A lone voice from Mariupol
A survivor from Mariupol, Ukraine tells of his escape, and how Russian soldiers are kidnapping his fellow citizens en masse.
I received the following letter from a Ukrainian who recently escaped Mariupol, Ukraine, a city that Russia has cut off, and been bombing — and starving — for six weeks. I’ve been given permission to publish this translation in its entirety.
This important. Please share widely. And thanks, JOHN
Hi, I just got out of Mariupol on March 28th.
I don't want to talk about what's going on there, everyone has seen everything, the city is gone, it's being compared to the ground. I'm not talking about what's going on, but about how all of us in Mariupol feel about it. For a long while now, no one cares who is right or wrong. Such thoughts are typical only when life itself is no longer in question: We were all convinced we were going to die, it was only a matter of when.
The first thing to do when getting out of the city would be to immediately write to loved ones, but every other refugee from my camp is afraid to do so. Everything that happens in the war must stay in the war. People want to leave the past behind, to forget it — if you say one word what you saw inside, you will be forced to remember everything again and again, to explain to someone, to prove to someone. People are empty inside. Everything is left in that bright past, in which Mariupol aspired to Europe, in which parks were rebuilt from the ground up, and children studied in freshly built schools. It is all in the past. There is nothing left.
Life Inside Mariupol
In Mariupol, there were only two things left to scare us: No more shooting, no more hailstones, no more tanks. Just two things. The first was aviation, something that nothing could save you from. In the city, no one knew anything, all information was hearsay, often the distance at which one could say anything accurately was limited to a hundred or two meters. But, people heard rumors about piles of corpses in the Drama Theater, and in other lesser-known shelters. People saw with their own eyes how monolithic high-rise buildings were now just piles of rubble. The only thing they knew for sure was that there was no escape from the aircraft, no shelter where you would survive the impact. Every time you heard an airplane, the whole city fell silent - you couldn't hear anything from anyone, everyone was holding their breath waiting for the shell to fall, to breathe out in relief in the knowledge that it hadn't fallen near you.
Until a week ago, people were horrified to hear that a shell had killed someone else. Now, they’re simply glad it wasn't them.
The second thing that made grown men, policemen, mothers, old men, and children scream, shriek, cry, and bang their heads against the walls in silence was the screams of agony of those unlucky ones. Everyone who heard the cries of the injured understood that they may well be next. And this is not the death where all life passes before your eyes, where you realize your mistakes, or rejoice in a life well-lived. It is death in agony, when thoughts revolve around two things: You have to scream with all your strength, while knowing no one will save you. There is no one, and you see proof in front of you, as those who surrounded you are already dead.
People in Mariupol DO NOT KNOW about the evacuation. People do NOT KNOW about the world's sympathy and support for Mariupol. No one will tell them about it. There is NO communication. There are only rumors that anyone who tried to escape has been fertilizing the ground for a long time.
When there was nothing left of my house, there was no choice. I decided to leave town on foot. Russian soldiers with white armbands wouldn't let me cross towards Ukraine, and when I got within three hundred meters (around 1,0000 feet) they started shooting in the air.
The second escape route was to flee to Russia. I had a visa, so I thought it wouldn't be such a problem to tolerate that country for a couple of days. I went in their direction. The way was agan blocked by Russian soldiers in white armbands: "You cannot go that way, they are shooting there.” A second after these words, an air bomb fell two hundred meters (650 feet) away, in the direction I came from. The expression on the fighter's face and attitude did not change, the way was closed.
Then, I remembered there was a third route, five kilometers (3 miles) away was a gas pipe over the river, it was wide enough to go through. The pipe was undamaged, but, it was impossible to go through it with any resources. And there was a strong wind, the river was turbulent at this time of year, and I could not swim.
There was a boat with a hole on the shore. Other people came, and after swimming together for a few hours we were able to get across the river, my legs were soaked. But, I did not feel it. In Mariupol, people have forgotten what heat is. The feet froze first, they do not feel anything for a long time. We still had a ways to go, and fighting was heard everywhere, but there were no planes, so there was no fear. Still, there were a lot of fighters around, and it was worth it to remain on guard — even if you bent down to tie your shoelaces, even for a second, you could become, and would become, a target.
