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My husband went out to pick up my mother. They found his body four days later
Luybov Gubenko, restaurant manager
I might cry, don't mind me…

On February 24, we woke up from explosions. At first, we did not think it was important, we thought they would just try to scare us a little. But when the heavy shellings began, it was too late to leave.

We moved to my mother-in-law's house: she has a good basement. From March 1 to March 15, twenty-two people were hiding there: family, friends, colleagues. Our friends brought their 89-year-old mother: their house was destroyed, and she hid at the entrance. She did not eat for almost three days and was crying non-stop.

Our quarter does not exist anymore, it was wiped out

The worst was not even the shellings, but air raids. A few of our men went to the city center to get some food, and that was the day they bombed the maternity hospital. They dropped down, and when all was over, they went into one of our restaurants: everything was destroyed there. A huge shell crater was left in the center of the city, amidst three nine-story buildings, a hospital, and our cafe. The cafe looked like it was powdered with ash.

Luybov with her husband and son
We managed to pick up some provisions from the restaurant and bought canned food and stew at the market. We also had a remaining sack of potatoes. But it was hard to cook because we were without electricity, water, or gas. We sawed trees for firewood and collected water from snow or rain.

It was very cold, so we piled up mattresses and blankets and slept in our clothes. The children endured everything bravely. Just once, around March 10, my 13-year-old son burst into tears: “Mommy, I can’t take it anymore.” I pleaded with him to be patient, and he pulled himself together. The children didn’t throw tantrums: they drew and played, and our nephew who used to practice singing sang for them to distract them. Some started having panic attacks. It was like going crazy. I suffered this on March 6: it was dark and I felt scared, I started to choke, and my heart was about to burst. I was trying to yell, I couldn’t control myself. It went on for about three minutes, then I managed to persuade myself that everything would pass. Although it was really so scary …

Our residential quarter does not exist at all, it was wiped out. And not only ours. The district where my mother lived was bombed very heavily. One day, my husband Ilya went out with a friend, to pick up my mother. It’s 40 minutes by foot. The friend returned, but my husband did not. Four days later, my brother found his body and buried it as best he could in front of the hospital (crying).

After a couple of days, we decided to get out. But there was not enough fuel: some had half a tank, some even less. On the outskirts of the city, there was a column of Russian vehicles. I was afraid to take a picture, they used to check the phones, and some people got their phones taken away and smashed. I have a friend, a doctor of economic sciences, and they saw a photo of a guy in military uniform on her phone. They started to intimidate and threaten her.

Went through half of Europe with a broken leg

We drove through Peschanka along the country roads. On the roadside, we saw five burned cars. On the way from Berdyansk to Dnieper, we passed 20 Russian checkpoints. They checked cars and documents. Some offered us chewing gum and candy out of their field rations. I had just lost my husband, and everything was boiling inside me. I said, “We don’t need anything of yours.” One of them, I asked, “Why are you here?” And he went: “What have you been doing in Donbas for eight years?” I started screaming at him that he was talking nonsense, and I felt that I was asking for trouble. My mother-in-law tried to restrain me, “Lyuba, I beg you, stop talking, let's just leave.” And I just closed the window.

They made up an enemy out of Ukrainians and “Banderites”. My mother is Russian, she was born in the Bryansk region. I spent all my childhood with my grandmother in Russia, in the village of Skorobogataya Sloboda. In Mariupol, probably up to 40% were pro-Russian. I never expected this to happen to us.

My daughter works for Sokhnut. On February 22, she went from Kharkiv to Budapest for a seminar, and she could not return. She said, Mommy, come to me.

On top of everything, I had a broken leg: I stumbled on the run in one of the shellings and broke it. And so, with a broken leg, I went through half of Europe. From Budapest, we moved to Germany and stopped in Dresden. We rented an apartment there for five months. Our friends who had their own business and the rabbi of Mariupol helped us.

My name, Lyubov, means “love”, and normally it is very consistent with my worldview. But you have no idea what is going on inside me right now. I hate everything related to Putin and the Russian world. Do you know what our friends in Germany told us? Hand over your Ukrainian passports, Ukraine will be no more. And they are from Mariupol. They’ve been living in Europe for more than 20 years.

