Literally a minute from the bridge the DNR rabble held a spot on a hill from which you could see the entire city. The checkpoint was constructed from burnt cars and tires, so you had to zig zag through it. There were so many corpses! I, of course, had seen dead people in the yard of our building complex, but these corpses had lying there for a long time apparently. Everything was covered with dust. A body without arms, legs or a head lay like garbage in the middle of the road. There was a demolished car: white rags, a sign saying “Children”, and people covered in blood. There was a line up of cars, and next to it a tank firing right into the city. And I could see where the shells exploded.
Did they really think they were saving us?
You could avoid a thorough search if you gave the soldiers a bottle (of alcohol - ed.) and cigarettes. All of our cars had this set up at the top in the trunk. They spoke pretty politely. They even reassured us that it was already: quiet here, no shelling. Of course not, there was nothing to destroy there. Did they really think they were saving us? They checked our documents and phones. Dad opened the trunk; the soldier grabbed the bag and said we could go. The same story with my sister and brother. They didn’t check our things. They asked where my husband was. I said he was at home. I only showed them my darkon (Israeli passport), although I have a Ukrainian passport as well. That didn’t play any role here.
They checked other cars and made some men undress. We kept going – more of the same exploded cars, the same corpses. There were four checkpoints before leaving the city. They checked documents at each one and asked how I ended up here. My baby was around 8 months old then; some tried baby talking to her…
I counted more than 20 checkpoints to the Russian border. They stopped us at each one and demanded documents. There was a checkpoint at the entrance and exit of each village. We had to change the route: many bridges were blown up. There was a lot of military equipment: tanks, APCs marked with V and Z. Even some black executive cars, without license plates.
One soldier at the checkpoint warned us: “Forget about going to the toilet in the field. Everything is mined. Don’t even drive on the shoulder of the road”. When we were about 20 km from the city, we saw a Grad rocket launcher in a field hitting Mariupol. It was terrible.
We made it to some town in the DNR and were told to go through filtration. I still have the piece of paper (see photo) that allowed me to cross the Russian border.
The police told us to bring photocopies of all documents, but we only had hryvnias, and there was nowhere to exchange money. Such helplessness! I wanted to buy baby wipes and a plastic spoon at the store to clean and feed the baby. But we had no rubles, and the town was full of refugees like us.
Life in the DNR has stopped
The DNR is something horrible. Life there has just stopped. There is no internet, nowhere to spend the night, and it was getting dark. There was a huge line at the police station. My mom ran around, trying to trade chocolates for a chance to make photocopies, but nobody agreed. Dad found someone who agreed to exchange 100 dollars for rubles… We made copies, got the questionnaires: now it was time to get registered. “What kind of car do you have? Who is in it? Where were you before? Did you help the Ukrainian army? Have you been in contact with Ukrainian soldiers?” etc. We were in line for four hours. It was getting dark. My mom is strong-willed: she went to the guy in charge: ”Please see us; we have three kids in the car.” My brother’s daughter is 9 years old; my sister’s boy is a year and 10 months, and my baby is eight months. Anyway, the guy in charge had a look at my mom and said: Drive slowly, and they’ll let you through.”
Then we drove through Nikolskoe, Dokuchaevsk, Dobropolye, Amvrosievku, and after a few hours we were at the border with Russia. There was a booth, and the border guard warns us: ”We are not going to let you out without registration!” “Turn off, t he says, there is a village here, ”Register at the police station.” What can you do? We went, and – you wouldn’t believe it – there were no strangers at the police station. They met us like family! They led us to a big hall with beds, tea, coffee, cookies. They showed us where we could shower. Some asked about specific neighborhoods in Mariupol: they had relatives there, brothers, sisters. They cried, we cried. They assigned a staff member for each of us and took us to separate rooms. But all the same, men were made to undress; tattoos were checked; photos were taken head on and in profile, as well as fingerprints. They scanned all our passports and checked all the phones.
In fact, it was an interrogation: when did I arrive, where do my parents live, where is their residential registration, their dates of birth, phone numbers. And the same about each family member. Where do you live, what activities are you involved in: and they wrote it all down.
When they saw my Israeli passport, they called the Russian Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Situations and let them know where I was. From there they contacted the embassy.
At that point we didn’t know where my Dad’s sister and her family were or if they were alive. And when they were checking the passports, one of the staff said that the last name sounded familiar: I saw it somewhere yesterday. He leafed through the notebook and there it was: a record of all of Dad’s relatives; they had passed through the day before.
Never once did I hear anyone say that they wanted to be part of Russia, never once.
Finally, we got these papers, sealed and signed, and proceeded to the Russian border. When it was our turn, they pulled us to the side like all cars with Ukrainian license plates. We just sat there for two hours; then they took away the documents and didn’t give them back for a long time. Then they took the men away - my Dad and my brother. It was the same interrogation: they made them undress, took fingerprints, etc.
Then they checked the car: another hour and another few hours waiting in line. Altogether it took about seven hours, and they let us go at 1 in the morning. We wanted to get a hotel room, but there were no vacant rooms, so we had to drive to Rostov during the night. We spent the night there, cleaned up, and exchanged some dollars. I can’t remember the rate, but if in hryvnia it was almost $2000, then in rubles we were given the equivalent of $700.
Our goal was to get to Georgia. Nobody wanted to stay in Russia; we had discussed it back in the basement. We stayed in hotels for four nights: the receptionists knew about everything that was happening, since we weren’t the only ones fleeing like this. The city has been destroyed; it no longer exists. And you could see it in the refugees: those who didn’t wash for a month; when everything smelled of fire and soot. Everyone in Russia understood everything: many people cried; some apologized. My Mom’s cousin lives in Moscow; he called and apologized too.