Cookies managing
We use cookies to provide the best site experience.
Cookies managing
Cookie Settings
Cookies necessary for the correct operation of the site are always enabled.
Other cookies are configurable.
Essential cookies
Always On. These cookies are essential so that you can use the website and use its functions. They cannot be turned off. They're set in response to requests made by you, such as setting your privacy preferences, logging in or filling in forms.
Analytics cookies
These cookies collect information to help us understand how our Websites are being used or how effective our marketing campaigns are, or to help us customise our Websites for you. See a list of the analytics cookies we use here.
Advertising cookies
These cookies provide advertising companies with information about your online activity to help them deliver more relevant online advertising to you or to limit how many times you see an ad. This information may be shared with other advertising companies. See a list of the advertising cookies we use here.
We have nothing left in Mariupol. There is nothing left of Mariupol
Inna Shumurtova, employee of an NGO for HIV prevention
This is the only photo from early April, I managed to charge my phone for a little bit... and then it died again
A friend from Berdyansk called me at about 4.30 in the morning: “Inna, the war!”
“What war? Call me in three hours, I'm still sleeping!”
“No, you don't understand!”

I napped for another half an hour, and then opened the news feed... I still couldn’t believe it, I thought it would be like 2014. They would just drop a couple of bombs, but we are used to this: we lived seven kilometers from Shirokino.

I got nicknamed Superintendent General

Then the panic began. The alerting system did not work, so there were no sirens. People rushed to stock up on food, and looting started. On March 2, all hope died. It was pure hell, an information vacuum. They turned off electricity and mobile communication, then the water.

A sleeping place in the first days of the war, a corridor at 56 Metallurgov St.

Photo: Inna Shumurtova
I lived in the very center of the city, not far from the municipal water service company building. They started to bring water there. We used to join the line for the water at 6:30 in the morning, stood for 7-8 hours in the cold, under the bombs, reserved places for neighbors and friends, and collected all kinds of water bottles.

After March 5 or 6, when the gas was turned off and the air raids and urban combat began, we had to go down to the basement. Thanks to the synagogue, there was some food, but something had to be traded. In late March, there was a clear shortage of food already, the stocks were running out, because we had to feed the elderly people in the basement out of our supplies.

In the next house, No. 77 on Prospekt Mira, which then burned down completely, hundreds of people were hiding in the basement, but in ours there were only 15 or 16. We tore down a sofa, carried it downstairs, and stuffed the cracks in the basement with rags. Over it, we threw some pillows, so that it would be less drafty. The temperature outside was down to -10C; the cold was blistering, and our basement was made of adobe brick. We lived with my mother, who has diabetes, and we ate only porridge. I cooked for everyone, because many people came down with nothing to eat. I received a nickname Superintendent General, for constantly being on duty in the kitchen. The kitchen was improvised, it was something like a brazier made of bricks and a grill from the refrigerator. There was no electricity, so we had to take batteries and LEDs from a wrecked restaurant and a battery from someone's wrecked car, and connect the wires. But we had some kind of lighting thanks to this.

Aviation was the worst. When they were firing from Grads or grenade launchers, you knew that you had at least a few seconds to run somewhere, hide, lie down, dive into a ditch. But when you hear this specific sound of a bomber, the airplane roar unlike any other, it is clear that this is death, and there will be no salvation. Once we went to the neighbors in the 77th house, and a bomb hit the next entrance. Thank God it didn't explode, but people were blocked there. We managed to escape. It was very scary to see the whole block of flats from the fourth to the first floor completely collapse.

Russian soldiers did various nasty things

Mom got a severe blast injury on March 11 after a mortar attack. The shell flew in literally from nowhere. When you are there, you begin to gradually distinguish where it flies from, where to, and approximately what it is. You estimate how many seconds you have to go down to the basement. It turned into an instinct, even the fear went away, there was only one desire left – to survive.

When they occupied the center of the city, the Russian soldiers began to walk around and mischief in different ways. For example, people might leave their water bottles behind when they ran to hide from an air raid, and they would shoot at these bottles – the most valuable thing people had. Or they would shit in a bowl of food. It was disgusting.

