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Putin expected to separate us, but it turned out the other way around
Elina, accountant
Families with children in shelter, Mariupol
In the morning of February 24th, a bomb was dropped on Vostochny (a neighbourhood of Mariupol – M.G.) At the moment, we didn’t understand that the war has started. They shelled our neighbourhood from the DPR territory from time to time for all the 8 years. Some people tried warning everyone, but no one believed till the last. February 16th passed, then February 22nd – no one tried to stack up food, the city lived as usual. It was impossible to imagine that a real war was coming – not a "liberation special operation", but a real war. We were just bombed: residential areas, maternity hospitals …

We lived like prehistoric people

Mariupol remained a Russian-speaking city, and no one oppressed us... It’s hard for me to get the dates straight, because we lived like prehistoric people: we got up when the sun rose, and went to bed when it came down. I live on the western outskirts of Mariupol, and until the 28th we still had water, gas, and heating, while other neighbourhoods were already bombed incessantly at that time. I managed to get through to my friend, and she said they simply could not come out of the basement. In our neighbourhood it started a little later, on March 1, and the next day the communication almost completely disappeared. Only in a few places, it was sometimes possible to catch the internet.

At first, the communal services tried restoring the light, but when the bombing started, there was no longer any chance for them to work. The power lines were broken, the water and heating also disappeared.

Imagine: it's -10C outside and -4C in the apartment, because all the windows are blown out. An air bomb fell 20 meters from our house at night, it did not reach us, but the windows burst out along with the frames, and all the walls were cracked. It happened at four in the morning. We jumped up, ran to the basement, and sat there until six, which was the end of the curfew. Then, we went upstairs and saw that a splinter of the bomb hit our balcony, and a blanket started burning, but we managed to put it out.

In our basement, there were no conditions to live: it is not a bomb shelter, but just a basement where all utility lines pass, it is impossible even to stand up straight there. At first we used to run out into the hall, then we would just lie down: a plane is flying, and you are trembling, not knowing where it would drop the bombs this time. Bang, the walls tremble. The glass did not fall down – thank G-d for that. And every night is like that.

During the day there were at least some breaks, but at night it was just like a chain conveyor: they would fly back endlessly. But this united thepeople. Putin, apparently, expected to separate us, but everything turned out the other way around.

We used to cook over campfires, people built stoves under each entrance. We chopped the firewood, we used to try frying some kind of flatbread – all the shops were broken into and looted. People survived on anything they had left.

At 6 AM like clockwork, the Grads would start firing

We used to walk about five kilometers to the well to get water. It was still lucky, those who lived in the center had it harder. We tried to melt the snow, but how can you melt it if it's -4C inside? We warmed it up in buckets on a fire to at least flush the toilet. During the first days the water utility workers still brought drinking water. Once we went to get some and stood in line for six hours.

Destroyed residential buildings in Mariupol
At 6 in the morning like clockwork, the Grads would start firing. You wake up and go for the water, and then try to cook something at the house entrance. It’s -8C or -10C outside, nothing gets heated, the firewood is all damp. We didn’t undress at all, we slept in just the same clothes as we wore outside: winter jackets, gloves, hats, and on top of it three blankets. Sometimes we didn't even take off our boots. In one room, it was -5C, we just locked it. My husband slept in the corridor, and the three of us – me, my mom and my son – together on a small couch, huddled tightly against each other to keep warm. At first, we all caught a cold, then everyone started having kidney problems. It was impossible to warm our feet. And spring simply would not start, I can’t recall such a cold March.

When we were leaving the city on March 29, it was 0C outside. We went in a small column of cars. To get to the demarcation line, we had to pass 14 DPR checkpoints. They looked inside the bags, checked the phones, made the men undress and searched for traces of tattoos or of carrying weapons. It happened at almost every checkpoint. At 8 PM on March 31st, we reached Zaporizhzhia after two and a half days on the road. For two days they didn’t let us out of Vasilievka, but at the last three checkpoints they practically didn’t check us. We drove in a column to the demarcation line, our car was the 54th in the column, and there were probably 30 more cars following us.

The volunteers met us in Zaporizhzhia, they gave us food and a place to sleep. Now we are in Znamenka, Kirovograd region, and we cannot find housing anywhere. A family sheltered us: they are six themselves, and we are six: my husband and me, our younger son, my mother and my in-laws. We hoped that in a small town it would be easier to settle, but no: everything is already taken with or without inside facilities. Our elder son studies in Kyiv, he lives in a hostel.

And my dad is in Israel. We also want to repatriate.

Mariupol after Russian troops shelling
My son's teacher and her husband were killed, also my classmate and her husband – two children were left orphans. Our neighbor was cooking at the entrance when a shell hit the yard
Next to each house – crosses, crosses, crosses…

So they wanted to “liberate” us, and they did: they liberated us from a peaceful life, from home, from work. Our garage was bombed, I also had a one-room apartment – it burned down completely, to the ground. We kept this apartment for our son, we thought he would finish his studies in Kyiv and live there.
The nine-story building simply burned out, from the first floor to the last. In the basement remained four families. A neighbor said that they were bombarded with incendiary shells to burn down the house. Not a single whole high-rise building remained in Mariupol. There are a lot of burnt out houses: a shell hits or a fragment falls onto the balcony, the house catches fire, but there are no firefighters, no one will come. A house across the road was burning for three days, the wind was strong, and three of the four entrances burned out.

And there are a lot of victims. My son's teacher and her husband were killed, also my classmate and her husband – two children were left orphans. Our neighbor was cooking at the entrance when a shell hit the yard. He was still alive when we left, but in a very serious condition. They operated him, although the hospitals practically do not work, there are no medicines left, there is no bandagng material, nothing to debride wounds with … The wounded in the basements are moaning – it's just horrible. Mom's friend was killed, a lot of neighbors too, and about some we don’t know anything at all – we are looking and looking, but no one responds, there is no communication...

A woman from our school lost her boy, and our geography teacher lost her sixth-it’s just too many to name. And many bodies are just lying around on the street uncovered. Next to each house we have a cemetery, just under the windows. My downstairs neighbor’s mother died like this: she was in the hospital with a stroke, but they said, “Take her home, this will be a military hospital.” And a few days later she was gone. They dug her a grave in the yard and buried her there.

A lot of people burned to death. The burnt bodies were also buried under the windows. Next to each house there are crosses, crosses, crosses... When we were leaving, there were 11 graves next to my mother's house.

The testimony was chronicled on June 8, 2022

Translation: Maya Milova