Elmira Yakubova

At first, she had to leave her home in Makiivka, and later in Kramatorsk.

She made up her mind before 2014 and has always been proud of her origins, when most people tried to hide their provincialism.

In 2014, Donetsk Airport became an outpost of her confidence, and in 2022, Azovstal. And now Elia’s soul is aching to rebuild what was destroyed and help the affected people.

Her story is about how being 50+ is not a reason to close yourself in your bubble, and not a valid excuse to pick up buckets and shovels for the first time in your life.

Read #heroesB50 interview with Elmira Yakubova:

  • what it is like to be an IDP twice, what is common and different in these experiences;
  • about her Crimean Tatar roots and interesting customs;
  • what feelings does she gets when she’s with the younger volunteers of B50;
  • why she feels unfulfilled.


NameYakubova Elmira Zhalialivna
CityMakiivka, then Kramatorsk, Donetsk region
Age52 years old, birthday – December 21
Professionstay-at-home wife, computer operator, active volunteer in B50
Hobbieslistening to music and people, watching movies, sewing, traveling by car (loves the road and stopping at gas stations)
Sea or mountains?the sea, because it is a “place of power”, loves to contemplate it
Childhood sportbasketball, a little swimming
Favorite foodeasy to please, because she eats everything (except fermented watermelons)

I started all previous interviews with B50 volunteers with the question “Where were you on February 24?”. But for you, this is probably not such a “starting” date?

– Yes, I am from Makiivka and I tell everyone that my war started in 2014.

– As a two-time IDP (internally displaced person – ed.), don’t you get angry when people say that the war has been going on for almost two years?

– No, I have already accepted that this is how people think. The only thing is that I ask you not to forget that since 2014, about 3,000 of our citizens have died… People were dying then, too, you know! And all this ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation – ed.), OOS (Joint Forces Operation – ed.) – it was a war, it’s already a war.

From which episode did “your war” begin?

– I have several such “red flags”.

In 2014, my eldest son’s graduation was not so good because of the shelling, we could hear it. We were still trying to live a normal life in Makiivka, but there were constant explosions in the background…

Then one day I saw the “stupid thing” that shot down the Malaysian Boeing (referring to flight MH17, which crashed in the temporarily occupied part of Donetsk region in 2014 – ed.) We were driving it through our city, stopped near the Junior High School, and went down to the store. The next day we found out that a plane had been shot down. The “stupid thing” was just huge…

Then in the summer, these (well, Russian troops, “orcs”, I call them nothing but swear words!) “utyrki” (“sh*theads” – ed.) took the son of people close to us “to the basement”. That’s when the war came right to my yard! That’s when I started to have animal fear. So much so that I left Makiivka with my two children for a few months to unoccupied Ukraine. My husband stayed alone, his mom and dad were in poor health there, and he had a job..

We returned to Makiivka only late in the fall, when schools reopened there. The eldest enrolled in Kharkiv that year, and the youngest was still in the 6th grade in Makiivka.

But it was still scary in the city… You get on the bus and there’s this “DNR soldier” ( from unrecognized “Donetsk People’s Republic” – ed.) sitting in his uniform and starting to tell someone: “We are there, at the Khokhols (a derogatory name for Ukrainians used by russians – ed.)…”. On the bus, so that everyone could hear! And how they drove around the city in cars – they took people’s cars and drove without license plates. Neither red nor green lights stopped them. My son studied at a lyceum, and we had to take a bus and cross two roads. It was so scary that I had to drive him every day.

In the summer of 2015, we moved to Kramatorsk and rented an apartment there.

How do you explain to yourself why Ukraine and the world reacted so lightly to the russian aggression in Donetsk and Luhansk regions?

– Our region has always been a little bit “peculiar,” so it happened. Perhaps because of the peculiarities of our people, others did not feel so much. After all, there were “Donetsk people”, “fingers waving”, “we are all so cool” – that’s what they saw. This is the image as it is.

Our Donetsk region is located on the border with russia. We were like a separate region. What to hide? These are the “depressed” industrial regions.

What was the last straw for you when you decided to leave your home for good?

– At first, we continued to stay in Makiivka because we were probably still waiting for something. I woke up every morning and read the news: if Donetsk airport was ours, we could go on living. For me, the airport is a symbol, an anchor that kept me going. I could not wash my hair for weeks, that was my condition back then. And this whole story was dragging on…

When the question of leaving was raised, we knew for sure that we would stay in our country. And Kramatorsk turned out to be very close to our city. It was important to my husband because his job was still there. It was no longer functioning, but we still had his equipment, people, and relatives there.

