АвторAuthor: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Vira Repchuk
17 November 2022
23-year-old animator Anna Grechkina from Mariupol planned to move to Kyiv in March 2022. Instead, she woke up every morning to collect firewood and water to cook on the fire. The war united Anna’s family in one apartment in the Kalmius district of Mariupol, and on March 17 they were able to evacuate to Zaporizhzhya. “Monologues of War” found out what the girl experienced during her time in Mariupol and how she helps teenagers and young people now.
I am studying to be an art historian, I am finishing my fourth year by correspondence. Before the war I was in a depressed state, I almost never left home, so the war forced me to move somewhere.
On February 22, the locals came to a protest in Mariupol. We showed that our city is Ukrainian, so we do not want to have anything to do with the aggressor country. The feeling of war was already in the air. But we did not expect such a large-scale invasion. Mariupol has been used to this since 2014, when the city was first liberated from the occupiers. Then everything seemed to happen in one day. We saw Russian equipment, but everything passed quickly. We thought it would happen again this time. So we decided to stay in Mariupol.
We lived in Kalmius district, near the Metallurgists Palace of Culture. At the beginning of the war, my family was scattered around the city.
At two in the morning of the 24th, I heard loud explosions, but did not pay much attention to it. At four in the morning I woke up from even stronger explosions. I saw on social networks that the same sounds were heard in Kyiv and Kharkiv. I went to my mother and told her about the Russian attack. She did not believe me, but later checked the news. Since that time, we didn’t sleep.
As soon as the shops opened, we went to withdraw cash. There were unreal queues everywhere, people were buying all the products. I took everything calmly, I did not want to add to the panic. We bought a few basic products, and I grabbed some more Snickers. We joked that it was our only strategic stock, because it was always taken on various trips.
Our neighborhood where we lived with my mother was the safest, so my twin sister and her friend and my mother’s sister and her daughter moved in with us. They arranged rooms, but did not go anywhere to hide. There was no equipped bomb shelter near the house. We had a basement. We arranged it, but decided not to hide there. It could become a mass grave for the residents. Therefore, we hid in the apartment according to the rule of two walls.
Every day it was getting worse. We had the internet, we posted memes about the war, spread news, communicated with friends from different countries. Our friends from Georgia called us and asked what we were going to do. This country experienced Russian aggression in 2008. They were worried about us, and we assured them that everything would be fine.
I can’t say that I panicked much. I perceived everything as if I was in the TV game “Fort Boyard”. We were losing communications gradually: first the Internet, then – communication, electricity, gas, food. Every day we got used to everything. And the events were not perceived as shocking. Even when I saw the first death. It was on the fourth of March. There was a hit in the neighboring house, and a young boy died. He was buried in the yard.
Russians were shelling mostly at night. In the morning we came out as if from a cave. We were looking for water, cooking food, checking what had changed that day, whether everyone was alive. I never cried in Mariupol, I was the laughter of the family.
I remember how the stores were distributing leftover food. Aviation was already flying over us. And someone in the queue said: “Now we will take cookies, we will come home, but there may be no home anymore”. Everyone laughed at that. I romanticized my stay in Mariupol. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have survived. You can’t sit down and cry. Only now, talking about it, I can cry.
In the first days, Mariupol was mostly left by those who had already faced the war the day before. I remember even the last train to Lviv. But this city was also bombed, so it was scary to travel by rail.
On March 5, we were told that evacuation would be organized by the district administration. We persuaded my mother’s sister, packed our things and came to the district administration. We waited, but the police said that the russians would not let, so we had to disperse. Every day we came to the administration hoping to evacuate, but nothing happened. So ten days passed.
A friend left my sister the keys to his apartment, which was located in the city center. We took a bag and went to him for food, took conservation, even found avocados. And before that, my mother found Camembert cheese in the store. We joked that there was a war going on, and we were eating avocados with Camembert. But without bread. There was nowhere to get it.
Every evening we had a ritual. We took hot water in a thermos and stood in front of the fire before entering the apartment. Then we named the food we wanted to try after leaving Mariupol. There was coffee with milk powder in the thermos. The drink could not be drunk because of the disgusting water from the pond. But it was our delicacy.
