A few days ago, we interviewed Juli Karzanova on the situation in Chernihiv. Here you can read the full transcript of the interview.
On the ground.info: Juli is living in Chernihiv in Northern Ukraine. For several weeks the city has been surrounded and attacked by Russian troops. Since then, Juli is documenting her activities and everyday life, and posts it on social media. Originally, we wanted to talk to her in a video meeting, but as her place suddenly was without electricity, Juli couldn't charge her phone. She offered us that we can send her written questions and she will record audio messages for us. Her testimony is from Tuesday 28th of March, 2022. Our first question was how she feels right in this moment when she's reading the message.
Our first question was how she feels right in this moment, when she is reading the message?
Juli Karzanova: I'm very tired and exhausted, and I'm very depressed and sad because the chaos that we have in the city is just unbelievable: between people, between military, between volunteers. It's very hard to explain. It's like you have millions ups and downs during the day, every single day.
How is the situation with food and water at the moment?
Yesterday, we had water for like a couple of hours in some areas in the city. A lot of people haven't seen water for weeks and food and electricity. The main car bridge was destroyed, was bombed. We cannot get any humanitarian aid anymore. And the situations get really hard. There are lots of people that do not have any internet that don't have phone. Nobody knows about them. They're missing food and medicines and water. There is nothing there. Like so many people every day I find out that have no food. They have no water. Nobody helped them because you know, not a long time ago, I guess like maybe couple of weeks ago, maybe 10 days ago, we separated the whole city into areas for the volunteers. So every volunteer from specific area will help only that area. But somehow my volunteer group helps the whole city, including hospitals, military, and civilians and pets.
In your video. You also show some everyday life, for example, how you wash your hair. But can you maybe describe your everyday life for a foreign audience, which mainly gets news about the military developments and is not so familiar with the everyday struggles?
So the struggles of now, you're not able to go to the toilet, like a normal human. You're not able to, you know, wash yourself. There is no gas to warm up the water, at least to clean down there. It's super cold outside and anything you would wear warm doesn't really help. You have to sleep in a basement. Some people sleep in a bomb shelter if they're lucky. But it's very cold and smelly there. And you know, we just, we even don't think about the way we look now. It's not important at all, but as for, you know, humans of 21st century, of course, it's very difficult. Everybody gets so aggressive on each other again, because we're all smelly. It's not enough of gel showers, shampoos, and you know, all this stuff for everyone and it's unbelievable. But you know, in the midst of it all, we find a chance to have a smile on our faces, at least for one second, between the shellings and attilary attacks. And it's very scary, but the most scary is that people got used to, got used to the sound of shelling and it seems fine to us. And the biggest struggle for me as, as for a volunteer to see people crying because we are not able to give them food because there is nothing to give. Because there is not the medicines they need. I can't find really words to, you know, to say how much pain we feel, how much we, all of us are hurt. To see people whose houses were bombed and who have nowhere to go, who lost their relatives. And you know, in their eyes, the hope is lost. You know, it's terrible.
You're an artist. We can imagine that your life has drastically changed since the beginning of the Russian invasion. Is your arts or what you learned as an artist, helping you in any way to survive under the current circumstances?
I think you could never be able to be prepared for death and for the war. But for me as an artist, I, I think I'm quite tough and prepared for this kind of stuff, because my life was really a big struggle before as well. And I used to live in a very difficult circumstances for many years. So, (thinks) for example, my mother, she was not that prepared. And at some point she became my daughter. So, you know, I had to take care of her. I got really strong. I can feel that now.
Because there is no electricity and because it's cold outside, the battery goes off very quickly. So I use my phone in the morning to shoot some videos to post it on Instagram. Then during the day I use my phone only for calls and messages inside the city for my volunteering job. And yeah, maybe no..., in the evening I don't post much. So in total, I would say like two, three hours a day.
And when did you decide to raise your voice and tell the world what is happening in your city and your country?
I started to raise my voice on a first day, I had a number of followers on my Instagram like 600 and somehow now I have almost 22,000 and it's quite shocking to me. I think the reason why is that I, you know, I couldn't believe that it's happening. And actually the trigger was one of, of my best friends who lives in London. She is Chinese English girl. She messaged me, Juli, you have to visit London cuz you know, Ukraine is so shit now. (Angry and louder) And that was something that triggered me so much. You know, I realized I will never, ever, ever let anyone to say so about my country. I am not the one who gonna go somewhere there to look for a better life because Ukraine is so shit now, as she said to me. I felt that it's my mission to be here, to tell the truth because I'm actually for now the only one person who speaks English in Chernihiv who gives all the information. I'm still so shocked and I can't believe that it's happening, but somehow my knowledge of English helped me now to, you know, spread the word and get attention from so many countries, which is to me, you know, personally, it's very difficult for me cuz you know, I never wanted to be famous. I couldn't imagine. How does it feel to have such a big audience? It's too many people for me. And of course, there are people who understand people but also people who don't understand and lot of aggression as well that I have to cope with. (Thinks) But yeah, I'm actually very happy because my account was hacked a couple of days ago and one of my followers from Poland, he just helped me to get my account back. And I think he even paid to the hacker to, you know, to get it back. And I'm like, you know, I I could never imagine I would have so many soulmates around the globe.
