Yana, mother of 4-year-old twins and an engineer from Slavutych, a town near the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, talks about food shortages, gastrointestinal distress due to stress, and dreams of “when the war is over.”
I am an engineer at the Slavutych Water Utility. On February 23, I was developing a scheme for water spills in case the pumps to the city were cut off, and my hands were shaking.
On February 24, I woke up at 6:30 a.m. to the sounds of explosions. I thought that the war had begun, but I still thought that the shooting was at the military range in Honcharivske. I slept for another 30 minutes when my mother called and told me to draw a tub of water because it had really begun.
My husband and mother assured me there would be no war, but I was scared. And afterwards, they kept assuring me that it would last until Sunday. Then they added two weeks. And more, and more.
We have no bomb shelters in the city, only radiation shelters, and most of them are in kindergartens and schools. The news said they were targeting infrastructure, so we stayed home, on the second floor of our apartment, in the hallway.
Slavutych is 10 km from the left bank of the Dnipro (Slavutych is the ancient Slavonic name for the Dnipro river). The population is about 25,500 people. Most of them worked at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
The distance to the border with Belarus is 12 km, and to the border with Russia is 100 km.
Slavutych was surrounded and isolated by Russian troops during their attack on Kyiv at the end of February 2022. Now (text written May 2, 2022 – under Ukrainian control).
When the attack began, I kept expecting it to come to us. I wanted us to die all together and quickly, so that there would be no suffering and no slow deaths. And you wouldn’t see your children lying dead while you were alive.
We didn’t purchase groceries in advance, so there was a certain set to last for a couple of days since the children are often sick. I packed the alarm suitcases back in mid-January. My husband didn’t believe in war until the last minute, but on February 24, he packed his stuff, too.
We looked from the window in horror at people exiting the store with shopping carts. They obviously took more than they needed. A woman from the next doorway drove a cart 4 times – there were 10 packs per 10 kg of flour and the like.
I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. At every alarm, I ran first to the toilet, and then to the hallway.
I had diarrhea during each alarm, whether I ate or not. Sometimes it was because of the food, though we all ate normally, and I ran to the toilet every 10 minutes. I even ran there in the middle of the night. It stopped as soon as we got to a relatively safe place. When I was little, my mother told me about bear disease: when she was nervous about having to go somewhere, she would run to the bathroom. I then thought, “Well, how can this be?” But that month I realized.
What happened? A doctor’s opinion
“Psychogenic diarrhea is frequent liquid stools against a background of acute or chronic stress. The cause is an overreaction of the intestine to hormonal stimuli. The adrenal glands produce stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. The intestines react to them by increasing peristalsis. In this case, water does not have time to be absorbed from the intestine, so the stool liquefies,” explains the therapist and nutritionist, Yulia Kiltina.
The main symptoms of psychogenic diarrhea are:
- sudden, irresistible urges to defecate, occurring against a background of emotional tension;
- diarrhea more than 3 times a day;
- normal stool volume (200 ml per day on average);
- absence of episodes of diarrhea during the night’s rest;
- loud rumbling, discomfort, or migrating spastic abdominal pain preceding bowel emptying;
- liquid, mushy or watery stools, without mucus, blood, undigested food debris, or fat;
- the alternation of diarrhea with constipation, ending with a small amount of solid, lumpy stool, gives a feeling of incomplete bowel emptying.
“The basis of treatment is to work with the nervous system. It is necessary to eliminate the cause, and if it is impossible, to reduce the acuteness of the reaction to stress. This will require consultation with a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, and possibly the use of antidepressants or other similar drugs prescribed by the doctor. Depending on the circumstances, if possible, work with stress and other methods such as normalizing sleep, walking, and physical activity. The food is recommended with a restriction of lactose, fructose, and simple carbohydrates,” summarizes Dr. Kiltina.
