Written by Dmytro H.
Editted by Vosot Ikeida
Beginning of the Great Escape
As mentioned in Chapter 1, our city Kherson in Ukraine was captured by the Russian Armed Forces on 2 March 2022. Rumors circulated that civilians would soon be forcibly conscripted into the Russian army as cannon fodder. So my family devised a plan to escape to the unoccupied territory of Free Ukraine.
We made the attempt at 6:15 (GMT+3 summer time) on 20 April.
But before that, as I expected from the very beginning, my family caused me significant distress.
On the evening of 17 April, they informed me that there was a problem with the place to lodge, requiring a few additional days to resolve. Then, on the morning of 18 April, they abruptly changed their stance, saying,
“No, we actually must go. Fast. Be quick. Pack the computer by 18:00, all must be packed and loaded to the car!”.
So, on 19 April, I desperately tried to back up all the important data on my PC, spending the entire day on it. Of course, I couldn't complete it by 18:00. To make matters worse, the trunk was packed with numerous bulky, heavy, and some totally useless items, leaving no space available. Finally, I finished dismantling everything by 21:00. However, Dad became furious because my PC didn't fit in the trunk, and he threw it onto the backseats, telling me to "take care of it on my lap"...
On top of all of this absurdity, I also knew 100% that they would also bring three to four large bags filled with food supplies, along with multiple large water bottles for the rear and front seats. There was no room in the trunk for these items, but I knew they would insist on cramming everything in there. I also anticipated that my Mom and Sister, known for being heavy sleepers, would not wake up on time and would delay our departure, further enraging Dad. And I could already imagine the chaos of trying to fit everything, including my PC, into the passenger area when we were already behind schedule.
As you can see, they pushed me to my limits. I felt on the brink of a breakdown. Somehow, I managed to control my anger and refrain from damaging anything. I calmed down slightly and realized the only viable solution they left me with.
To Defend My Lifeline Called Computer
Two days prior to the date I first assembled my PC back in 2020, I was compelled to dismantle my beloved gaming setup, removing its CPU, GPU, and RAM chips. I can't find the words to express my feelings about this. Amidst overwhelming despair, I could only find a small positive aspect: the opportunity to apply better thermal paste on the CPU if I ever had the chance to return. I also noticed that the existing thermal paste on the CPU and GPU had been applied quite well all this time. In the end, I took the CPU, GPU without the cooler, NVMe SSD, and an additional SSD from another older PC.
Then I devised a cunning plan to protect both Haruhi PC and the old Nozomi PC from the three most disastrous scenarios that could unfold: a bomb or rocket strike, a fire, or marauders seizing everything.
So yes, here was the 3-in-1 solution: to put everything in the trash bags, puff them up to not be that rectangular, put in a cellar - the place where we were hiding in the first days - with one actual real trash bag closed with sticky tape in the same way.
Trash bags had two functions: They protected my PC set from marauders, and from high moisture in the cellar. So this idea gave me almost 100% protection from the first 2 scenarios.
To think of marauders, they might cut power to stop cameras from recording, or there could be a city-wide power outage due to the ongoing conflict. If they were to enter the cellar, they would have to first open the heavy doors, then descend into complete darkness, possibly with only a flashlight, while searching for something amidst the stench of trash. I hoped they would exclaim, "Oh! Disgusting. What idiots store trash in the cellar? Screw this!" Maybe even the sight of the initial pile of trash would discourage them from venturing further. In the worst-case scenario, if the “trash treasure” were lost, perhaps I could have resurrected the Haruhi PC from the ashes as a bionic (woman) PC, sigh…
So yes, since I was dealing with this nonsense almost all night (because of my naive hopes that they would leave enough space for my PC), I only slept for about 2 hours maybe, and didn't even finish it fully to hide the old PC. I planned to do it the next morning. So I couldn't pack all the other small items I had to pack in time before 6:00. As expected, Mom and Sister couldn't manage it either. So Dad started to get really mad. And I ended up throwing in some random things and rushing out…
It was only after arriving at our destination that I realized I successfully managed to pack my RWS (Room Weather Station) power supply.. However, I forgot to pack the actual RWS device, which was a small portable box that showed CO2 level, relative humidity and temperature of the room, and took me half a year to design and produce! I have no recollection of how this happened since I was certain I had packed it in an anti-static bag and placed it near the backpack that was supposed to come with me.
