Behind enemy lines, Ukrainian woman survives with her chickens

Behind enemy lines, Ukrainian woman survives with her chickens

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After surviving World War Two and the fall of the Soviet Union, among other seismic events, Zinaida Makishaiva now has her chickens to thank for getting through her most recent ordeal - the brief but brutal occupation of her town by Russian troops.

The 82-year-old was not too shaken when Russian tanks first showed up in early March in Borodyanka, northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, but then Grad missiles smashed into her home, destroying her chicken coop.

. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra
Zinaida Makishaiva, 82, stands next to her dog's enclosure.

A neighbour next door was killed by shelling. And then Russian troops began to visit every day.

Her daily routines, established since early childhood when she started "rural work", were soon punctured by shelling and missile attacks.

. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra
Makishaiva recounts how Russian soldiers treated her.

"Scared doesn't fully describe how I felt. I felt dead, senseless... I didn't have time to bring logs because of the shelling, small and big. That's how they destroyed all those houses... What I know is: one missile - no house," said Makishaiva, who spent much of her life in Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa.

"The doors were blown out. I took the chickens in because I needed something to eat. I didn’t have anything to eat except for potatoes, just that. There is no water, no gas, nothing."

. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra
Makishaiva lights the oven in her kitchen.

The Russian troops came in three waves, she said, the first being the most violent. One day several soldiers entered her house, demanding that she stay in the cellar.

"'Get in the cellar, you old bitch!’ (the Russian troops said). I told them: 'Kill me, but I won’t go'," said Makishaiva.

. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra
Makishaiva walks past a destroyed Russian army vehicle.

EGGS

During the days of occupation, Makishaiva braved crossfire to fetch pales of water from a nearby well.

When food was scarce, she still had the eggs laid by her own chickens. Her family was far away, as her one son and three grandchildren live in different parts of the country.

. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra
Makishaiva tries to get a chicken out of her bedroom.

Since Borodyanka was retaken by Ukrainian forces over a week ago, Makishaiva, who used to love dancing the waltz when she was younger, walks more than three hours a day, past shattered buildings and wrecked Russian tanks, to collect whatever food aid is available at the town's community centre or church.

Thirty days of sleepless nights are now a thing of the past, with the help of the herb valerian.

. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra
Makishaiva looks at bullet holes in the windscreen of her son's car parked near her house.

"It's calmer now, we have radio again. There was nothing for a month, I felt deaf, no conversations, except with my dogs and cat," she said.

"Now when the radio says it's midnight, I take some valerian and sleep soundly until 5. The dreams are better now, more happiness. Because it was so bad before, so many people died. It was frightening."

. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra
Makishaiva stands in her kitchen.

"What God decides will happen. I’ve been through two wars and now this. I pray that this has passed and the fighting won't come back again," Makishaiva said.

Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it called "a special operation" to demilitarise and "denazify" its southern neighbour.

. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra
Makishaiva meets her neighbour Oksana Surul, 82, beside a destroyed house.

"It's calmer now, we have radio again. There was nothing for a month, I felt deaf, no conversations, except with my dogs and cat," she said.

"Now when the radio says it's midnight, I take some valerian and sleep soundly until 5. The dreams are better now, more happiness. Because it was so bad before, so many people died. It was frightening."

Kyiv and its Western backers say this is a pretext for an act of unprovoked aggression. Ukrainian forces have mounted stiff resistance to the invasion and the West has imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Russia.

(Photo Editing Kezia Levitas; Additional Reporting Zohra Bensemra; Text Editing Gareth Jones; Layout Kezia Levitas)

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Slideshow

Makishaiva looks out of her window.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Makishaiva looks out of her window.

A man carries humanitarian aid supplies past the Borodyanka district employment centre.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

A man carries humanitarian aid supplies past the Borodyanka district employment centre.

The Borodyanka district employment centre, that Russian soldiers had occupied.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

The Borodyanka district employment centre, that Russian soldiers had occupied.

Makishaiva arrives home after receiving humanitarian aid supplies.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Makishaiva arrives home after receiving humanitarian aid supplies.

The words "I love Russia" are painted on the gates of a house that belonged to a man, who residents claim was killed by Russian troops.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

The words "I love Russia" are painted on the gates of a house that belonged to a man, who residents claim was killed by Russian troops.

Makishaiva stands with Volodymyr Maksuta, 62, beside the grave of their neighbour, Yurii Ostapchuk, who they say was killed by Russian troops.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Makishaiva stands with Volodymyr Maksuta, 62, beside the grave of their neighbour, Yurii Ostapchuk, who they say was killed by Russian troops.

Maksuta reacts while he recounts how his neighbour Yurii Ostapchuk, was killed.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Maksuta reacts while he recounts how his neighbour Yurii Ostapchuk, was killed.

Makishaiva stands in the doorway of her kitchen.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Makishaiva stands in the doorway of her kitchen.

Makishaiva tries to get a chicken out of her bedroom.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Makishaiva tries to get a chicken out of her bedroom.

Makishaiva lights a candle as she stands in her kitchen.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Makishaiva lights a candle as she stands in her kitchen.

Makishaiva uses a magnifying glass to read a book.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Makishaiva uses a magnifying glass to read a book.

The hand of Makishaiva rests on a dog enclosure.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

The hand of Makishaiva rests on a dog enclosure.

Makishaiva sits on her sofa.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Makishaiva sits on her sofa.

A sign that reads "Don’t go inside. It will kill you" hangs on a fence at the Borodyanka district employment centre, which Russian soldiers had occupied.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

A sign that reads "Don’t go inside. It will kill you" hangs on a fence at the Borodyanka district employment centre, which Russian soldiers had occupied.

Makishaiva talks to her neighbour Alla Molchanova, 73, in her garden.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Makishaiva talks to her neighbour Alla Molchanova, 73, in her garden.

Makishaiva talks to Father Dmytro Koshka, rector of the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, as he helps her to carry food aid.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Makishaiva talks to Father Dmytro Koshka, rector of the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, as he helps her to carry food aid.

Makishaiva collects food aid at a churchyard.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Makishaiva collects food aid at a churchyard.

Makishaiva reacts as she recounts how Russian soldiers treated her.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Makishaiva reacts as she recounts how Russian soldiers treated her.

The remnants of a house, that residents say was was destroyed by Russian shelling.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

The remnants of a house, that residents say was was destroyed by Russian shelling.

A sign that reads "there are people here" is seen on the gates of Makishaiva's house.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

A sign that reads "there are people here" is seen on the gates of Makishaiva's house.

Women walk past shops destroyed by Russian shelling.
. Borodyanka, Ukraine. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Women walk past shops destroyed by Russian shelling.