Ukraine: My 24 February in Kharkiv



February 16, 2023

Vitaliy, trolleybus driver in Khakiv

In Support for Resistant Ukraine No. 15 we published «I am writing to you on behalf of the trolleybus drivers of Kharkiv» by Vitalyi, a trolleybus driver. He sent us his testimony on his «24 February in Khakiv». We thank him for this.

On the morning of 24 February, at 5 a.m., the people of Kharkiv woke up to loud explosions and gunfire on the outskirts of the city. We could not believe that this had happened: that Russia had attacked us. Time then split into two parts: before and after. What to do and what will happen? Transport was still working, shops and markets were opening, people were rushing to work. Public transport drivers were confused, but carried on with their journeys. By the evening, it became clear that our usual rhythm of life was disrupted and that everything could stop at any moment. On 25 February, the city became deserted, trolleybus drivers did not go to work, and many began to leave the city. The first explosions took place in the city, with deaths and injuries, damage to the transport network. Bread, water and other products became scarce in the shops due to lack of supplies. Many shops were closed and queues formed in which people spent hours.

People started to leave the city in droves, with huge traffic jams on the way out of the city, the lack of fuel in the petrol stations soon became apparent, there were also a lot of people at the train station who wanted to leave. There was no panic, but we didn't understand what would happen next. The transport was not working, the underground stations were used as bomb shelters. The bombing of the central part of the city began.

Those who lived near the trolleybus depot went to work and tried to make themselves useful in these circumstances, the dispatchers were at their work stations. There is a bomb shelter at the depot, where during the raids and bombings the workers and inhabitants of the nearby houses hid.

We, the drivers of the trolleybus depot, started to try to make ourselves as useful as possible in these circumstances, and one of the postal services contacted us with an offer to deliver humanitarian aid in the city using our rolling stock. We accepted, but the same day we were informed that they already had drivers and needed people to unload the humanitarian aid wagons. We gladly accepted and got to work. There were a lot of people to unload the wagons coming from Ukraine and European countries. The westbound passenger trains were full of women and children, and in the opposite direction, eastbound, they were loaded with humanitarian aid.

Immediately, we unloaded bread, milk, drinking water and other foodstuffs and distributed them to points established throughout the city by the humanitarian aid. We worked tirelessly, knowing that we would rest later and that our help was needed every day. Many drivers joined the territorial defence or the AFU [Ukrainian armed forces]. Gradually the number of workers working in the humanitarian centres increased, drivers, fitters, workers from other depots joined us, going all over the city to clear the rubble and clean the streets of the aftermath of the bombing. It was scary, but we kept going to work every day.

Our drivers participated in the evacuation of municipal buses from the Saltovo trolleybus depot, which was constantly under Russian fire. After the bombing of the trolleybus depot 2 in April, the trolleybuses were also evacuated from this area, they were parked in different streets of the city districts in order to avoid massive damage.

On 16 May 2022, the first trolleybuses, trams and buses started to run in the city. Passengers were delighted, because for almost three months it was only possible to travel around the city by taxi, on one's own, by bicycle or on foot. The journeys were free. The city started to come alive again.

Gradually, the number of routes and rolling stock increased, people started to come back to the city. Our depot workers are still working today in humanitarian warehouses, trolleybus drivers go there on their days off, but there are also ordinary volunteers who want to be useful in such a difficult time.

We stand up and we will win !