Refugee From Mariupol Vdovichenko: Being In The Basement, Realizing That After A Few Meters There Were Already Corpses, I Understood That I Was The Same Corpse. I Wished My Loved Ones A Quick Death In Prayers – At That Moment All Hope Of Surviving Disappeared
Photo by vdovichenko_marusa / Instagram
My sister was thrown into the wall – she hit the back of her head hard. Everyone was panicking. And my mom couldn't get up
– Good evening, dear friends. Today I invited Maria Vdovichenko to talk. Maria is a resident of Mariupol; Maria is 18 years old. On February 24, 2022, Maria, like a huge number of Ukrainians, residents of Mariupol, woke up in a different reality. And from that moment on, the story of Maria, who was then 17 years old, went ... Masha, you know, I’ll tell our audience that when Tatyana Raida, our deputy editor-in-chief of the “Gordon” edition, talked to you before the interview and heard your story, she couldn't hold back her tears. She just cried from what she heard and how your story went. I want all our audience to hear about this today: all the hundreds of thousands and millions of people who watch us in Ukraine and around the world. Let's start, perhaps – you know with what? What did you do before February 24, before Russia's large-scale invasion of Ukraine? What were you? And tell us a little about your family.
– My family lived in the city of Mariupol for a very long time, starting with our great-grandmothers. I was born there, and my sister too, who is 13 years old now. We had a friendly, loving, good family. We always had a special atmosphere at home. We were very sociable people; we had an active position. Mom had always been actively involved in raising me, my sister. She instilled in us values that she considered very important for every person. I went to school with my sister. At that time, I was finishing the eleventh grade at school, I was the school president, I was preparing my exams and admission. There were a lot of plans in my head, a lot of things I wanted to do. And the city had every opportunity for this. The city developed. We had a wonderful city. We are also a creative family. My mother was engaged in folk art: she made jewelry, Ukrainian folk costumes. It was like a hobby for her. And we often sewed together with her. I was also involved in volunteering at the Cathedral of St. Petro Mohyla in Mariupol. This is the only place that is decorated with Petrykivka paintings on such a large scale. Very nice place, very nice church. Our life was in full swing, there were a lot of plans, and no one expected it to end like this.
– I saw your photos on Instagram. Such a beautiful image until February 24th ... You weared Ukrainian embroidered shirts, such garnished clothes – dresses ... You played bandura instrument, put on an awesome Ukrainian wreath on your head ... You did all that, didn’t you?
– Yes. Music has become a part of me. It was in the church where I was given this opportunity: to practice the instrument. I really liked the instrument: very unusual, beautiful in sound. Of course, it is difficult to play, but the teacher found an approach to me very well and explained easily and clearly. All this was not just at the level of some notes and fingers, but at the level of the soul. And it became a part of me. And wreaths, suits, outfits, dresses – all that was done by my mother. She believed that it was impossible to simply touch the instrument if I was wearing jeans. It is like a sacred thing, you need to respect it. And we developed the design together. For us it was a common pastime. Everyone took part in this: my sister advised, and our father helped to do the basics. Because not everything can be done by women. So, it was even more like a family hobby.
– And now we are approaching February 24, 2022. How did it start for you? And then what happened?
– My mother followed the news. She felt that something was coming. She just felt. She was very worried, very nervous. She tried to somehow prepare, make some plans, lists, and think about where to escape. Of course, we didn't believe her. No one in the city could believe that the city could be taken, that such large-scale actions would take place. We were calming her down. We bought a cat carrier; it was the maximum that we prepared. Mom looked at it and calmed down. And on the night of the 23rd to the 24th, my mother could not sleep. She was cooking in the kitchen. And she heard the first explosions, which were still on the outskirts of the city. And they passed with such a light vibration on the glass in our kitchen. She was very frightened – and just rushed into the bedroom and shouted: "War!" We woke up, got ready – and that's it. And then we began to call all our friends, asking who was doing what. There was already a mess in the city, no one slept that night. And in Mariupol there was already the first burning house at 4 a.m. and the first dead person. The news spread very quickly. We were all in a panic. In the first hour it was difficult to leave the city: it was almost impossible. On the first day, it was closed for some period. Dad tried to refuel our car, but we had a gas station on the outskirts, at the exit to Manhush. And there were already Ukrainian soldiers. They closed the city because it was not safe to travel in all these directions. And the parents decided to stay in the city. Dad tried to make some shopping. There was already chaos in the city: everything was sold out, communication was cut off, electricity was not constant in the first days, and on the fourth or fifth day it was completely gone. On that day there was no electricity, communication, water. After a couple of days, even the gas was turned off. And then it was already clear that all this was serious. Of course, our parents tried to keep more or less calm in the family and live as usual.
– Did you live in a high-rise building? Or did you have a private house?
