlooked or forgotten something while preparing for this mission. But I quickly realized that we had definitely overlooked something. War is not only cruel, but also a dynamic event. Front lines change every now and then, and weapons that weren’t used yesterday are suddenly used against the part of town you’re staying today. Apart from that, we were all aware that you can do little against rocket attacks and mortar shelling. After all, we’re not going to an “action event”, we’re going to a war zone. Soon we would switch from the A2 highway to the A10. Berlin wasn’t far away, but as we approached the capital, we would change direction and head towards the Polish border. But we weren’t there yet. I realized that I wasn’t nervous, but I had a healthy kind of tension. A tension that I need to be able to concentrate 100%. I always reach top form under pressure. I always can manage my fears under such conditions. I can control them well. That was already the case during the Kosovo war, when I was part of a group that evacuated people from that former war zone. During earlier clandestine activities, which are now time-barred, I had learned a lot in that field. I ran everything through my head again as we sped along the highway passing small towns and villages, the names of which I had never seen on road signs, even though I drove the route to Berlin many times. Nice I thought, 100% focused and very attentive, also regarding my surroundings, is exactly what I need now. Everything will be fine. Time to read a few more pages in the Post Covid Riot Prime Manifesto, the very first episode of the series. He doesn’t know, but Doc McCoy joins us.

Originally, we had planned to go to the front as early as August, but due to unexpected events in Kharkiv, we didn’t manage to do it at that time. It just didn’t make sense back then because Kharkiv was under a 24-hour curfew as the Ukrainian state was expecting a major attack by the Russian army in August. During a curfew, you will not receive a permit to pass military checkpoints, and you also will not be able to distribute relief supplies during a curfew because there is simply almost nobody on the streets. We had to return to Germany a few days later, so we didn’t have enough time to go to Kharkiv after the curfew ended. Our friends from Kyiv distributed the relief goods we had brought with us a few days later and we agreed to go to Kharkiv together on our next trip to Ukraine.

We passed the German-Polish border and shortly thereafter did a driver change. I now sit behind the steering wheel and drive through the night. I make good progress, because in the night the Polish highways are pretty empty. Passing Warsaw and then straight to the Polish-Ukrainian border.

October 3, 2022

We started guessing how long it would take to cross the border this time. But we were lucky, it all went pretty fast. We have another driver change and after spending the whole night at the steering wheel, I immediately fell asleep on the back seats. I’m lucky being able to sleep anywhere, but maybe that’s just because I always push myself to my limits in this kind of situations, keep driving until just before having a microsleep…

After about 27 hours we reached Kyiv. I was glad to see that our friends were all fine. Over the past 6 months, some friendships have developed and we were warmly welcomed. They had prepared a delicious dinner for us, followed by coffee and then we started to pack the 2 vans. We had brought a lot of medical stuff, bandages, tourniquets, two filled tac-med backpacks, a set with a lot of material to treat burn injuries, medicines, water purification tablets and other stuff. Our friends from the autonomous initiative “Help War Victims – Ukraine” (HWV) already had a lot of other things such as food, hygiene products, matches and candles in their warehouse, partly received as a donation, partly collected or bought by themselves. They had also organized a wood stove for people living in a half-bombed high-rise building without electricity and heating in Kharkiv. After a few hours of sorting and packing, we decided to go to sleep. Tired from the long journey.

October 4, 2022

We got up early and after having breakfast in the city, we went back to the HWV warehouse. We had another coffee with our HMV companions and then packed the rest of the relief supplies into the vans. We talked a few things over with the companions from Kyiv and then drove off to Kharkiv. We had a lot of time to talk on the way, the metropolis in the east of Ukraine is about 500 kilometers away from Kyiv. Since the beginning of the war, Kharkiv has been attacked almost daily with missiles, but for several months now, some of the missiles were intercepted by air defenses before they had the chance to cause destruction.

After 7 hours we arrive in Kharkiv. The city is completely darkened, which creates a spooky atmosphere. This is supposed to make it difficult for the Russian army to identify possible targets in the city during the night. I think about my grandma, who often told me about the darkening in Holland during World War II. I look up through the window and see that due to the darkening many stars are visible above the city with its 1.5 million inhabitants. Nature is healing, I think, even in times of war.

