The best way to understand how Vasyl Tokarchuk’s life has been going for a month, he says, is to see the film Caught in time. “I feel like Bill Murray waking up every morning in the same hotel bed and repeating the same situations every day,” says this executive of a multinational information technology company from kyiv. Tokarchuk and his family have been staying at the Deja Vu hotel in Berdichev since March 9, a municipality of 75,000 inhabitants just 130 kilometers from the Ukrainian capital. He intends to reside in his room, 301, until it is safe to return to the city.
Neither the Tokarchuks nor the other nine families staying with no departure date at the Deja Vu had fallen for the irony of the hotel’s name. They all fled from the war front in kyiv province. Every day they greet each other when they enter the dining room, when they pass each other in the corridors, smoking at the entrance to the building or at the grocery store across the street, where they sell dried fish, bread and cheese, and where they can refill bottles of water or buy cheap beer. bulk. Every day they greet each other, but the interaction does not go further, they do not even make an attempt to introduce themselves, as confirmed in their interviews with EL PAÍS.
Little do they know about each other. Some barely leave the room, like a young woman with a punk aesthetic traveling alone, secluded with her cat. “Perhaps we have not fraternized with other guests because we are computer engineers and we are rather introverted, or perhaps it is because the circumstances are not ideal for making friends,” reflects Denis Makarov, 36, the father of the youngest of the displaced from the hotel, Leonid, two years old.
Leonid is the only member of the community who breaks the monotony of the place. He screams, runs and cries; he goes up and down the stairs, rolls on the carpets or hides behind the ficus in the reception. Everyone is patient with him and everyone is aware that he does not get hurt. “He doesn’t understand what’s going on, he doesn’t know why he’s locked up here,” says his mother, Alona. “For us it is a relief not to have to explain it to him because I don’t know if we would know how to do it,” adds the father.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
Denis and Alona work full time on their computers and the boy gets fed up with watching cartoons. “Our life consists of having breakfast, working, walking around town for a while, having dinner, continuing to work for a while and sleeping”, Denis explains: “Weekends are when we have more time for Leonid and that is when we can put away his ipad, which here is your kangaroo”. There are two other children in the hotel, Yura and Andrii, sons of Vasyl and Svetlana Tocharuk. They are twins and they are 10 years old. They also spend many hours entertaining themselves with their screens, engrossed in their video games on the sofa in the lobby. “There they have better Wi-Fi coverage than in the room,” explains his father.
Distance courses in schools
The only responsibility of Yuri and Andrii is the five hours of classes that follow distance each day. Schools in Ukraine are teaching their courses remotely. Outside of school hours, the two brothers spend weeks playing video games or with their pets, a chinchilla and a hamster. One afternoon they went to a reptile and amphibian terrarium that is in some shopping malls. “They liked it, but there is little more for them to do in Berdichev,” summarizes their father.
The Tokarchuks’ flight was especially dramatic, according to their account. On February 25, 24 hours after hostilities broke out, a missile hit his building. They hurriedly packed what they could into the car and drove to the country house of Vasyl’s father, Oleksandr Tocharuk, near Makariv, some 70 kilometers west of kyiv. The Russians occupied the demarcation where they were and soon the artillery fire caused destruction and death. The day the window panes shattered was when they decided to go far away. In one of the neighbors’ gardens they saw that three bodies had been buried, of three men who were executed by the Russians when they were reprimanded for looting a store, says Tokarchuk.
Inna Kotoroschuk has been a receptionist at the hotel for four years. She and two other colleagues work 24-hour shifts. She says that the establishment was founded in 2011 and she does not know the reason for her name. Her career in the company has chained one crisis after another: two years of pandemic and now a war. The busiest time came at the end of February and beginning of March, during the weeks of the exodus of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants from the Northern and Eastern fronts. “There was no room free, neither here nor in any of Berdichev’s private apartments.” Currently, of the 39 hotel rooms, a dozen are usually occupied. Most continued their journey to the western provinces of the country, far from the front, or abroad.
Some clients are just passing through. Leo Kallash slept Thursday night at Deja Vu on his way back to kyiv. He was driving one of the vans from his motorcycling school, The Riders, full of humanitarian material collected at the border with Slovakia, 650 kilometers away. The war for him is a coming and going between the capital and the limits with countries of the European Union, transporting material of all kinds. He has a second van, which he has donated to the Army. The vehicle is being used in Mikolaiv, a city where military clashes are especially intense. He shows a photo that was sent to his mobile the day before, of the interior of the van with puddles of blood: they had transferred a wounded soldier. Kallash underlines his joy at meeting two Spanish journalists because he remembers his many trips to motorcycling circuits in Spain: “It’s like going back to my life before the war for a while.”
Why do guests of Deja Vu choose to stay at Berdichev? There are safer cities in western Ukraine. One reason, they say, is the proximity to kyiv, waiting to be able to return, and another, more important, is the price they pay per night: between 15 and 30 euros, depending on the size of the room. “In western areas, like Lviv or the Transcarpathians, prices have gone up a lot. There are people making money from the situation,” laments Tokarchuk.
Mikola Terentievich and his wife are covered for their hotel stay by a group of volunteers. Terentievich is 85 years old and his routine is based on going out for a smoke and chatting with Inna or the man responsible for security. He drinks the cigarette leaning on the railing, staring at a beautiful 1850 building across the street, an abandoned school for Jewish studies. Berdichev had 80% of the Jewish population, until the Bolshevik revolution and then the Nazi extermination. Terentievich was born before the Second World War, but he does not want to talk much about his childhood, nor about the Soviet Union or the Russian invasion that has thrown him out of the house. He was for more than half a century a school teacher in Bilohorodka, a small town on the outskirts of kyiv. Every evening, shortly before curfew—at eight in the evening—he smokes his last cigarette and then goes over to the reception desk to repeat the same lament: that he misses his town and that he doesn’t want to die far from home. he.
Exclusive content for subscribers
read without limits