– In a high-rise building on the second floor. We had a two-room apartment. We tried to somehow calm down and wait it out. We thought that it would pass, two or three weeks – and that's it. But the only source of information closer to the beginning of March was the radio. Because there was no Internet, there was no connection. And we didn't know what was going on in this world. We thought that some actions were going on, Mariupol was being recaptured and everything was going well. After a short period of time there would be the victory. We sincerely believed in it. There were various rumors and so on. But the fighting was already closer, there were already more attacks on the city. There were already airstrikes, and it was all audible. There was a huge roar. We understood that something was coming, but we did not believe it. Already there were rumors about the first victims. People tried to equip the corridors, basements ... And we also boarded up the windows so that the glass would not fly into the apartment. And these were all the preparations that, in principle, we made. At that period, we already had to collect water from the street. We had such situations when the neighbors quarreled: who will be the first to put a bucket under the water drain from the roof. Because we were all very afraid and did not know what to expect. And that scared me even more. At the beginning of March – it was already the 2nd of March – at 6 a.m. our family, we tried to sleep all together. It was still early. And we all slept in the living room. In the living room we had a large window, which, of course, we boarded up, but it was trembling. And we pretended to be asleep. We tried to ignore. We had had enough of this already. We were already tired of all this. We slept on the floor, and we felt the floor bouncing. On the second floor, the floor and lockers moved. It was not OK. And we just abruptly jumped up and ran to the bathroom. And there was a hit: shells hit the fourth floor. And the explosive wave passed all over the house down.
– Did the bomb hit the fourth floor?
– Yes, it hit the fourth floor. And we were on the second floor in the bathroom. And this apartment was above us, so the wave passed through our apartment. In our bathroom and throughout the apartment, chandeliers, pieces of the ceiling were torn out, furniture fell, glass burst throughout the house. That’s it. (inaudible) we were lucky they didn't hit our apartment and didn’t bombard everything. At that moment, I screamed a lot. And it was not exactly screaming but yelling directly: it was very scary. My sister was thrown into the wall – she hit the back of her head hard. Everyone was panicking. And my mom couldn't get up. She was very frightened of what happened to Nelia (the name of Maria’s sister – прим. переводчика): she hit herself and she did not answer, did not react. Mom was very scared for my sister – for all of us. And she couldn't stand up. She was trembling at that moment. My dad – he reacted reservedly to all this. He quickly gave us outerwear, grabbed the cat, as then my sister woke up and she was in a panic: “Where is the cat?” She could not leave him: this is also part of our family. Yes. And we got together quickly. Dad said that at that moment it was impossible to be there on the spot. It was very dangerous. We didn't know if there would be another hit. And when there is a hit in a building – it seems that everything around is falling, and you are falling through with the building. Nelia went with the cat, and my father and I took my mother by the arms ... Not that she was somehow helped to walk, but simply dragged. She couldn't walk, and we didn't have time. We did not even have time to properly dress, put on shoes and take something. We just ran downstairs in what we were to the basement. And to reach the basement, it was necessary to run around the whole building. Because we had construction work in the yard, and it was difficult to get through there: everything was fenced. We needed to run around. Cars were burning in the street, people were screaming, slate was falling, glass was everywhere. There was subzero temperature outside – and ice on the ground was sprinkled with glass. And I walked in slippers, and they are slippery, and I was afraid to fall very much. We could not waste time ... And it buzzes, flies, and just ... Dad grabbed all of us and silently pushed into the basement. It was indescribably scary. And you don't understand what's going on. We also entered the basement by force, as they say. Dad forced the door open because the neighbors didn't want to let us in. There were already a lot of people there. And this place was not a bomb shelter. It was just once a former shop, someone had the keys, and people hid there. And it was the only place where you could go down. It was dangerous to be in the building. And of course, in such circumstances there were conflicts. There were conflicts because of our cat ... It's understandable: no matter how much people didn't like it, but we took our pet with us. Many people left pets in apartments – the apartments then were burnt down. And it was very painful and insulting in that moment.
It was very scary to realize that we were dying slowly, and the city was dying. Although in the early days we tried to [hope] ... And at that time, Mariupol was given the title of "hero city", and there was joy that there would be de-occupation
– And how many people were in the basement? And how long did you spend in that basement? As I understood it, there was also a couple with a baby there, a five-month-old. Who was there? And how did the relationship develop? And what actually happened?
– There were 25-23 of us in the basement – something like this. There were small children. When we ran into the basement, a family with a small child ran after us with a baby. They were from the East. They escaped from Vostochny to the Primorsky district to hide, and something similar happened here too. Yes. And they ran right after us. That is, if we had not had time, two families could have died there at once. And there were older people too. There was already an elderly woman who was suffering by diabetes, there was such kind of disease, and she also could not walk. Yes. And there were also girls a little bit younger than me. Well, families. Ordinary families who tried to hide. Yes. And our conditions were very modest there. Because the basement was not equipped in any way, the floors were bare, there were windows that were forced with bags. It was not a complete shelter. And one blanket per family. Imagine: you spread a blanket on the floor and fold it in half. And this is a place for one family. That’s it: one couldn’t physically take more place, no matter how hard you tried. And in this position, one had to sleep, sit, do some things and nothing more. It was dark. We had light from little candles ... We burned sunflower oil and candles. But we tried to save candles, and they ended quickly. And we made from this oil wicks ... The bandage was placed in oil and set on fire. The soot was very strong, there was a lot of dust. And very often there was black blood in nose, and we had severe headaches from this: there was no air. And this was one of the reasons why my mother's heart stopped in the basement. It was very hard for her to bear it all. She was in a difficult emotional state, physical condition. Before the war, she had polyneuropathy, a chronic one. And against the background of all this, the disease hit her very hard. And she couldn't stand it. She didn't show us how bad she was. We tried to somehow help her, somehow alleviate her situation, but we did not have medicines. It was impossible to find them in the city at that time. We did not have time to pick up all the things from the apartment. Dad and I only went up to the apartment once. It happened during the shelling. At that moment, we again had to go out and bypass. We waited for everything to calm down and to go out and take something: at least some warm clothes, food, the remains of some supplies. And the shelling began again, and fragments flew. Dad quickly, abruptly fell to the ground and pressed me down with a palm like this. I was hurt, of course. He didn't explain anything to me. I had a panic, I was trying to get up, I could not understand what was going on, what he was doing, and so on. And when getting up, I saw a woman I personally knew, with whom we had talked before. She was running, and a piece of hot metal flied into her ... It was very scary to realize that we were here, I mean, our families, relatives, friends ... And all that was left of her was just a body – that's all. Quickly after that, dad grabbed me and pushed into the entrance. We chaotically threw some things into the sheets, everything we could see around. We didn't take all the first aid kit. Thoughts all scattered like that, although we had been thinking the night before what we would take, in what quantity, what we needed, how we would pack ... Everything was lost for us at that moment. And the earth – it trembled. We were running around the apartment, trying to somehow calm down, do something, and the earth was trembling. And it was very scary to realize that it (the shelling – translator's note) was nearby. It was all very close. And all what we managed to take – we brought into the basement. After that, we were left without an apartment, like our neighbors. Because there was a second hit at the house, and nothing was left. Around our house there were such pits ... of huge diameter – two meters down – near this cellar’s entrance. It was not clear how the metal door withstood this hit. When you are in the basement – and it beats nearby – everything in the basement is thrown from side to side. And there you sit, as if you are in a box, not knowing what to expect.
