Fr, 2.12.2022

A dozen minutes between the air raid alert and the first explosions

Margus Martin
, ajakirjanik
A dozen minutes between the air raid alert and the first explosions
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Yesterday, liquid flowed in streams from the tanks of the sunflower oil storage that was hit by a rocket, and they tried to collect it with equipment and handy tools.
Yesterday, liquid flowed in streams from the tanks of the sunflower oil storage that was hit by a rocket, and they tried to collect it with equipment and handy tools. Photo: Olga Sošenko
  • The family has not lived in decent conditions for eight months.
  • The rent of a garage equals the utilities bill of a three-room apartment.
  • Visits of friends and acquaintances help to keep up the spirit.

Russian forces were driven away from Mykolaiv in early April but the frontline is still close to the city. Kherson is less than a hundred kilometers away and therefore life in the region’s capital is anything but peaceful.

The Albeshenko family, which hosts the Postimees reporters in Mykolaiv, has settled in one of the sections of the garage cooperative with a proper basement, at the initiative of Yuri, who is in army service and also runs a voluntary aid organization. There are more than fifty garages and more than half of them house people. They are already joking that it is not a garage, but a housing cooperative.

The garage, where the Albeshenkos have settled, does not belong to them, but was rented at the beginning of the war for 600 hryvnias (nearly 17 euros) per month. “I pay about the same amount of rent as the utilities bill of a three-room apartment,” says Yuri. Despite the fact that they have not lived under a proper roof for eight months, he has to pay 2,000 hryvnias (almost 56 euros) for the apartment. As said, in addition to water, electricity, gas, internet and everything else.

The Albeshenkos' rental apartment is not empty either; their two parrots and a hamster live there, and they bring food to them every day when there is a quieter moment.

A nice „two-room” basement

At first glance, the garage, insulated from the inside with improvised materials, looks like any other, but it differs from the rest in that it has a proper “two-room” basement: going down the stairs, one finds a spacious front room where guests are accommodated while the family of four and Borya, the foundling cat, fit in the back room. The rooms are heated by a tin stove in the corner of the garage and an electric fan downstairs. The latter is mostly used when guests are staying overnight.

The Albeshenko family living in the basement of a garage in Mykolaiv has spent eight months in a row with their two daughters in modest conditions.
The Albeshenko family living in the basement of a garage in Mykolaiv has spent eight months in a row with their two daughters in modest conditions. Photo: Margus Martin

The concrete ceiling panels and walls of the garage add a sense of security, but do not provide a complete guarantee against an attack drone, let alone a missile strike. Yet it is much better than hiding in the basement of an apartment building, which could be buried under several floors worth of panels in case of a hit. The sight of such destruction can be seen in many places in Mykolaiv.

After a quieter than usual weekend, when warning signals came in the city almost every hour or two, more intense moments came Sunday evening around 9 o'clock. The Albeshenkos were sitting some fifty meters away in a friend's garage section having a dinner when the warning of another missile attack came. As has already become a habit, the first thing to do was to quickly check the cell phone and examine the map: what has been launched, from where, in which direction and how much, and how quickly it will reach Mykolaiv.

The guests reckoned that they had about ten minutes, after which they got up from behind the table and went to their temporary accommodation in total darkness without saying goodbye. A few minutes passed and the explosions could be heard already. Without further ado, the children were sent to the basement first and the adults followed. The Albeshenkos have long ceased counting the blasts. The night's sleep of the children and adults is not much disturbed by what is happening above their heads. Provided some missile does not fall close enough. This kind of life is primarily morally tiring, Yuri admits.

Sunflower oil flowing in the street

As it became clear early next day, civil infrastructure was targeted again. Among other sites, a warehouse belonging to a Dutch company was hit several times, with about 30 tons of sunflower oil spilling out of three large tanks. “We are the only city in Europe where rivers of sunflower oil run in the streets,” jokes the head of the family after looking at the fresh destruction.

Everything handy was used to collect the sunflower oil that flowed in streams.
Everything handy was used to collect the sunflower oil that flowed in streams. Photo: Olga Sošenko

Friends and acquaintances passing by help the Albeshenkos keep their spirits up by exchanging a few sentences. It is not just the war that they talk about, some humorous banter is inevitable. “Look at your mother – she is always clean and tidy, but you, Olyna? It's like you've switched to piggy mode. It resembles something between a bacterium and a cockroach, no sterility at all!" Taras joked yesterday, poking his head through the garage door of the Albeshenko family, when he saw the tangled hair of the younger daughter.

The car repair man came early on Monday morning from his home next to Mykolaiv to the garage complex to start his work day. Alarm signals sounded one after the other, but he did not pay much attention to them. “Keep picking on me and there will be no coffee for you. You know what you'll miss out on,” answered the younger of the family's daughters, 11-year-old Olyna, to Taras’ teasing. A little humor goes a long way to keep depression away.

The girls woke up a little before nine o'clock on Monday morning. Before sitting down at the computer and starting school lessons, they quickly washed their faces at the sink, brushed their hair and had breakfast. Then it was off to the basement to do maths and history.

Drone attacks become more frequent

Online learning started in Mõkolajiv schools at the beginning of March. It was preceded by quarantine, because before the start of the war the coronavirus was the main problem just like everywhere else. Therefore the children are already familiar with remote learning. The only difference is that instead of at home, they now study a few hours at a time in the dim basement.

Missile and drone attacks have become more frequent in Ukrainian cities in the past week. Thirty Russian attack drones were observed over Mykolaiv Sunday night. There was no latest information about the dead. However, several people were killed again in the previous day's missile attack on Kyiv. A young man and his six-month pregnant wife died in an apartment building in the city center.

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