Chernihiv is 100 km from russia, the length of the border along the Chernihiv oblast with the rf is 199 km, and with Belarus — 227 km.
So, from the first days of the war, Chernihiv was a strategic point in the offensive of russian troops. It was not occupied, but the city and its residents lived through a lot during the hostilities and shelling, which lasted until the beginning of April.
We talked to Tetiana Romanova, our regional coordinator from Chernihiv, about the shelling, actions of the authorities, and volunteering during active hostilities in the city.
From the first days of the war, the city was shelled, military columns from russia entered the oblast. They did not manage to enter Chernihiv, so settlements near the city were under the blow, as well as some of the communities that they passed through, they settled in people's homes and committed atrocities. At the moment, there is almost nothing left of some villages, they were simply destroyed.
How did the local authorities act?
During active hostilities, the local self-government bodies did not work. Only after the russian troops withdrew from the territory of Chernihiv oblast, did the work of the city council gradually began to resume.
In the early days, the authorities provided information about bomb shelters so that people could hide. Previously, unfortunately, there was no information, although the situation was becoming more alarming every day until February 24. Many residents panicked in the first days because not all multistory buildings had basements or shelters for long stays at all.
Primarily, the authorities together with the citizens prepared Chernihiv for a possible russian offensive. We prepared for street battles, built roadblocks around the city, prepared cocktails, equipped bomb shelters. The leaders of the city and the oblast called for action and asked for the help through video appeals or through their pages on social networks. After each appeal, for example, to bring tires, gasoline for cocktails, blocks for roadblocks, there was just an incredible number of people willing to help. People gave everything they had. We were delivering all these brought tires to the roadblocks for a long time.
Of course, there was some chaos and panic. There was no clear understanding of what to do and how. There were many willing to help, but no one organized them. We did the organization ourselves.
The Head of the Chernihiv MCA Viacheslav Chaus informed about the state of affairs in the city and oblast every day through a video message and his telegram channel. It was the only source of information because local news sites and TV channels were not working during this period, there were no journalists either. When the connection began to disappear, Chaus' appeals in the telegram began to be duplicated in text format so that it was easier to download. But for this, we would have been in a complete information blockade. Although, for some part of the population, it was a reality. In the absence of light and stable mobile coverage, they did not even understand the situation in the city and country for a while.
Life in the city
When they started to bomb us regularly by aviation, targeting critical infrastructure facilities — light, water, gas, heating, and connection began to disappear. Given that the weather was still winter, it was very uncomfortable for all of us at that time, in raw and cold basements and bomb shelters.
In the active period of shelling, there were approximately 90,000 people in the city. Mostly they were elderly people or those who, due to health reasons, were unable to leave or those who did not have the funds to leave. There were very few people who decided to stay and help in the rear to fight against the enemy.
Information about the evacuation appeared in some closed telegram channels of volunteers. It took place until the destruction of the road bridge over the Desna River (this is the main route to Kyiv) by buses and cars. After the bridge was bombed, the evacuation took place by crossings, boats across the Desna.
When the city was left completely without water supply, Chernihivvodokanal began to deliver water to the yards of multistory buildings. It all happened under the shelling. The enterprise did a lot. At every opportunity, they tried to repair the damage and run water into people's homes, at least in part.
The same was with electricity, gas, connection, and other utilities. The municipal workers who stayed in the city and tried to repair the places damaged under constant shelling are heroes.
Both local authorities and volunteers organized the supply of food, medicines, and other things that citizens needed (such as generators, flashlights, chargers, etc.). In particular, when the city was almost completely isolated.
Now there are many people left homeless in the city, and a part of them have damaged houses, in which it is impossible to live. Many have lost their jobs and are not yet able to work.
I actually started volunteering from the first day of the war. In the conditions of a critical shortage of people in the city who could help both the military and civilians, it was not possible not to volunteer. My conscience would not allow it. In the first days, in the first weeks, so many people were ready to go out and help protect the city... It is difficult to explain in words the pride I feel for my countrymen.
Then there were fewer people. But this is understandable because people needed to save their families, their children. Accordingly, many helped later from other cities, even from abroad. And it also greatly helped and supported all of us who remained under daily shelling without utility services and water.
Volunteers interacted with local authorities on an ongoing basis. Authorities helped us, fueled our cars so we could help people, established logistics, and helped build safe routes to bring humanitarian aid into the city.
We have received a lot of assistance from international organizations and foundations with which we have been in contact during active hostilities. Organizations responded promptly to our requests and assisted with humanitarian aid. Cooperation with some of them continues to this day.
In part, we were able to cover basic requests for assistance precisely thanks to our partners who responded promptly. When we were completely without electricity and connection, generators, battery chargers, gas heaters, and flashlights were sent. This made our life much easier in the conditions in which we lived. People cooked food over the fires on the street.
Regarding cooperation with other volunteer centers, we roughly divided the city into sectors and assigned these sectors to separate volunteer centers. In this way, we could coordinate, and it was easier for us to provide for the city.
A certain part of the city we worked in was assigned to our center. We brought people food, hygiene products, etc., although we primarily worked with requests from the military. However, when a humanitarian catastrophe began in some places in the city, we decided to work with civilians as well.
We launched supply logistics relatively quickly. Although the situation changed periodically, for example, there was a period when cars, including those with humanitarian cargo, were shelled when leaving and entering the city. It got even scarier when there was no road bridge. The city was actually isolated. There was no supply of humanitarian aid, people could not leave. And at the same time, there were constant shelling by russian troops near the Desna, where humanitarian goods were being delivered and evacuations were taking place. There were many dead people and shot buses with humanitarian aid.
The only difficulty with volunteering was that we drove under constant shelling, missile and air bomb attacks. That is, we constantly worked, risking our lives. It was the scariest.
Another problem was the lack of connection, when we could not get in touch with each other. People panicked because those who left the city were unable to contact those who stayed here and vice versa. Without connection, it was difficult to coordinate actions between each other, so my volunteers and I determined one place in the city, where every morning we gathered and discussed current affairs, coordinated our steps and worked.
In the end, despite the relative silence in our city, today we have many problems. But this certainly does not equal those cities that are currently under the occupation of russian troops and that hold the line. So, we work to bring victory closer, and in parallel we patch up holes together :) Everything will be Ukraine!