Already at these days there were the first burials in our yard. There were also those who were left in apartments – dead people. Because it was cold, and bodies could be kept there longer. It was very scary to realize that we were dying slowly, and the city was dying. Although in the early days we tried to [hope] ... In other basements, people somehow tried to communicate as well. And at that time, Mariupol was given the title of "hero city", and there was joy that there would be de-occupation, now everything will go away – now everything will be fine. Even at that moment I wanted to believe it. I really wanted to believe. My neighbors and I tried to find contacts, somehow cook together. But when the shelling intensified, it was difficult to get out into the yard. And there was a case of a hit right into our pan. And no one else dared to spend time near the fire for a long time.
We were staying in this basement, realizing that in a few meters, behind the wall, there were already corpses ... Me, one could say, I was also such a corpse. I understood this very well
– You said about your mother. What happened? So, the heart really stopped? How did you save her?
– I clearly remember – here is the night, and my sister is lying, then me, my mother is lying next to me, and my father is lying on the edge. I hear some rustling, turmoil, I just open my eyes and see dad's huge eyes, filled with such fear, despair. He performed resuscitation: he gave her a heart massage and artificial respiration. He checked her pulse, she was breathing, not breathing ... And at first, I did not understand what he was doing, what was happening. And when I already felt that my mother’s hand was cold, I realized what he was doing. That moment was indescribable ... Just empty. It was very scary to realize that I was losing my mother. And she was so cold ... Just a body. Dad did something, but she did not react at all. The body is just there. I sit and understand that she is no longer there. Yes. And my sister jumped next to me, looked at all this – and the world completely disappeared for me at that moment. And dad had been performing this resuscitation for a very long time, persistently, until she woke up. And no one around asked what was happening, or tried to help somehow, or to do anything ... It's hard to describe it all: what do you feel at that moment. And I couldn't help. And it hurt me even stronger at that moment. This is one of the most terrible moments: when you look at your loved one and cannot help him in any way. But dad revived her till the end. He couldn't let her go. And he didn't let her go. And this state of her was getting worse. And there was a second attack. It was already the 15th of March. And dad was already thinking about how we could get out of there. Because there was nothing left ... We didn’t have food at all. We had dried bread, which we divided into pieces.
– By the way, how you managed all that ... It turns out that you spent more than two weeks in this small basement. 25 people: old people, children, sick people ... Cold, bare ground, winter. Was there any food? Living conditions, again, sorry. Was there a toilet? How was it?
– In this regard, it was very difficult. At first, in terms of food, we tried to somehow share with our neighbors, there. There was cereal. Something was cooked on fire. But the situation in terms of shelling worsened: it was getting stronger. And it was dangerous to be outdoors for a long time. And canned food was already in use: who had something left. But it was already for personal use. We tried to keep bread – save anything. And we tried to have something to eat once a day. But you cannot call it a complete meal. One deep plate: canned food diluted with water, mixed bread – for a family. Yes. That’s all, we could not afford more. And gradually we reduced these portions until we had a piece of bread left. The last one. I can't call it the last one, because now I kind of have a piece of bread. I'm just afraid to call bread the last. But at that moment I was sure that it really was the last piece. It was already such a small, dry piece that I left in my pocket: my inner pocket – and carried it all the way to Zaporizhzhia city. I was afraid to eat it because I was afraid that it would be the last one. And not from a feeling of personal hunger, but I looked and understood that dad wanted to eat, mom was hungry too, a cat: a pet ... Well, you can’t explain to an animal what is going on. Even our cat ate breadcrumbs. That is, it is painful to watch how your loved ones suffer, and you cannot help them in any way. And there was aggression around. There was a moment when the neighbors wanted to kill our cat: he disturbed them. There was a moment when they attacked the family with a child: why did the child scream at night during shelling. It was like when all the people just lost their temper and tried to shout over the shelling. We sat in the basement, everything was rattling, the plaster was crumbling, the rats were running around, that's all like that – and people were in despair. There were moments of suicide. Adult men could not stand it all. Toilet ... There was no WC in the room. One could go outdoors or use a plastic bag. I mean, those moments were very difficult. It was impossible to maintain personal hygiene: there was already no water, there, not to wash your face, but to drink. Hands were black, face black with soot. It's scary to remember it all. And at night, I remember, I laid on my own, trying to sleep, but I couldn’t, because my nose was clogged from soot and dust. Because we tried to make at least some kind of lighting. To stay constantly in the dark – it's crazy. It was very difficult to constantly sit in the dark. Of course, there were moments when we tried to unite: we sang Ukrainian songs, we read prayers aloud. Those who remembered the text, quoted the Holy Scriptures ... There was a woman who had a Bible. She read it. And no one interrupted her. We tried to find some hope. But hope was fading. And at some point, even I wished my family a quick death. There was a very strong shelling. Already at that time, they began to shell Mariupol from ships, air strikes, they shelled with everything they could. They destroyed the city as best they could. And we were staying in this basement, realizing that in a few meters, behind the wall, there were already corpses ... Me, one could say, I was also such a corpse. I understood this very well. "That's it: life is over and there will be nothing more." And I wished for my loved ones death in my prayers. As a rule, one adresses the Lord with some other prayers, but at that moment all hope of survival was gone.
