War. Stories from Ukraine

Ukrainians tell stories about their life during the war

“This place is much more than just a park and palace. It is more than just a museum. It’s part of my family history. But I could never imagine that a war would be part of it”, Anastasia Donets, 39, Maliivtsi village

by | 23 March 2022 | Khmelnytsky Region, War. Stories from Ukraine

Anastasia Donets, 39, is the director of the History and Culture Museum in the village of Maliivtsi in Khmelnytsky Region. She organized a shelter at the museum for people who had escaped from the most dangerous areas at the beginning of the war.

Maliivtsi is a village where several hundred people live some 50 kilometers from Kamyanets-Podilsky.  The Orlovski family, nobles from Poland, built this residence with a palace in the classical style and with a huge park at the end of the 18th century.

When Anastasia was a little girl, there was a health resort for children on the palace territory. “My grandmother used to work there as a doctor. This place has always enchanted me. Maybe it was the reason I chose to become a historian and started a travel agency later. I wanted to show unknown but incredible places like this to the world,” says Anastasia.

The resort was closed in 2020, and the old building had all the chances to be slowly ruined without heating or care. But Anastasia, together with her friends, raised money, bought power saws, cut down the dead trees, started up the old boiler and heated the building. Every week they gathered at “toloka” (a meeting of volunteers to build something together, usually to help neighbors with a special project). The goal was to keep the palace and the park in good shape, to protect the bushes of Persian lilacs and to clean the overgrowth by the waterfall.

A community of caring people has grown around the palace. As a result, the community’s activity eventually influenced the local authorities: the palace was given the status of a museum, a road was built from it. Anastasia became its director.

When the full-scale war began, she immediately came to the museum to check the utilities and prepare all the rest. She didn’t announce anything, but she had realized that this place can become a shelter for the refugees who try to escape from the war. By the evening, the first people who were looking for shelter came. First her friends, then people who had heard about it from other people they knew. During the first weeks of the war the palace hosted more than 200 people from different Ukrainian cities.

“It was difficult at first. I hardly had any time to shower. People were arriving and arriving, and I had to take care of them. Some were anxious and tired, but they wanted to start working immediately. But the others were just sitting and staring at one spot all the time. They seemed completely helpless. We had to feed them and encourage them.”

Living at the improvised “hotel in the palace” was free, but some people donated some money, just by putting some money in a jar. It was enough to pay the cooks and janitors. Besides, the locals brought some food.

“25 people are still staying at the museum. These are families from the hottest spots near Kyiv and Kharkiv. These people are easy to be around and ready to live in tough conditions, encouraging each other. Some of them work, and some go to Kamyanets-Podilsky to work as volunteers.”

The museum continues to work. During the time of the war, Anastasia managed to go to Warsaw and come back to Maliivtsi. In Poland, she met the descendants of the Orlovski family, the founders of the palace, who had found some books required to restore the architectural sights. With a donation from the descendants of Count Krasutsky, the team repaired the gutters.

The museum staff also work during the war: they continue to do research, develop the new system of park navigation, and guide tours for refugees. There is always some manual work around the park with its area of 17 hectares.

Anastasia says that helping others and focusing on the work of her life are the things that motivate her most during the war: “My place of power now is the palace balcony, I come here at dawn and before bed. When everything is quiet, you can hear the noise of the waterfall”.

The waterfall is artificial. The water used to be sent through a wooden water ejector to the top of the rock. During the Soviet times, it rotted away. Anastasia’s grandmother bought metal tubing for her own money, replaced the ejector, and the waterfall started working again.

Date of recording: March 23, 2022

Translated bу Oksana Mekheda

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