“Everyone can wash things for soldiers. And I wanted to do more.” Kyiv resident Aliona Osipova grew up in Pechersk, was an entrepreneur, and then organized a large-scale cleaning of Irpin after the occupation — Babel profile

Yuliana Skibitska
Yevhen Spirin
“Everyone can wash things for soldiers. And I wanted to do more.” Kyiv resident Aliona Osipova grew up in Pechersk, was an entrepreneur, and then organized a large-scale cleaning of Irpin after the occupation — Babel profile

Andrey Boyko / «Babel»

On April 1, the Kyiv region was liberated from the occupiers. Within a month, the cities were half-destroyed by the Russian army, and although they did not return to normal life, are actively pursuing this. In Bucha, the electricity supply has been partially restored, water has been pumped into houses in Irpin, and shell pits are being patched up on roads. Volunteers contributed to this rapid pace — they came to Irpin by the hundreds and helped clean the city from blockages. All the work of volunteers in Irpin was coordinated by Aliona Osipova from Kyiv. Babel editor Yuliana Skibitska met with her and told her story.

"Babel" tells the stories of women leaders during the war in the project "If not us, then who?" together with the UN Women in Ukraine, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Canada and the Government of Denmark.

We meet Aliona Osipova in the park near the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. This is her favorite place, especially in the spring, when the park is full of students, families with children and dog owners. Osipova also lives nearby — near the Kyiv Registry Office. In the first days of the war, street fights with saboteurs continued. Then there were several "arrivals" [missile attacks] to neighboring houses and the hospital "Okhmatdyt".

- Our neighbors were hit by bullets from a machine gun in the windows, — says Osipova. — The Territorial Defense went on armored personnel carriers, on February 26 [on February] shot the person, well, the person — he was the saboteur. And the car with that body was still standing for some time near the central registry office.

Aliona Osipova is from Kyiv, she was born in the center, near Bessarabian Square. He spent his childhood in the Pechersk courtyards in Kyiv, in Shevchenko Park and in the Botanical Garden. "I had an ordinary family, and the same typical Kyiv families lived next door in communal houses — usually Jews or police," Osipova recalls. "Good people, now theyʼre all different, very different people."

In the 2000s, Osipova entered the university, already in the fourth year began to work. At that time, information technologies were developing in Ukraine. As Osipova recalls, such concepts as "Internet" and "IP telephony" were incomprehensible to many. Very quickly, Osipova, from assistant manager, became the head of one of the companyʼs branches.

- I have a need to communicate with people, my whole profession is always close cooperation with people, — she says. — I have traits that I can use quite well. Here she began to manage. I have never had questions about the fact that I hold a managerial position and I am a woman. On the contrary, itʼs easier for me. There are a lot of men in the technical field. They communicate a little differently. No matter what, I can speak very concretely, clearly, and quickly. And at the same time, I can soften some issues.

Then there was the Orange Revolution of 2004 — Osipova went to the Maidan, worried about her colleagues who moved en masse to Kyiv at that time and stayed on the Maidan in tents every night.

- I was very torn then because business is business — and I had to do business, — Osipova continues. — Besides, at that time, I met a person who did not share these views.

"And you didnʼt quarrel?"

"I married him later," the woman laughs. — I am for every opinion to be heard. If you are interested in your interlocutor, you are probably interested in his opinion, eh? I am ready to listen to arguments. If I donʼt have a strategic goal to change this personʼs mind, Iʼll say, "Okay, letʼs each stick our own.”

Andrey Boyko / «Babel»

Volunteering in Osipovaʼs life appeared about ten years ago. Then her ex-husbandʼs colleague had a sick child — she was diagnosed with cancer. Only a complex and costly bone marrow transplant operation could save her. Osipova volunteered to help, created a Facebook page, and started raising funds. At the same time, she says, many more tasks had to be solved. For example, the woman explains, every day when a child is undergoing chemotherapy at Okhmatdit, she needs to have a blood transfusion. This is a serum that is obtained only from a certain blood group, necessarily male. That is, at least 30 men must donate blood every day.

- I became the coordinator for this blood. I called, searched, and wrote: find me the commander of the [military] unit to ask the boys to donate blood. And then the Danes did this operation, six months later, the family returned from Poland, and now it is a healthy child, going to second grade.

War and Irpin

On February 23, 2022, Osipova held a business meeting with the leaders of a large Kyiv company. Negotiations were to continue the next day, but Aliona offered to wait a few days. Like many, she had a premonition that "something must happen." On the morning of February 24, her mother called her and said, "Aliona, the war has begun."

"I started calling all my acquaintances," Osipova recalls. — My friend lives in Vyshgorod, near the military unit — her military husband. She was the worst of them all — it was the same case when a man was picked up and taken out in a nightgown.

- And what did you do?

