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You're reading: Maya Mykhailyuk: Do you know what people dying of hunger smell like?

On Dec. 18 I returned to my first trip to Maryinka. We took food to people who live close to the front lines. This trip has made me think whether we as a society are going to pass an exam for humanity.

We were the first people to take food to the homes of the eldest residents of Maryinka. It was a packet of rice, buckwheat, pasta, sugar, a liter of sunflower oil and a couple of tins in sets. The money for the food we collected though our group Facebook.

I am giving you this list of foods so that you understand how insignificant it is for a ration of a person living in a city.

I wish you could see the eyes of these people. With my thoughts, I am still there and I cannot believe that what I saw is happening in modern days.

How can this be? Here in Ukraine, in 2014, old people are dying from hunger!

An old woman from Maryinka.

With tears in their eyes, they told us they had seen a different war in their lives. But everything was clear in that war – who is the enemy and who you should be afraid of. We were asked who the war is against now, who is bombing their homes and when is this all going to end?

Unfortunately, Russian TV channels are still broadcast here, which are telling them about Ukrainian punitive squads. But these punitive squads have now brought them help and food. People are totally confused and don't know who to believe.

We continue to lose the information war, and I am afraid we will lose the war with hunger.

The house of Mariya Vasilievna is half ruined by a direct hit of a shell. The second half can go down any moment. She lives in a summer kitchen, and the temperature there is the same as outside. We brought her food and a heater.

As I hugged Mariya Vasilievna before leaving, she is sobbing like a child. My cheek is burned with her hot tears. My heart is breaking. As I say goodbye to all of these people, I cannot shake off the thought that many of them will not survive this winter. Cold and hunger are terrible and merciless enemies.

Do you know what people dying of hunger smell like?

An elderly woman in Maryinka cries as she receives a food donation from volunteers.

This is a smell you cannot retell with words, and cannot forget.

We met old people there whose children live in other cities, but never come to visit because they are afraid. And the old people do not tell them the whole truth about their state.

If you have relatives in Maryinka, do take them away. They will not get to you by themselves, they are very weak and they have lost faith in everything. If there a bottom of this pit, this is where it is.

We were taking food to old people, using the lists obtained by the local activists.

But we could not turn down those who came up to us in the streets and asked to help them. It's not only the old folks who are going hungry in Maryinka. Almost nobody has jobs, there is no money to buy food. There are lots of families with children.

There are lots of homes there destroyed by bombs. The gas supply system is broken. There is no heat in the homes, there is a problem with water and electricity supply. Until the latest cease-fire was announced, people lived in basements for weeks, hiding from shelling.

As we gave out our goods, it became more heart-wrenching to see the tears of old people, from pain and loneliness in their eyes, from their helplessness.

An elderly woman walks along the road in Maryinka with a volunteer who brought food for the hungry residents.

I am back home, in my warm Kyiv flat, but the burden of what I saw does not let off its grip, and my thoughts are in the next trips.

I totally don't want to think about the New Year menu, buying food for the holiday table and gifts for children.

These days I divide all my expenses by Hr 60, this is the cost of the set of food we gave out. Last night, me and my family spent Hr 300 on a dinner, and I reproach myself for that. Because this money could have kept five old folks saved from hunger for another week or two.

Can any of you celebrate the New Year peacefully, knowing that close-by people are dying from hunger? I can't.

On Dec. 27 we will be back in Maryinka, and Wings of generousity and care are still accepting donations of food and warm clothes.

Maya Mykhailyuk is a volunteer of Wings of generosity and care, a charity organization. This op-ed was originally published in Ukrainska Pravda and is reprinted with permission.

An elderly woman from Maryinka.

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