Refugees from Mariupol, who managed to get to Zaporizhia on March 22, 2022. Photo by Dmytro Smolienko, AFP
I was born in Mariupol and have lived there all my life. I studied and worked in this place, I lived well there. And when Médecins Sans Frontières hired me, I was happy to be able to do something meaningful. Life was good. But suddenly it turned into real hell.
At first no one could believe what was happening, because in the times we live in such things should not happen. We did not expect war or bombs. We thought it was just a conversation on TV and someone would stop the madness. When I realized it was really happening, I felt sick – so bad I couldn’t eat for three days.
At first things seemed more or less normal, even though we knew that nothing was normal anymore. But then the shelling began. Our world – as we knew it – has ceased to exist. Destructive bombs and rockets falling from the sky have permeated our lives.
We thought of nothing else, we felt nothing else. The days of the week began to merge. I didn’t know if it was Friday or Saturday. It has become an endless nightmare. My sister was trying to count the days, for me it was as if I had fallen into a kind of fog.
Fortunately, during the first days, we were able to donate the remaining medical equipment from Médecins Sans Frontières to the emergency room in Mariupol. However, when the electricity and mobile networks stopped working, we lost contact with our colleagues and the possibility of continuing to work.
The bombings intensified every day. For the next few days we were concerned only with surviving and finding a way out of town.
How to describe a situation where his house turns into a scene of horrors? Makeshift cemeteries have been established everywhere, in almost every neighborhood. Even in the backyard of a kindergarten not far from my house, where children should normally play. How to guarantee them a future? How much pain and grief are we still able to bear? It’s like losing your whole life every day.
I was moved when I saw people helping each other. Everyone seemed to constantly care for someone else, never themselves. Mothers worried about their children, children worried about their parents.
I was worried about my sister – the shelling was so stressful I thought she would go into cardiac arrest. His sports watch showed 180 beats per minute. It made me nervous to see her like that. I told her it would be silly for her to be scared to death in the middle of all this!
Over time, she got used to it, and instead of freezing during the bombardment, she started listing every possible hiding place that came to mind. I was still terribly afraid of her and it was clear to me that I had to get her out of there.
We moved three times before finding a safe haven. We were lucky because we met wonderful people who I consider today as my family. History has shown us that people survive when they stick together and help each other. I saw it with my own eyes and it really touched me.
I was also struck by the courage some of them were or should be. I remember a family cooking outside in the street in front of their house. A few meters from their fire were two large craters after artillery shells had hit another family a few days earlier.
I was also touched by the way people clung to life and the good things in it. Despite everything that surrounds us, we have decided to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. We invited the neighbors and they brought their friends.
Some found a bottle of champagne, others even made a cake, but with only half the necessary ingredients. We managed to turn on the music for a few minutes. We really celebrated for half an hour, they were happy, they laughed again. We joked that this nightmare would end.
But she kept going, and it seemed like we should never wake up.
Every day we tried to leave the city. But there were various rumors about what was going on. We started thinking that we would never escape. One day we received the information that the convoy had to leave the city. We pushed into my old car and hurriedly searched for a place where the convoy could leave. We told everyone we could.
But now I feel sad when I think of all the people I couldn’t tell. Everything went too fast. We couldn’t even call anyone as we were without a phone call.
Great confusion and panicked people. Such was the start. A large number of cars were driving in different directions. We saw a vehicle in which so many people were pushed that it was impossible to count them. Their faces were glued to the windows. I don’t know how they got out, I just hope they did. We didn’t have a map with us so we were afraid of going in the wrong direction. We don’t even know how, but we took the right path that led to Mariupol.
As I left town, I realized the situation was much worse than I thought. I realized that I was lucky. I could hide in parts of the city that the fighting avoided to some extent.
Coming out of Mariupol, we saw so much destruction and suffering. We have seen bombed craters in apartment buildings, destroyed supermarkets, medical facilities and schools. Shelters where civilians were hiding were not spared either.
We are safe now. At least for now. But the future is a big unknown for us. When I finally got online and saw pictures of my beloved city, I was shocked.
Houses on fire, fellow citizens trapped in the rubble. In the news I read about the shelling of the Mariupol theater, where many families with children sought refuge. I just can’t find the words to describe how I feel. I keep asking – why?
We had to leave so many of our loved ones behind. We had no choice. The thought of everyone who has stayed there is unbearable. I worry about my family when it hurts my heart. I even tried to go back to get them out, but I couldn’t. I have no more news from them.
People who stick together have a better chance of survival. But there are also many people who depend on themselves. Old and weak. Those who cannot walk a few kilometers to fetch water and food. How can they handle you?
I can’t stop thinking about the old lady we met on the street two weeks ago. She was having a bad time, she had broken glasses, so she couldn’t see very well. She pulled out a small cell phone and asked if we could charge it for her.
I tried to do it with a car battery. It did not work. I told her the phone networks weren’t working so even if she had a busy phone she wouldn’t call anyone. “I know I can’t call anyone,” she said. “But one day, the day may come when someone wants to call me.”
I realized she was alone. All his hopes rest on the telephone. Maybe someone is trying to call her. Maybe my family is trying to call me too. We just don’t know.
It’s been almost a month since this nightmare started. And the situation is getting worse. People in Mariupol are dying every day due to shelling, shelling and lack of basic necessities such as water, food and health care.
Every day, every hour and every minute, innocent civilians survive in unbearable conditions. Only a small part of them managed to escape. But a large number of people still remain in the city. They hide in destroyed buildings or basements without any outside help.
Why does this happen to innocent people? Where will humanity let this disaster go?
Translated from English by NIKOLA KAŇOVSKÁ TENEVOVÁ and TEREZA WYN HANIAKOVÁ.