In the context of one year of the war, we are publishing the personal story of Lesia Perepechenko whose organisation’s activities to help blind and partially sighted Ukrainians received EBU’s support.
One might think it’s in the past, but it is not. Today, on the eve of February 24, those events and memories are still filling each cell of my body with fear.
At five o’clock in the morning, a skiing sports coach came into my room and said, “Olesia Mykolaivna, war has begun! They are bombing Kyiv.”
At that time, together with a big team of 32 people, I was in a rehabilitation and sports camp in Lviv region. It had been only 3 days since we came for rehabilitation and started to make the first skiing steps, but the war abrupted everything. My state at that moment was impossible to put into words – it was a shock, hatred, fear, responsibility for people, panic, and worries about my family. And all that, like a snowball, was chaotically tearing me apart from the inside. And then there was a bus to Lviv railway station and arranging the people into mini-groups to have them go to safer places.
Explosions in Lviv! The railway station is a stormy sea of disoriented and chaotically moving people. And myself, the eldest in the group of 32 people, 27 of whom are blind. While going on a bus, I already made up a plan, and after reaching the place, we started to implement it consistently. After arranging the people into groups on the street, we accompanied them one by one to the ticket office to tickets to safer destinations. So, people from Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhia regions went to the fellow from Ivano-Frankivsk region. Those who lived in Khmelnytskyi region picked up people from Kyiv region, Poltava region and Sumy, and Lviv city sheltered all the others. They say that friends in need are friends indeed, and these are not just empty words. When a large family of two adults and three children hosted 6 more adults in their small two-room apartment.
A phone call home: “Mother, how are you there? I am buying a ticket and coming!”
“Lesia, where are you going! Stay just there! Here is war and bombing! They’ve blown up the bridge, warehouses, a gas station – everything’s on fire!” the connection was disrupted.
Life has changed, torn into two halves, and there’s fear that keeps you chained all the time. And then phone calls started. Just from everywhere! Help us to leave! Just anywhere! Where can we, the blind, go? It was unbearable just to sit and do nothing – so we began to act.
Having united together with our friends and colleagues, we organized evacuation of blind people abroad. A phone call from some people, and we are already on our way. Meeting at a railway station, accommodating, arranging into groups, a bus, the way to the boarder where a bus from Poland is already waiting to take the people to a place of temporary or longer stay. So, the work has started.
In the first 3 weeks, we sent groups of blind people into evacuation almost every day: to Poland, Italy, Germany, Spain, and so on. Public actors from various organizations united into a single organism that was effectively and consistently helping the blind to escape from the terrible war. Phone calls were received day and night– nobody cared what time it was. Life became mechanical: to read news, receive a phone call, arrange a meeting and accommodation, prepare departure lists, find buses, make agreements with the hosts, send a group, and call to make sure the group arrived and settled well.
The scariest thing was to evacuate my relatives. At that time, my family was just three steps away from the occupied Irpin town. 10 days under shelling from air jets, shelling by tanks, without electricity, water, and heating. And me, who is helping everyone every day, yet cannot save my own family. Only on the 8th of March were we able to drag them out of the hell of war.
Time changes everything, and after three months of war, the members of our organization started to provide humanitarian assistance. They would hand over medicines, hygiene products, and food.
Appeals started to come from the wounded military who lost their eyesight: “What can be done and how can we live further???” Quickly responding to their requests, we sent them walking sticks, visited hospitals, and simply talked to them; we provide legal consultations and psychological support and many other things. We have created 2 information and consultation hubs to help people who lost their eyesight or got spinal traumas or lost their hands or legs in the war.
Today we keep working in this area of support and we are planning new initiatives.
Unfortunately, our state is a complicated mechanism, which simply cannot promptly respond to life challenges, that is why it was public and volunteer organizations that were saving people in the first weeks of the war.
This year has become a year of challenges and victories. And having looked back, I understand that I would have done the same because a public activist is not a profession, but a state of life.
Lesia Perepechenko, an organization of blind people, Kyiv region