Ukrainian family visiting Swisttal War began during holiday

Swisstal · Actually, Anatoli S. and his family only wanted to spend their holidays with friends in Swisttal. But then war broke out in their home country, Ukraine. Anatoli S. now looks at his hometown Kherson with great concern - and reports what he hears from there.

 In front of the Meckenheim town hall, numerous citizens held a vigil for peace in Ukraine on Sunday.

In front of the Meckenheim town hall, numerous citizens held a vigil for peace in Ukraine on Sunday.

Foto: Matthias Kehrein

Kherson is almost as big as Bonn. About 290,000 people live in the Ukrainian city on the banks of the Dnepr River, which flows into the Black Sea 30 kilometres further on. In mid-February, Anatoli S. (name changed by the editors) left his hometown with his wife and three small children. Not because he was afraid of an impending war, but because he wanted to spend his holidays with friends in Swisttal. Above all, he looked forward to hiking in the Kottenforst.

And so the pastor of a Reformed Christian congregation packed his family into the car and drove the 2,300 kilometres via Lwiw, Krakow, Breslau and Dresden to Swisttal in two days. The luggage consisted of clothes for the holiday, travel documents and a few photos.

So far no problems between Ukrainians and Russians in the city

He had not believed in an attack by the Russians, although there had been such rumours. Anatoli reports that so far there have been no problems between Ukrainians and Russians in his town or in the region. Kherson, about 100 kilometres north of the Crimean peninsula annexed by the Russians in 2014, is home to 76 per cent Ukrainians, about 20 percent Russians and members of the Tatar ethnic group.

Anatoly S. is in constant contact with family members and friends in Kherson. They send him photos of people seeking refuge from rocket attacks in cellars. Until the weekend, the Russians had only attacked military bases. There had been fighting at the only bridge over the Dnieper. Many people had been taken to hospitals.

Banks and shops closed

Most banks and shops in the city were closed, and petrol stations only dispensed ten litres of petrol per car, Anatoly S. reported. Long queues formed in front of pharmacies. The Russian troops had moved on towards the north. It goes without saying that he is very worried about his mother and friends. His mother finds great help in praying to God.

"I couldn't imagine Putin doing that," says Anatoly S., "you don't attack neighbours." He also takes a critical view of the Ukrainian government, which he feels cares too little for the elderly. But the accusation that Nazis are at work in the government has no basis. And he does not know anyone who has called the Russians for help.

Looking around the neighbourhood

Anatoly S. believes that many people fall for Russian propaganda. He has already advised Russian acquaintances to stop watching television and look around the neighbourhood: "That's reality, not the lies on television." Even when the Russians annexed Crimea, he thought to himself, "That's not all, there's more to come. Today, eight years later, that has come to pass.

Where do they go from here? "We have to help ourselves, because no one is helping us," says Anatoli. Ukrainians have learned to deal with crises, he says. Many had already stocked up on food, water and medicine weeks ago. Now many people are covering their windows to protect them from the shocks of rocket attacks.

Children pray for grandma and grandpa

The pastor would prefer it if relatives and friends could leave the country. But that is not possible now, he says. "At the moment, all we can do is wait." He himself does not want to return to Kherson with his family until the city is safe again. He wants to spend the next time in the USA. On Shrove Monday, he flew with his family from Frankfurt towards Florida.

How does he explain to his children, who are not yet ten years old, that there is a war at home? "They don't understand the whole extent yet," says Anatoli S. "I tell them that there are people who do bad things. Then the children pray for grandma and grandpa at home."

Original text: Hans-Peter Fuss

Translation: Mareike Graepel

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