We will stay with friends of our companions from Kyiv. They live on the outskirts of Kharkiv, far away from the hustle and bustle. We are all warmly welcomed with a great meal. The picturesque cottage is transformed into a command center for a relief operation. Including living and other rooms converted into bedrooms. The residents, apart from 2 humans, a dog and 2 cats are also living here, are all (!) wonderful hosts. We have a beer after dinner, while we briefly discuss our plans for tomorrow. Then we lay down, the coming days will be exhausting, it is important to have a good sleep again.

The windows in the house where we stayed in Kharkiv are all covered with cardboard, so the cottage is darkened for the outside world.

October 5, 2022

After breakfast we set off directly. Today we will go to Kucherivka (Кучерівка). The small village is relatively close to the frontline and there are mainly elderly people there. But first, we will obtain a permit, without it you will not get far near the frontline. Surprisingly, we received the permit relatively easily. Many things are needed here and many NGOs do not want to go near to the frontline. But first, we get a pass, without the pass you can’t get far near the front line. Surprisingly, we got the pass relatively easily. Many things are needed and many NGOs do not go near the front line. We put on protective vests. Whether they will protect us, we do not know. In case of a direct hit probably not, but against gunfire and smaller shrapnel they will.

We drive further and further east through Kharkiv Oblast, the Russian border is not that far away anymore. We are now in an area that was occupied by the Russian army until a couple of weeks ago. Here we will not leave the road, because the terrain around it is often mined, but not yet marked. Again and again we pass objects, where you can clearly see that until recently, this area was occupied.

As we drive deeper into this area, the war damage becomes increasingly severe. Again and again, we hear the thunder of artillery, but it is still far away. I estimate about 20 kilometers. At the checkpoints we notice that the soldiers in this area seem friendly, but also increasingly nervous. On the road we almost only see military equipment, ambulances and fire trucks. Apart from soldiers and rescue workers, there are hardly any people on the streets. We drive through a village that has been razed to the ground. Silence in our van.

We also keep seeing abandoned Russian army checkpoints, but also abandoned Russian battle tanks, sometimes destroyed, sometimes just abandoned. I can hear from the noise of artillery impacts that we are getting closer to the front. Finally we arrive in Kucherivka. The last village before this section of the front line. It is a small village with a few hundred inhabitants, many of whom left the village months ago. At first we don’t see any people on the streets, we honk a few times. After a few minutes a few people come out of the picturesque little houses. Mostly elderly people, but not only. Little by little more people come to our vans. We learn that the second van has already started distributing hygiene items and food at another spot in the village. The Tac-Med asks if there are people who need medicine and how they are doing. We also start our distribution activities. Many villagers ask the comrades from Kyiv who we are. People react enthusiastically when they hear that we come from Western Europe. They feel abandoned from everyone and everything and it makes them feel good to hear that there are people who take the trouble to visit them. Here, at the end of the world, there is a lot to talk about. Meanwhile, here too, we keep hearing impacts from artillery on the front line. I guess it’s about 10 to 15 kilometers far away. So at the moment there is no danger for us and the villagers. We have long since finished distributing relief supplies, but the conversations continue. An elderly lady is walking back to her house with her food package. I am filming her from behind, but after a few seconds I stop. This woman touched me somehow.

We drive back to Kharkiv. We have no time pressure, which is quite good after all the impressions. The permit also frees us from the curfew. When we arrive at our “base” in Kharkiv, we can immediately eat something. Our hosts have once again created a wonderful meal.

The sensible thing would be to eat something and go to bed early, but no one does that. Not even the comrades from Kyiv. It is important to recharge one’s batteries, but one must also be able to sleep after witnessing the horror of war during the day, the enormous destruction and the number of people living close to the front line who are suffering. So instead of going to bed early, some alcohol is consumed. Not an excessive amount, but still a few glasses. Meanwhile, we talk a lot with each other about what we have experienced today and the plans for tomorrow. We had a big need to talk now. I lay down and think about the elderly woman in Kucherivka. I hope she is well and survives all this shit.

