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Phosphorous bombs made burn things that can’t burn
Inna Zatoloka, Tour Guide
Inna's aunt, Holocaust survivor

Photo courtesy of Inna Zatoloka
On the 24th at 4 in the morning I was awakened by explosions, got on the Internet and saw that strikes were being made all over Ukraine. In a word: shock! I didn’t believe such a scenario would happen, but it was clear since 2014, that in case of a war Mariupol would become one of the prime targets. The city is interesting as a port, and as a gateway to the Crimea.

Nobody could imagine the scale of the disaster

On the 25th, my friend from Kyiv, Vitaly, arrived especially in order to get me and my Mom out of Mariupol. On the 28th we moved my aunt, an 86 years old Holocaust survivor and her 93 years old Siege survivor husband to our single family house. By that time, it had become very difficult to visit them – Mariupol was already constantly being shelled, the whole road was potholed and cratered from explosions, tangled wires, shells fragments were lying all around, and if we damaged the car, we would have lost our last chance for evacuation. Why didn`t we leave right away? I could not leave my son - Mark, who served at Azovstal - I believed that if we survived in this hell, then G-d would somehow guide us. (Editor’s note: Mark spent more six months in Russian captivity the DPR and was recently released as part of a prisoner exchange program).

Inna in front of the non-functioning radiator

Photo courtesy of Inna Zatoloka
But no one could imagine the scale of the catastrophe that awaited the city. We hid in the backyard cellar: we could have hidden in the basement of the building, but we were afraid that nobody would dig us out if the building collapsed on us.

The year 2014 nevertheless taught us something - cereals, flour, sugar, tea, a small supply of water were stored in the house. However, all this turned out to be of not very much use, since on March 18 we were bombed and had to flee - the doors jammed, and Vitaly had to pull out me , my elderly mother and my aunt and her husband.

So we ended up in the port area - we have relatives there, but this turned out to be getting out of the frying pan and into the fire. Water was collected from some springs - it was almost undrinkable, very bitter. It was boiled, then filtered, but all the same, older people began to have kidney problems.
There was a shortage of provisions: we salvaged some from destroyed buildings nearby, and a couple times we went back for provisions to our half-ruined house. A can of meat was going for 800 hryvnias (~$22) per tin, a pack of cigarettes 10,000 (~$270), a liter of gasoline reached a thousand (~$100 per gallon). But people were willing to pay any amount just to get at least 20 kilometers away from Mariupol.

The internet connection stopped working almost everywhere in early March. There was just one spot near a hospital, where you could get reception. But, when on March 30 we came to try to get online, shelling began, the last cell tower was damaged, and were cut off from the outside world ever since.

Corpses, clothes, shoes and dog bowls were strewn on Primorsky Boulevard

On April 8th our shelter at the port was destroyed by a direct hit from a mortar. Vitaly pulled us out again, and then we just staggered from house to house - staying at the next more or less intact place. They were shooting 24/7. Artillery, cruise missiles, mortars, battleship guns - it’s a wild terror when a battleship fires a barrage at you. Also, they dropped phosphorus bombs on our block. Once we woke up at night because it was as bright as day, and had already forgotten what daylight looks like. The spectacle looked like a fireworks show, and soon phosphorus bombs flew at us, like little flashlights. They fell and around them began to burn things that, in principle, can’t burn. Some neighbors tried to put out the fire but the flames raged even more from the water. Many houses burned down overnight.

We didn’t know what was more likely to kill us: the bombs or the cold.
We came out in the morning to check on our neighbors. That was an important routine, to have a check after every bombing, to at least wave at each other, letting each other know that we survived. And then we saw that a trickle of blood had flowed from one courtyard, forming a puddle.

When Vitaly once again rode a bike to pick up supplies from our destroyed house, the Russians were already at the neighbours’. When he entered the gate, they pointed machine guns at him, asking why he was wandering around there. He said: “Guys, I am just getting some food; I have old sick people to feed.” They told him: “Don’t come here anymore. Grab what you need and get the hell out.” He asked them: “What are you doing here? I live here”, and they replied: “We are positioned here.”

On April 12th, we tried again to come back to the house. We went on bicycles down Primorsky Boulevard (Seaside Boulevard, - ed.). It was Mariupol’s lifeline, People walked or rode bicycles along it; here and there lay corpses, household things, shoes, dog bowls… Here and there abandoned dead animals, a cage with a dead parakeet, a jar with a dead hamster: you could see how people had been trying to save what was dear to them…

Close to the middle of the boulevard it became clear that Russians had completely occupied our neighborhood. They were asking us about the Azov fighters, whom they were very afraid of… We rode on, and bullets whistled over our heads. We had to fall to the ground. There had never been such attacks. Why would anyone shoot towards the sea? Primorsky runs along the shore.

Suddenly we saw two people running from the direction of the train station, shouting: ”Where are you going? Look, here is an old man shot dead next to his bicycle!” And that was the last straw. We turned around…

We drove and shouted, asking not to kill us

The next day Russians came to us. Street fighting was already underway. A round up was brewing, and it was clear that we had to flee. At 6 AM on the 14th we made the final decision, because if we would all die, our son would lose all of his family at once. When we left, the thermometer in the car showed +1 C° (34 F°). It was bitterly cold the night before, down to -10 C° (14 F°) on the street, and it was unbearable to stay in the basement. We didn’t know what was more likely to kill us: the bombs or the cold.