Every day the shelling increased. Cooking became more difficult. Air shelling started. You do not know where it will fall, it is not “Grad”. It seemed to us that such attacks were happening all over Ukraine. For some time we did not even understand that Mariupol was under blockade. We did not know what was happening in another district of the city, so we asked passers-by if Kyiv was still ours.
Once we found a waste land where we could get a connection. We were lucky to call our friends. They said that there was a green corridor. We decided to try it the next day, March 16. In the morning we woke up, went to the wasteland again to check the information, and there was a shelling. I saw a wounded man. The shelling did not stop. We lay down on the ground and ran home on all fours, realizing that the only way out was to escape from the city. We gathered our things and tried to catch cars. But they were all packed with people. And it was not effective. Every time during the shelling we threw things, hid and lay on the ground. We did not leave that day.
On March 17, in the morning, we went to Prospekt again to stop the cars. There were even fewer cars than yesterday. We met a guy who had one free seat left in his car. We did not know yet which of us would go, but we came to the meeting point together. Miraculously, four seats were found. We were scattered in three cars. The car dragged on the ground because of the large number of people. We did not even know where we were going. Later it turned out that my sister, aunt and her daughter were going to Zaporizhzhya through Berdyansk, and my mother – through Urzuf.
While we were driving through the city center, I saw what happened to Mariupol. It became empty, gray, dirty, cold. Burnt buildings, garbage, broken roads. Sometimes it was impossible to drive by car. I remember we were driving over the sea and I saw a whole pier. All the cafes were still intact. Those were the last peaceful days.
Near Mariupol we met the first checkpoint. I first saw DPR and LPR flags, Russians with white armbands. I used to imagine them as very scary, but they were ordinary. They behaved like they were at home. They seemed to really think they were doing something good. But during the inspection they behaved disgustingly. They mocked us for leaving our hometown. They said: “We will release you and you will return”.
We got to Berdyansk, spent the night in the basement. In the morning we tried to catch the evacuation route for Mariupol residents. Everyone was pushing, fighting for a place, saving themselves as best they could. We were driving like in a can. We had to be accompanied by a Russian convoy to Vasylivka (it was a “gray zone”). They changed from each settlement. We were constantly waiting for them, for several hours in a closed bus.
From 11 am to 11 pm we were allowed to go outside once or twice. We had to pass Vasylivka on our own, but the russians did not let us. They said that there was shelling. We stayed for the night in the middle of the field. The territory we were supposed to go to was shelled. My sister had a panic attack, so we decided to stay outside, covered with a sleeping bag to keep warm. The passengers changed from time to time, also went outside so that others could sit down or lie down on the floor and just rest.
Finally, the morning of March 19 came. On the way we saw abandoned things, burnt cars with burnt people. When we first saw the Ukrainian flag, we were very happy. And my mother came to Zaporizhzhya faster. She was worried about us, because we had to arrive in the evening.
All this time our friends from Georgia were looking for us. They said we had to come to them. We got to Georgia on April 5 through Kryvyi Rih, Lviv, Krakow. For four months we lived for free in an apartment. I am grateful to be here. This is my second home.
At first I did not understand what I should do in Georgia. I lost my job, it was unusual for me that I could buy anything in the store. I was getting used to life again. We went to rallies, gave interviews. It was exhausting, but we had to do it.
I thought that the war cured my depression, but after Mariupol I fell into a hole. At first I perceived the trip as a vacation. But when you realize the real picture, it hits you hard on the head. I did not know what to do with this life. It was psychologically hard. Now it’s a little easier, but it’s been six months.
Now my sister and I have founded an online project “NUMO – Informal Institution of Art Education”, which was launched on August 25. There are six participants in it now. We help young people, teenagers to reflect their own feelings in faithful posts about the war to give them a voice, to release emotions.
The wave consists of four online sessions during which we create our own products. I would call this project a small media front. The wave lasts for a month. After that we will recruit new participants.
The war pushed us to do everything we planned. My sister and I had many ideas for projects before the war. We were constantly putting them off. “NUMO” is our first joint project. I realized that we need to do everything now.
Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.
Why is it important to share this story?
If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.
АвторAuthor: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Vira Repchuk