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People save people, and stories save the world. “Little stories of a big war” is a project launched by the Ukrainian Catholic University. It tells about Ukrainians who perform heroic feats every day. Our heroes have left their houses in alarm, risked a lot, faced oppression, but nevertheless, they have not lost love and sympathy for other people, and have not lost their values. All that fueled their desire to help others.
One of such stories is about Uliana Danyliuk who is the head of the public organization “Theatrical Union for Children with Disabilities” and the artistic director of the children’s inclusive theater “Kyvaba”. These realities are a thing of the past, a full-scale war has changed the context.
With a sinking heart, Uliana Danyliuk is telling about what she has experienced in Vyshhorod. But now, having pulled herself together, she helps to evacuate children from war zones. According to Uliana, we should feel another’s grief as if it were our own. Moreover, we should care not only about our kids, but about other people’s kids as well.
She keeps on saying that we have to look for ways to save them.
Ukrainians rally around and join forces. Therefore, each person contributes to the victory. Every action as well as each person can make a difference.
— Could you tell us about the outbreak of the war? What did you feel when it started?
— My youngest child had a nosebleed. When I was stopping it, we heard explosions. It looks like our child had warned us in a way. We started to open a hatch to the basement, in order to hide. First, we did not understand that something might have happened because there is a military training area not far from our house. We thought we had just imagined it, but indeed we had not. That was aerial bombing, and the sound was very powerful. The house was shaking. Not only fear gripped me, but also some kind of instinctive, non-human feeling.
When it quieted down, I went to my neighbors. They did not understand anything either. Then, when people got some information, they started to rally around. Some families had a chance to go to the nearest villages. We stayed in Vyshhorod. This is a strategic point because there is a hydroelectric power plant, and a military training area that they [russians] are still bombing. They destroyed our “Mriia” (Ukrainian for “Dream” – ed.) there – our largest and the most powerful plane. For now, some villages are being occupied, they are holding people hostage.
During the first days, we did not differentiate missiles. Then, we got the hang of it – those are Grad rockets, and that is a cruise missile. They [russians] always waited until nighttime. They launched missiles from the territory of other states till 6-8 am. Then, my little daughter called me: “Mommy, look! Helicopters!”. We thought those were our troops. I answered: “Toma, do not invent”, – and she kept counting: “14, 15, 16, 17”. They were flying very low towards the hydroelectric power plant to avoid detection. Then, there was a battle, and everything was falling in the Kyiv reservoir. Our troops blew up a bridge nearby so as not to let them [russians] enter Kyiv. It turned out that the only available way to the capital went through this small village.
We fully realized that there was indeed war. After that, we realized that it was not just a war, but genocide. They [russians] do not allow civilians to evacuate, they bomb residential buildings. We realized that we had to save children because they suffer badly from stress and tension. We tried to evacuate them, but, the day before that, they [russians] opened fire on two buses, and killed volunteers who were escorting children. There was one last chance – the train. When we were getting out, they [russians] blew up railway tracks in Irpin. There was an incredible number of people at the checkpoint. When parents tried to save their children, they [russians] were shooting both at them and their kids.
— How long did you stay in the war zone?
— We stayed there for ten days. Ten days are impossible for kids. You know, those weren’t Grad rockets. It was a completely different sound. I have nothing to compare it with to let you understand what kind of horror it was (hardly holding back tears). Grad rockets – it’s ridiculous (crying).
— Could you tell me about your theater? What happened to people you worked with?
— The issue of inclusion in art was raised in Ukraine not long ago, namely when Ukrainians opted for European values. At the time, some initiatives were launched, including our theater. The Ukrainian Cultural Foundation helped us to put on theatrical performances, and the International Renaissance Foundation assisted with some projects.
Recently, we have launched an online “Art inclusive platform”. This is the only platform that is available all over Ukraine for children with disabilities. So, those children who didn’t have an opportunity to join us offline could join various art clubs for free on our platform. This project was implemented with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation and the “House of Europe”. They gave us some technical equipment.
As for the last thing we managed to do: we applied for a grant from the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation. We wanted to publish a pop-up book based on our play. We had already found the publishing house “Adef-Ukraine” who would cooperate with us. We planned to provide this book for free to resource centers, and inclusive classes.
The pop-up book was made in such a way that while acting, children with disabilities could understand they are the same as others. Every child needs love and friendship. Children with disabilities can be true friends. They know what isolation and bullying are.
We planned to present the book in several cities and towns: in the Donetsk region, Lviv, and Kharkiv. The final decision on the project had to be made on 1 April (hardly holding back tears). Those were our plans. And now, I help to evacuate children from Vyshhorod, which is our location, and from Kyiv.
— Where are you going to go?
— We’ve discussed it. To Italy. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church agreed to accept our children, to take care of them for some time… because, those are not just war conditions – what is happening now to Ukrainian cities is genocide. Children cannot stay there. We grasp at any opportunity to take them away from there.
— Can you approximately estimate how many people have left Vyshhorod?
— I do not know for sure. But according to the official statistics,for now [while interviewing], about one million seven hundred [ed.: have left Ukraine]. Some people do not want to evacuate. It’s not easy to do it with such children. Parents are afraid, they think it’s better to stay there. Low-income families are also concerned. Now, they are running out of money, and it is difficult to take a trip to nowhere with a child with disabilities.
I have two healthy children, but even for them the route was difficult. Stand up for twelve hours in an electric train, which is overcrowded by toddlers, new-born kids, senior citizens – these conditions seem to be impossible for children with disabilities. Italy has invited us. We can evacuate children with cancer and other severe illnesses to their hospital. But how to do it [crying]?! That’s impossible.
— If you had an opportunity to appeal to powerful countries, what would you say?
— I know that evil will be punished. I know that God exists, and He is on the side of good (crying). I’m sure. If, in addition to God, people can do anything, it is high time we did it. Ukraine has not made any wars, has not attacked anyone. That is a European country, and people with European values live there. Ukrainians wanted to uphold European values. We opted for this way in 2014, and now we are just being exterminated.
Interviewers: Petro Didula, Natalia Starepravo
Translator: Maryna Zubrytska
Proofreader: Shari Henning Garland