October 6, 2022

I get up early in the morning and realize that I must have had a better sleep than I thought I would have. I had heard nothing of the radio play I had switched on to make sure I would sleep, except for the first couple of lines. So I must have fallen asleep right after thinking about the elderly lady. That’s good, because today is going to be a tough day again. I am sure about that. One by one, everyone gets up. We have breakfast, briefly check the supplies we need for today, and set off. Thanks to the permit we get through the many controls without any problems. Today we drive to Kupiansk(Купянск). Until a few weeks ago, this town was also occupied by the Russian army. Kupiansk is about 5 to 6 kilometers away from the front line. At that moment we didn’t know that near this town, where a lot of buildings where destroyed, there was fierce fighting. Today the roads are also bad, big potholes and massive damage from battle tanks. Here and there damage from impacts on the road. The first thing we see in Kupiansk are devastated streets. On a crossroads there are two abandoned cars. Perforated. Next to one of the cars a teddy bear is lying on the ground. A silent witness of what has happened here. In the background we hear artillery fire again and again, but it is far away.

In this provence town there are still people on the street, but there are not many. We walk for a short time through the center of the city, there is battle damage everywhere. Bullet holes and bombed buildings. We approach a few people and start our distribution operation. Here, too, normal supplies have been cut off. Here, too, hardly any NGOs go. Too close to the front. We distribute groceries, hygiene items, but also candles, matches and flashlights, because electricity has not been available here for a long time. Our Tac-Med distributes medicines. The impacts are getting closer and closer. Bang! Bang! Bang! The part of town where we are distributing is being shelled. My pulse goes up, yet I remain calm. I learned a long time ago to switch to a kind of robot mode in threatening situations, and in this state, I do what I think is important, necessary and appropriate in that situation. Fears can be controlled. I noticed that even in this situation our collective and the comrades harmonized perfectly. We worked together very well and effectively. While all other local residents leave the street immediately, a woman remains next to the van. She has tears in her eyes and looks totally desperate. She needs a medicine for her heart. She is afraid that we will leave immediately, but the tac-med from our crew keeps calm and looks for the right medicine. While searching, she continues to talk to the woman with a soothing voice. We have the needed medicine with us and hand it over to the woman. We are on the road with a good team, because although the whole group is startled, everyone remains focussed and calm throughout the entire time. After the woman has received her medication, a quick nod towards the door of the van and everyone gets in immediately, but with calm.

We drive to another part of town and continue our distribution operation. Three people are now permanently checking the surrounding area. Everyone is still calm, but prepared at all times in case we have to pull out. It only occurred to me now to put on my protective vest. Sometimes you’re really a stupid ignoramus, I think and have to smirk for a moment.

The part of the city we had left shortly before is still being shelled, we hear the impacts and see some smoke. The great comrade from Kyiv, who has completed a full tac-med training, we only did the crash course, is once again taking care of an elderly woman who is completely distraught. The woman is crying. She’s all broken up. Our Tac-Med took her hand and spoke soothingly to her. She succeeded to calm down the old lady. This woman also received hygiene items and food packets and medication for high blood pressure. Meanwhile, we continued the distribution activities with other residents of the district. Calmly. No hectic rush. Of course, many people who live here are nervous. No one needs additional anxiety. Everything worked better than I had hoped during the preparation time. For me, this underlined once again how well we complement each other, both individually and as an alliance of 2 groups that are normally working completely autonomous.

Like the previous day in Kucherivka, many people just wanted to talk with us. An elderly man points his finger at a house with broken windows (picture below). “Ruski,” he tells me. There was no sign of the thesis spread by some Western “tankies” that the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine would welcome the Russian invasion, not only yesterday, but also in Kupiansk there is no doubt about that. There will be people who approve the invasion, the majority of people here certainly do not. They keep telling about the brutality with which the Russian army proceeded during the occupation. We see the destruction, but also the deep psychological wounds of the people we met here. I will spare you various horror stories about what people report here and leave it at that these are similar stories like the well-known accounts from places like Butcha or Irpin. I always feel sick when I hear such stories and this is only one of the reasons why the propaganda of tankies loyal to Moscow by now makes me highly aggressive.

When we finished our distribution in this part of the city, we drove to the other side of Kupiansk. To get there, we had to drive through the district that had been shelled earlier again. We agreed that we would do this, not racing, but briskly. So back into the vehicles and off we went. Of course, the idea of driving through the part of town that had been shelled again didn’t arouse anyone’s enthusiasm, but the shelling had ceased over the course of the last hour. I didn’t hear anything myself for a while now, or rather nothing near enough to affect this part of the city. It may seem disconcerting to many readers that we decided to drive through that area again, but we had been preparing for it for months and knew what we were getting ourselves into and we knew the risks. In one of the videos we’ve released over the past few months, it’s not for nothing that we say “Welcome to the end of the world.”

