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My mother’s legs were shredded by shell fragments when she shielded her grandson with her body
Vadim, entrepreneur, owner of a car service station
The aftermath of the siege of Mariupol, March 12, 2022.
On the 24th at 5:30 in the morning I was awakened by my daughter from my first marriage, who lives in Kharkiv: “Dad, the war has begun, we are being bombed!” My wife and I were still sleeping, next to our 10-months old son. I didn’t believe it, so I went on YouTube…

On the very first day we bought enough water, formula and diapers to last six months. By the fifth day all the stores were closed; looting and fighting began on the outskirts of the city. That’s when I saw the first burned cars and dead bodies.

A Mariupol street during the blockade of the city by Russian troops
All the doors and 22 windows along with their frames were blown out like paper

At the beginning of March the electricity and communications were cut off, but we were in a privileged position. We have a large private house, and on the very first day I prepared 2.5 tons of water and stocked up on gasoline, to run the generator. In the fuel boiler, I burned waste oil, firewood, plastic and the like. Preparing for survival took a whole day, but thanks to this, the family was in relative comfort until March 12…

On that day my dad and I were pumping water from the cistern in the street into the tank in our house. My mom took the stroller with the baby outside, where he slept under a canopy. At about 9:30 the first shell hit the school across the street, and as my mom ran outside to get her grandson, another shell struck—right in our backyard. The military later told me it was a 152 mm howitzer. All the doors and all 22 windows along with their frames immediately blew out like paper. My mother’s legs were broken by shrapnel. - she shielded her grandson, the stroller was pierced through, but on an angle, and my son was not hurt. I saw a pillar of dust and heard my father's scream. We quickly dragged mom into the house; she went limp from the extensive blood loss, as the wounds were very extensive. She came to her senses a little from my scream. We tied one leg with a cord from an electric razor, the other with a belt.

Shrapnell had cut through her shin bone and her leg dangled on soft tissues below the knee. Two of our three cars were destroyed in the blast, but using the third one we rushed to the Emergency Hospital. The doctors there dressed her wounds and told me that it would be a miracle if she lived till the morning with such injuries. Of course, I lied to her, saying that the doctors promised that everything would be all right. And then I arranged for her to be transferred to regional hospital #2, which had already captured by the Russians by then. We carried Mom to our car - no ambulance would go there because the Russians would steal the ambulance and keep the paramedics as hostages.

When we arrived, the Russians checked my father and me to see if we had military connections and let us in. There were no lights in the hospital - the generator provided electricity only for the basement and the operating room on the second floor. Therefore, the operating room became the kitchen and everything else, but they also kept doing surgeries. There was nothing to sterilize the instruments with, just as there was no way to prepare sterile dressings, but how could they work with open torn pieces of flesh 15-20 cm long without all this? Medications were very scarce, too. And the head of the traumatology department told me: “I will not work in such conditions.” Plus, constant Russians bombings, Though it was not targeted, still the hospital was hit.

The trauma Vadim's mom suffered
Photo courtesy of the respondent
The trauma Vadim's mom suffered
Photo courtesy of the respondent
The trauma Vadim's mom suffered
Photo courtesy of the respondent
City Hospital No. 2 (Mariupol)
The neighbors went to make a call; it was impossible to find all their body parts

My wife is an operating room nurse, so I went to her department, and spoke to the ICU supervisor. As a result, my mother had surgery, was out on an IV and given some kind of antibiotic. Calling it surgery is a big exaggeration - they pulled the wound together with a thread so that it would not fall apart. Nothing was immobilized, the leg continued to dangle on the soft tissues. was still limp and wobbly. During that time streets battles were going on: two Ukrainian soldiers were capturedin our presence.

I left the car with my Dad and walked home. Everywhere there were cars shot through by machine guns:, a dead married couple inside Lada - many people saw them, at checkpoint in the direction to Volodarsk. They were just shot. Their dead bodies sat there, probably, for a week. And passers-by drained gas from the tank, because it was necessary to refuel generators, somehow to survive - like during World War II, when people took off the clothes of the dead.

The next day,Dad came home in a half-destroyed car cut through by shrapnel. So he went to the hospital for almost a week, drawing water from the well and bringing it for the patients: otherwise, the wounded were dying of thirst in the hallways. He also shared food with them, because people hadn’t eaten for a week. The Russians only brought water once, and only about a hundred liters (25 gallons) for the entire hospital. And this is for five days.

