Journalists shooting a film about peaceful civilians caught in the ATO zone have returned alive and unharmed to Kyiv.
It is no secret that in war soldiers become very superstitious and attach great importance to omens, dreams, and coincidences. Some will not remove crosses and consecrated medallions from their chests; others take amulets and talismans [with them] on combat missions.
Journalists who recently returned from the area of the ATO [anti-terrorist operation] admitted that during their perilous journey, they also were protected by a higher power.
“I, as a young woman and the mother of a young child, was not going to look for trouble and shoot while artillery was firing,” editor of Channel 5 Khrystyna Bondarenko told FACTS. “But I understand that in the area of the anti-terrorist operation (even in the cities liberated by our soldiers), we can be in danger. Therefore, before leaving for Eastern Ukraine, I went to church, prayed, lit a candle and ordered a prayer service. And it turned out, God heard me and gave me an icon that guarded our group throughout the trip.”
The image of Our Lady (pictured) we found quite by accident at a checkpoint near Lysychansk.
We saw a big portrait in the bushes. From a distance, it seemed to us to be an image of Bandera or Gogol. But when our cameraman went closer, he was surprised to find that in the bushes, amidst cartridges and other debris, was lying a reproduction of the “Madonna and Child” (The Benois Madonna) by Leonardo da Vinci. Everything about it was surprising—that such a large portrait of the Virgin was lying about getting dirty in the bushes, and that the grandmothers, who were sitting next to this checkpoint (Lysychansk had already been liberated) were not interested in it. In the end, we put our find in the trunk of the car and drove on.
In the following days, the television journalists came face to face with mortal danger several times, and nothing short of a miracle can be said to have rescued them from the hands of the separatists and snipers.
“We had vaguely heard that Debaltseve was already liberated, and we went there,” continues Khrystyna Bondarenko. “But at the entrance to the city, it became clear that things are very different. Artillery guns were aimed at the city. The unit commander, whom we were approaching for permission to travel, only dismissed us with a wave—they had just brought him four Cargo 200 [trucks]. In general, we were there at our own risk and were attached to the military convoy and drove into town. We did not stay there a long time—we understood that you can be in an open space for no more than five minutes, otherwise you risk becoming a target for a sniper.”
At some point, a man on a scooter drove up to us and began to ask where we were from. I cautiously replied that we were with a television channel, and asked where the militias were (I did not dare to speak more specifically, not knowing who was in front of me). Our interlocutor took us for Russian journalists and was obviously happy. He said that the guys (he meant the separatists) had just gone—after sitting it out a couple of days, they will come out again. He suggested that we drive up to their hideout to talk. We filmed it all on camera, smiled stiffly, promised that now we’ll shoot a little bit here and then will head there immediately. As for us, as soon as the scooter was out of sight, we were in the car—and took off. Never has our Daewoo Nexia flown so fast at a speed of 180 kilometers per hour!
In Lysychansk, the first day after [its] liberation, Khrystyna and her television crew lost their military escort. Their situation was desperate—in the city, the sweep was in full swing, and to move by yourself in a light passenger car here was unthinkable. The reporters were lucky, they were taken away on an APC. Later, the crew got lost: the driver turned the wrong way and ended up at a glass factory where the notorious Ghost Battalion was based—one of the most dangerous terrorist groups.
The fact that we were in all of these critical situations, yet remained alive and unharmed, I’d have earlier called a fluke—says Khrystyna Bondarenko—but now I understand that it’s not. During the entire trip, we were guarded by a higher power. I think the whole thing was in finding the icon of the Virgin at the checkpoint. The military who learned about our adventures unanimously stated that these were enough to tempt fate. Three times, we were saved from death—there may not be a fourth. We have to leave. And the directors of Channel 5 just called: as it turns out, a new journalist arrived at the ATO zone rotation ahead of schedule and we can leave. I wanted to take the icon of the Virgin with me to Kyiv, but my colleague Alex [Lesha] Bratuschak, who took our place in the war zone, begged me to leave the portrait for him. I did just that. Hopefully, the Virgin will protect Lesha just as well as she protected us with the guys.