In early March 2022, a week after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Recycling International talked on the phone with Evgenia Gordeeva, general manager, foreign trade, at aluminium recycler Mekhanicheskiy Zavod (MZ) in Kherson, among the first cities taken by the Russians. From a hotel bomb shelter she shared her experiences of those early days of the war as being ‘worse than the worst war movies’. Fourteen months on RI visits Gordeeva in the UK, the safe haven where she now works for EMR.
‘Physically I’m here with you in this London restaurant but my head is with my family and friends in Kherson. I feel stressed, my thoughts are a roller coaster. Most of the time I can’t stop myself from scrolling the news sites: another day of shelling, killing innocent people. I know friends who lost husbands and cousins in the war. Luckily, I’ve found a nice job at EMR and they’ve been a great support. You know, work helps, it distracts a bit.
‘For a long time I did not allow myself to smile, feeling guilty about the people I’ve left behind. My mother and my grandmother are in Kherson which is basically still a war zone. The Russian troops may have left but they’re not far away. There is occasional shelling from across the river. So I’m worried. And yet, sometimes I feel a smile coming back to my face. I allow myself to enjoy small things again.
SWITCHING OFF PRODUCTION
‘The invasion on 24 February came as a shock. You could see helicopters and there were reports of bombings of fuel tanks and other targets. People were leaving the city while my boss at MZ, Andriy Putilov, ordered our facility engineers to switch off production lines.
‘With Russian tanks in the streets, heavy fighting, and schools and buildings being destroyed, it was no longer safe to stay in our homes so we decided to seek refuge in a hotel basement with several other employees of MZ and their families. We tried to make the best of these difficult times. We were with 20 people in one room where we cooked our meals from the food we’d brought from home and tried to get some sleep on beds provided by the hotel manager. The sound of shelling and bombing was terrifying and I kept worrying about my son: what impact would this all have on him?
ROADBLOCKS AND SHELLING
‘By mid-March it became too dangerous so I decided to leave Kherson – Kyrylo and me with a good friend. In two cars we headed west, over small roads and dirt tracks trying to avoid roadblocks and staying as far as possible away from the constant shelling – which you clearly hear. Very frightening. It took us two days to reach the border with Moldova, which would normally take no more than ten hours. From Moldova, on to Romania and Hungary and finally Slovakia where we could stay at business partner’s for the time being.
‘I thought after one or two months we would be able to go back home but, with the war and the violence getting worse and no sign of an ending, eventually we decided to try to get to western Europe. I got in touch with the people from EMR and they decided to help and offered me a job. I’m really thankful to EMR’s Murat Bayram and Bruce Miller for their support and confidence.
‘At EMR I work as business development manager in non-ferrous scrap, working from Bedford which is halfway between London and Birmingham. I’m on the other side of aluminium business now which is different from my job at MZ where I was mostly involved in trading aluminium ingots. I’m impressed how big the company is, especially in the UK where they have so many sites, and there is so much to learn. In my job I’m also visiting yards which is actually a good way to get used to driving on the left side of the road.
A HOME AWAY FROM HOME
‘Kyrylo and I found a nice place to live. We have our own private apartment which is part of larger house owned by a family with four kids and they’re so nice. We felt very welcome from the first day. There’s a big yard and a pool, Kyrylo loves it. It’s tough for him, too: new school, new language, making new friends. His days in school are long: in the morning at the English school which is opposite our house and then online at the Ukrainian school.
‘A good friend and former colleague at MZ is also in the UK. She’s my son’s godmother. It feels very good to have people around you know well.
‘Looking at the future or making long term plans is hard. I miss my country, my mother and grandmother, the smell of fresh vegetables and fruits in the summer. Kyrylo often says: “Mom, I want to go back to Ukraine” but looking at it realistically that is not going to happen in the short term. I hope one day Ukraine will be a country as before. But it will take a long time to rebuild all that’s been destroyed. I’ve seen massive destruction. Schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, all gone. There is no longer an airport in Kherson, nor in Odessa. Before the war, Kherson had a population of 300 000, there’s maybe 20% left now.
‘What about the future of MZ? The facility is still there, the furnaces are still intact. There has been some looting of office furniture but nothing seriously destroyed. Andriy, the owner, is eager to re-open the plant as soon he gets the chance. He is such an optimist. He’s confident that Ukraine will win this war and MZ will be back in business. I hope he’s right.’