Inna with her aunt Elvira, Holocaust survivor
Photo courtesy of Inna Zatoloka
Photo courtesy of Inna Zatoloka
Our car was hidden in a shed: it ran on diesel, so it would be a tasty morsel to snatch. The DPRniks sometimes made off with cars. Also, there was enough diesel, unlike gasoline.

Vitaly took off his shirt to show that he had no marks from holding weapons on his body, got on his bicycle, which was wrapped in white rags, and rode in front of us. I was driving the car with all the windows open, through which my Mom and aunt were waving white towels. It took a lot of effort to get my aunt's husband into the car; he was confused about what was going on and could barely stand. (Editor's note: Nikolai Alexeyevich passed away three months later, in Kyiv). Besides family, we had two dogs in the car, one of them injured.

We made the right decision. With Vitaly at the wheel we would have been shot - a male driving in a black car, and this despite the fact that there were almost no civilian cars left. The road had long turned into a mess, just a jumble of broken concrete, clods of earth, unexploded shells, parts of roofs, fragments of fences.

We got flat tires at the exit of the garage, so we just drove on the rims and very slowly. Vitaly was directing me, so I wouldn't drive over a shell. While we drove we, we shouted; we read the 90th Psalm out loud; we pleaded with whoever was out there not to kill us; we cried. It was so scary. Literally every 200 meters there was a checkpoint, a lot of men with machine guns. When we drove up, Vitaly said to the guys, them: guys, Please don’t shoot, there’s just a woman and some old folks behind me.”

Photo courtesy of Inna Zatoloka
While we drove we, we shouted; we read the 90th Psalm out loud; we pleaded with whoever was out there not to kill us; we cried.
The DPRniks, who were in the city along with the Chechens, did not behave decently.. One of them yelled obscenities at me,” I`ll shoot you now. Show me what’s in the car.” On the other hand, we did look suspicious: a lone car driving through this hell. After we got out of the city, the checkpoints had soldiers from the regular Russian Army; they weren’t as rude.

We avoided the filtration because one of us was a Leningrad Siege survivor

And so we got to Mangush, Vitaly was ahead on a bike, I was 50 meters behind on brоken wheels. There they had a filtration camp, but we didn’t go through filtration. The old folks wouldn’t have survived it. We were four thousand nine hundred and eighty something in line. They said that we would get through within a week. Where were we supposed to sleep; what were we supposed to eat? There were no places to stay there, and so many people. We hadn’t washed for 50 days, sickly old people, two dogs…

So we just randomly started moving forward. At each checkpoint we said that we were transporting a veteran of the Siege of Leningrad. That was the absolute truth: Nikolai Alexeyevich spent 870 days in Leningrad during World War II. A Russian Naval officer, who survived the Siege, and now he will die because you do not let us through. So, presenting my aunt`s husband as a pass, we drove through. And that was also a miracle: there was no corridor. Cars that came after ours got turned around, and we just repeated the same catchphrase at each checkpoint. The first Ukrainian post was in Novodanylovka near Zaporizhzhya. We cried and couldn’t believe that we were among our people.

We also took aunt Elvira with us – she has her own story.

My niece will tell you how they met an elderly couple, who were walking covered in blood, holding hands, while shells and bombs were falling around. They stopped and asked: “Kids, are we going in the right direction to get out of this blockade?”
Elvira Mikhailovna

My father was a grandson of the chief rabbi of the Azov region, and my mother is a Cossack. During the war (WWII) I was 6 years old; my father got drafted; my mom went into hiding, so they wouldn’t track me, and I found shelter with some good people, brave and honorable.

They could have been executed on the spot for hiding a child like me. They hunted me for two years. I was hidden in basements, attics, wherever they could. The last few months before Mariupol was liberated I lived in a dugout in a gully, hidden in the bushes, together with another girl who narrowly escaped execution. There I came down with typhus and pneumonia. I was liberated in September 1943.

And now we left half a day before the complete blockade. Would never thought that a neighboring country could do this. When we were leaving, they stopped us at the checkpoint, the soldier looked at my husband’s documents and asked, “When was it harder – during that Siege or during this one? I looked at him and said: “I am quite convinced this one is much more senseless and cruel, and the weapons are more powerful than 80 years ago.”

My niece will tell you how they met an elderly couple, who were walking covered in blood, holding hands, while shells and bombs were falling around. They stopped and asked: “Kids, are we going in the right direction to get out of this blockade?” And it was not only them: there were some people on crutches, some on walkers, blood oozed - a terrible scene. When there was an air strike everyone just crawled away as best they could.

Inna Zatoloka

We consider April 14 to be our second birthday. Thank G-d, we got out and are now settling down in Kyiv. And Mariupol is simply wiped off the face of the Earth.

I have an aunt and a cousin living in Russia. We don’t talk anymore. When it all started, my cousin called me and said “Of course, we don’t approve of all this.” Not the most appropriate words, given the situation, I think. She sounded like she was giving a formal disclaimer. But what really put a full stop to our relationship was what my aunt, a smart, educated woman, said. “Don’t you worry,” she told my mom, “they will kill all of your Nazis with precision and we’ll make you into a second Finland.” She knew my son was serving in the army, in Mariupol.

I was not so radical before, I didn’t want to let hate into my heart. But today… Mariupol simply no longer exists. One of our neighbors was an important government official, so he got casualty reports, and as of March 16th 20,000 civilian deaths were officially registered. And how many are there today?

The testimony was chronicled on May 5, 2022

Translation: Vadim Baranovskiy