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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Mariupol destroyed by Russian troops

    “Instead of a flourishing, always full of life city, I drove through the catacombs,” a military servicewoman from Mariupol told how she survived in a surrounded city


    АвторAuthor: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Mariia Orletska

    24 August 2022

    Military officer of the National Guard of Ukraine Olga (name changed at the request of the author of the interview) started her career as a police officer back in 2014. She turned 29 on July 17. Until the second half of March, the girl was in her native Mariupol — without gas, electricity, water, mobile communication and under constant shelling. For two weeks, the bomb shelter of one of the local schools became her shelter. There, civilians established a “headquarters” where they helped Mariupol residents from nearby warehouses. Olga told “Monologues of the war” about the first and most difficult days in surrounded Mariupol, about the unity of Ukrainians in order to survive, about the responsibility for everyone.

    I have been wearing shoulder marks since I was twenty, it all started in February 2014. Acquaintances were telling me that it was stupid, like “Well, you left on time, damn it.” I remember when in 2015 Russia shelled Skhidnyi (district in Mariupol.) — I was very scared. Everything was in smoke, everyone running — that’s all that was remembered.

    In 2020, I was an officer and I left the police, because the personalities of the then chief did not match, but during this time I never once regretted that I made such a decision.

    On February 24, I was with a friend, we lived in her apartment – in the area of the police headquarters (Headquarters of the National Police). At three o’clock a message came that we were being collected. We arrived, but at that time there was still no certainty of what awaited us. Everything that was 100% clear – that is complete ass. Although tension had been in the air for several days. Well, personally, I realized  that war was inevitable on the 21st, since Putin recognized the “banana” republics.

    “The barracks changed its appearance – my colleagues closed the windows with sandbags and the number of beds increased”

    Nothing special happened. Well, except that all the boys were put in the barracks. The commanders let the girls go home, but told us to come back the next day. I was overjoyed for one simple reason, and that reason is my survival kit. I collected it according to the list from the statute of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. So, this list was absolutely ridiculous. At that moment, we didn’t need a compass and colored pencils, envelopes and A4 sheets. But civilian warm clothes were needed, about which not a word was said.

    I went home. That day I was there for the last time. I collected what I really needed later – female pads, warm leggings, Mivina. It was necessary to take shoes, and not go in tight boots which were given by NGU.

    On the same day, I returned to my friend. It’s surprising that I guessed to go to the “EVA” store on the way and buy an MTS card. I stayed overnight, and in the morning of the 25th we returned to the unit.

    The first days in the barracks

    The first days of the war in the barracks. The windows are covered with sandbags

    The barracks changed its appearance – the boys closed the windows with sandbags and the number of beds increased. The room was dusty, so the boss asked us girls to wet clean. My machine gun has already gone to the inspection room, because it was given to one of our people. So, we were sent home again. I left my emergency bag in the barracks. I haven’t seen my boss since that time. Hopefully that will change soon.

    “The case was getting more and more dangerous”

    On February 26, we had quite a busy day. I called my godmother and said that I needed to change into civilian clothes. I am not a small lady, so the clothes of my companion turned out to be too small.Godmother, in turn, wrote to the “Mothers of Mariupol” group, and one person agreed to share clothes. We rushed in a taxi.

    Then the boss asked to take the keys from point “A” and transport them to point “B”. In peacetime, this task would have taken, well, an hour and a half on foot at the most, but it was approaching six o’clock and it was necessary to hurry. By the way, the curfew started at 17:00.

    I ran out onto the road and, remembering my youth, began to halt the cars. Civilians picked us up, I poked them and they took us where we needed to go. In general, we completed the task. I saw my people – they were strengthening the roadblock at the end. The case was getting more and more dangerous. But still, I wanted to believe in the best. Although during the constant shelling of ” Grad” and hitting pf missiles to the area where my house was located, hope slowly faded. Then there was still electricity and the internet. We constantly monitored the situation in the city.

