Ruslan Khomidov, member of the European Party of Ukraine, entrepreneur.
– How did the day of February 24, 2022 start for you?
– Andriy: It was supposed to be a normal working day. But at about 5 a.m., I was woken up by calls and messages from family and friends. Although the war did not begin on February 24, but in 2014, the beginning of the full-scale invasion was still unexpected. Of course, I did not go to work. My friends and I have a place where we have coffee in the morning. We all gathered there, without even having to make an appointment. And those who hadn’t come for a long time came. We were a little confused. But we started thinking about what we needed to do in Cherkasy first.
– Ruslan: I received a call at about 5 am from a military unit based near Kropyvnytskyi. The deputy commander of the unit said: “Brother, the war has started. We have three ‘hits’. Help us take the children out.” My wife and I drove two cars to pick up the children of the military. We brought some to our place, some to relatives, and then took them all to their relatives in the regions. Some were from Chernihiv, some from Vinnytsia. The next day, on February 25, we came to the military registration and enlistment office, left our data, and went on to work.
– What did you do in the first days?
– Andriy: I have friends who have hunting weapons. We joined a volunteer group. We realized that you can’t really fight with hunting weapons, but at least at first, we would not go empty-handed to defend the city if necessary. In the first days of the war, we didn’t know where the occupiers would stop, did we? We were prepared for anything.
– Ruslan: They started building blockposts in the city, and we provided them with blocks, cement, sand, and building materials. Because I have a construction business. We brought water, warm clothes, and food to the blockposts. In the early days, we made molotov cocktails en masse in garages. Later, we delivered some of them to the blockposts, and some of them were left in the garages.
– Andriy: In general, I had the impression that Cherkasy residents understood each other at a glance and were ready for any situation. There was, for example, such a moment. Several tons of sand were brought to the police station, and we had to bag it up and reinforce the building. Random people who were just passing by stopped and joined in. They didn’t even have to be asked. There were many such examples of voluntary help and teamwork among the townspeople.
– Andriy: There was a lot of different work. We focused on helping three military units in Cherkasy and Khmelnytsky, and two territorial defense brigades – the 118th in Cherkasy and the 112th in Kyiv. We managed to raise funds and buy night vision devices, thermal imagers, body armor, quadcopters, cars and first aid kits for the military. We also supplied construction materials upon request from military units.
We also provided food. The Drabivska community, where Svitlana Orel is the head, helped us a lot. She suggested it herself – the community residents brought food as much as they could, we organized transportation and delivered the food to both Cherkasy and Kyiv.
– Ruslan: Not everyone wanted to go to Kyiv in the early days, when there was a threat of encirclement. But we found people and drivers and supplied food to the 112th Brigade of the Kyiv Territorial Defense until the danger to Kyiv had passed.
In the first days of the war, we set up a bomb shelter in one of the facilities under construction in the Olimp residential complex on Sumgaitskaya Street. In fact, there were not enough shelters in the city, so people regularly came to us during air raids. Now people are used to it and don’t come as often.
We even made bulletproof vests. We had bank’s collection vehicles stored on the construction site. I contacted the bank and arranged for a few of these cars to be given to the Territorial Defense unit, so that the guys could be on wheels. The bank agreed. At our own expense, we repaired the vehicles that were more or less running, replaced the batteries and gave them to the guys in the Territorial Defense unit. We disassembled the vehicles that were not running and made bulletproof vests for the military. Because in the early days it was hard to get equipment. We made 30 vests from one vehicle and 12 from the second. We gave them to those who were going to the frontline.
– Andriy: We did a lot of work on request. For example, we were asked by a military unit to develop a project for the allocation of a land plot where they plan to create a modern training center for military personnel. Since my firm is engaged in this, we helped with the project.
In addition, I helped, let’s say, the defense forces to detect and identify enemy geodetic marks. We have official permission to work with geodetic coordinates and the appropriate specialists.
– How interesting! What are these marks?