Discovering this here nearly drove me to the point of a complete breakdown. It's not about the effort I had put into it or its monetary value, but rather the realization that my cognitive abilities were severely lacking if I couldn’t remember to take truly useful and important items instead of tons of useless trash like a microscope in an emergency situation. Yes, perhaps this breakdown was also partly due to all the unfortunate events that occurred in between.
Traffic Jams on Roads Out of Town
Anyway, somehow we finally left our house. As a prime household trashman, I moved the 2nd trash bag away from the street-facing fence to not let it rot and attract people's attention and make them think nobody is home.
The conditions inside the car were horrible. My legs were crushed by the water bottles to the left, my backpack in the middle and other bags on the right. Poor Grandma in the front seat couldn't even get out by herself because of bulky food bags under her legs.
But then, we encountered a series of unexpected and chaotic events. You see, we had received information the day before that fewer and fewer cars would be leaving, and the Russians had reduced the number of checkpoints from eight to four. So, we anticipated a smoother journey. Well, as it turns out…
The traffic jam was about 15 km long, 2 lanes. I had never seen so many cars in my life before. I couldn’t even believe that our small city had so many cars in it! From the exit of the city to the first checkpoint, about 4 km, it took us about 8 hours to get there. Sometimes the jam didn’t move at all for 2-3 hours. People were going out from cars, chatting, going to piss in some bushes (although there was a danger of mines there!). People weren't even bothering to get in the cars, they just moved along on foot, that's how slow the jam moved.
The Russian Checkpoints
When we finally got close to the Russian first checkpoint, we were totally tired and ready to give up and go back. All the people that were turning back and returning, stopped by and told all of us who still waited in the jam, that there would be no way the Russians let us go through. The reason was because that was their "battle action" and "possible provocations".
I couldn't imagine that my PC disassembly madness was in vain. But then 2 wild popes appeared from nowhere, walked to the checkpoint, and then turned back "blessing" all the cars in the jam.
Dad and Granny asked them
"Do they let us pass??"
and they answered like,
"They would, they would...".
OK. I was very skeptical about this of course, but it seemed it gave some more hope to others.
Despite that, another driver turning back told Dad,
“No, there will be no chance to get through the 4th checkpoint, even if the first 3 checkpoints let you through.”
Dad actually left the jam, and started to turn around on the left lane. Interestingly, the car behind us left a pretty big gap, and it wasn't getting into the space. I guess they were eating in the car or something like that.
But then, Mom and Sister started to protest when Dad gave up and started to leave the line. It was strange because they were the most annoyed two among us by waiting 8-9 hrs in the jam. One hour before, they were asking Dad to go back home. They were out buying snacks or drinks at the nearby shop, so they didn't see the popes and their blessings.
They said to Dad,
“No, what are you doing? Go back to the car line. We need to at least get to the first checkpoint and ask Russians to be sure by ourselves!"
It was about 50 m to the post. It would take us 20-30 minutes more to get to it. So yes, thanks to those distracted drivers behind us, we were able to get back in line...
Actually, the first Russian soldier who checked us was kind of a nice guy, because he didn't even have guns, armor vest, helmet and didn't even check our trunk. Maybe he wasn’t even a soldier.
From his accent, the guy sounded like coming from somewhere in the eastern, so called “Republics”.
Brief Explanation about Our Land
For the readers who don’t know our situation well, let me explain here.
