Russian-occupied Berdyansk: "Who knows what they will do after this referendum"

57-year-old Olena has not seen her daughter Tetyana for months - there is a front between them.

Russian-occupied Berdyansk: "Who knows what they will do after this referendum"

57-year-old Olena has not seen her daughter Tetyana for months - there is a front between them. Tetyana lives in the Zaporizhia region, where Russia staged one of the annexation referendums.

The war not only tore apart couples, but also mothers and children. In normal times, the Ukrainian port city of Berdyansk and the industrial metropolis of Kryvyi Rih are only a few hours' drive away. Now the front is in between.

57-year-old Olena lives in a village near Kryvyi Rih - her daughter Tetyana has been living with her husband with her parents-in-law in the Berdyansk area for several years. The area on the Sea of ​​Azov is occupied by the Russians and belongs to the Zaporizhia Oblast - one of the regions that Russia is currently annexing. For Tetyana, however, fleeing Berdyansk was out of the question: her husband's parents are old, he didn't want to leave them alone, and she didn't want to leave her husband.

"My daughter works in a school canteen in a village near Berdyansk," Olena told in a phone call. "At the beginning of the war, people in the village began to strike. Then the Russian military rounded up all the school staff and said that they would take serious action if the strike didn't stop. They threatened to take the children to Russia and the men to Mariupol to rebuild the city."

Olena has not seen Tetyana since the beginning of the Russian invasion. "My daughter used to visit me twice a year with her husband and my granddaughter: in the winter on New Year's Eve and in the summer they vacationed here. We spent the holidays together and they helped with the housework. My granddaughter stayed all summer in our village." Now they can't even make regular phone calls. "I last spoke to Tetyana two days ago. Before that I couldn't reach her for a long time - I think the Russians interrupted the connection when Zaporizhia was shelled."

"We only make phone calls over the Internet, there's no other way. Ukrainian SIM cards don't work in Russian-occupied territory because the Ukrainian communication lines have been destroyed. You can buy Russian SIM cards, but it would be very expensive from a Russian one number from a Ukrainian number," Olena sighs.

Berdyansk has been under occupation almost since the first days of the war. There is no gas in the city, and in some areas there is no electricity or water. The situation in the city is not stable. At the beginning of the war, you could hear how Mariupol was being bombed nearby, the residents of Berdyansk were also sitting in the bunkers.

"Since my daughter doesn't live in Berdyansk, but in a village nearby, it's quiet for her now," says Olena. "Sometimes enemy vehicles drive through the village, but only rarely." All ATMs in Berdyansk have been converted to Russian currency. You can no longer withdraw money there with Ukrainian debit cards, but you can pay in shops, Tetyana told her mother. "Salaries are paid in cash in rubles. It is not known who pays these salaries. But people don't ask because they are very afraid. I tell my daughter not to talk to anyone about anything because who knows who thinks about what." By "something" Olena means politics or war.

Her daughter also had to take part in "this referendum," the sham vote with which Russia is staging the annexation of the four Ukrainian regions. "Women from the village went from house to house with Russian police officers and carried out the voting," Tetyana told her, says Olena. The question was: do you support the reunification of Zaporizhia with Russia or not? "I asked my daughter what she answered. She says she put two crosses, for and against." Tetyana was afraid to vote no, but didn't want to tick yes either. Under regular conditions, your vote would be invalid. She didn't get in trouble: no one looked at the ballot paper. In any case, it shouldn't have changed the election result: Unlike in the Donetsk region, there was not almost 100 percent approval in Zaporizhia, but "only" 93 percent. But it is clear to everyone that the result has nothing to do with the vote.

"Of course I'm very worried," says Olena. "I want our territories to be liberated as soon as possible and for everything to be back to how it was before. But we all understand that it's difficult. I'm worried that they will get Russian passports. So far there are no such proposals , but who knows what they will do after this referendum."

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