– You say that even some of the neighbors who were in this basement – men – they wanted to commit suicide, but they were stopped, as I understand it: they were noticed in time.
– Not everyone was stopped, unfortunately. No.
– That means, your neighbors did it right in front of you? ...
– Yes. Like that. And it's all very scary. Very scary. And it's a shame. It's a shame that you see it and can't do anything.
– So, what? When one of the members of a family committed suicide, they were all left in the basement? Or where?
– Everyone stayed in this basement until March 17th.
There were moments when these corpses were lying just in front of the entrance, covered with something so that the animals would not drag them. Because it was scary to watch when an animal dragged someone's hand
– So, the corpses were lying next to you, next to babies? Was it all like this?
– Not in the basement itself, but there were graves next to it. To go out somewhere to bury, or to drive off – it was not possible. Here in the yards: next to the houses. We had an entrance to the basement, flower beds, children's playgrounds, sandboxes ... it all turned into cemeteries. And you live like this: next to the corpses. And it takes time to bury. Not always we had enough time. There were moments when these corpses were lying just in front of the entrance, covered with something so that the animals would not drag them. Because it was scary to watch when an animal dragged someone's hand. And it was someone's little hand. At such moments it seemed that we were not there. It was somehow seen, invented, dreamed, but it could not happen with us. We looked and we didn't believe it. Scary moments. But it was even scarier to talk about it. As if at that time it was our reality. When staying there, we knew that we were dying and that anyone could be in their place. And it was terrible to listen when our mother said goodbye to us. She did not believe that she would survive there.
– What did she say?
– She said that she loves us. She said that we must be saved. She told dad: "Take my girls out." She always called us "her girls". And she told us about a happy future, she told us that everything would be fine. Well, without mom, but everything will be fine. How? We were sitting there, neighbors buried their relatives, we understood that no one was immune from this ... Then it hits somewhere besides, closer, and, as it is ... And then your loved one says to you: “Well, leave me – and go save yourself "... We couldn't let her go. We didn't even let our cat go because we are a family. As my dad said, "always together." Together in difficult situations. After Mariupol, it was not easier, and we were always together.
– How did you get out?
– On the 17th of March, in the morning, dad decided that we should leave. He started the car, it worked. He just silently, without many words, collected all our belongings that we had in the basement: these dirty blankets that were on the floor, some small things – we took them – and drove off. We wanted to go to Manhush. This is a small settlement near Mariupol. And stay there. But they didn’t let us in there because Mariupol was already surrounded, and there were DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) checkpoints everywhere. We were asked again about our registration and where we were coming from, we were directed: “You are going there.” Just like this, pointing with his hand like this, the DPR man said to my dad: “You are going there.” Dad understood that something was not good, he tried to persuade him, to find some reasons: we need to go to Melekinе, as if there we had relatives or something else. And he said: "No. You go there – or that’s all, otherwise we’ll shoot the car.”
– How old are your father and mother?
– My mother is 40 years old. My dad is 48 years old. Forever 48.
– Young people ... And you went to the place where this separatist pointed? Оr a Russian who was at this checkpoint. Did you?
– Yes. And then there were these checkpoints. And so, we stayed in Nova Yalta. And in Manhush and Nova Yalta at that time everyone and everything was completely checked. They set up their own commandant's office, set up filtration camps, and a very strict check was carried out. We tried to leave from there, but we were turned back to this Nova Yalta. This is between Manhush and Melekine. Another settlement in the Donetsk region. And what kind of life we would have, whether we had something for survival – some means – that didn’t interest them. And we didn't have anything. We were left just with the belongings that we took from the basement.