One day I came to visit Mom, and I asked the young Russian soldiers: “Why are you here?” They called a commander, asked me whether I was an Azovite started to take my clothes off, and check my documents. “We came to liberate you from the Azov fascists” he said. And whom did they ever bother, these Azovites?

Dad would come home just to buy groceries, and then he’d leave again. We hugged and I didn`t know if I would see him again. He’d come the next day, alive, thank God. . Many went out and never returned. So my neighbors ventured out to make a phone call - five women and one man, they were killed immediately by a mine – not even all the parts of the bodies could be found, some were missing legs legs, some half a head. They had spent the whole time sitting in the school basement across the street. And then they went up to Stroiteley Avenue and did not even reach the place where they were going to make their phone call.

Another neighbor had two sons, one was serving in UAF, and the other also went to look for a place to make a phone call and never came back. In general, if after three days there is no news, most likely they were killed.

A relative of my brother’s father-in-law just disappeared: they spent two weeks looking for him everywhere - nothing. Today you are talking to a person, tomorrow they are gone. Among the people I know, many were wounded or killed, and 90%, if not more, lost their homes.

Bombardment of Mariupol by Russian troops
Today you are talking to a person, tomorrow they are gone. Among the people I know, many were wounded or killed, and 90%, if not more, lost their homes
We made the decision to go to Crimea

On the fifth day, my wife and I took Mom back home, changed the wound dressing, and I made a splint from some planks because her foot was twisted to the side. We put an IV in and gave her an injection, but on the next day she felt worse. My wife educated me about pre-coma stages: stupor, then sopor, and then coma. When she got soporific, I got her into the car. I could hardly feel her pulse, her oxygen saturation was 72, her hands and feet were cold. By the time we got back to the hospital, she was already wheezing and losing consciousness.

In about an hour she somehow regained consciousness in the ICU, and on the 12th day we drove her to Crimea. We wanted to go to Zaporizhzhia, but it takes 2 days to get there: she simply would not have survived. Or parents would have been shot on the way there – a lot of shot out cars stood along the sides of the roads. So we decided to go to Crimea, especially since we have family in Sevastopol. The Russians didn’t allow the trip to Sevastopol, so Mom was taken to Dzhankoy. There she had a surgery, got a blood transfusion, and they provided a real help. The doctor was very good, but the hospital there was terrible; the building was practically a wreck.

Please excuse me, the Jewish Agency for Israel is on the other line - Mom is stuck in Georgia, and we are trying to get her out, so I am on the line with the rabbi and the Israelis, to bring her to us as quickly as possible

From Dzhankoy, Mom wrote to Mendel Cohen, the chief rabbi of Mariupol, asking him to help evacuate my wife, our son, and me from the city. And our relatives in Israel were also looking for ways to get us out. We only learned about all this later since we were cut off from all communications.

Under a canopy lay the corpse of a man with a torn face – this is already like a feature of the street - the bodies just lie there, you walk past them, you take a look
In the meantime we somehow survived. I covered the broken windows with cellophane, inserted crooked temporary doors, screwed the windows with self-tapping screws, and filled them with polystyrene foam. But since heavy shelling continued, doors and windows could be blown out four times a night. I only left heating on the second floor. The roof however remained leaky, since I didn't have time to fix it. At first, we prepared food in a slow cooker, and then we began to save fuel and started to cook on an open fire in the backyard. Ordinary life turned into survival.

A few times I ran across Russians. Once they robbed a nearby store, put everything into cardboard boxes, and then two military officers wearing well-tailored crisp uniforms and sunglasses – I have only seen such people in Hollywood movies – started giving it away as humanitarian aid while filming the whole thing. And the fact that the product were all Ukrainian - who cares, the pretty picture is already ready.

“You were given three days to leave”

On March 16th some Russians came to our house to take a look at our backyard. Can’t you see the backyard? And our fence was almost demolished from the explosion, - everything was in full view. They went into the house, walked around on every floor, and said it was a great firing position. They asked me if I was connected with the Ukrainian army, if Ukrainian soldiers have been here, etc. Before they left, they were surprised how it happened that our house was hit by the shelling but they didn't hit the dairy a few blocks away.

