Lisandra has been living in Ukraine for five years. She’s a ballet dancer, having studied at Cuba’s National School of Ballet.
By Melissa C. Novo (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – “If I stop answering, don’t worry. We’ll be under alert soon and I switch everything off.”
Wednesday, March 2nd, 4: 43 PM, Sumy time, Ukraine.
When the sound of air raid sirens go off, it’s the only thing you can hear in Sumy and Lisandra takes her 3-year-old daughter and puts her in the hallway. This hallway used to be just that, a small space in the middle of the house. Now, it’s a refuge. Bombs begin to fall a few seconds later. When Camila, her daughter, hears the sirens, she knows she has to hide.
“The girl is scared when a bomb falls nearby or when she hears the siren. I put cartoons on for her or play with her so she forgets about it. Let’s hope this ends soon.” [5:30 PM]
There are two backpacks in the hallway. One has sheets and blankets in; the other one has water and some supplies. “In case we have to go to the shelter.”
Lisandra Estrada is a Cuban woman; her husband is Ukrainian. They live on the ninth floor. Her home is a 20 minute walk more or less from the city center. It’s takes a lot less than an hour to reach the Russian border from her apartment building, by some form of transport. On February 24th, at about 2 PM, the Russians entered the region of Sumy. They’ve been there ever since.
“I was in complete shock that morning. We never thought that something that like would happen because it isn’t the first time the Russians have threatened us.” [6:45 PM]
Lisandra has been living in Ukraine for five years, since 2017. She used to work in Sanya, Hainan, China, before that. She’s a ballet dancer. She studied at Cuba’s National School of Ballet.
“Wait, my girl has just started crying and isn’t letting me write.” [6:46 PM]
[7:21 PM] “Attacks here have been with artillery. You hear much shooting during the night; especially in the city center. We’ve heard two really loud bombs. They fell on houses in the outskirts. You’re not allowed outside after 6 PM, just when the air raid sirens sound and we have to go to the shelter. We stay at home and sit waiting in the hallway. If there’s an air raid, we can go and seek shelter at a school that is in front of our building. I really can’t sleep during the night, I’m constantly stressed and keep thinking that they might attack us at any time. We buy food in bulk when my husband is allowed out in the day. There’s pretty much no food in stores. The occupiers have closed off the city and we aren’t allowed out. Nor can anyone get in. We communicate thanks to Telegram groups in the Sumy region, or Facebook and the TV. Thank God we still have hot and cold water at home, and the heating is still working, but we don’t know how long that will last.”
Lisandra has thought about leaving the country. Her husband wants to send her and Camila to Poland; “but the situation is very difficult right now, the occupiers sometimes shoot at buses and cars,” she tells me.
“We all want Putin to stop. Lots of people are dying, both Ukrainians and Russians who are pretty much kids.” [7:28 PM]
[7:36 PM] “Every time I read the news about what’s happening in Kharkiv, Kyiv and other cities, it’s hard for me to keep calm. I cry out of pain and helplessness.”
Later on, her voice breaks when she tells me 16 children have died with their parents and families. She tells me that she has unintentionally seen videos of really young Russian and Ukrainian soldiers shot and left sprawled on the ground. “This really upsets me. It’s been hell.”
Lisandra sends me a map of Ukraine that shows where the fighting is happening; “this is where the occupiers are,” she tells me. She points Sumy out to me with a blue arrow. [7:38 PM]
“It’s always like this in the evenings. Sometimes, there are clashes in the morning. We also hear shooting during the night. There’s artillery fire until 10 PM more or less. On Tuesday [March 1st], we heard air raid sirens from just before 10 PM and there was a threat of an air raid. We had to stay here because sometimes I’m afraid to go down the nine flights of stairs down to the shelter with my little girl. We stay at home and nothing’s happened so far, thank God. [7:40 PM]
Four minutes later, Lisandra sends me a video she’s just taken from her window. You can’t make out anything really. I hear the siren. It’s the sound of evil coming. I also hear Camila.
“The girl was scared when I took the video and I quickly ended it. We had to go and hide in the hallway again.” [7:44 PM]
[7:49 PM] “I get nervous when it’s this time, especially because they start turning all of the lights off, we turns the lights off at home too. We have to switch off the gas, and we turn off the Internet before we go to bed. Anything can happen at this time. We’re ready just in case. Every day it changes, something different happens. We don’t know what our situation tomorrow is going to be.”
[9:20 PM] “The sirens have started. We’re in the hallway. Everything’s turned off.”
“Is your girl awake?” I ask.
Lisandra sends me a photo of the TV in her home. I can’t understand the words, but it’s clearly a warning.
“Now they are firing the artillery. The only thing you can hear is bang! But it’s far off. It’s not an air raid. We’re sitting here. I’m with my daughter. My husband is over there, by the window. He went to hear where the shooting is coming from. I’ll write again once this is over. Soon I hope.” [9:30 PM]
“Ukraine NOW” is a the name of a Telegram group that Lisandra uses to know which places are under attack in Ukraine, in real time. “People write when the sirens start going off. They put the name of the city. And the word refuge.”
“My girl has fallen asleep.” [9:36 PM]
[9:38 PM] “I’m still sitting here, but things are a lot calmer. They still haven’t turned the lights on outside. We’ve only got the bathroom light on. It gives us some light in the hallway.”
[9:39 PM] “We are fighting in Sumy so that no more Russians enter. If they get in and pass through, they’ll take all of Ukraine. They are attacking Sumy because they want to get through.”
[9:50 p.m.] “It’s all over. I’m a lot calmer.”
At 11:11 PM, Lisandra sent me a screen capture of the news that reads:
“In the morning, Russian troops shelled a building of an old art school in Sumy. In the area of G. Kondrat êva, Lebedinskoí KOÏ, Gamalia streets, electric lines have been damaged and house windows. Five people were injured.”
“Since the beginning of Russia’s widescale invasion, 13 people have been killed in the Sumy region. They are six military members, three members of territorial defense forces and four civilians. 16 people have also been injured.”