One day, I opened Facebook — the husband of my college friend posted that she had passed away. Every week it is minus one acquaintance

Many have been killed in this war. My daughter had a friend Karina, 22 years old, and I was friends with her mother. One day, they went out to the yard to cook food, and they were… Right at the entrance — I could not believe it. Her husband lost both his wife and his only daughter. He was screaming like a wounded beast.

One day, I opened Facebook — the husband of my college friend posted that she had passed away. Every week it is minus one acquaintance. Panic sets in immediately, and then I pull myself together, realizing that I can’t help. I can’t take up a machine gun, although I really want to.

My mother stayed in Mariupol, and there was almost no communication. Once, I got through, and she said she was wounded. She went to my husband’s grave every day, although I begged her not to do it. There has been no communication for ten days already.

We are here with my mother-in-law and my husband’s sister. My mother-in-law is not feeling very well. She has a stent in her heart. It’s all so hard…

Instead of an afterword. November 2022

My mother-in-law and her daughter, my husband's sister Anya rented a small apartment in Dresden. The old lady’s health gave way, she walked with difficulty. I'm in Poland: I have friends here, and the language is simpler. I thought to go to Israel, but many papers were lost, and my daughter does not want to leave. She has to graduate from college, and she is now in Lviv, relatively close to me.

My leg took a very long time to heal, they discarded the plaster cast only in September. Our son is undergoing treatment: he is disabled, he has problems with his spine, and is not growing.

My mother is still in Mariupol. There is still no heating there, and it’s already November. There is no gas either, but the new government has installed windows, the cheapest ones. The city is in ruin. She calls us and cries, “I will never see you again.”
My mother is still in Mariupol. There is still no heating there, and it’s already November. There is no gas either, but the new government has installed windows, the cheapest ones. The city is in ruin. She calls us and cries, “I will never see you again.” We barely managed to get her the internet, now at least we can call each other.

They give out rations, you have to stand in line for free bread. Prices have risen a lot. One acquaintance got a job as an expeditor, and when he looks at the invoices, he sees that the prices rise every week. There are shortages of fuel, and water is also a problem. But it’s true that my mother now receives two pensions: Ukrainian and Russian.

Until October, my mother cooked on a fire, but recently my brother bought a gas bottle. The neighbors still cook on the street, I don’t know how they will spend the winter.

My mother had suffered four strokes, and will not be able to get to us herself. And it is unclear whether they will let me into Mariupol, given my pro-Ukrainian Facebook profile.

I still wake up at night in terror

Everyone with whom we were hiding in the basement scattered. My best friend went to Israel with her parents, and another friend in Kyiv with her family — they spend half a day every day without electricity. One family first moved to Budapest, then to Slovakia. Other friends left for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

Some remained in Mariupol: our chef, for example. At first, he went to the Crimea, but the work there is only seasonal, and the prices are crazy. And he returned to Mariupol. He admitted he had realized that things are bad, but to such an extent... It is a ghost town, if you see one whole house, you are surprised because you walk through the ruins all day. Their house got under attack, there is a hole in the ceiling. Fortunately, the neighbors gave this guy the keys to their apartment in another apartment block.

My childhood friend Alena called me, her sister's house got attacked: she burned alive, and her husband jumped from the 7th floor and crashed to death
He just had his child, and he wanted to open a cafe, to earn some money. He is a very good cook. But they asked such a price for the rent that there was no chance... People are depressed, even the young ones. There is no work in Mariupol, except perhaps at a construction site. My daughter-in-law went to cook for them, what can you do?

We lived a normal life, worked, met with friends, and made plans. Everything was broken in an instant.

I still wake up at night in terror. I can already compile a martyrology. Katya's stepfather, mother, and uncle died – a direct hit by a shell. My childhood friend Alena called me, her sister's house got attacked: she burned alive, and her husband jumped from the 7th floor and crashed to death. Victor, a bartender in the restaurant where I was manager, had a blast injury, he is still deaf in one ear.

Lesha, who stayed with us in the basement, also had a blast injury, and Dima had his heel and elbow shattered, and his neck burned. In Germany, the doctors took out a fragment, they suspect a phosphorus burn.

The testimony was chronicled on April 5, 2022

Translation: Maya Milova