Another time I went to make a phone call – it always took three-four hours; once I managed to catch the Internet at a certain angle on the 8th floor of a half-burnt house, and under mortar fire. Anyway, I went to make a phone call and forgot my ID in another jacket. They stopped me at a checkpoint, pulled me off my bike, and started undressing me. “When did you change your clothes? Where are your accomplices?” I told them I lived nearby, five minutes on the bicycle, I can bring my ID. Yeah, right, and so we should let you go!! So in the end, they sent me home with two older soldiers, in their forties. I got lucky, I would say. They could have locked me up or killed me, easily. They talked to me on the way, told me that in Ukraine they publish kindergarten books calling Putin “khuylo” (dickhead). What books for kindergartens with Putin? Even so, I asked, is this a good reason to kill civilians? One of them seemed a true believer, the other one was just silently angry. He was jittery, when they stopped me, he immediately put a gun at me. He fiddled with his gun a lot as we walked. His partner told him to take it easy, that I was not dangerous. He was very scared of shelling - kept telling me to get off the center of the street, to turn here, to walk there, to warn my wife when we arrived, that they would be ready to shoot etc.

So we are walking, and the grumpy guy mutters: “You were given three days to leave, why are you so stubborn?” And then I couldn’t take it anymore and asked him: “Do you have a home?” He says,” Well.” I say:” Just imagine, you are living at your own home, you have documents for it, you spent your childhood there. And suddenly some asshole comes and orders you to move out in three days! Will you pack your stuff and leave?” The rest of the way home we walked in complete silence…

So I showed them my ID, got my bike back and rode towards the trade college. There, under a canopy, lay the corpse of a man with a torn face – this is already like a feature of the street - the bodies just lie there, you walk past them, you take a look.

It wasn't possible to make a call then, but the next day I got a connection. While I was away, the Russians came. They banged on the door, just when my wife was feeding the baby – so they broke off a piece of the fence, climbed into the house, saw my wife and left. That’s how we lived. I went to check on my parent’s building, their apartment was destroyed by a direct hit. They lived on the fifth floor, and the sixth floor fell on top of it, resulting in a two-story building.

Mariupol residential neighborhoods after shelling
The car from the rabbi

One day we went to see my mother-in-law’s house: it also burned down completely. The gates were open; we were upset… On the way back we saw a shot out volunteer's car - a Mercedes Vito utility vehicle- a man and a woman sitting there, and an old lady and possibly her grandson in the back. All dead. All civilians. Behind them were medicines, toothpaste, saline solution in drawers...

Russian tanks were stationed on Kirov Street, passports were checked several times along the way. When we came home, I lay down, and my wife rushed in: "Some men are breaking through the fence and asking for you.” I came out. "Are you Vadim, the car mechanic? Rabbi Mendl Cohen has sent a car for you. There won't be another one." And at the time I was looking after my brother's house, his dogs and his fish, and feeding the cat whose owner was rescued by my brother and his family. How could I abandon all this?

They said “You have five minutes to pack. If you don't leave now, the DPR-niks will close the city, and you can be drafted into their army.” Things become real. Another catalyst was the fact that a couple of days before that, the Russians took up positions in the school right in front of our house - they knocked down the fence with tanks and started firing right from the schoolyard. Mortars, infantry fighting vehicles - it was very loud, and I was worried about what effect it was going to have on my son’s nervous system. Anyway, while my wife was getting ready, I ran to my brother's house and asked the neighbors to feed the dogs. On the way out of town they looked at my hands - and they were not only calloused (I'm an auto mechanic), but blackened with soot from cooking on the open fire. They started asking questions, but they let me go eventually. It was on March 26.

They took us to Melekino, where they had rented a boarding house for Jews. And a couple of days later a car from the Crimea came for us - the chief rabbi of Sevastopol participated in this, the coordinator from Moscow, many other people. I've known our rabbi for more than five years, and when he helped get us out, he remained in touch even on Shabbat.

When we were walking with our child in Nikolaevka, having learned that we were from Mariupol, one woman said, “I can kneel before you.”
The checkpoints (there were more than 50) were very slow, at each one you had to stop, get out, show your shoulders, knees and neck. At some places they took fingerprints, took full face and profile photos, interrogated us, and as a result they gave out a stamped piece of paper.