One woman, after crossing the river, asked to be escorted home - she was afraid to be alone. Such requests are not to be refused. Moving along the bank of the city, you can no longer see the houses or the destruction. They are there, but your eyes are directed downwards. Every step can be your last. There are mines on the road, and there are more corpses on the roadside than pillars. Now and then you see crosses. People were buried when others still lived here. Now the dead just lie everywhere. It is not worth breathing near them, and no one would want to.
When the woman I escorted reached her house — after four Russian checkpoints, where you are forced to strip almost naked in the cold to look for tattoos — she could not hold back her tears. She saw the burnt-out house, and the corpse of her son, or rather the burnt-out body that resembled his form. It is not known if it was him. Nothing is known anymore. This woman is no longer the kind of woman who, in the previous week, had committed suicide out of grief. And she is not in danger, like those on the upper floors of burning high-rises — her life was only threatened by the war. She just wants to say goodbye to her son. To bury him. To put a cross.
The road to Russia
Going down further, there was a whole army of Russian soldiers with white armbands, a bunch of equipment and other stuff spread out under the red cross along the way. People there could go outside during the day. "They've already been filtered out," a man passing by told me. I didn't know what that meant, but I knew there was a chance of getting out, a hope of rescue. After a kilometer (about five blocks), the soldiers stopped me. They asked me if I was going to evacuate. I told them the truth, that I wanted to cross the border into Russia, and here were my documents, my military ID card and passports. The last one was quickly gone: "You won't need it, if you want to flee, go over there, refugees are gathering there.” And I was sent on my way.
Refugees were really gathering there, but it's more truthful to say that they were brought there without knowing it. Honestly, there were 10-15% who really knew that the evacuation was going in that direction, and they were okay with the fact that they would become refugees in Russia. The rest of the refugees, 85-90%, were not allowed to remain in Ukraine — they knew too much. They were being taken to Russia against their will.
After questioning us and checking our belongings, were were sent to wait outside for the bus. Whatever your opinion, keep quiet. Everyone knew this, being suspicious was dangerous: Don't make any sudden movements, don't make eye contact, don't look at weapons, don't look at equipment, don't look at your feet. Stay confident and lie as much as you can about having relatives and other things in Russia.
By evening, we got to the refugee camp. Everyone will be filtered, and only then can go further. If you want to go to Russia, you have to sign a refugee status. Later it turned out that if you ask nicely, to be more precise, you were told how much a temporary migrant status costs, so you would get one for sure, and not be a refugee. Was it true or not? No one knew, there is no communication in the camp, the camp managers do not know anything.
There was no money to change, even though there was a store, and food — the usual school portion, once a day, it was too little for adult men, but it was food that many had not seen for weeks. Now I am here for the fifth day, I do not know what to do next, I hope to get out to other countries. But I still have money left, later it can be exchanged, the others do not have that, all their money was on bank cards. They have no way out. No one knows what will happen next.
Ukraine needs the world’s help
WE ASK FOR ASSISTANCE FOR UKRAINIANS FORCIBLY DEPORTED TO RUSSIA.
AT LEAST MINIMAL ASSISTANCE TO MOVE AROUND RUSSIA!
From the point of view of a person who knows nothing, who sees absolutely no help, and then he is given a thread of hope, as thin as a hair, to survive — a thread given to you by the one who started the war — you begin to believe that person. It's Orwellian. People were tortured, people were left without information, and then, suddenly, the Russians stopped hurting us, and instead gave us the minimum to survive. For a lot of people it really looks like salvation. I haven't lost my mind yet, though I guess deep down no one has, because all that help comes to naught when you hear one plane after another flying towards your home. You’re safe, they're not.
There needs to be a systematic way to deal with this issue.
This needs to be forwarded to embassies and the government so everyone knows what problems people are facing.