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We ran from entryway to entryway while they reloaded
Oxana Trokhina, lead auditor of Oschadbank
Mariupol after shelling and bombing by Russian troops. 108 Mitropolitskaya Street

Photo: Wikipedia
On the 24th at approximately 5:15 am a bomb fell pretty close to us, and plaster started falling down. I usually get up early, and my 9-year old son woke up from the explosion, so I had to calm him down, explain something… We lived in a private house on the Left shore, where everything started. Back in 2014 the village Sorokino was made into a buffer zone; there were shots fired every now and again, but it didn’t reach us. And the last couple of years were completely quiet.

There was a rocket sticking out of the asphalt

But on the 24th, about 10 minutes after the first explosion, a rocket fell on the next street. A direct hit to the house killed the family, and in our house the windows shook, and the ceiling lamps in the bedroom and the kitchen fell down. That’s when Sasha really woke up: he got really scared and started crying. Until then it was like I didn’t believe in what was happening.

One of the residential houses, the first days of the Russian Federation invasion

Photo: Wikipedia
At 6 am they cut the power. I went outside: there was police, and the ambulance, and the fire rig by the demolished house. My friends lived right across the street: their windows were blown out, and the slating came off the roof.
Then the shellings became more frequent. My older son came over; he lives separately. We were deciding what to do with the parents: my mom is bed ridden; she had a stroke last fall.

But the parents decided to stay: who’s going to hurt us. And my kids and I went to the city. The older one went to his friend, and me and the younger one went to my friends. And every morning I came to visit the parents: change the diapers, bring medications, feed them. There were hits, the sound of rockets, but I kept coming while I could…

Once as I was entering our neighborhood I was just screaming in the car, because I was so scared, until I reached the gates. There were houses and cars on fire; a rocket was sticking out of the asphalt; the cobblestones were turned over, and cinderblocks were lying around. I only calmed down when I saw my parents.

Another time a friend asked me to look in on his parents: they lived three streets over. I left the car behind and crawled through the bushes: the noise of rockets; houses demolished and burning…

The last time I visited my parents on March 7th. I wanted to bring them out, and arranged things with two men to carry out my mom. They said that they would carry her to the car, but honestly, it was not clear where it was safer. There were rumors going around that DNR and Chechen soldiers were already on the Left Shore, and things were coming to an end here, while they were just starting up in other neighborhoods. And my mom and dad decided to stay…

I was not able to come to them after that. Intensive fighting started up; they blew up the Post-bridge. When I was driving back the last time, I saw a shot out civilian car, covered in blood. On March 12, they started shelling the city center. I wanted to bring my older son to join us in the Ilyichevsky neighborhood — there was less shelling there.

The aftermath of the shelling of Mariupol by Russian troops
Photo: Wikipedia
Everything was on fire. You could not recognize the downtown. The post office, the hospital, the 9 floor residential buildings, cars were all on fire with windows blasted out
Anyway, I came up to the Central Post Office and could not believe my eyes. Everything was on fire. You could not recognize the downtown. The post office, the hospital, the 9 floor residential buildings, cars were all on fire with windows blasted out. I was with my friend Lena, who wanted to see what was happening with her apartment.

I have only seen stuff like that in the movies

That’s how we were taught: from entryway to entryway. And then 200 meters in front of us a garbage truck was hit directly.

We carefully walked around it and crossed the Prospekt Mira. I couldn’t find my son: the door was locked; I ran through all the basements; shouted the last name - all to no avail. We started going back. I have only seen stuff like that in the movies: balconies lying on the ground, windows, stuff thrown by the blast; cars that burned out overnight; it was just impossible to walk through. We ran into an entryway, and I asked this man: when did all this happen? He said that the first plane arrived around 11 pm, and hit the car parked by the house. Then there was an intense shelling, and another plane flew by at 3 am. There was this silence: people weren’t even making food. It was noon already, but nobody came out. The residents were lying in their apartments, screaming, but the police officer said that the hospitals are overrun, and there are no spots to put them…

And at that point we were warned that the tanks were coming: there would be difficult battle, get out. Lena started crying: you and I will never get out of here. I told her: we’ll make it out; our kids are waiting for us. We started going in short bursts: we just left the building entryway, when a rocket exploded 50 meters away. We ran to another entryway, and just kept going like that: while they were reloading we tried to run as far as we could.