Ruins of the parent's house on Khmelnitskogo Boulevard 23a, now this house is no longer existent
Photo: Inna Shumurtova
We couldn’t bury the dead. You cooked in the yard, and next to you the bodies were lying: the children, the elderly, those who died from diseases, because there was no medical care. And you stood there, pretending that everything was fine, because a man with a machine gun was sitting behind you
From March 25 to April 5, we lived at 105 Prospekt Mira: some people gave us a room. On the first floor there was a kind of a headquarters of the DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) unit. There was a power generator, and they allowed us to cook and to charge our phones.
My father serves in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Of course, there was no phone communication with him. Mom stood in line for six hours at the Metro supermarket to buy a Phoenix, a local SIM card issued by the DPR. The purchase procedure was humiliating: they scan your passport, take a picture of you, then search you very thoroughly. When Mom came back, she cried for several hours. She and my dad have different last names, so she could expose herself. I couldn’t: I have the same last name as my dad.

Oddly enough, when they began handing out Russian products, there were huge lines, but people mostly bought alcohol and cigarettes, not the food. It was a terrible sight: people would take to drinking in literally no time. The men would open the bottle right there and drink straight from it. Dirty, humiliated, not recognizing each other... We decided not to receive this “humanitarian aid”.

We couldn’t bury the dead. You cooked in the yard, and next to you the bodies were lying: the children, the elderly, those who died from diseases, because there was no medical care. And you stood there, pretending that everything was fine, because a man with a machine gun was sitting behind you. They used to tell us all the time: this is because you bombed us for eight years. Only one of them said “sorry, we didn’t want any of this.” They were ordinary men who were grabbed right from the street, in terrible garments, completely demotivated. But it was even worse in the areas where the Russians and the Kadyrovites were located. They could shoot you just like that.

Once a DPR soldier fancied me, and my mother had to cover me with her body. After that, I had to hide in the apartment for a couple of days.

DPR security forces took us out of Mariupol

We lost many people. My close friend perished at the very beginning in the Vostochny neighborhood; they were hit the hardest. I do not know what happened to my close friend Vlada, a young oncologist, as well as her family: her mother, sisters, aunts – I don’t know if they are alive. On the day when the drama theater was bombed, the family who lived in our basement did not come back. They heard people were to be evacuated from there, so they went and... haven’t been found since.

For the first time in my life, I had to hide my Star of David. I met people from Azov, from the Right Sector - I was never afraid to wear the Magen David in front of them and did not hide the fact that I was Jewish. And here, for the first time in my life, I hid it under my clothes
My close friend is in captivity, as is my friend's husband, a Marine officer. Some friends from the military perished.

My father serves in the north of the Donetsk region. My mother and I are in Haifa. To say it hurts would be an understatement. But we had no choice: I took a pro-Ukrainian position in Mariupol and was involved in supporting the LGBT community and human rights activities. For this, under the Russians, you could be killed. Not to mention the fact that they could kill me as the daughter of a Ukrainian soldier.

On April 5, the DPR security forces took us out of the city. This was the work of a number of rabbis and, above all, the Mariupol rabbi Menachem-Mendl Cohen. He realized that the community needed to be saved. I don't know what would have happened to us if not for him. For the first time in my life, I had to hide my Star of David. I met people from Azov, from the Right Sector - I was never afraid to wear the Magen David in front of them and did not hide the fact that I was Jewish. And here, for the first time in my life, I hid it under my clothes.

First, we were taken to Donetsk, accompanied by unpleasant people from the DPR. At 17 checkpoints we passed, they were saluted. We went through the filtering process in Amvrosievka. I lied that my phone burned down, and my mother and I shared hers. She exposed it with the DPR SIM card anyway.
They took our fingerprints, took a full-face and profile photo and uploaded it all into a program called "Frontier". Then there was a short interrogation: they asked if we knew anyone from the Armed Forces of Ukraine, whether we had any relatives on the territory controlled by Ukraine, and so on. So we had to lie. They downloaded all the personal information from Mom’s phone and checked it four times. While they were doing it, we were frozen with terror.
After the filtering, we received a small piece of paper – like a coupon.

“Aren't you afraid we'll make you stay here?”

On April 13, we left the DPR for Rostov. I was interrogated for 2,5 hours. It turned out that they had all the databases. There were questions about my father, family and friends; they got into my laptop and personal things, and they were constantly trying to catch me out on something. I had to lie that I did not know my father, and to repeat it constantly. Mom turned on all her acting skills. Our cat was still alive then (he didn’t survive the move, poor thing), and she would come in all the time: Inna, change his mat, Inna, do this, Inna, do that.

“Where are you going?”
“ To Israel.”
“Get out of here and don't come back.”

