Mayaky… and then the rocket hit
Mayaky is a small town, far from the frontline in Ukraine and next to the border to Moldava. When a rocket hit, Sergey Stepevoy was among the most affected.
The first thing, Sergey Stepevoy remembers is how his hand was bleeding. “I didn’t hear the explosion,” he recalls the night, a rocket – according to Ukrainian information a Raduga Ch-22 dropped by a Tupolev Tu-22M bomber – hit the ground only a few meters next to his house in Mayaky. Neighbors living several hundreds of meters away heard the blast.1When experiencing a traumatic situation, it can happen that the shock moment cannot be remembered. This is called dissociative amnesia.
Reconstruction in the summer heat
For the conversation Stepevoy, some weeks after the hit, takes a short rest under the grapevines meandering around the metal framework, which serves as an entrance passage to his destroyed home, providing some shadow from the summer heat. Repair works on his house are still ongoing, as the whole upper floor has been damaged due to the explosion. “We need to be done before winter, so we do not freeze,” the 40-year-old comments: “We have no other choice.”
Although the damage is massive, Stepevoy, his wife and the five children are lucky to have survived the shelling. After the hit, with his hand bleeding he was looking for them, found his wife in the rubble of the ceiling before the family ran outside. “The flames were 20 meters high,” the father recalls, pointing to the burned down ground next to him: “There was another house right here.” It was the one of his parents, in which he grew up. Just seven years ago he built his new home right next door, which is the only one to remain on this side of the street. According to Ukrainian information, almost 70 houses have been damaged.
Hard to understand
At first, he didn’t even realize what has happened. “We were all sleepy,” he refers to the time at around 1am and the shock of high flames. Forces of the territorial defense arrived minutes later, after them the firefighters, Stepevoy recalls. They evacuated the kids, extinguished the fire. “Thank god, everybody is alive,” he adds.
Still, it is hard for him to understand what had happened. Mayaky is located 45 kilometers southwest of Odesa, it is the last settlement east of the Dniester river and the last one before the border to Moldova. The frontline between Mykolaiv and Kherson is more than 250 kilometers far. “It was the first time here,” Stepevoy answers when asked about the hit. A scar on his hand still reminds him on the incident. His eyes are watching in the direction of the house. Not at it, more like they are searching the sky behind it:
I really hope that it was the last time. We couldn’t see it coming. I could never believe it would happen to me. And I still ask the question: Why me? I guess that’s just the way it goes…
Until this moment, the war was only present by military checkpoints and some soldiers in the city. Just one day before the interview they heard another explosion nearby, Stepevoy says afraid of losing the efforts they have already made with renovating the house. It was the first night they had spent at home. “All we want is just to koeep on living and not being afraid of anything,” he says frustrated. Now he even needs to worry about the heavy summer rains due to not yet repaired leaks in the ceiling.
But even if the house will be reconstructed and the destroyed furniture replaced, the worries will not vanish. Stepevoy’s nine greenhouses are destroyed. Selling tomatoes and cucumbers was the main income of the family. “The seeds and the equipment was inside,” he lists the damage there. Additionally, the metal needed to rebuild the greenhouses became an expensive good in the war-torn country. But by January, when the season for radish begins, he should be able to work again. “I don’t know when or how I will do it,” he shrugs his shoulders and gives a desperate smile. And even then he does not have a car anymore – he sold it to buy the material to repair the house. They help provided by the municipality was not enough, Stepevoy says. From the government he did not see any money until August.
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It’s a lot of stress, the 40-year-old admits. When looking out of the windows of his house, he still sees the destruction around; only the new gas pipeline shines in new yellow. “But I try to make piece with it. You cannot always experience the huge emotions, it will destroy you,” he says. So, he hopes that the neighbors will also be able to rebuild their homes and the district will come back to normal life at one point. “I don’t wish anyone to experience something like this, to find a shrapnel as long a tie in the crib,” he closes the interview.
- 1When experiencing a traumatic situation, it can happen that the shock moment cannot be remembered. This is called dissociative amnesia.