Story #99: "Power of the Community": Helping Kherson Locals Under Constant Shelling

July 21, 2023
When the full-scale invasion was approaching its fourth month, The NGO "Power of the Community. Odesa" officially began operations. #UkraineWorldTestimony

After a year, volunteers multiplied their efforts and relocated to Kherson to better support civilians in need.

Oleksandr Prokopiev, head of the NGO "Power of the Community. Odesa".

When the full-scale invasion was approaching its fourth month, Prokopiev's organisation officially began operations.

Initially, operations were limited to the Oblast of Odesa, but after a year, volunteers from the NGO multiplied their efforts and relocated to Kherson following its partial de-occupation to better support civilians in need.

Oleksandr shared with UkraineWorld his memories of the time after the Russians blew up the Kakhovka dam. Together with government bodies and rescue personnel, volunteers evacuated approximately 1200 people from Korabel Island in a single day!

"On that day, activists, local authorities, police, and rescuers quickly joined forces to evacuate as many people as possible. However, at times, there were instances when people point-blank refused to leave their homes, leaving us with the difficult task of persuading them to come with us to safety.

As the water got closer, people realized that they could no longer stay. They called and asked for help. We used boats to deliver food, water, gas cylinders, and anything else that was in desperate need.

Many people were evacuated in the middle of the night, during the curfew. We went to rescue an elderly couple at 3 a.m. after coordinating the mission with the local authorities. We brought them to land, where an ambulance was waiting for them."

The volunteers are working under conditions of constant fire. From his own experience, Oleksandr has described mortar attacks as "child's play" compared to the large-caliber artillery that Russian troops systematically use to fire on the civilian population of Kherson.

The 2S7 Pion and 2S5 Giatsint-S - 203 mm and 152 mm self-propelled artillery systems, are capable of creating a "huge hole" in a residential building.

"Kherson is under non-stop attack by Russian troops. Occasionally, the shelling subsides, but at night, the worst horrors happen - that's when the Russians unleash their most indiscriminate attacks.

But what's worse, we've grown accustomed to it. You can hear where it's coming from, and you don't always find cover because you can more or less calculate where it will hit.

But this way of working is unacceptable. Number one is to take care of your safety."

Even at the time of recording this interview, the sounds of shells detonating could be heard not far from where volunteers sat, in the village of Antonivka.

Working in such conditions was initially terrifying, Oleksandr says, because the frequency of shelling in Odesa was much lower.

"Despite our fear, we helped those in need and put out fires [a result of Russia's indiscriminate shelling]. We went to Naftohavan, a very dangerous district of Kherson, which is 700-800 meters from enemy frontlines. Drones, artillery, and mortars are a constant occurrence. Because they [Russians] just want to shoot at civilians.

I remember in the winter, people begged us to bring burzhuyki [a metal stove for heating the room and cooking]. We found an armored car and went. It was really quite chilling to see the conditions in which the civilians were living at that time."

After his team experienced their first heavy shelling, it became habitual for them, Oleksandr says. However, with experience, the volunteers have developed algorithms for how to work in order to avoid endangering themselves or others.

"If the shelling is very intense, we stay put because many volunteers have already been killed. We carefully consider and plan the timing of our trips. First and foremost, we must prioritize safety because people's lives are at stake, and we want to celebrate our victory together."

Oleksandr says that the strongest motivation for him to volunteer are the people.

"We often come across people who are without food or water, and they almost kiss us for a can of tinned food or a pack of buckwheat. They are so grateful that it touches my soul.

When you give them food, you think, "it's just food, nothing special," but to them, it is something else; their gratitude fills you with a fire that lights you up from within. It gives you the strength you need to know you are helping people; you are doing something that brings Ukraine's victory closer."

Nika Krychovska
Journalist at UkraineWorld