The FSB agent interrogated my mother at the hospital for half the night

We crossed the border with Crimea on foot, we were met by a smiling guy, and for three whole minutes everything was very nice. Then I filled out some kind of a questionnaire, and a military officer took me to the settling tank where 200 people were already sitting. The officials asked a number of leading questions: what you think happened, why did it happen, who was behind it, and so on. They made me delete all the pictures of the destroyed houses and equipment. If you answered incorrectly, the interrogation got tougher. My phone was taken somewhere, and then they said: “That's it, there's a problem.” And they took me to the FSB room. I stood there for two hours, then they called me in and said: “We know everything about you, get out of here, goodbye. And if you tell them that you got off easy, you'll regret it.” It was explained to me later, the interrogation begins even before the interrogation itself - they monitor your behavior using cameras.

After the FSB interview, they took me to the investigation department, asked me a couple of superficial questions and let me go. My wife and I dragged our stuff across the border, and there another person was waiting for us to take us to the hotel. We spent a few days in this hotel in Nikolaevka, saw relatives, parents, and visited my mother.

How did the relatives take it? Propaganda works: they are for Putin - they were frightened that if not Russia, then Ukraine would bomb them now to the finish. Not everyone is like that, of course. When we were walking with our child in Nikolaevka, having learned that we were from Mariupol, one woman said, “I can kneel before you.” My wife's friend in Crimea was very supportive of us, and she cried because of what happened. We separate the Russian authorities from the Russian people, although this is not easy.

We decided to move my mom to Sevastopol, but in Dzhankoy they said she should apply for refugee status, otherwise she wouldn't be discharged and it's unclear on what basis she was treated for free. But the doctor called the Ministry of Health, and the issue was resolved. Blackmail failed. After all, when you take refugee status, your Ukrainian documents are taken away from you, and for some time you cannot leave the Russian Federation.

Anyway, in the evening they brought my mother to the emergency department of the Sevastopol hospital, kept her there for several hours, and then forgot to feed her - she didn’t eat for almost 40 hours. In addition, at 1 a.m. an FSB officer came and interrogated her till 3 a.m. Finally, he made her to sign a paper saying that she was wounded by the neo-Nazis, and not by the Russian Army.

All past treatment was canceled, and a completely different one was prescribed from which she almost died.

There is a theory that killing a person, you roll back at the soul level to a vegetative state. Talking to the Russian soldiers who «escorted» me to get my passport, I realized that they were lost. And I couldn’t become the person who would kill them
Israel welcomed us beautifully

It was clear that we had to get out. At first it was assumed that the plane to Israel would depart from Sochi, a group of Mariupol Jews - about 115 people - was supposed to gather there. Then they changed the departure point to Mineralnye Vody. My mother and another immobilized old lady were taken there by ambulance, and we got there by bus. When we got there, the flight was canceled. Mom was again assigned to the hospital, the rest were placed in a hotel. And the next night when the plane was cleared for departure, they brought Mom to the plane in an ambulance and just put her down on the seat. There was also a 19-year-old guy, with a shrapnel wound in his neck, his arm and leg were paralyzed, and a man with a shrapnel wound in his leg, who had to have surgery in Israel.

From Mineralnye Vody we flew to Kazakhstan, refueled there, and went on to Tbilisi. A grand tour, so to speak. We all got off, but they did not bring Mom out - they kept her on the plane for another four hours. While she is on board, she is still territorially in Kazakhstan, but when she is off the plane, the state of Georgia is responsible for such a person. I don't know whom they had to call, but in the end they brought her out. But the flight from Tbilisi to Israel was postponed, and they started arguing about how to better load her on the plane. The Czech airline, from which Israel rented the plane, dug their heels in. The pilot refused to put such a person on board without a medical escort. She was turned away at the door, and she and Dad stayed in Georgia. No amount of persuasion helped.

Mom is calling again - I'll call you back...

On Friday, April 15, we finally arrived. Israel welcomed us beautifully, and we were quickly put on buses and taken to our hotels.

When I helped the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), I repaired equipment, gave them gasoline, they offered to give me me weapons and equipment. But ... there is a theory that killing a person, you roll back at the soul level to a vegetative state. Talking to the Russian soldiers who «escorted» me to get my passport, I realized that they were lost. And I couldn’t become the person who would kill them.

Although, I have to admit, sometimes I really want to do it. After all, they are to blame for me having to restart my life in a new place: all that I worked so hard for has been erased. And my parents are 60 years old. It’s even harder for them to adapt to a new country.

The testimony was chronicled on April 18, 2022

Translation: Vadim Baranovskiy