I cried so much, I wish you knew, and my younger son saw it. Of course, I’m sorry that he has to bear this burden. He immediately became very mature because he saw that his mother was suffering and his father was always traveling (he had to transport the production). The only thing that distracted me then was meetings at the IDP center. In Kramatorsk, they organized psychological meetings, workshops, and training.

I have never been ashamed of my country, and I have always said abroad: I am from Ukraine, from Makiivka. But now putin has taught me to love it even more, to the point of “grinding my teeth”. We have a great country, we have a lot to love. We have a lot to be proud of.

I remember back in 2015-2016, when we were making my son’s ID card at the passport office in Kramatorsk (and it was a completely “soviet” institution at the time). And when we were filling out the next questionnaire, one of the visitors, also an IDP, began to answer the question “What is your nationality?” “I don’t know who I am”. Then I turned around and said: “Well, maybe it’s time to find out who you are!”. As if you had already been shown clearly who you are in 2014. Make up your mind! There will be no more “sitting on two chairs”. You will be pissed off there, and you will not be respected here because you “change your hat” – one moment a red army soldier, the next a “white guard” (as in an old movie that not everyone knows).

– Now your family is not in Kramatorsk, but in Chaika, the capital. How did you end up here?

– We left at the end of February 2022. There was more shelling. They hadn’t hit the center of Kramatorsk yet, but once they hit the SBU building (Security Service of Ukraine – ed.) near us. That was the first time I saw what it was like to go behind the building and see that there were no windows.

I didn’t want to leave until the last moment, I said, “I’m going somewhere again, I’m tired, I don’t want to, but it’s been seven years and I’m going again, packing again.” But, you know, I never accepted Kramatorsk. I lived there because of the circumstances. Now, although I have been living in Kyiv for quite a long time, I still don’t know it well enough. On the other hand, for me it is the heart of Ukraine and I like it. I love cities with history!

I moved with my son and two cats. My husband stayed behind again, he was in Territorial Defense.

How did your husband end up in the Kramatorsk Territorial Defense Forces?

– Six months before the full-scale war, I saw on the news that territorial defense units were being organized. I saw that people were learning to shoot somewhere, but we didn’t have such a thing. In neighboring Sloviansk, they do, but not here.

After February 24, my husband and his friends went to the mayor’s office to get through to the deputy mayor that Kramatorsk also needs territorial self-defense. And only then they began to organize it. My Oleh practically signed up as a co-organizer there. And so for the first six months, I think, he was completely there.

I was worried, but I didn’t cry. I have this approach: I do not predict a negative outcome. I didn’t send him to his death, I thought he would be fine! Of course, I had my doubts, but I tried not to nurture them.

Later, my husband’s work moved to Kryvyi Rih, and he took his employees with their families. Now he works there, and we live in Kyiv.

– You moved in 2014-2015, and you moved in 2022. Can you compare these two relocation experiences? What was similar and what was different?

– The reason is the same: there is fighting there and there is fighting here.

My reaction in both cases was basically the same – I slow down. I seem to be living, doing everything, running a household, but at the same time I am in a frozen state. Then I slowly come to my senses. But I want to tell you that the patriotic wave that began in 2013-2015 turned into a lull. And in 2022, it got a second wind!

Now I am no longer surprised by reports of tragedies. Because since 2014, I have seen what kind of bastards the russians are and what they do. For me, they have nowhere to fall – they are already deep at the bottom. I do not expect humanity from them!

Perhaps it was easier to move the second time. Honestly? I’m tired of leaving, moving and everything else. I already want to live in my own private house, I want to get a dog from a shelter. But I don’t plan anything concrete right now, I just don’t understand what to start from.

– What motivated you to join B50 and help people who have lost their homes? After all, you have actually lost your home twice…

– I learned about B50 from the Instagram blog of Alyona Lubenska, a cheesemaker from Berdiansk, a volunteer (and now a soldier in the Ukrainian Armed Forces – ed.) I joined the B50 chat, thinking I would just go around and look at the photos. Instead, I signed up for a trip! Back then, I didn’t know what kind of adventure I was getting into. I had a lot of “buts!”, but I signed up on Monday and left on Friday. It’s very fast: when I follow a store on Instagram, I can spend six months looking at it before ordering anything. And here it was like a wave picked me up)

Now volunteering has a therapeutic effect for me, and it’s very big, I must tell you.

I have a great time at B50. Looking at our young people, I feel that we have a future! Because it will all be done by active people. I can’t sit back and wait for someone to bring Victory. I can’t, and I don’t want to.