Dad was able to miraculously find a woman who had an abandoned boarding house. Just an abandoned property, but in her possession: her property. And in these empty rooms, in which there were not even floors, she hosted displaced people who were without anything. We had no money – nothing of value to exchange, to pay for some housing. And it was impossible to even rent something. People, the local population of this Yalta – they also suffered from the war and occupation. We covered the windows somehow. That was a bare building, without anything, with no communications. Just a small room with bare walls. It was also very difficult there. But the gift of fate for us was the water in the well – fresh water. We could build a fire and boil it. For us it was a great gift. You could at least wash yourself for the first time in all that period. And of course, we didn't have food. Dad had only two hundred hryvnias in cash: accidentally left in his jacket. Two hundred Ukrainian hryvnias. And in the occupation, it was possible to buy just two loaves of bread with them. Because the products that they brought there were at very high prices, and there were huge queues. No one had normal stocks. There was a huge food shortage. The invaders promised us that there would be some humanitarian aid. They said: "Come to the church." It was such a significant landmark in Nova Yalta, a large church. “Come there with your passports. Sign up. We'll give you something later." And people went to sign up. And then they didn't give anything. They simply made a list of the displaced people. And then we were double checked even harder. The only way out was a filtration camp. And there was no other way to get out of there. They checked everyone, looked for certain people. If there were people who aroused suspicion, they were simply taken away in some unknown place. And this all very heated up the situation, and people were afraid. People were afraid not only to say a Ukrainian word there, or, God forbid, to show any sign, but even to look at these soldiers. They made everyone scared because they could simply stop you and check on the streets. People were taken away to some unknown place and they didn’t settle down. Gunshot sounds, some screams were constantly heard, and no one interfered anywhere. If something was taken away from someone, then people simply silently gave it away – and that's it. We tried to draw as little attention to ourselves as possible. At the filtration camp, as we were with our own transport, we stood in a queue of cars for two days. And our queue was seriously controlled: they watched what we were doing in the car. Getting out of the car was considered a provocation. It was impossible even to go to the toilet or just walk around. It was very difficult to endure – we just had to sit in the car for two days.
– And your mom was in such a condition ...
– Mom was very cold. And this, unfortunately, worsened her situation. It was very difficult for her. She was losing consciousness. Dad tried to somehow put her in order: sometimes with cold water, sometimes he had to give a small slap in her face – so that she ... Dad tried to hold her. He tried very hard. And my sister and I endured it all silently. We understood that there was no other way out and we had to endure it all. Before the war, I had several years of experience as a volunteer in a church and I saw different people who had different ailments, different sorrows in their life. And priests always said in their messages that God will never give us more than we can handle. You just must find some strength in yourself. And with these sermons, reproducing in my head, I tried to somehow distract myself from everything that was happening. And at that moment I was in a little oblivion: I had already lost count of the days. It was very difficult to endure all this mentally. And it was very humiliating when we sat in such a position in the car, waiting for something incomprehensible ... Because you go straight to the occupier in his hands: you just surrender to him – and it is he who decides your fate and delivers a verdict for you. And they also brought their media, which filmed us without our permission: what we did in the car, all that situation, our faces ... There were some people who were forced to talk to the camera. And they went on – not just a cameraman and a journalist, but with the military, and used force with all this. They needed to take a picture. It was very humiliating to become this picture for them.
During the interrogation, already in the filtration camp, my dad was beaten very badly. Serious blows were inflicted on him, as a result of that his eyesight began to disappear, and his health deteriorated. He was beaten because he had an empty phone
– How did the occupiers behave? What did they look like?
– They behaved very arbitrarily towards us, very self-willed. Whatever they saw fit, they did. Whatever they saw fit, they said. They could safely open the car during the queue and see what was there, see everyone. They pestered us – maybe just for fun, maybe somehow – because of the tinting film on the glass and forced us to torn it off without leaving the car. And they watched us doing it. They could do whatever they wanted. And in the filtration camp there was their complete autocracy. For them, we were not people – just a piece of meat with which you can do whatever you want. During the interrogation, already in the filtration camp, my dad was beaten very badly. Serious blows were inflicted on him, as a result of that his eyesight began to disappear, and his health deteriorated. He was beaten because he had an empty phone. Yes, we deleted data in our phones. We had a reason. Because there were contacts of our acquaintances who had a pro-Ukrainian position, we had photos there of national holidays, my photos from school, from school ceremonies with Ukrainian flags. And it couldn't be demonstrated there. They killed for it. They tortured for a Ukrainian word. In such places you need to hide everything to survive. We had a goal to survive. And, of course, we cleaned it all up. Dad didn't want to drain his phone battery and input some data in it: a fake mail, a fake account, to have it there. And he left it empty. This aroused suspicion. And they began to impose what he should confess: that he was an agent, trying to hide something, hiding something, and so on. And every time he was beaten harder and harder. He was falling. When a person is in pain, he can scream. And for that he was beaten even harder. They simply poked weapons into his limbs, threatening to shoot him in the leg. They wanted to cut off his ears. They didn’t just tell him or ask: “Maybe we should cut off your ear?” – but it was all about humiliation and mutilation of my dad.
– Was he beaten on the head?
– Yes. The final such blow was to the head: just above the back of the head – and he lost consciousness. He woke up when he was already ... There were two entrances: namely, to the filtration room. And there he was thrown. They just dragged him out into the street: under a slab. And there were many military men who walked around him, kicked him, and threatened him with reprisals against his family to make him confess. But he did not agree with them. He gave neutral answers to all questions, he did not humiliate himself or his country. He held on. Because honestly, he had nothing to hide, and he didn't hide anything. Before that, he just lived a normal life, like every person who lived in his own country and had his own culture, holidays, and views. Just lived. And there it had to be hidden and it was impossible to show anything. And unfortunately ...
– Did you hear all this: when Russian beasts mocked him?