    “If I disappear, wait until I appear. Everything will be fine, I’ll get out somehow”

    On the 28th, the lights were turned off for the first time. In fact, it was difficult. We used to read the news 24 hours a day, and here it was taken away from us. But on the evening of March 1, the light was given again. At night, we had time to restore our strength and read what was happening. On March 2, around ten in the morning, the light was turned off, and this time it was gone for much longer. Then the water also cut off. The gas was cut off on the morning of March 6.

    All these days, I personally went crazy. For some reasons. The first is the Russians. I understood that perhaps I would never see my home again, and it was all because of them. The second is my mother. She is in Poland, safe. We spoke on March 5, and she begged to break into the “green corridor.” I tried to explain to her that the neighborhood is constantly being bombed, and there is no corridor.

    – Are they shooting near you?

    – No, mom, it’s far away… – and then the explosions start, – Mom, the connection is bad, trust me. If I disappear, wait until I appear. Everything will be fine, I will get out somehow.

    The third reason is the realization that my friends and colleagues were out there at war. In a real war. And you sit in the apartment and go crazy. These were the thoughts. And they shot constantly.

    “Frightened look, a woman hugs a child, a man in a state of shock”

    On March 6, I ran around the district to look for the mobile connection. I ran out near “Eva”. I watched as s  civilians were taking away stuff under police control. That is, it is possible, but so as to be honest, and not all in one hand. They drove a truck under the store – a woman was distributing pads to women. I asked the policeman with the machine gun where I could have the mobile connection. At this he threw up his hands: “nowhere, all the radio towers are closed.” At that moment, they began to roam around the district from “Grad”. I ran towards the house. On the way I ran to some entrance. I carefully closed the door. When I returned, I saw people – a frightened look, a woman hugging a child, a man in a state of shock. After muttering my crowning “hello”, I slowly slipped out of there. I didn’t even get to the house right away, because I simply forgot where we lived. When you hear how the windows in the houses fly out due to the explosions, you hardly think about anything but those windows.

    “I will always remember this sound – when the projectile pierces the roof closer and closer”

    I still found our house. I have never climbed to the fifth floor so quickly in my life. Having flown into the apartment, I sat down on the sofa. My friend was yelling at me from the bathroom. And I was just gasping air with my mouth, realizing that the connection was unlikely to appear. And mom would be worried…

    At that moment I heard a screeching noise. I will always remember this sound – when the projectile pierces the roof closer and closer. With an “Oh, looks like we’re on it,” I ducked into the bathroom. Covering us with a blanket and hugging each other, we felt a shell hit our house.The house swayed as if we were in a train. And whitewash sprinkled.

    Literally 10 seconds later, we realized that the shelling had stopped. This means that it is time to dump in a better hiding place. Without further ado, we took our bags, prepared in advance, and left the apartment. While my friend was closing our door, I looked into the neighbor’s door out of curiosity. They turned out to be open. The projectile flew there. Here he is, the “kid”, sticking out in the middle of the room, having made a huge hole in the roof. I heard a male swearing. “Men, are you all alive?” I asked, and felt relieved when I was answered.

    While we were coming down from our floor, the shelling started again. But I still did not understand where exactly he was – above our heads, or in the neighboring yard.

    “The girl with the cat was crying, and I can’t understand – where is the entrance?”

    We met three girls at the entrance. One has a labrador on a leash, the second has a cat in a jacket, the third is just Iryna. The one who cried hysterically with the cat. “Girl, it looks like you’re coming with us,” I muttered, and taking one of them by the arm, I dragged her along. “Actually, where are we going?” — my friend Masha asked a completely logical question. I didn’t know, we were just walking.

    At first, I had a great idea to go to the head office, but then my eyes stopped at the school that was next to it. We started there. The dog was shocked, its paws were straight in different directions, the look was crazy, and the owner was also pushing it to speed it up. The girl with the cat was crying, but I couldn’t understand where the entrance was.

    We found it. There was the sign “Shelter. No place”. I opened the door. The smell was awful. And the situation itself was not very good.