None of our relatives knew if we were alive or not. I have two sisters living in Israel. That day I managed to send a text from the store “A 1000 little things”: that was the only place with reception.

When a plane flew overhead, the kids would get scared and scream as they were clinging to the ground. We used to pray. I remember when a plane would fly over, Elvira would cover her head with her hands and pray
When the bombs fell far away, e.g. on Azovmash, we didn’t duck. And when a plane flew over “A 1000 little things,” people fell on the ground. I told Lena: we should do that too; others already learned that. Anyway, we got back by the evening, with nothing much to show for the trip.

There was something good: the neighbors became friends, and Lena and I were in such a state of shock that when they saw our eyes, they immediately poured us a shot of moonshine, because we couldn’t even speak. At that moment I realized цhy the proverbial "shot of liquid bravery" was such a big deal during WWII.

We ate twice a day: 8 am and closer to lunch

On March 2 they cut the reception, on March 4 - power, and on the sixth - gas. Some women got hysterical and got on the men’s nerves, and they were the ones to bring the water and light the fires. With them it sometimes took a joke, a hug, sometimes a harsh word to calm them down. We even celebrated March 8th: someone had a bar of chocolate, and we each got a small square.

When a plane flew overhead, the kids would get scared and scream as they were clinging to the ground. We used to pray. I remember when a plane would fly over, Elvira would cover her head with her hands and pray. The apartment was awfully cold: our lips were chapped, same with hands and nose. The kids would get sick, and I don’t even know how the parents survived.

We ate twice a day: at 8 am and about 1-2 pm. We were incredibly hungry, but realized that if it’s everyone for themselves, we are not going to make it. We shared every morsel of bread, made soups together; someone got canned meat or a whole chicken with feathers, and we gave them some chopped wood. We fed everyone: there were elderly people who couldn’t provide for themselves.

Residential neighborhoods of Mariupol
Photo: Wikipedia
We had three families with cars, and then we saw a procession of other civilian cars: they had white pieces of fabric attached, “Children” written on the front shields. But nobody held their fire; there was no green corridor
I ended up finding my son later, thanks to his boss: he owns the Internet-provider Trinity. When the shellings started, a few dozen people hid in their offices, including Sergei. The Ukrainian soldiers came there to repair their phones, portable radios etc. Someone saw them and reported it, because soon there was a sniper stationed across the street from the office and would start shooting whenever anyone tried to exit, and it didn’t matter if it was an elderly person or someone walking the dog. They had to climb out through the windows. Then when the shellings intensified, the boss found a bus, and took everyone to his home at Belosarayskaya sandbar. But anyway from March 2nd to 18th I had no news from my son.

A house exploded before my eyes

On March 18th they started heavy shellings in Ilyechevsk neighborhood: a house exploded before my eyes. It was cinematic: planks flying around, smoke, and I was looking at it from my window. Then we decided that we had to leave. We had three families with cars, and then we saw a procession of other civilian cars: they had white pieces of fabric attached, “Children” written on the front shields. But nobody held their fire; there was no green corridor. People just drove through the shelling, and we followed them. We went really fast through street fighting, everything exploding. We saw a soldier’s helmet on the ground, some boots, a tank, ammo crates, supplies…

There were people standing by the road and asking to take at least one person: the neighbors wanted to give us their kid, but the car was full… Although I always gave rides when I went to my parents; they gave me money, but how could I take that?

The checkpoints started closer to Mangush: they checked our things, demanded that we delete photos from the phones. The soldier found a photo on my phone, and asked: what is this?

— Don’t you see, it’s a destroyed building.

— It needs to be deleted.

