‘You cannot imagine what we’re going through. It is worse than the worst war movies. But this is reality,’ Evgenia Gordeeva of aluminium recycling firm Mekhanicheskiy Zavod (MZ) tells Recycling International on the phone from a bomb shelter in the besieged city of Kherson in the south of Ukraine.
‘All day long we hear the shooting and the bombing. The explosions are so loud, it is so frightening.’
Since Monday Evgenia and her nine-year-old son Kyrill, together with several other employees of MZ and their families, have found refuge in the basement of a hotel near the centre of Kherson, the first major city taken by Russia since it invaded a week ago. ‘With Russian tanks in the streets, heavy fighting, and schools and buildings being destroyed, it was no longer safe to stay in our homes,’ she says.
In the shelter, Evgenia tries to make the best of these difficult times. ‘We are with 20 people in this one room where we cook our meals from the food we have brought from home and try to get some sleep on beds provided by the hotel manager.’
She is afraid, sad, angry and, most of all, worried about her son. ‘What impact does this all have on him? He has been staring at my notebook ever since we got here. Sure, it offers some kind of distraction. There’s nothing else really for him to do, he is the only small child in the group. There’s another boy of 14, the others are all adults. You know, you only want to protect your child. He will soon celebrate his birthday. Try to imagine celebrating a child’s birthday in a war zone!’
Yesterday was the first time in three days she had been out of the shelter – for half an hour or so. ‘There was a pause in the shooting so I went out to buy bread at the bakery next door that is still open. Many stores have closed, supplies have stopped, some are even robbed or looted, not only by Russian soldiers but also by Ukrainian civilians taking advantage of the chaotic situation.’
Even so, stories of brave Ukrainians standing up and fighting against the Russians prevail, she points out. ‘We see more and more people taking arms, throwing Molotov cocktails at tanks.’
Unsurprisingly, business and operations at MZ’s facility in Kherson has come to complete standstill, it has with most industries. ‘Scrap supplies have stopped, production of aluminium has stopped, she says. ‘The only supplies in Ukraine that more or less continue are the food supplies.’
Despite the desperate situation her country is in now, Evgenia has strong faith the situation will eventually change for the better. ‘On the first day of the invasion I thought of leaving my country. It is too late for that now, it’s too dangerous. Besides, I’d rather stay. I have faith in both our military forces and our government. We Ukrainians are so angry. We simply will not accept what is happening. What helps are the world’s sanctions – knowing we’re not alone makes me feel even stronger.’