ENDURING THE HELL OF WAR: ANTONIVKA
Antonivka endured the worst, twice. First was the occupation, then came the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam.
The road to recovery is riddled with the wounds of war. The town of Antonivka is just east of Kherson on the right bank of the Dnipro river. It was under occupation from the first days of March 2022 until just after November 11, 2022.
The occupation spared no brutality from Russian soldiers and the residents who remained will have memories that will remain for a long time. Though nearly 90% of the residents were able to flee the area, there were around 1000 who stayed. Most of those were elderly pensioners.
The Russian soldiers harassed the local residents looking for fighters and weapons, stole belongs and supplies and abused, tortured and executed people. As if the occupation wasn’t enough, there were also neighbors who held sympathies with the old Soviet Union who betrayed their neighbors.
The church team I travel with, who I lovingly call The Boryspil Boys, traveled to the area asked me to join a trip on July 18, 2023. We traveled quickly to the region, brought food supplies and more then proceeded to talk with the locals about the events that took place during occupation.
I was introduced to Dima, a young spunky 21 year old man who was eager to talk with me in English about the events that took place in town, his personal experiences and about the needs of the people. He pointed us to various locations where people endured the Russians for those many months. The Russians controlled the region for approximately 255 days. In those months, the neighbors had to stay quietly inside and avoid being targeted, but for some like Dima’s friend Taras, there were far worse fates. Taras was executed by the Russians.
We spoke with an older resident named Svitlana who told us about her experience and how she remained as quiet and out of the way as possible. The neighbors, she said, were able to have some communication but mostly remained as out of sight as possible. The Russians went through her property looking for guns and fighters but thankfully did not harm her.
Though the Russian forces were very active pouring propaganda into Kherson, the people in Antonivka were subjected to the information stream of the Russians with some word here and there from Ukrainian sources.
After the withdraw of forces from the area in November, the ability to rebuild was greatly hindered by the nonstop shelling from left bank area of Oleshky. As the team delivered aid we could hear both the rockets and air defense popping off every few minutes, yet the locals barely flinched at the nonstop booms. Their conditioning was obvious. Their dignity unbroken.
Talking with Dima, we heard about one local man who uses his van to deliver supplies to other, but it wasn’t an easy situation since he was known to be a sympathizer and used his vehicle as leverage to avoid being detained or cast out from society. A sprinter van for the locals would remove this condition and allow the locals to help each other with deliver of much needed aid.
As if the gratitude of their smiles were not enough, Dima presented me with two plaques he made from war debris with Ukrainian themed colors and symbols. Then his father gave me a bottle of homemade wine that we dubbed, “Occupation Wine”. I had a small glass of this delicious brew with his family before departure and then when I arrived back home in Kyiv, made sure to share it with my friend’s mother who lives with us. She too lived through the occupation in Kherson with her husband who we lost in February 2023. I couldn’t wait to tell her what I had, “mama, I brought home something special. It is a brew of occupation wine made in Antonivka.” Despite the anguish of a year of hell, a smile and beaming laugh followed that told me how special these little things can be.
Thanks to the kind donations from people who helped The Boryspil Boys to bring supplies, there will be more missions to the town and more updates.