He spent a lot of time going through my phone. Then there was another checkpoint by Tokmak: the soldiers were standing there, cursing and joking. They started to shoot. I turned my head, and the fire stopped. Then I just couldn’t hold it: could you please at least not fire here? You can see that we are civilians. One apologized and said that he would go and tell the others. And another one, a red-head, got worked up: this is a war, don’t you get it? I told him: look in the car; there is a child there who doesn’t sleep at night, and try explaining to him that this is a war, when he ducks from your shots and explosions. Go on, explain to him. And he responded: you call us orcs. I bit my tongue, because if I started arguing, I would have stayed there. I just asked if they were going to keep looking through the suitcases. The second one said: close them up and be on your way.

I’ve never felt this joy I experienced when I saw the Ukrainian flag at the first checkpoint
Am I a Benderovite?

At the next checkpoint one of the soldiers stopped us, checked everything and tried to strike a conversation: only benderovites live in Ukraine.
— Who do you mean by benderovites? I am speaking to you in Russian; am I a Benderovite?
— They are going to pay us for all for 2014. It will be their end.
— Who are they? Me?
— No, the Nazi. “Azov” folks, none of them will escape alive.
— You think we didn’t live well. Look at us, at the cars.
— No, we will come and put things right.
— For me when things are right, I wake up, and my family and parents are by me. I go to work during the day and go to sleep at night. That’s when things are right, not what you are talking about.

By Pology we encountered the Chechens.
— Come out! Don’t you know that tinted windows are prohibited?
— The car was this way when I bought it. How could I know it, we had no reception since March 2nd?
— So you don’t look things up on the Internet?
— Again, no reception since March 2nd.
— Take it off!
— I am a woman; I don’t know how to do it.
— I can use my machine gun to help.

His partner took him to the side and was like, come on, calm down. And then told me: you can remove it at home, go through.

I’ve never felt this joy I experienced when I saw the Ukrainian flag at the first checkpoint. Before the war I used to have the same attitude to everyone, and thought that politics was to blame. And now….I have a friend in Moscow, and I can’t talk to her. Everything changed over a moment’s notice.

My younger son gets scared of every little sound after everything he went through

I still don’t know where many of my friends are. There is no connection, and I don’t know if they are alive… One of my friends is divorced, and his ex-wife left their son with the grandparents. And there is no connection. I told him: give me their contacts, I’ll look too. He called back in 10 minutes: no need to look for them. They hid in a basement during a shelling; a direct hit killed everyone. The neighbors buried them in the garden: the father in law, mother in law, their older son, and my friend’s son.

This will never be forgotten; you can see that even in internal Mariupol chats. Although some are still finding excuses for Russia: it was provoked. Provoked to shell, bomb and march with tanks?

When I found out about my dad’s gangrene, I called the occupation headquarters, and asked them to give my parents humanitarian aid, at least medications. But no... Our rabbi was the only one who agreed to help. I will pray for him. He didn’t even ask if I come to community events or not. And pretty much the next day he sent a photo of my parents in the car
My younger son is very impressionable, and I tried to save his psyche. But he still gets scared of every little sound. When we were in Zaporizhzhya, there was an explosion at Khortyzia, and he came out of the room and burst into crying. He was crying and shaking; we barely calmed him down. He has a friend, a girl he met through a dancing class. And this girl has an older sister with a four year old daughter. Their family was cooking food outside when a bomb fell and killed the sister and her daughter. And Diana, who danced with Sasha, ended up with shrapnel in her head and a shattered heel bone. Their dad posts to Facebook and cries all the time. Diana was taken to Germany for surgery.

Another friend of mine was straight up thrown out of his house: the Chechens came and told him to leave: there will be fighting here. He said they were put on buses and taken to Yaroslavl, and then he managed to get to Georgia via Moscow. He is a sailor, with tattoos, albeit old ones. And still they picked on him at the checkpoints. One of the soldiers told his partner: ask him a few questions, if you don’t like the answers, detain him. He wanted to tell them what’s on his mind, but bit his tongue, and they let him go. When he got back on the bus, and this was almost at the border, and it was mostly Georgians there, they started hugging him and offered to come over for khachapuri.

Another young woman I know only left the basement in April. I have to come back for my parents, and she says, don’t. It’s scary there, and there are corpses on the streets.