So what's in your opinion, the most important thing the world needs to know right now?
You know, I really stuck on the question. What's the most important thing the world needs to know right now. It makes me want to cry. (Starts crying.) I want the world to know that we're suffering and dying for no reason. I want the world to know that this is the politicians game and the ordinary people suffer, I want the world to know that I don't know how much money people donate, how much of humanitarian aid supposed to come to Ukraine. But what I see here in my native town actually, you know, just some bits of humanitarian support could reach us, our military is suffering the every day, really bits of food, bits of medicine, no important weapons, guns, bullets, bullet proof stuff. And you know, my English is not that good for the military vocabulary. But a lot of important things for them cannot reach us. Everything was stuck in Kyiv and you know, all my hope is for military and I am as an ordinary person, I cannot ask for the military a support because it has to be taken care by our government. And I don't understand why is this happening? Why our local news say nothing about Chernihiv? (Pause, sobs). Sorry.
So what do you expect from us? What should we bring to public as journalists from Germany, especially being in our country and guilty of a former genocide in your country?
Of course, you know, you don't need so much brain to understand why NATO doesn't want to close our sky. But you know, I know a lot - and a lot of people around the world feel hopeless and I feel sorry about it. And nobody wants the world war three, but our country and our people are suffering for no reason! I guess, to save the whole world from only one crazy man, that will not make a step back. I know it. So, you know, I'm really begging you on my knees. Please help us to be heard, to be seen and not to be forgotten. We want to know what is the reason for us to die?! Why such a powerful people of the world do nothing every single day. Already 34 days, (soubs) that seem endless, oh my god!
How can people support you and your country right now?
You know, the, the most terrible at the moment is that city government doesn't regulate this situation in any way. So thing is on the volunteer's shoulders. And as for now, it's really problematic to get any help into the city is actually, I'm just asking my followers to, you know, stay with me and follow the update. It's maybe soon the situation will get better and we will need the nations. But as now I record these messages to you. I really don't know the answer because I have to be honest. I do not trust anyone.
Speaking of trust, what is the worst lie that is told about a situation in Ukraine that you are aware of? And that needs to be corrected?
Lies about red cross, who are helping us, which is not true. They are with Russia. I had a video as well. They telling the information, you can Google it. They have their base in Rostov na Donu no, which is in Russia. And they take Ukrainian refuges to Russia. Also I want people to know that a lot of were women were raped, girls, little girls, 15, 16 years old. I also want people to know that, you know, it hurts to hear still that Putin faith: He does nothing in Ukriane. He doesn't make a war and that more than half populations are just being brainwashed. You know, it's so painful because me myself, I'm half Russian. I have a, a Russian granny and you know, all my life I knew that Russian Ukrainians, you know, we are brothers and sisters and the, the amount of hate from civilians, Russian civilians we have now, it's just so painful to see that they're crying because they don't have an Instagram anymore, for example, or because they don't have tampons for example, anymore, it is heartbreaking because they make laugh of us because we sleep in bomb shelters and basements because we're being attacked and bombed from the aircraft. And for them, it's nothing, they cry for Instagram and another stuff. You know, it it's hilarious.
I mean, the situation in Chernihiv sounds awful. Is there any way for you to leave?
So about the green corridors, there was never any green corridor from Chernihiv, but there was like a week of a time that people like crazy - were living. In a big amount people were leaving the city. And most of them got to Kiev and to the Western part of Ukraine safely, as my family did. Now, you can only go, there is one bridge that you could go through, not drive, only go, but people get killed over there. And now it's actually not only now every time it's a risk, it's dangerous. It's like a Russian roulette. Will you get killed or not for now, there is no way out from Chernihiv. And when, even when we had a chance to leave, I didn't want to leave. I just don't feel like leaving. I, you know, I just feel it in my guts that I have to stay here because I'm very useful here.
And I, you know, I cannot imagine my life right now, anywhere else. I, my heart, my soul, my everything belongs here. And I feel more calm knowing that my family somewhere not here being for now. And you know, it's the most important for me. And if I would have a chance to leave, I would not because my partner is a soldier. And you know, we just gonna stay here to the last. We are the people who are creating the history and we are people who are not afraid to die because you know, there is something more, you know, that just your own safety or safety of your family. And I know my mother's heart is broken from my decision to be here, but it's my choice. And I really need everyone to respect it and do not consider me crazy. I don't know how would other people react on everything that is happening right now?
This was the testimony of Juli from Chernihiv. You can follow her on Instagram. The nickname is “@femaleonacid”. The audio was recorded on 28th March 2022.