Pyatikhatko family: "In Uzhgorod, streets are dirty, but people are kinder"
The Pyatikhatko family came to Uzhgorod last August. They came from Gorlivka in Donetsk region, where active combat operations had begun then. We visited this friendly family to hear about their road to a peaceful life. The head of the family, Roma, is now on a business trip. His wife Olga says that her husband found work almost immediately after their arrival here. She has not found work yet, so she helps other IDPs to settle in the new place.
"Militia were assuring: do not worry, there will be no shooting here"
"Originally I am from Vinnytsia region, I met my husband in Kyiv, where we lived for some time - Olga says. - Then we moved together to Gorlivka where my husband comes from. There, a friend suggested us to live in his apartment, gradually paying out its price. Last autumn, we were supposed to pay the last intallment and get registered in a new home, but we had to leave everything and go away.
When last spring riots, pro-Russion demonstrations and then capturing of administrative buildings started in Gorlivka, another our friend gathered us all and said, "Something very bad is happenning. We must leave here until it's too late." Of all the people he was trying to persuade, we were the only one to agree with him. He was the first to sell his house and move to Uzhgorod. My husband and I helped him move - that was the first time we saw the city. When we came back, we realized how serious the situation was. Immediately after that we started to plan moving. First, we packed two huge boxes and sent them with postal service to Vinnytsia. To bring the boxes to the post office, we had to be examined by the militias. They even tore those boxes to make sure that there really was only children's clothing there. Then, in late May, I took my daughters - Samira and Ariana - to my mother's in Vinnytsia region. Travelling by train was dangerous, our train was standing in a field for several hours. It was very frightening.
Then I came back - for the husband and the rest of things. The situation in Gorlivka was already turbulent. My husband saw his former school friends - mostly, drug addicts and alcoholics - carrying guns around. We were told: do not worry, everything will be fine, there will be no shooting here. That's why few people left, everybody hoped that it would be all right. Now people regret. There is one friend who wants to leave but can not. He has no money, doesn't want to sell the apartment. Now, apartments in Gorlivka are very cheap - 3 thousand dollars. And no one wants to buy anyway. So he is stranded there, poor thing.
On the day, when we wanted to leave, I woke up at 5 o'clock in the morning, looked out the window, and we have a pretty good view to ourskirts of Donetsk. I saw explosions far away, smoke. On that day, we did not risk to leave. And after some time, we took our old minibus from the friend's summer house (keeping it at home was risky - they could have taken him away), quickly loaded the things and left. The problem was that there was Vinnytsia registration in our passports (we had to be registered at the parents' place), which meant that anything could have happened at the separatist checkpoints.
"We passed all separatist checkpoints with a Ukrainian flag
Olya and Roma did not know which roads were safe to go from Gorlivka, so they tried to receive information from friends which roads were blocked, and which ones were free to go. "To be honest, we were chosing the route randomly. At one of the separatist roadblocks we were told that the militia were thoroughly checking everyone. And we were carrying a Ukrainian flag. I folded it and put among children's things. When I remembered about it at the checkpoint, I got scared. The husband says, "For crying out loud! What are we going to do about it?". But we had to go on. Fortunately, nobody checked us. That's how we passed all separatists roadblocks with that flag.
When we reached the territory controlled by soldiers, Roma said, "Well, have you calmed down?". I could not believe that we were safe, I was thinking, what if those are militias dressed in Ukrainian soldier uniforms? Such incidents have happened. Only later, at the Ukrainian checkpoint, where I saw our flag, I admitted that we were escaping from Gorlivka. I burst into tears, hugged the National Guards, they were moved to tears too. They were in so hard conditions there! Open field, intolerable heat, no food. I felt bad for them. They were very good guys on the Ukrainian checkpoints. They all would ask in surprise what we were carrying in the jar. We would show them the fish. It tolerated the trip well, by the way, now lives in an aquarium. She is an immigrant too."
When the Pyatikhatko family arrived to Uzhgorod, friends already had found an apartment for them. Olga says that people were glad to help them, the landlady even made a discount for them. "We have more friends here than we had in Gorlivka! It turned out that some old friends, with whom I have long lost contact, now live in Uzhgorod. We became friends with other IDPs. In Uzhgorod, there is the charitable organization "Nehemiah", which does a lot for IDPs. I saw that they often can not cope with all those, who come, so I offered to help. Thus, I joined to their work, help with questionnaires that all new IDPs have to fill, call them, when some humanitarian aid comes, advise on how to make a living in Uzhgorod. This is the least I can do now, and I do not want to do nothing" - Olga says.
Interestingly, the family of Pyatikhatko themselves are not considered IDPs officially. Since they have Vinnytsia registration, they are not entitled to social benefits for IDPs (for example, free food in kindergartens and schools). Even the certificate from Gorlivka school, that the elder daughter Samira studied at now occupied territory, did not help. Fortunately, the family had no problems with school and kindergarten. Olga says that teachers immediately found a place for Samira at school. Junior Ariana goes to kindergarten. Now, Olga says, the children are getting used to the Ukrainian-speaking environment, and Samira even admits that she starts to forget some Russian words.
"In Uzhgorod, streets are dirty, but people are kinder"
Working with IDPs, Olga knows what problems they face, having arrived to Uzhgorod. The hardest thing now, she says, is to find a place to live because rent has greatly increased, and there is no wide choice. Sometimes families of immigrants have to cooperate to rent, for example, a house. There are also problems with work.In the Donbas, IDPs received much higher salaries than here. And the choice of vacancies is small.
But Olga is convinced that people are kinder here. "In Uzhgorod, all people smile, even in stores, they treat clients very nicely: always help and wish a good day. And in Gorlivka, people are constantly dissatisfied with something. What do I not like about Uzhgorod? There are very few children's playgrounds and streets are dirty. In Gorlivka, utilities work much better, janitors start sweeping as early as at 6 am. I have not seen it here, but it probably depends on the mayor. As for playgrounds, in Gorlivka, there were nice playgrounds in every yard. And here, you need to go somewhere else to play with children."
But despite this, Pyatikhatkos like Transcarpathia. Roma's parents stayed in Gorlivka, survived shellings sitting in the basement. Not long ago, they moved to Russia. Olya and Roma do not talk about politics with parents - they have different opinions about what is happening in the Donbas. Actually, it is not suprising, because now even once pro-Ukrainian residents are changing their minds. Olga says that her eldest daughter was studying in a Ukrainian form. She had a very patriotic teacher who would always speak only in Ukrainian. But even she succumbed to Russian propaganda. When Olga last talked to her, she said that the school still works, the Donetsk People's Republic tries to pay teachers salaries, teaching in Ukrainian language was banned, and the 5-point grading system had been brought back. However, the teacher said that Ukraine did nothing to support the region, to give people pensions and salaries. She says: let there be DPR, if they can restore peace. Now, Olga's friends admit that militants are preparing for major military action: constantly digging something, reinforcing, bring vehicles and openly warn people that they should expect new hostilities after the Easter holidays.
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