– At that moment, my procedure was over. It went rather quick for me. They also took documents from me, looked through my phone. I had pictures of a cat on my phone. I photographed my face. Well, such moments, insignificant ones, but the phone was not empty. I had to undress, for them to see all the tattoos: if there is anything somewhere, that I hid. It was all accompanied by an incomprehensible humiliation for me against the background of my gender, my appearance. Not only the situation was hard, but also the inspection was not carried out by a woman. And it was even more humiliating. And they tried to press harder. At the time, I was mostly silent. Because of this, I could be insulted: they said in a rude manner that I was kind of stupid, something else. I tried not to make contact. And when I had already been issued a certificate, my personal belongings were returned, I did not have time to dress properly – and they pushed me out by the scruff of the neck. The soldier who did this, he just dragged me by the scruff of the neck ... Here he comes – and me behind him. And I'm a meter and fifty tall, I couldn’t resist – I couldn’t do anything. And I saw that he was going not in the same direction. With all this, he continued to humiliate me, as he did during the procedure. And he dragged me like that until I was simply thrown aside: I could not stay on my feet. And he started laughing, kept joking. It was very funny for him. It was night. I was scared. I hurt my knee. And I got lost. I forgot where I am and what I am. I just ran. That is, I did not think that he could catch me, shoot, or do something else, and I was making the situation worse – I just ran. And I ran into the car. My mother did not pass the filtration, because she could not move at all. She was kind of atrophied. She saw it all, my sister saw it, and I came out without dad. I couldn't tell her anything at that moment. We sat like this for about an hour. And dad was also taken out by force. He silently got into the car and drove off. And already in Berdiansk, when we arrived, he told briefly what happened to him. We saw his condition, appearance. He was very ill, he vomited, his nose bled, his head was very dizzy. He felt very bad. He said: “We are obliged to at least crawl but get out to the territory controlled by Ukraine.
– I see. What the beasts, what the bastards are the Russian occupiers … Of course, they will be punished in full according to their deeds ... When you arrived, how was it? How did you see our people? Where did you get to?
– We had a specific goal to go from Berdiansk to Zaporizhzhia. Just come to Zaporizhzhia at any cost. We passed 27 checkpoints: there were already Russian checkpoints, where complete chaos was going on. There they could seize some belongings or detain people at checkpoints. It was not at all clear what could happen. Families were separated. They tried several times to mobilize our dad into their troops. But dad showed that he was ill, his wife, who was sick, and that he needed to look for a hospital. He always gave such neutral answers and did not give the exact coordinates where we were going. Just from village to village and so on. It was a very difficult road: just a survival race. The roads were mined. We were directed by mined roads on purpose. We couldn't just drive past a battlefield. Here comes the battlefield, there is shelling, and we go there, because there is no other way. And it was namely the occupier who chose a path for us: where he considered it necessary, he sent the column there. And there were moments when we were turned back many times. And dad tried in a roundabout way ... "We have not passed this checkpoint – we will leave from the opposite." And the road was very hard. He was able to overcome all this way in a day so that we got to the Zaporizhzhia region. And when we saw a Ukrainian flag in the distance, dad began to get very scared: he thought it was some provocation. He did not believe that he could take us out. He just couldn't accept it. He told us to keep quiet: what if this was a provocation – they would shoot at us. He was just sure of it. He couldn't believe the opposite. But when we arrived ... And our documents were examined. And dad was not in contact with the military. He tried to be silent, not to speak. But when he realized that these were our people ... Because the attitude was different, even during the search. Our belongings were not thrown, we were not insulted, we were not humiliated. And the atmosphere was different, even the air there was different. It was at the checkpoint that they helped us to fix our car a little, because we had flat tires, broken windows. And from there we were already taken away by the police with volunteers who formed a convoy: precisely the entry of refugees into Zaporizhzhia. And in Zaporizhzhia, for the first time in all that period, we got an opportunity to eat, wash ourselves, just feel human, learn again what a human attitude is. And there they already provided first aid to my mother, but they could not help my father there. Because there were a lot of wounded people, and the hospital was full. And we were sent with volunteers to the city of Dnipro.
Once in Mariupol, it was uncomfortable for me to take his hand: as if I were 17 years old, and my dad and I walk along the road by the hand ... But now I regret it. I am very sorry. My dad’s heart just failed. For me it was a big blow. It seemed I was torn to pieces from the inside
– You ended up in Dnipro, and there your dad was already able to start treatment?
– In Dnipro, dad once again passed a medical examination. It was confirmed that he was losing his sight due to the contusion he received during interrogation. And in Dnipro, as well, there were huge queues. And they advised us to go to the western regions: that there would be smaller queues, more opportunities, calmer, as it were. And we tried to settle down somewhere. And so, we went from city to city.
– What happened next?
– Further, my father's condition, unfortunately, began to deteriorate. We tried to find both medicines and doctors in different places. We are very grateful to those people who accepted us then, helped in that moment. It happened so, that when we left, when we got to the territory controlled by Ukraine in the first days, I gave a comment about what I saw: just about what I saw. It was a small comment, which was then distributed a lot, popularized. And in response, I began to receive very strange SMS. Not only for me, but also for my family members. Strange content, in Russian, with strange symbols, with threats. And then it turned out that this comment was stolen by Russian media. They twisted the whole story, rewrote, and made me and my family look I don’t know like what.
– Something like – it was you who tortured, killed, bombarded everyone ...