To be honest, I don’t understand all the verbal slang when we joke around. Because the volunteers do not speak the Ukrainian language that I read in books now. There are also many nuances associated with English words. I’m learning a new vocabulary here)))

You communicate, you learn a lot, especially when there are different age groups at the location, and you can share your knowledge. Some people my age are difficult to get in touch with. They are more reserved and secretive: “Why are you asking?”, “Why do you need this?”, “Who are you that you are interested in me?”. I’m not a very social person either, but I somehow fit in here.

– Who are you outside of volunteering? What do you do?

– The question of my profession is a very painful one. Because I had ambitions, but I met my future husband and started a family. I had the opportunity to stay at home with my child, but I had no desire to learn anything. That’s who I am – neither fish nor fowl. And it really triggers me, because I want to be useful!!! For a family, having a mother at home is good, but it’s not enough for me. “A woman’s place is in the kitchen,” “your holiday is March 8” – all these soviet narratives need to be eradicated, I think.

Self-realization is my weak link. I can’t boast about any of my accomplishments. I always say that I am a domestic worker, not even a housewife. I don’t like housekeeping. I’m completely jealous of businesswomen who can solve problems. I understand that, perhaps, in their case, motherhood suffers; you still can’t combine everything. But children will grow up and accuse you of not doing enough, even when you are at home.

Now I spend my free time “living”. I’m definitely not here to make money. My husband is the one who earns the money. But I like volunteer work. I have always wanted to help. Maybe it will be some kind of retirement home? Although I will soon enter this age myself)

– What kind of a man does it take to tame such a passionate woman from Makiivka? What did your Oleh do to win your heart?

– Oh, we met in the canteen when we worked at the plant in Makiivka. I was 21-22 years old at the time. He was a driver, and I was an operator of electronic computers, “laying down programs”. I entered data on the productivity of a work shift at the factory into those large computers, the size of a man (then the program calculated and produced a tabulation chart, according to which people were paid their salaries).

As soon as we started chatting, he suddenly disappeared for a week or two. Then he calls me at work, I pick up the phone, and he says: “Who are you? The Criminal Investigation Department is calling you! We found a man’s corpse, he had a note with your phone number in his pocket, and we need you to come for identification.” I’m telling you, we still laugh about this story))).

I am lucky to have a husband, we have been together for 27 years. I believe that we are middle class (which we don’t have in the country, as Pavlo says). My husband has his own business, a purely “male” business related to metals. Oleh started in Makiivka, then the work moved to Kramatorsk, and now we have evacuated to Kryvyi Rih. My younger son and I are in Kyiv. We meet from time to time on weekends and holidays.

In the circle of girls where I grew up, there was this “dream come true”: to marry a businessman and do nothing. And now you are actually living someone’s dream life…

– I married a ZIL driver. We went through all the tragedies of becoming a businessman together.

I believe that this did not play to my advantage. If I had struggled on my own, the result would have been different, I hope. But I grew up to be somewhat “impenetrable” – if I wanted something but couldn’t do it, I could easily refuse.

When I was pregnant with my eldest, my husband did not have a business yet. He had just retired from the plant and started this business. Nothing had been organized yet. And I remember that we went to my mother’s house to eat because we had no money.

I had such psychoses that I was alone during the whole pregnancy and then with the child! It was very difficult all these years. It seems to me that he saved the family more than I did. I must give my husband his due – he is a very kind man. I am the bad cop in the family, and he is the good one.

The B50 volunteers know that you have special roots – Crimean Tatar. How did Elmira Zhalialievna end up in Makiivka?

– There is a settlement of Tatars and Gypsies in Makiivka called Nakhalovka. Just as New York has Brighton Beach, where immigrants from post-soviet countries live, so do we – only there are private houses, unpaved streets, a place of compact residence for Tatars and Gypsies. My dad is from there. I don’t know how my father’s family got to Makiivka.

Unfortunately, my dad died when I was little, when I was in first grade. And then we didn’t communicate much with his family, it didn’t work out. But sometimes I went to Nakhalovka to visit my grandmother, my father’s mother. She wanted to be with me because I reminded her of her son. I remember that she would first give me tea, and then let me eat soup, potatoes, and meat. But first, black tea, with fruit, she always had good tea!

The local Tatars do not allow women to go to the cemetery when it is my father’s funeral – only men go. I also remember his wake, where all the adults came with small money, 10-20 kopiikas each. People gathered and remembered. The first table was set up and all family members were given these kopecks. The second table came out and again all 30 people gave money, and so on. I was so surprised that people were giving money! I came with pockets full of coppers.

In general, my mother had a difficult life: she was after an orphanage, and her husband used to drink. It’s scary to tell this story. I try to live in a way that doesn’t anger the universe. And that’s why I think I’m like “cheese in butter” now (maybe it’s compensation for the difficult fate of my grandmother and mother?). Even despite the war in the country, God is leading me. The apartment in Makiivka where we lived with my husband is my only personal loss.