    “There are five of us, a dog and a cat. We will stay with you”

    There were a lot of people and children of different ages. We couldn’t breath and everything was in dust. I understood that it was a horror. People were lying on the floor and children were screaming. “Who is in charge here?” I called. I did not hear the answer.

    “Understood. Where is the director of this institution?” – someone approached, took my hand and led me into the darkness. Nothing was visible after daylight. But I felt as if I was stepping on someone’s hand, then on the leg, maybe on the head. The lantern was abruptly turned on and the head of my companion lit up. “Jesus?” I asked quietly. The main feature of my character is to carry a kind of swagger when I’m scared. “AND? Well, I’m Dimon. And here is the director.” A young man in a coat was standing in front of me. And I remember the scarf. Masha appeared from somewhere behind. She knew him. I couldn’t stand it and said: “Hello, I’m Olya. There are five of us, a dog and a cat. We will stay with you.” The director sighed and said: “Of course, we will not abandon you.”

    School No. 26 after the shelling of Mariupol

    Mariupol School No. 26 after shelling Photo by Telegram channel “Mariupol Seych”

    Dimon and his family drove in 15 minutes. He left me two mattresses, on which children practiced at school. But not everyone appreciated this gesture – the girl with the cat continued to cry, the girl with the dog was in a stupor, Masha sat down next to them with the words “I’m not going anywhere from here.” But our Iryna, waving her hand, lay down on the mattress. I ran to explore the area and at the same time meet the director. 

    Mykola Chaikin, if you ever read this, thank you for not leaving us to die on the street!

    “As it turned out, the Security Service and some military knew that there were a lot of people in this school”

    As it turned out, the Security Service and some military knew that there were a lot of people in this school, but they did not show up for several days. I had to come up with some ideas. And we couldn’t think of anything better than to go to the headquarters to try to get in touch with ours via walkie-talkie. The next day, March 7, we did so. But I didn’t work out.

    Returning to school with nothing, we were sad. The police seem to be able to drive around the city, but how to send a message, let’s say, to Masha’s boyfriend that everything was okay with her, and where she was at that time. “Girls, write notes,” said Iryna, chewing on a candy. That was brilliant!

    Periodically, we ventilated the premises. The women even wiped the floor several times. It seemed to be cleaner.

    “NGU, AZOV, the police – they all helped us”

    On the morning of March 8, there was snow. I wiped my eyes with it. “That’s it,” I thought. We went out with Masha to the road and began to wait. The military flew past us. They did not respond to our waving hands. The next car was civilian, but with blue ribbons. Looking closely, I realized that a familiar face was behind the wheel. I have never cried and waved my hands like that, probably never in my life. The guys got out of the car and hugged us. After handing each a handful of sweets, they joked. We gave them our notes. There was written something like “We are in the 26th school. There are many people and children here. Tell us what to do, our names and addressee.”

    Ukrainian troops in Mariupol

    Ukrainian military in Mariupol Photo Mstyslav Chernov

    After a very short period of time, the police started coming to us. Even the police officers with whom I served. They brought everything: food, hygiene products, and milk for children. NGU, AZOV, the police — they all helped us. We even made our own storage. And we were able to share with people from other shelters.

    “There was a sign above our table with the inscription “Death to the rashist occupiers”

    That day I announced the meeting.I appeared in front of the crowd in military uniform. I said that we have to unite and survive, so we start making charts. Men were on duty and guarded around the territory, women had to clean in toilets and premises. Meanwhile, Iryna was “occupying” one table in our “headquarters”. By the way, we named it “Azovochka Viiskova”.

    Iryna even started writing poems. She read her poetry very loudly and with feeling, so that every “separatist soul” in our shelter shuddered. Yes, we had those too. For some, we are at war with the USA. For some, it didn’t matter under which flag they woke up. Political education began. A sign with the inscription “Death to rashist occupiers” hung above our table, and Irina’s poems added charm to it.