- My eldest daughter is almost 16 years old, I immediately said that the war had begun. I prepared her for this. She said that it was necessary to draw up documents, money, laptops, and the first aids — some ibuprofen. It was agreed that we would put the cats in a bag, but then the younger son asked: "What about Natashka?". Natashka is our turtle. He said he would not go anywhere without her. So you understand, I also have a dog. In short, I divided who takes whom and became calmer. We sat down to breakfast and decided that we would continue to act according to the circumstances.

Andrey Boyko / «Babel»

In the first days, Kyiv was mercilessly fired at with missiles. Osipova arranged a shelter in the corridor of the apartment — she laid blankets there, brought food, and put laptops. Almost all acquaintances persuaded her to leave, but Alona refused. She says she understood that Kyiv will not be surrendered under any circumstances. She was calculating whether the missile could hit her apartment — according to her calculations, it turned out not to be. She rushed to the front, but it was predicted that she would not be drafted into the army. Thatʼs why Osipova started volunteering. She helped the soldiers from the Territorial Defence Forces, washed their things at home. But she was still dissatisfied: “Almost everyone can wash things at home, put them in the washing machine and buy powder. And I wanted to do more, and I knew I could do more. "

On March 28, the Ukrainian military liberated Irpin from Russian troops. It took a few more days to "clean up" the city from the remnants of the occupiers and conduct at least minimal demining. On April 3, Irpin Mayor Oleksandr Markushin called on volunteers to help bring Irpin to order. The city was badly affected by the fighting: half of the houses were destroyed, the infrastructure did not work, and there was a lot of enemy equipment on the streets. For Osipova, Irpin has always been a special story — she volunteered here in the pandemic, helping residents with food.

- Markushin asked me: "Will you pull? We want volunteers to help. But more technology is needed, and everyone needs to be coordinated. And there is no electricity; there is nothing, do you understand that?” I replied that, of course, I understood. I had a time when I really kept calling people and asking, “Are you ready? Will you provide the equipment? Can you come? There is no transport, no bridge, nothing, are you ready?” And we started.

Irpin greeted her with burnt houses and the smell of burning from the fires, which were prepared by those locals who never left during the fighting. Behind the Romankivsky Bridge — the only way to evacuate — stood shot cars with pieces of white cloth and the inscription "Children". Contaminated toys lay nearby. The survivors told horrific stories of occupation.

- I was given an "excursion" — they showed me the shot dogs. I, like any normal person, immediately have a question: why did they shoot dogs? I donʼt think they attacked anyone — they were very scared and not aggressive at all. I do not understand these people. How can children be raped? Why did they destroy the toilets? They came to people and asked, "Why do you live so wealth?" People replied, "Is it wealth at all?" And they said, "Why do you have a toilet in your house then?"

It was difficult to establish the work of volunteers, Osipova admits. Especially in the early days, when it was necessary to coordinate the work of people who did not know the city. There were also fears — why do these people go to Irpin, maybe they have some bad goals? But very quickly, all these fears disappeared. Alyona says that almost all the volunteers are from Kyiv, who wanted to express their gratitude to the city, which restrained the Russians and did not let them into Kyiv. Every day there were more and more volunteers — at some point, Osipova admits, all those who came did not have enough equipment to work on the streets.

In total, about one and a half thousand volunteers worked in Irpin. Some — those who had their own heavy equipment — dismantled houses shattered by shells. Some cleaned the streets of garbage left behind by the Russian military. In April, Irpin has changed. There is no Russian equipment, parks and streets are as clean as they were before the war. Asphalt was laid on the destroyed Romankivska crossing, water appeared in houses, and light in a part of the city. At the beginning of May, about 15,000 people returned to Irpen. This is only one-fifth of all those who lived in the city before the invasion. Most, in fact, have nowhere to go.

Andrey Boyko / «Babel»

Osipova is satisfied with the work of her "volunteer battalion" — thatʼs what she calls the people who helped put the city in order. He remembers how volunteers brought dozens of new mattresses for those who lost their homes and lived in dormitories. Easter cakes were brought to the checkpoints. Now she says sheʼs looking for where her skills are needed. The first stage of work in Irpin is over — now there is a need for government efforts to return the city to a more or less normal life. But Osipova is sure — they managed to achieve what they planned. After all, there has never been such an experience in Ukraine.

"I was in Gyumri 10 years ago," Alona continues. — Have you heard about the Spitak earthquake? Then there was terrible destruction. When I arrived in the city, it was about 20 years after the earthquake. Fragments of buildings lay on some streets. I asked, "What happened to you?" I was told, "Well, thatʼs after the earthquake." Do you understand? Three weeks have passed in Irpen, and 20 years have passed there — and the destroyed buildings still stand. People still live in caravans [which were temporarily resettled after the earthquake]. So did we manage [to achieve what we wanted in Irpen]? I think so.