– It was about something about my disrespectful attitude towards Russian soldiers, that I desecrated their honor, that such a person never could ... As they are the most holy, and I came, disrespected everyone and so on, and spread fakes. Because there are no filtration camps, there is no occupation, people do not die ... These are all fakes. And for this they attacked so much. They tried to hack into social networks, bank accounts, chase me. And at that moment I was not shy: where I was – I openly communicated with people, saw different people. And it was very scary that people might get into trouble because of us. Everything was not good in our family, and there is such an influx of hate from the outside in addition. And there was an offer to go abroad for a short period of time, and there, further, follow how it goes. To calm down, organize treatment for parents, somehow to get support. But we were able to stay abroad for a short time, because it was both difficult and expensive financially. Unfortunately, my mother's condition worsened. She couldn’t walk at all. She couldn't take care of herself. And dad at that time lost his sight and could not help. And I kind of tried to solve some issues on my own. It was very difficult to do this in a foreign state without support: we had to count on one's own, and there was no one to address. And so, we came back to Ukraine. But for our family, the death of my father was a severe blow. For me, this is a very sore subject. Because he said he was fine. He promised that he would always be there. He directly assured: "I am always there; I will always support." I asked him not to leave me. It was hard for me at some periods, maybe, to say that I love him. Once in Mariupol, it was uncomfortable for me to take his hand: as if I were 17 years old, and my dad and I walk along the road by the hand ... But now I regret it. I am very sorry. My dad’s heart just failed. For me it was a big blow. It seemed I was torn to pieces from the inside. That day it seemed to me that it was the end ... It's hard for me to describe it. It's a big pain for my family – and I can't accept it. A week ago, there was a moment when it was hard for me, there were different questions. And I thought: "I'll call my dad." And I called, and the phone rings in my nightstand. That is, there is no one to call. When I realize all this, I get a feeling as if I am doused with boiling water. And I want to yell, but there is nothing to yell. And there's nowhere to scream. And for all this I hate half of the world that killed my world. It's hard to describe.
– What would you like to say and wish to both Putin and all Russians who participate and support this war?
– I have nothing to wish them. It is obvious that in a normal society where international law is in force ... They cannot be called human beings. They have no place in this world. They simply have no place in this world. But they won't get out of here that easily. There must be a trial, there must be a sentence, and it must be executed. And not only for them. They have relatives. Why did I and many Mariupol residents, and many other people lost their relatives, but they live with theirs, and everything is fine with them? As if, perhaps, it is sinful to wish something like that for someone, but in this case – no. Even the Bible says: "Everyone will be rewarded and punished according to his deeds." Here, let it be. They shouldn't have normal life. They took so many lives ... Let them pay theirs. The scariest way imaginable. Wishing it sincerely.
– Maria, how do you live now: your family, you, your mother? How does she feel now? What about your sister? Where are you located if I may say so?
– We currently live in Ukraine. To a wide publicity, I will not say a specific place, but this is Ukraine. Our way of life is the same as that of all Ukrainians. This night was hard, to be honest. There were terrible air raid alerts. It is scary to realize that somewhere it hits. It is even more terrible to realize that it does not fall somewhere, but into people and takes lives. This is the only thing that frightens with these alerts. We live in rented housing, like all Ukrainians (Ukrainian IDPs – translator's note). In this respect, I am not complaining. But the condition of my mother against the backdrop of all these events has deteriorated greatly. Her diagnosis ... To describe what she feels, she complains of terrible neurological pain, terrible seizures, uncontrollable panic attacks, maybe a complex mental health condition. And it's not easy to help her. She can't feel her legs, she can't walk, she can't take care of herself. And sometimes she's afraid to say it. Every day she talks to me and Nelia as if for the last time. She has a goal for this day – to see me and my sister – and that's it. And every day she seems to say goodbye. I forbid her to do so. I believe that everything will be fine. But she feels like a vegetable. That is, she is a young woman, and she cannot just get out of bed and at least take a spoon in her hands to eat on her own. In all these moments, I and my sister, we help her.
– What do you live on?
– We were registered as internally displaced persons. And I try to work. We live in a village, so the work here, of course, is related to kitchen gardens, pets, and cleaning. I have only finished the eleventh grade. And without a higher education, it is quite difficult to find some job in Ukraine. Considering the difficult situation in the family, I try to earn something, and not to lose my family. Because I must be there for work and for them at the same time. And it's very difficult. Therefore, we, of course, turn to people for help. Because it is impossible to cope with this situation on my own.
– Masha, let's leave your card details below this video. And now I'm talking to all our viewers. You all hear the story of Mary and her family. Therefore, if you have a desire to support and help, please do it. Below this video you will find Maria's details. You had dreams before ... An excellent student, a school president, a beauty. You played bandura, you had plans for your future ... You dreamed of going to university. What did you want to be?
– In Mariupol, I wanted to enter the University of Internal Affairs. I saw myself in this field. I chose the academy. I then prepared for physical, sports standards. I studied the theoretical part. Because, in addition to IEE (Independent External Evaluation, an analogue of the Scholastic Assessment Test – translator's note), it was also necessary to pass a creative competition. And the sports standards were very difficult. But I was inspired with all this and wanted to get a scholarship, on my own. Because I was graduating my school with a gold medal, and of course, I wanted to achieve everything, develop myself, move on in life, and get more experience in music. At that time, I also dreamed about my own personal instrument. I made further plans: how, who, where will be ... And I did not want to give up volunteering in church. And graduation ... Of course, like any graduate of the eleventh year at school, I dreamt of graduation. There were a lot of plans. There were many things I wanted to do.
– Do you still want to go into the same profession when circumstances permit, perhaps after our victory? Or would you choose something else now?