Grit your teeth and get on with it. We were in alert level 1 mode. We passed safely and a short time later we arrived in a high-rise residential area. I looked out of the window of the van and saw people standing around a fire in front of one of the high-rise buildings. Many houses here are heated with electric heaters and electricity has not been available here for a long time. We get out of our vehicles and a queue forms immediately. But there is no jostling. The people look tired. Worn down by life on the front line, by the constant shelling, by the lack of just about everything they need. From the power outage and the resulting loss of heating. At night, it is much colder here than in Germany. What they need most are candles, matches, food and hygiene items. We are handing out stuff and have a chat with some people. Here, too, some people, although tired, have a lot to talk about. The face of a woman suddenly shines when she hears where we are coming from and that we have come here to support. Many people fled from here, too, and it is important to talk with people, to listen, but also to simply be present. The fear that the world will forget them and the situation they are in is an issue again and again. This is one of the reasons why we are here. Before this trip, I wasn’t so aware of that. Sometimes the little things are also important, they can make a big difference for people. It’s not surprising that people who are the only ones left in a small town or village close to the front line, where almost no one from the outside world goes except for the military, are happy to see a few new faces and happy to just talk to a few other people. I actually should have known that.

We get back into the van and drive back to our base in Kharkiv. On the way, somewhere in Kharkiv oblast, we see a burning vehicle. We stop briefly to see if there are people who need help. Shortly after, some Ukrainian soldiers arrive. “Go Go Go, the car may explode any minute.” We drive again.

Sitting in the van I start to think. To my surprise, not about the mortar shells that came damn close today. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that everything will get worse here in the coming winter. The cold will aggravate the situation of many people living here. So what to do? I’m thinking about our options, what we can and can’t do. Organize wood stoves? Power stations for electric heaters? Both?

When we arrived at our base, we enjoyed some food and talked about todays events. I said that I was really happy with the way we reacted to the shelling in the afternoon and handled the situation as a whole. But also that I felt comfortable with the people from HWV. Everyone shared this view, including the comrades from Kyiv. As the next day’s program was much more relaxed, our hosts crowned the conversation by opening a bottle of vodka. But perhaps only because we had run out of beer and arrived too late at our base to buy beer, as it is prohibited to do so in the war zone in the evening hours.

October 7, 2022

Although we could to have a good night’s rest, I got up early today. That didn’t surprise me, because normally I always get up early. Although yesterday was a tough day, I had slept well. I made myself a coffee and went outside to smoke a cigarette. Air raid siren. Shortly after, there were 2 bangs. But it was far away. I shook my head, smoked another cigarette and checked various sources to check the front line for possible changes, a ritual I do every morning and repeat in the evening. Occasionally a few more times during the day, especially on days when we are near the front line, or because I have noticed some changes in the morning that I want to keep an eye on.

All are waking up one by one, we have some breakfast and drive to the center of Kharkiv. Today the HWV Tac-Med will conduct a Tac-Med workshop. Because besides distributing aid, supporting people how they can help themselves anf people around them is important for the comrades from Kyiv. For us too, by the way.

Many people have come. People are taught how to use a tourniquet to tie off limbs to stop hemorrhages if they have severe injuries, but also how to do this if they don’t have a tourniquet available. How to apply compression bandages. Burn wounds are also a topic. The focus is always on first aid treatment until emergency services arrive. This can take some time in remote villages or if there are multiple attacks at the same time.

After the workshop we walked around in the city and bought, among other things, batteries for flashlights. In the center of Kharkiv a lot was destroyed. Again and again bombed buildings can be seen. Often residential buildings as well. In contrast to the towns and villages near the front line, however, there are many people on the streets here. Before February 24, 1.5 million people lived here. Many people left, but a lot of people stayed here, others returned.

Two Cars of Hope companions also visited one of the biggest markets in Kharkiv. This market was bombed in broad daylight a few months ago, killing many people. The market is now in ruins.

When I went out in the evening in the garden of our base, I heard the air raid alarm again. I had long since gotten used to it. But immediately after the alarm, there was another bang. This time much louder compared to the ones this morning. Shortly after, another bang. Above the roof of the neighbor’s house there was a big flash. I thought it was pretty close. There were three more explosions after that. Soon it became clear that the center of Kharkiv was hit by several rockets, so it was further away than I originally thought. The city center is about 5 kilometers away from the part of the city where we were staying. Maybe it was because rockets are much louder than mortar rounds, maybe I was wrong because of the big flash. Or the whole scenario had just made me nervous. Without the focus I have during a distribution operation, explosions may also have a different effect on me.