We spent the night in Rostov, arrived at Mineralnye Vody, and again they detained me for an hour at the FSB, asking the exact same questions.
“We know you are lying. Aren't you afraid we'll make you stay here?”
“You can do it if you want.”
“Where are you going?”
“To Israel, to our historical homeland.”
“But you do understand that you will never come back here again.”
“I hope never.”

In Israel
We were only able to relax and breathe while waiting for our flight from Tbilisi to Tel Aviv. It was already possible to talk normally there. In Donetsk, where we spent 5 or 6 days, the posters hung everywhere: “In case of detection of suspicious persons, conversations, etc., call the MGB hotline.” In the hostel where we were placed, were the DPR officers. In order to talk, my mother and I used to go out to the embankment or we would whisper with the TV on.

From Mineralnye Vody we flew to Alatau in Kazakhstan, then to Tbilisi and then to Tel Aviv. We landed in Israel on the evening of April 15, the eve of Pesach. It was a true Exodus.
Mom is still dealing with the consequences of the blast injury. A fragment of a mine hit her head, there was a large hematoma, and her ears were bleeding for several days. She still has seizures.

Emotionally, it's hard, too. There are people who chose to stay in Ukraine, protect it, volunteer, and we are far away and there is nothing we can do. Because we need help ourselves. We went with just two backpacks and two shopping bags, in what we were wearing, so to speak.

In the Russian field kitchen, they gave out swill. Even pigs aren’t fed like that

The apartment that I rented in the center of Mariupol was destroyed, and my parent's apartment also burned down. We have nothing left in Mariupol, and there is nothing left of Mariupol. 95% of the city is simply destroyed. And this was done neither by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, nor by Azov, but by the Russian army.

There were some who rejoiced: look, your great Ukrainian army abandoned you. But there were those whose eyes opened. But now, for a piece of bread and some water, they will support anything. Near Prospekt Mira, 105, there was a field kitchen. They gave out swill there – even pigs are fed better. And the bread was just lying scattered on the floor in the garage expropriated by the DPR: loaves covered with a dirty tarp. When you asked for a loaf, they would cut off a chunk and throw it to you: take and be grateful. But people stood in lines waiting for these scraps. This is the worst.

They put on a show that they were doing us a favor: that they “rescued” and “liberated” us. Like, you lived under the Nazis, now it’s hard, but soon you will get electricity, gas, water again. But when they started to reconstruct it all, everything began to burn and flood. Friends, who get in touch sometimes, told us. A short circuit would occur in a house, and it burns again. The bodies, barely dug in, began to emerge – floating like along the Ganges.
And people swallow it because they have no strength to fight. They feel that they have been abandoned, and in this situation, no matter how bad it sounds, they will support the aggressor. They are afraid of de-occupation, because they do not want to experience it all over again. But there is not a single yard in Mariupol where at least one corpse was not buried.

In Israel, people shout after me: “benderovite”, “fascist”, “Uke”

I have not been in contact with my friends from Russia since 2014. The war began exactly then, with the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of part of Donbass. But in Ukraine, I have never heard so many insults from the Russian Jews like here, at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv.

After our flight, a plane came from Russia. I wear yellow and blue ribbons on my backpack and clothes of Ukrainian brands, I occasionally speak Ukrainian. And I hear after me: "benderovite", "fascist", "Uke".

While we were staying in the hotel, we went through the consular check and all the bureaucratic procedures. The Russians stood in line with us. At first they apologized, like: I'm sorry that I'm Russian. And I asked this girl from Moscow, why did you leave?
“You know, we had it worse than you did”.
“Worse than what?”
“Well, worse than in Ukraine.”
“Worse than in Mariupol? Let me show you my house. If this is worse than in Moscow, then what is happening in Moscow?”

Another one said, you will later be grateful to Putin for what he did to you. I was just dumbfounded.
“Why did you leave, then?”
“We are victims of the regime.”

It came to scandals, cries of “Glory to Russia!” and so on. It is so strange when you are Jewish and everyone around you is too, but they tell you that you are a Nazi, a fascist, and so on, and since you are from Ukraine, then you are definitely a “benderovite”.

Mariupol is now a living hell. But those who make it out of there are not always welcomed with open arms.

On the other hand, we are living in an area where there are many pro-Ukrainian neighbors; yellow and blue flags are around, and the atmosphere is generally nice. And ordinary people helped so much: they gave us everything, from spoons to mattresses and beds. And they were complete strangers to us. It is a great blessing that there are such people, and there are many of them.

Inna Shumurtova at the Western Wall
The testimony was chronicled on May 22, 2022

Translation: Maya Milova