In our country, there was a big political change called Ukraine's Revolution of Dignity in 2014. After that, pro-Russian power, who wanted to separate, erupted in the eastern part of the country. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, while the armed separatists seized government buildings and proclaimed the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic as independent states. They were created by Russian-backed paramilitaries. We call them “Republics” now. On 21 February 2022, Russia recognised those two Republics as sovereign states, and essentially annexed them. Three days later, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and that is the war continuing nowadays.
While the nice guy was checking us, another scary-looking guy in full ammunition on the left was checking in parallel with our guy. Actually, yes, for me and Sister, it was the first time we actually saw Russian goblins and their APCs(*1) in person in all these months of war. because we were hiding in the house all this time, while Mom and Dad were riding out into the city for food and supplies.
*1. Photographs of the checkpoints have not been published for military reasons, but a news photograph by AFPBB can be useful for us to imagine what the checkpoints look like, although it's taken in Crimea and not in Kherson Oblast. For copyright reasons, the photos cannot be copied on this article, but if you are interested, please follow the link.
Photographs of the checkpoints have not been published for military reasons, but a news photograph by AFP, although it's not taken in Kherson Oblast, can be useful for us to imagine what the checkpoints look like. For copyright reasons, the photos cannot be copied on this article, but if you are interested, please follow the link.
Getting Through the First Checkpoint
So the occupant, after checking in all our passports, said something like,
"Yeah, uhm, there is a situation at the 4th checkpoint, they will definitely turn you back, but I guess I can let you through if you want to still give it a try!".
OK. I guess there was no turning back at that point.
Actually, right after this checkpoint, there was a burned down civil car in the middle of the road. It's like they put it there on purpose to intimidate people, like bastards put skeletons of criminals in medieval times. Actually we also saw like 4-5 more skeletons of burned civil cars on the side of the road later. Can you imagine how we felt, after reading all the news reports of civil cars getting destroyed by Russians? Certainly you would feel it’s your turn next too.
So we came to the 2nd checkpoint. Not much of a jam near it, it was maybe like 10-12 cars. Bearded soldiers with an AK-47 were walking by and letting people with kids go without a queue. After they checked only Dad's passport and noted something, surprisingly they said,
"They will let people through on the 4th checkpoint, no problems!".
Hm, OK…We were left with some doubts, but feeling clearer.
We had come to the 3rd one. Here, all our passports were checked. And this time, they say, "NO! You have NO chance. You’ll have to go back absolutely. Since the Easter holidays are coming, there might be some ‘provocative actions’, so we don’t let you pass through for ‘your own safety’. “
But then he added,
"Well, if you have a lot of spare gas to burn off uselessly, you can go on, give it a try, I don't care!".
Another car that was near us in the previous humongous traffic jam, got discouraged by this guy and decided to turn back.
But we thought “whatever happens” and we still went on.
Actually there is another danger coming in too.
The curfew hours were from 20:00 to 6:00. It was getting really late at this point, like 16:00 or 17:00. So we were also risking not being able to get back home by the limit of 20:00, if we failed to pass the 4th post in time. And you can imagine what would happen on the empty dark field road with APCs lurking around.
The Most Difficult Gate Looms
The 4th checkpoint was actually very far away from the 3rd, compared to the distance between the previous three posts. It was no longer the smooth highway there, but a long and shitty village dirt road with many huge holes and mud.
Now the real terrible situation began when we got close to the 4th checkpoint. First, there was a constant stream of cars going back to the city. They were defeated. We heard from some of them coming back from the 4th, while we were in the jam. A driver told us that he had tried to pass 3 times after being rejected, then finally they shot his tires to make him go back.
About 500m before the checkpoint, there were two signs standing at the roadside:
“TURN BACK NOW!”
"ROAD TO SNIHURIVKA IS MINED"
Snihurivka was the last village occupied by the Russian force at that moment, and it was a key location that we had to pass through.
…Continued to Chapter 3