We talked about the program for next day and had a beer. But soon the beer got stuck in my throat. The mayor of Kharkiv announced that a hospital in the city had been hit. I felt sheer anger. Meanwhile, our hosts did not let themselves be distracted by all this and cooked a nourishing meal in huge pots. The food was to be brought to Kharkiv the next day.

October 8, 2022

Although I could not fall asleep right away for the first time due to my anger and correspondingly high pulse, I slept well. Today we would take the food that our hosts had cooked last night to a ‘Kitchen for All’ in the center of Kharkiv. After that we drove to a children’s hospital. There we brought among other things, blankets and hygiene items. The children who are treated there all live in areas occupied by the Russian army. When I came in, I looked into the empty, sad eyes of two boys. I was inwardly devastated after I saw the eyes of these kids. However, I didn’t show it and I hope that no one noticed. Because that’s probably the last thing these kids need. Later, one of the Cars of Hope companions told me that the eyes of these children affected him deeply. A doctor showed us around and told us that in March and April, when Kharkiv was more or less under constant shelling, the entire staff stayed in the hospital around the clock for weeks to stay with the children in that difficult time. She was very affectionate with her little patients. Again and again, children were clinging to her. She hugged the kids and spoke lovingly to them with a soothing tone. As we walked down a long hallway, she told how all the staff and the children spent long periods of time in the hallway during the bombings because it had no windows that could be broken by shock waves after explosions. This was quite appropriate, because we saw some broken windows in the hospital.

After that we went to a high-rise residential area, which is located north of Saltivka. Saltivka is in the northeast in Kharkiv region. One of the high-rise buildings was badly damaged due to bombardments. A queue formed and we started distributing medicines, hygiene items , food and other things. Again, it was noticeable that people were very calm, although they are in an absolutely miserable situation.

Together with one of the Cars of Hope companions, I documented the damage to the half-bombed high-rise apartment building in the street. A resident asked if we could take a picture of him in front of the building. I looked into his eyes and could not. For a moment I was mentally blocked. I don’t know how many sad few eyes I saw in the past few days, there were many. Fortunately, someone else in our group had the strength to grant his wish. He stood in front of the severely damaged building and was photographed. When we looked at the picture later, I realized that my companion had succeeded in bringing this facial expression into the picture. He had really shot a good picture.

The HWV comrades have been to this high-rise settlement before and had promised during their last visit to bring a wood stove next time, because most of the people here can’t heat either. The people were very happy that the comrades did not forget and that they can heat now. No big act for us, for the people who live here a big difference.

After this distribution activity we drove back to Kyiv. On the way I had a thousand thoughts. After about 7 hours we arrived at the HWV warehouse in Kyiv. We had a few drinks and all agreed that the aid mission had gone well. Of course, there are details that we can and must improve, but above all, the fact that the chemistry between everyone was really good, even in moments when we were under pressure, gave us a lot of energy. The comrades said that they would like to go to the front line with us again. We agreed immediately. Tomorrow we’ll return to Germany, but soon we’ll be back in Ukraine. At the end of the world.

Riot Turtle


Info

Cars of Hope collective needs both donations in kind and money for their next aid transport to Ukraine. At the moment they are also preparing a donation campaign for a used van. The following items are needed as donations in kind: tourniquets, compression bandages, medicines, powerbanks, candles, matches, water purification tablets, flashlights and batteries of all sizes. Also needed are power generators that can be charged with solar, car batteries and regular electricity. But they also need money donations to finance transports and to buy aid supplies in Ukraine. Many things are much cheaper there. And last but not least, they need money for a used van to increase their transport capacity.

E-mail address for in-kind donations:
carsofhopewtal@gmail.com

Bank account details for financial donations:
Name of th bank: Volksbank im Bergischen Land, account holder: Hopetal e.V., reason for payment: Cars of Hope, IBAN: DE51 3406 0094 0002 9450 87, BIC: VBRSDE33XXX

Cars of Hope in Ukraine video from August 2022

Notes

[1] Tactical medicine or tactical emergency medicine is the medical specialty concerned with medical emergency support necessary to maintain the safety and physical and mental health of people on special operations (tactical) and other missions in war zones and other crisis situations.

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