– Now, after all the active hostilities, I am convinced that I can be more useful in the field of international law or information technologies. Now the core of my self-realization is to be useful for society. I am very grateful to those Ukrainians who respond to the call for help and support. And I also want to help these people with something, to help my state, because the state is trying to help me. And of course, this year I will try to be enrolled. Maybe I will manage. I prepare for exams. Of course, it’s a little different format, but I will try. And I will not stop either in development, or in self-realization, or in achieving personal goals. I cannot give the enemy what he wanted to take from me. He doesn't deserve it. Therefore, “Vse bude Ukraina”. I try to believe in the best.
At night I see Mariupol and I scream. Mariupol is collapsing, but I can't let it go in these dreams. I try to keep him there, but he still crumbles. And I wake up in the middle of the night
– What kind of dreams do you have at night, Masha?
– It’s even uncomfortable for me to talk about dreams. Maybe someone will think that I'm some kind of strange, but at night I scream. Still. It seems much time has passed. Maybe someone will think that not everything is so serious, what I saw there and so on. It could be something even scarier. But I see Mariupol and I scream. Because I'm hurt, I feel pain. And every time I experience this pain. I dream of Mariupol, which is alive, in which there is a normal spring, in which everything is as it should be, in which my grandmother is still alive. My grandmother was killed by a Russian soldier. It was scary. It was done by his hand. That is, it cannot be attributed to chance. She often appears in my dreams.
– How did it happen?
– She was very hot-tempered herself before the war. She was characteristic, she spoke all her life in so called Surzhyk (a mix of Ukrainian and Russian – translator's note). And she was killed for а Ukrainian word. She talked, she condemned what was happening. Not from the political perspective, but from the human perspective. She was in pain, and she was screaming. And she spoke in Surzhyk. That is such a loss. She doesn't even have a proper grave. That is, we could not find her during the combats. And when we continued to look for her, got in touch with other people – they witnessed her death. It was a strong loss for us too, unexpected. And I often see her in my dreams. Mariupol – it is collapsing, but I can't let it go in these dreams. I try to keep him there, but he still crumbles. And I wake up in the middle of the night. But the scariest thing is when my sister screams. Her situation appears to be more difficult. She has seizures of epilepsy, which we try to control, we try to work with psychologists, but for her this is painful. But we understand that without specialists in this case we will not cope. And she screams. Sometimes she gets scared. She's not conscious, but she's screaming and scared. I don't know what she sees or what she feels. She withdrew into herself after all this. The only way I can learn about her feelings is through drawing. Before the war, she painted wherever it was possible to paint. At home, walls and tables were always painted. And once she was scolded for this, but now we let her draw what she wants and where she wants. Because it shows how she feels. There are many drawings of blood. She draws a lot of those pictures that she saw. And her work also catches people’s attention. Now she dedicates her works to the events that are currently taking place. She also devoted her work to the drama theater, the center of Mariupol, the maternity hospital of the city of Mariupol, which was also bombed by an air strike.
– Tell me, please, Maria: what will Ukraine be like after our victory? How do you see it? How will you build it – your Ukraine?
– Speaking about Ukraine after the victory, of course, I have a great sense of pride right now for my country and every compatriot. Now everyone is fighting for victory as best they can and with what they can. And people give themselves completely. And I see a strong nation. First, I don’t imagine buildings, there, something else, but I see a strong, flourishing nation. The nation that knows what it wants. People have already understood who they are. People are interested in their culture, people are developing. And I see a country with a huge development leap in different fronts. Of course, the rebuilding of buildings is a matter, but the most important thing is what will be in the hearts and heads of people. In order to prevent some situations and for us to take the first positions in some situations – I'm sure one doesn't have to worry about this. And of course, I will also try to make my contribution to the development of our country. As I said, it can be both international law and the development of information technologies. This is very important; it is actively developing. And with the help of all this, it will be possible to talk about what happened, to carry it further to the masses. We must not forget about it. We must remember everyone: both the killed civilians and the military people who give their lives for us so that we can plan our future. And, of course, we must find ways out for our country and develop further. Only forward. Here is such a motto.
– Maria, you know, it's hard to say. You are now only 18 years old. That is, a year ago, when all this happened to you, you were a child. In fact, you are still a child. And your sister, I am not even talking about. And all that you have already experienced is enough for someone for hundred, thousand lives. But you are very strong, you are brave. And I am absolutely sure that everything will be fine with you, that people like you are the future of Ukraine. This is our bright, our honest, clean, correct future, for which we are fighting today. And we will definitely win. I wish you and your family all the best possible. To your mom – health first. And I want to tell our audience again: friends, I think you, like me, were touched by this story which Maria told. Their family needs help. Her mom needs treatment and Nelia, her sister, needs treatment. And under our video, I say again, we will leave the details, we will leave Maria's card details. And anyone who wants to help, please join us.
I thank you for what you told, for what you entrusted. Because it's hard, but everyone needs to know it. Everyone needs to know this, not only here in Ukraine, because we know it, we live with it, we are experiencing it, we are fighting, but the whole world needs to know this in general and you need to understand how terrible the face of Russian fascism is: this reptile that came to the Ukrainian land, to the flourishing Ukrainian land. A family like yours: a wonderful, loving family, mom, dad, young people ... They are young parents, they have children. You and your sister are talented, excellent students … And so, in one moment, so much grief and suffering were brought down ... But really, it all made you very strong. Very strong. Masha, thank you very much.
– Thank you very much for responding and being so supportive. Thank you. For us it is very important. I am very grateful to you for this.
– Thank you very much. Thank you. Glory to Ukraine.
– Glory to the heroes.