pro-russian separatist
Armed pro-Russian separatists stand guard on the suburbs of ShakhtarskReuters

Vadim fled Ukraine with his family for the Russian town of Vladimir in June. Here he tells the story of what persuaded him to leave everything behind, and recalls the brutal treatment which befell his brother simply because he counted votes during the referendum.

It was 7 June when I left Ukraine, with my wife and two children with me. It was heartbreaking to start again from zero, and leave our two apartments behind, but I was worried for my children. There were air strikes in Lugansk, near my town of Chervono Partizansk; they bombed leisure camps near my house too.

The situation was very tense. Every night you could hear military airplanes. We would hear of instances when children who played in the fields - my city is surrounded by many fields - would get blown up because of mines.

lugansk
Pro-Russian activists occupy the regional security service building in LuganskAFP

Over time our town was infiltrated with unknown people. The town is very small, like 20,000 people, we have one coal mine and we're all miners. Everyone knows each other. But slowly strangers started to appear and it became clear that some of them are snipers.

Eventually we simply grabbed two bags and documents and left. But then there were problems with my daughter, we had to smuggle her into Russia illegally. Although previously children in Ukraine get passports when they turned 16, when military actions began we were told they wouldn't be issuing any more passports from then on. I went to the passport bureau myself, but was turned away.

I myself was born in the USSR, and I think that helped me to get over here [into Russia]. She was detained at Rostov border at first, but we managed to persuade them eventually. I was worried that she would get deported, but everything is OK now.

We were quite lucky, the world doesn't lack kind people. A lady who lives in Moscow had an apartment in Vladimir and she allowed for refugee families to live here. Previously we were four families living here in this apartment, but now we are two. It's tight, but we're not complaining.

I was talking to my family back home, there was no connection for a week, but I managed to speak to them this week, and my aunt who still lives there says they're now living in her basement. It is unfathomable. They have no electricity, no produce. I told her and her husband to come here but he has a bad leg.

My brother, Andrei, helped my mother to flee to Sverdlovsk, but he didn't make it because they had already closed the border in Chervono Partizansk. And he himself had real problems. He was a chair of a local voting district during the referendum in the south-east when the siloviki [security services] came there and told him that he was on the list of activists against Ukraine.

One day he was taken away from work to an unknown location and was beaten for three hours. They were threatening him with some legal articles, saying that he's a "traitor to the state". They made him sign a paper saying that he is voluntarily giving up his car, his apartment and any possessions. His was released and his friends then took him to Lugansk to the hospital (90km away). Then he came to Vladimir and was in hospital here.

Those fighting in Ukraine are committing genocide against their own people. The things that are happening, they won't show them on TV because it's horrifying, it will lead to hysteria. I have friends who decided to stay back because they feel it is their duty to defend what they believe in. I probably would have joined them but my wife said, "This is not what you became a father for." She's threatened me by saying that, if I go back, she will come with our children.

I'm not on the side of Putin or the West – I am on the side of truth

We never wanted this war. I didn't go to Maidan. I'm not going to say that we were for Yanukovich necessarily, I'm not defending him. My opinion is that all politicians are tarred with the same brush. But there was some sort of stability. I had a job, a salary.

I don't think people themselves know what they're fighting for and against. They say they were fed up of corruption. But is Poroshenko better? Nonsense. Ultimately I understand that all of this is aimed against Russia and we are just people who were caught at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Historically there has always been a rift between eastern and western Ukraine and whoever is funding this war just used it to their advantage.

The West is funding this war. I'm not going to name anyone or anything, I'm not going to say who is right and who is wrong, because the evidence is there. There are enough witness accounts and evidence showing that the truth is on our side.

I am not against the West and I am not necessarily for Putin. I am on the side of the truth. The people in Kyiv and I – we were all born in the USSR. This Psaki woman [US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki] – I have no words to describe her. I don't want to curse but she's a fool. How can senseless people like this occupy such high profile positions?

We were sold off without notice. Justice will be restored eventually but at what cost.

Maria Lazareva

Maria Lazareva is a Russian-speaking journalist who has written for Newsweek, EuroNews and the Financial Times as well as IBT.