    “Burnt cars, wires everywhere, black skeletons of houses”

    The following days were similar to each other. We woke up to the volleys of  Grad. I yelled at people several times to stop panicking. One day there was a very loud bang, the windows even flew out in our school, people quietly began to pray. It had its own charm – at least they didn’t shout. I turned to the other side and fell asleep. No one was hurt, fortunately. But this meant that soon they would start shelling  the school.

    The pastor of the Ukrainian church, Father Volodymyr, was with us. This is the most unusual priest I had ever seen. He constantly mumbled, shouted that he hated the Russians, and cursed them with all the curses in the world. Maybe even in Latin. Once he came up to me and said that all the children from the shelter had fallen ill. He had access to volunteers who could get the medicine. However, he was afraid that the military might take away the car. Masha and I went with him. Then I saw.

    Instead of a flourishing, always full of life city, I drove through the catacombs. Burnt cars, wires everywhere, black skeletons of houses. Looking at the university building, it seemed as if a corner had been bitten off. People were running around the yards and cooking on the bonfire. And I was driving and tried to call my mother.

    Bomb shelter in the Mariupol school

    There were hundreds of civilians in the bomb shelter of the school Photo from Telegram channel “Mariupol Seychsia”

    Damn Russians – they were devastating my city. They chose scorched earth tactics. Looking at the center of Mariupol, I thought about my district. Most likely, there is one large crater. And what about grandfather? And my animals? My house? I lived there all my life…

    “On March 15, for the first time, none of the military came”

    We were given medicine, water and food at the volunteer center. In this way, it was possible to hold out for several months of the blockade. In the evening, it turned out that there was the mobile connection on the doorstep of the school. I was able to call my mother.

    On March 15, for the first time, none of the military came. I understood that they might not come again. Text messages from the State Emergency Service began to appear on people’s phones. They wrote how you can drive your car from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia. People came up to me and asked what to do.

     “I have no right to advise. But if I had a car, I would leave – it’s hell here ” was all I could say.

    60 people left that day. In the evening, Mykola came to our “headquarters” and said that we were leaving tomorrow. All, no objections. Seats were not a problem: “More fun, girls! We would not have survived to this day without your enthusiasm.”

    “I held my breath, I started to feel nauseous, because huge letters “Z” were painted on the cars”

    On the second day, March 16, we left . A few families remained from the school. Mykola gave them the keys to the warehouse and the school.

    Masha and I were traveling in the same car with three women and the American bulldog Bohdan. I looked again at what my city looked like. Hands were shaking, but not from fear. There was no fear. There was hatred, contempt, and some other incomprehensible feeling. At first I didn’t understand what it was, but then I did. It’s a shame. I am alive, healthy, and with a chance of evacuation, and my friends are there in hell.

    We left Mariupol easily. We rushed towards Mangush. There was no military on the road. Suddenly I saw some green and black cars. I was happy because I thought that it was our soldiers. I was wrong. I held my breath, I began to feel nauseous, because huge letters “Z” were painted on the cars.

    Read also: “War is such a terrifying thing that it is even difficult to tell to what extent.” The story of a woman from Mykolaiv who evacuated to Germany

    We arrived at the first checkpoint. I looked at Bohdan in confusion. A military man approached us. Taking the passport of our driver with two fingers, he said so nasty: “Where are you going and why are you going?”. The woman conducted a dialogue with him discreetly. I wanted to cry. Sitting at school, we didn’t know any news at all. Only what our military told us. The fact that the Russians set up a bunch of roadblocks meant one thing – Mangush has been occupied for a long time. Soon there was nothing left of Mariupol.

    They checked the car, twisted the bags, and we were nervous. I was sitting in National Guard boots, and in my briefcase, in a pack of female pads, and among my socks were documents confirming that I was a military officer.

    It had passed. We reached Berdiansk. They found us a place to stay in the local humanitarian center, and they also picked out shoes for me. We stayed there for two nights, and then went to Zaporizhzhia.

    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: Anastasia Milenko | Translation: Mariia Orletska


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