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Marina Dobrovolskaya


OV: How did this war started for you?


My husband and I have been living and working in Semyonovka for the last year and a half. This is a small town located on the border with Russia.

On that night we were awakened by explosions. There were no military facilities on the territory of our small town. We saw a Russian military convoy, which was heading to Chernihiv. There was a terrible noise, the earth was trembling under heavy machinery, it was very scary.

We packed up some necessary things. I dressed the child and we went to my husband’s work place. We thought that it was safer there. My husband then owned a sawmill, a small wood processing factory, and we went there. My child and I hid on the basement floor while my husband and his brother tried to hide the equipment at the factory from the Russian soldiers. We knew that they would confiscate everything, tractors, cars, and so on. All that was built by us and earned by through the years of hard work.

My six-year-old son and I lived with my husband at the basement for three days. Then, when it became quieter in the town, we returned home.


OV: How long did you live in Semyonovka?


Around one month.


OV: Please, tell me about that month


There were no Ukrainian army in Semyonovka, so our territory was immediately occupied. The tanks were parked near a school, kindergarten, hospital, or right in people's yards, so they could not be destroyed without damaging civilian objects. Block posts were set up on the roads, and the forest was mined. The population of the city was trapped. We could not leave the city and no one could call on us. After some time, food and household chemicals ran out. Store shelves were empty.

We were saved from starvation by the fact that many people in our town had their small farms. My husband distributed firewood so that people would not freeze. It was very cold. Everyone tried to help each other.


OV: Was there any possibility of evacuation? 


All my relatives have already left Ukraine and every day they persuaded me to evacuate.

"You have a child. Let your husband take you out." - they said. But we understood that it was more dangerous for us to leave than to stay. Block posts on the roads. The forest is mined. You can simply be shot by Russian soldiers along the way. It was scary.


OV: When did you decide to take the risk and leave?


When the Rosgvariya (Russian National Guard) arrived. They started to stop and search local people on the street and then take them for interrogations and recruit by force. My husband was stopped and told that if he wouldn't cooperate, they would come for his family.

We made several decisions very quickly in one night. My husband decided to take us to a safe place and then join Ukrainian army as a volunteer. We quickly packed up and left.

We had to go through the forest, which is mined. I was in the car with my eyes shut and afraid to breath it was so scarry.


OV: How could you survive it? Overcome fear?


I prayed. I knew that my family was praying for me. I trusted my husband. And my child trusted me so much that he calmly fell asleep in my arms.

And then indeed, our prayers were answered, a miracle happened that: in an hour we met a car with a driver knew the road through the minefield very well. The rest of the way was easier. Can you imagine? right in the middle of the forest, we came across a savior?


OV: How long did it take to get to Bulgaria? 


6 days. Obviously, we were very tired. It was necessary to change transport often. I didn't take much of clothes with me, but I took all the stuff necessary to continue working.


OV: What do you do?

I am an artist so there were brushes, paints, my bags. I also took with me an unfinished painting about the war. It was important for me to finish it. Imagine me with a child in one hand and a heavy bag in another hand. The canvas, which constantly fell out of hands on the road. 6 days like this.

But we did it. I came to Bulgaria and finished my work here.


OV: Do you have someone left in Ukraine, except for your husband?


My family is here in safety. I never regretted that we left. We are together and it is easier for us to survive this war, because we are not afraid and do not need to worry about each other’s life daily. It is easier for my husband to fight knowing that his wife and son are safe. I know that many of those who have remained condemn those who have left and are abroad. But I believe that everyone should help as much as he can from where he is. My husband is protecting his homeland while I am protecting our son. He would not be able to fully focus, knowing that his family could be killed or raped at any moment. Everyone must do their job.


OV: Do you miss him?


Highly! I pray for him every day. I try to support him when he feels down.


OV: Are you scared?


We are all afraid. He is afraid to die and not see his son. I am also afraid. But I believe that everything will be fine. And I trust him. He will return alive and unharmed. Everything will be fine! 

OV: Where do you get so much strength and so much energy?

I try to look everywhere for something good and positive. Look at what a beautiful place we are. Mountains, clean air, fields and meadows... My relatives are with me. I meet new good people. My child forgot about the war. For me, this is the most important thing. He enjoys childhood, plays and smiles. All this gives me strength and energy, and I share it with my husband, who needs my support. And it really helps him a lot.


OV: Do you miss home?


I miss Ukraine and my people, familiar Ukrainian mentality, delicious food, our beautiful nature. I hope I'm not going to stay abroad forever. I will return when it is safe for my child. But I'm afraid it won't be soon.


OV: What do you want to add at the end? What would you like to say to the people who will read this? 


I would like to wish to all our people to keep the faith. Even when it seems that the situation is hopeless and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. This is not true. The light is within us. Light is faith, calmness and trust in your loved ones, and you need to carry it forward, then you can get out, you can overcome all the troubles.

All we do is for our children. They believe and trust us, adults. They feel our energy. My painting, which I finished already here in Bulgaria, is called "Stolen childhood".

It depicts a girl, a classmate of my son, who was going through the experience of the war. There is so much awareness in her face. She looks at me seriously like an adult. There is no longer childish innocence in her eyes. They filled with pain and grief from a lost childhood. This girl literally matured in a few months. This should not happen. We adults shouldn't let that happen.

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