Slavutych during the occupation
My husband went to the protest. There were a lot of people that were grouped together and united. Of course, the Russian occupants could have just killed them all. I don’t know why they didn’t do it – they just shot in the air and threw smoke grenades. I found out about Bucha and Irpin only after we got out of the city.
The lights were turned off. We cooked on the street and ate mostly potatoes (boiled or baked on a fire), but we were sick of them. The children refused to eat food with the smell of fire, constantly asking for bread and something delicious. I was crying when they ate jam with spoons. Even though this was a luxury for some people, we were just lucky that my mom likes to make jams from everything. We hadn’t eaten them before.
All the canned goods we hadn’t been eating since 2017 came to be useful. We kept cereal and meat for the kids. Farmers brought milk for a symbolic fee; those who had no money at all were given it for free. We cooked porridge or just gave undiluted fatty milk to the children.
Who are we? The Rebels Diet is a healthy living and nutrition coaching and education platform. We are coaches and journalists from Ukraine (that’s why sometimes our texts don’t sound native, but we are working on it). Our mission is to help people – to help you lose weight, to help our team get back to work (we lost it because of the war) and to help the people of Ukraine win and rebuild our beautiful country. Try us. We are cool!
I didn’t eat for about 5 days. I don’t know how I survived that, but I didn’t want to eat, and my stomach was in pain. Then I ate lard while I had it and then some potatoes.
Moreover, we had 4 cats, 2 of mine and 2 of my mom’s, with us. I made a small stockpile of cat food, about 5 kg. Mom didn’t do that. The week before, she laughed at me, saying, “What a war?”
During the day, 4 cats were fed the same amount of food as 1 cat during peacetime. They also ate potatoes with milk. The potato peelings we collected for the animal shelter.
Somehow there were no cereals left at all, so I called out to a local group of neighbors. Those from whom I didn’t expect support responded – the mother of the twins gave us 1 kg of buckwheat and a pair of chicken legs; the mother’s neighbor gave us oatmeal and sugar. But there was also horrible stuff going on in the chats. People were selling what they had bulk-bought in the stores for a lot of money.
Then the electricity came on, and it seemed like the war was over. But no.
Some food was delivered. Everyone wrote that there was no queue if you were with children. But in the end, it turned out that those who had children were pushed away by the wild and clearly not hungry people. I didn’t take any chances with the kids, and we walked home without food.
When there was no electricity and no hot water, but there was heating, I poured water into all the containers and put them on the radiator to wash the children.
I told my husband to go out on the first day. But since we didn’t have our own car, it made things difficult. We got out as soon as possible after the orcs entered our town.
We left at 6:40 a.m. and arrived in the village of Myronivka at 5 p.m. The road was rough – through the woods and fields, off-road, we wandered, we stopped at checkpoints endlessly. We ran out of gasoline, and we came to Kyiv with 2 liters of diesel.
My children and I are now in the house of my mother-in-law’s classmate. People just gave us a house to wait out in. My husband and mother-in-law left because they worked at Chornobyl.
We left on March 29. I was going home on May 4, because there was no salary due to downtime. But after the shelling of Kyiv and Fastiv, I am staying longer.
I can’t go back to keto now. I drink liters of wine but don’t get drunk.
Wine wakes up my appetite, and although I’m not hungry, I don’t know how to get over myself.
We used to put the children to bed dressed in T-shirts and leggings. There was always outerwear ready in the hallway. I slept in a sweatshirt and jeans. I started sleeping without pants only recently, two months after the war happened.
During the blockade, we dreamt of eating everything. I said, “If I survived, I would hell out the diet and my weight.” And when we found ourselves in the grocery store, we wanted nothing. Just nothing. The kids went straight for the sausage and bread, bypassing all the sweets.
Now, kids, when they want something, they add to the sentence, “When the war is over…” “we’ll buy hero masks,” “we’ll fly a plane to the sea,” “we’ll buy something,” “we’ll go there.” When the war is over.