– By the way, is the fact that you are so concerned about the environment a consequence of growing up in Makiivka, which is “famous” for its red snow?

– Oh, red snow) My husband used to live near the plant, and he told me that when he was a kid, they used to pick pitch-black peaches and brush them off) But there hasn’t been any “real” red snow there for a long time. The city cut up the plant before 2014 – “good people” sold it for scrap. It was a powerhouse, almost like the plant in Mariupol.

I gradually became interested in the ecology. In Makiivka, I wasn’t as obsessed as I was in Kramatorsk. Even then, I started sorting: a “khrushchev apartment” with a hallway, and here I am with my packages. But I found myself in this somewhere, it is one of my missions.

What are your basic rules for recycling?

– In general, the first rule of an eco-activist is to try not to reproduce garbage. That is, not to buy.

No matter what sorting you do, if you continue to bring home disposable bags at the same rate, sorting will not help. For example, my husband came home from the store and brought some sausage. It was already in its packaging and still covered in a bag. He said: “They put it in my bag, I’m not guilty!”. I have a bunch of bags at home: I fight with them, but they still somehow get into my house. I have a bag in every purse. I put bags in my husband’s car, and I told him: you don’t have to buy it, you can take it when you go out.

Or, for example, egg trays: they are already made of recycled cardboard and cannot be recycled again. So I bought a reusable plastic container to buy eggs.

Our infrastructure is not yet well developed, so we, eco-activists, are, so to speak, lone fighters. It’s good that now there are containers for plastic, glass, and metal cans near my house. Sometimes this eco-obsession makes life difficult, honestly). I can’t just throw something away.

When we arranged this interview, you agreed only on the condition that we reveal one important topic for you: what would you like to talk about?

– In addition to ecology, I am also very triggered by the topic of stray animals.

As bad as it sounds, I try to avoid the news about it. Sometimes things happened that I told my husband that I wanted to move to another country because I could no longer see stray dogs and cats on the street. Since I can’t leave Ukraine, of course, I’m locking myself away. Yes, it’s an ostrich position – you stick your head in the sand and see nothing, but it’s still there. Do you understand?

If I had the money, I would buy billboard tracings and develop the theme that cats and dogs are not gifts. It should be absolutely forbidden to give cats and dogs as gifts, especially to children! A small child unconsciously perceives them as toys. We know how children treat toys: if the wheel on a car breaks, I’ll throw it away. It’s the same here: while a kitten is cute and cuddly, when it grows up, it’s not the same. To get a pet, you have to be prepared for it. You don’t want to throw them in the trash like broken toys.

– By the way, how did you get cats?

– Aliska, who is 10 years old, is from Makiivka. Someone dropped off the kittens near Oleh’s base. I saw two in a box, brought them home, my children were shocked, and I said: “Guys, I don’t know what our father will say to us now.” My husband decided to keep one, and we gave the other to an employee. Now I would have kept the second one, but back then I was afraid of responsibility!

But you still have two cats now)

– The second, Milka, is my son’s cat. His girlfriend gave it to him. It’s a real kicker! They met and talked, she’s just a girl, not a wife, they don’t have their own apartment, but she gives him a cat for his birthday. It’s good that my sons are responsible in this regard, they take care of animals. When my son moved to Kryvyi Rih to work for his father, he took the cat with him at first, but I later suggested that he live with us in Kyiv. The only thing I wanted was for Milka and Alice to cuddle together, you know, but no… They live together normally, but sometimes they go for a night race – they knock each other on the face, pieces of fur fly…

– How do you see the future of Ukraine? Are you impressed with what is happening in society and where the country is headed?

– I think we will have to fight our internal demons for a long time! Unfortunately, it takes a long time to break the system. It has become so entrenched over the 70 years of the “union”. It’s like in science fiction movies: it’s so ingrained and so overgrown that even younger people sometimes get infected by this system.

We need to do everything right now! Everything is urgent! Everything! No waiting for someone to come. The soldiers will return, and they will need to rest and heal. We shouldn’t leave all the problems to them – we have to solve them now. The Maidans show that we have an active civil society! And it is getting bigger and bigger!

We have to do our part to educate people. So that people finally stop saying, “What has this country done for me?” Because the country is me, it is you, it is all of us. What do you mean, what has it done for you? These presidents, these councils – they come and go. And we always remain. And that’s why we have to take full responsibility!

The interview team:

  • Coordinator – Anna Norynska
  • Interviewer – Nataliia Hryniuk
  • Transcribers –Bohdan Holovchenko, Konstiantyn Zozulia
  • Editor – Svitlana Rudokvas
  • Translator – Yuliia Habdulova