– Andriy: These are the marks that the enemy used to adjust missile strikes on targets in Cherkasy. I won’t tell you more about it, I can’t do that, but we were involved in this kind of work.
– Andriy: At the end of April, one battalion of the 118th Brigade of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine was already near Popasna in Luhansk region, held positions there for two weeks, and suffered heavy losses. Now the brigade’s units are also on the frontline. They provide their own rotation, so to speak, one battalion of the brigade replaces another.
– Do you still collect money for their equipment?
– Andriy: No. I would say that our volunteer efforts were needed in the first months of the war, because there was nothing. Now we communicate with the military and they assure us that they have everything they need. Now volunteers can raise money for some cool drones, for example, which the army does not buy. And the military, at least ours, are provided with all the gear, uniforms, and equipment.
– Ruslan: We continue to donate either to the Armed Forces as a whole by joining the all-Ukrainian fundraising, or to our friends and relatives who are serving. There are situations when someone in our local groups starts collecting money for a car or a drone or a thermal imager for a particular person from Cherkasy. Then we definitely join in.
– Cherkasy is in the rear. You’ve had a lot of IDPs come here and businesses relocate. How did the city cope with the flow of people?
– Andriy: In our city, the reception and accommodation of people was organized. And we should pay tribute to our city authorities, which took control of everything and organized this process. But of course, all the citizens, including our fellow party members, were involved in providing the IDPs with food, clothing, and hygiene products. We are all human beings! We have to help each other.
– Ruslan: As for business, I would say that it was very difficult for our local business. My employees, for example, came to me in the first days of the war and said that we were ready to work without pay, to make Molotov cocktails, whatever it took. It was hard. I wanted to save jobs. So I had to rebuild the logistics chains and do everything I could to keep the process going. There was a hiccup in the work, but it didn’t last long. I realized that people had to feed their families and we had to pay taxes to keep the economy going. Only with a working economy we can win the war.
– How are your families? Are they with you?
– Andriy: My child and ex-wife went abroad in the first days of the war. But now they have returned to Cherkasy. By the way, my daughter filmed with her phone and sent me a video of how they were greeted by the Poles. I can tell you – it was heartwarming. We will be grateful to the Poles to the ages for how warmly they treated our women and children, although I am sure it was not easy for them.
– Ruslan: I did not take my wife anywhere. She helped me in many ways. We agreed with her that if there was a real threat to Cherkasy, then we would decide on evacuation. But, fortunately, that moment did not come. In fact, I knew right away that they would not reach us. They just wouldn’t be able to.
– How do you see the victory?
– Andriy: I think of Commander-in-Chief Zaluzhny, who in an interview said that he wanted to ride a tank with a Ukrainian flag on Red Square in Moscow. But seriously, victory means the liberation of all the territories of Ukraine, including the eastern regions and Crimea. And then the creation of a demilitarized zone along the border with Russia.
– Ruslan: The liberation of all territories up to the 1991 borders, the signing of Russia’s surrender, and compensation for all the damage they have done to us. Of course, they will not return our human loses. We will only be able to keep the memory of all those who died in this war.
– What was the happiest moment for you this year?
– Andriy: The first thing that comes to mind is the liberation of Kherson. I kept in touch with Maksym Negrov (the head of the Kherson regional organization of the European People’s Party). I knew what he went through during the occupation. I was very happy for him when his hometown was liberated.
– Ruslan: For me, it was definitely the liberation of Kharkiv and Kherson. After that, I had a lot more hope for the complete and rapid de-occupation of the whole of Ukraine. I am sure that the movement to liberate Crimea will begin very soon. I’m not Arestovych, but my prediction is that we will be able to put an end to this war by the end of 2024 or early 2025.
– Where will we celebrate the victory?
– Andriy: We were going to celebrate in Crimea. So let’s do that.
– Ruslan: And definitely on Red Square.
The conversation was conducted by Yulia Pidkurganna