I started looking at Russians differently

In Berdyansk, when they gave us food, we kissed the bread. It shouldn’t be like that. We were staying in a children’s camp there, and we started getting reception. A neighbor wrote to me that our house was hit. On April 7th, another neighbor said that her brother walked by and saw that my parents are still alive; the house is almost intact, and the neighbors feed my parents. They come over and cook food in the fire pit.

Then I started looking for volunteers that could get my parents out. I tried going back to take them, and it didn’t work out. What can I do? My mom has had a stroke, and my father now has gangrene. I even thought about going through Russia and DNR to Novoazovsk.

I contacted everyone I could think of: the ministry of emergency management and disaster response in DNR and in Russia. When I found out about my dad’s gangrene, I called the occupation headquarters, and asked them to give my parents humanitarian aid, at least medications. But no…

My father is a Jew, so from Zaporizhzhya I called the Hesed case worker, and she gave me the number for our rabbi, Mendl Cohen. He was the only one who agreed to help. I will pray for him. He didn’t even ask if I come to community events or not. And pretty much the next day he sent a photo of my parents in the car. Now they are in Rostov, waiting for repatriation to Israel, just like me. My Jews got me out. And my parents too.

Although my cousin invited us to Russia. She is from Mariupol, but has been living in Russia since 2014. She understands everything and wants to help with her whole heart. But I just have a mental block on Russia. I started looking at Russians differently; I didn’t used to be like that. I always knew that every nation has shitty people, and you can’t judge everyone by them. But now - I don’t know. Many people have relatives there, who keep repeating: we will liberate you. That tore so many families! You try to explain to them that a city has been demolished, children are dying, the birthing center was bombed, and so was the theater: it’s all much scarier than on your TV.

Ruins in Mariupol

Photo: Wikipedia
Oxana’s older son, Sergei - customer service representative for the Trinity Internet provider

My wife and I lived in the East area, that’s the closest neighborhood to the demarcation line with DNR. On the 24th we heard faraway explosions at 5 am, but didn’t mind them. At 7 there was a big explosion; I opened the window, and heard the siren.

We moved to another part of the city to my colleague and thought they wouldn’t get there. On March 3 we went to get some food, and suddenly there were rockets right above us, and they were hitting close by. After that we moved to the office of our company, Trinity, and there were approximately 30-40 of us living in the ground floor.

We went to buy supplies with some colleagues, and by then the Ukrainian soldiers had opened the stores and said that better the locals get the supplies than the occupiers. And then Sil’po supermarket was hit. It folded and burned; there were Grad rockets falling close by, and we tried to carry out some of the food.

It became really tough on March 5-6: shellings, and air raids. The 9-floor apartment building close by completely fell down. We were hit by Grads every morning. The shelling would start at 6-6:30 am, and down the street there wasn’t a single house that was not hit. On March 12 it became unbearable; there must have been a spotter somewhere, and if anyone left the building, even women or elderly, the shelling would start.

On March 14 our office was hit; one of the rooms was just blown out. At that point we had some other colleagues come, and apparently the spotter saw some movement and started firing with precision. Two got contusions and one was really hurt by the shrapnel. For a week there was a corpse lying by the office, and it was just covered up. A friend of mine died when their apartment was hit directly. He, his mother and grandmother burned alive.

Finally, everyone realized that we needed to get out. We had 4 cars for 30 people, and managed to get out even under shellings. We spent five days at the house of one of the company directors at Belosarayskaya sandbar. And then we got to Zaporizhzhya on a bus. There were a lot of checkpoints, and at every one they stopped us, told us to get out, and interrogated us. One time a soldier asked what Zaporizhzhya was! They looked for drugs and asked to share! They almost got my phone, because they found something.

I only saw two soldiers in Russian army uniform by Berdyansk. Everyone else just had green uniform. There was this guy who looked to be about 16 years old at one of the checkpoints; his machine gun was bigger than him.

From Zaporizhzhya we took an evacuation train to my wife’s relatives in Rovno. Before it was only a minority that had animosity towards Russia, and now there is hatred. My wife’s best friend from childhood lives in Russia, and she still believes that Russia is liberating us from the Nazis…

The testimony was chronicled on May 17, 2022

Translation: Dr. Mariya Gyendina