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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Anna Babicheva

    About the arrival of a rocket in the house, the evacuation from Mariupol and the story of love with a captured “Azov” soldier: the story of 21-year-old Anna Babicheva

    Life under fire

    АвторAuthor: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Violeta Shenkariuk

    24 July 2022

    Anna Babicheva is a 21-year-old student from Mariupol, a future nurse. She planned to graduate in June, and move to Kyiv in August. The war for her began in 2014, when Mariupol was first tried to be captured. Then Anna started volunteering, traveling to frontline villages and helping children affected by the war. And on the sixth day of the full-scale invasion, her house was hit by a rocket while she was inside. What Anna had to go through during the twenty days of constant shelling of Mariupol – “Monologues of the war” found out.

    Since childhood, I went to church, served there with other children. We went to frontline villages, organized a holiday for the locals, gave gifts, even though it was dangerous.

    It’s terrible to live there. There was no water, the lights were often turned off. Many children grew up without parents. There is nowhere to get products, same with clothes. Some children ran up and told how they played with sticks and stones. Someone was left without legs and arms.

    And the worst thing is that the shelling did not stop. Chermalik (a village of the Mariupol district, — ed.), which was located near the front line, was often shelled. The russians were already across the river. Once we caught a moment of how hard the bombing was. People were hiding in basements, it was scary.

    A holiday for children in the villages of Mariupol

    The people of Mariupol organized a holiday for children in the frontline villages

    I like to help. I did not want to run away, and believed until the last that there would be no full-scale invasion. On the outskirts of Mariupol, especially on the Left Bank, bombardment could be heard, but very faintly.

    We lived near Azovstal. On February 17 or 18, a strong explosion occurred at the factory, which shook the windows. At least, that’s what we were told and emphasized that residents should not worry.

    I remember that for a whole month until February 24, someone had been setting off fireworks in the yard. As it turned out, this happened not only in our yard. Fireworks were set off in different areas at a certain time for something. And there were no people around. Maybe they knew something, were preparing and distracted people. Assumptions are different.

    The beginning of a full-scale invasion

    At one o’clock in the morning on February 24, I filmed a video for TikTok and went to sleep. I planned to publish them in the morning. But at 4:30 a.m. I woke up from loud explosions. Mother came and said that the war had started. I looked outside – people were throwing things from the windows, running out, bumping into each other. In a word, chaos. The news already talked about shelling on the Left Bank.

    On February 24, there was fear, pain and misunderstanding of what would happen next. To go or not to go? At that time, information was spread that it was impossible to leave Mariupol. Huge queues, people were standing in the fields, and bombs were being fired all around. It was scary to go somewhere in the first days.

    On the second day, the panic went away. I subscribed to all possible Telegram channels, communicated with many people. ” Everything is fine, they beat it back,” I read and calmed down. I could easily make tea or wash my hair. Although, I often heard loud explosions.

    Hitting a rocket into a residential building

    Anna’s house, which was hit by a rocket

    I had a friend staying with me for a few days. The company has an opportunity to distract. She left the day before a rocket hit my house.

    “The scariest recollection of all days…”

    A close person wrote that I should hide for two days, because it will be horrible in Mariupol. But he constantly wrote like that, and I did not pay attention.

    It is absolutely quiet in the house. I want to turn on the series and hear a sharp explosion. The house shakes, walls and glass fly. I remember screaming and trying to cling to the wall, which knocked me back and covered me. At that moment, I said goodbye to life. I thought my heart would stop from fear. It’s scary to run to the basement, even though we lived on the first floor. We could be overwhelmed there. Until this day, such stories have already happened in Mariupol.

    Burnt car in the yard of residential buildings

    The car that was parked in the yard and caught fire

    Then the rocket again flew into the car right under our windows. The shock wave pulled down everything. After this explosion, my mother and I ran into the basement. We did not stay there for long. The car that was hit by the rocket caught fire. The smell of burning has penetrated into the cellars. There were many people, it was impossible to breathe. We ran into the basement of a neighboring house to my mother’s friend, where we stayed for more than a day. Our area was bombed non-stop all day.

    “I hardly slept”

    Towards the morning, everything quieted down. We returned to the apartment. It more or less survived. The fifth floor and above were the most affected. We decided that we would stay – me, my mother and her friend with her son. Then we broke the closet and closed the windows. But after some time, my father’s friend arrived, who, seeing the terrible picture, told us to pack our things and go with him to the city center.

    We lived on the fifth floor of a building without a basement. It was the most horrible place. I cried the two days we were there. The apartment had many mirrors, sideboards, and the corridor was small. The nearest basement was on the next street.

    I hardly slept these days. And in one night it became so light, even though the electricity had already been turned off. I look out the window – a glow begins, which is getting closer. Both our and foreign rockets were flying. During the night, we counted six to seven rockets from the russian side.

    We spent the next two days in the private sector. All this time we tried to get to the “Church of Good Changes”. It was located in the building of the former Komsomolets cinema. We finally got there and stayed there until the end.

    The shelter where the woman was

    The basement where Anna was hiding

    There was no water, we drank melted snow. We rejoiced when it rained. Then we pulled out all the buckets and waited for something to fall. At least the rain was clean, and the snow – with sand and dirt. There was a stream nearby, but it was risky to take water from there. As people from the private sector nearby stood in line near the pond, they were ripped apart by the explosion. The corpses were decomposing, and the water was not fit for drinking.

    Evacuation from Mariupol

    There were about 500 people in the church. One day, Askold Kvyatkovskyi and Artem Aliferenko decided to check the evacuation routes at their own risk. They took several people and left. A day passes, a second, and they are still not there. They must have left. But they returned, bringing with them an old bus and two minibuses. Another 17-18 cars filled with gasoline were gathered near the building.

    I was sitting in an old bus, it was the second in line. The boarding was made during the bombing. The explosions were getting closer. We understood that sooner or later it would fly to our building, so we did not consider the option of staying. The next day, a missile hit the building.

    Read also: Oleksandr Khudozhnyk: “War teaches you to adapt to any conditions, to make a shelter from a couple of boards, a box and a rusty nail”

    We drove an unusual way. The exit from Mariupol was very crowded, buses were not allowed out, only cars. So we drove across the fields. When we approached the Cheremushki district, we saw a hill that our old bus could not climb. Everyone got out, at that moment planes were circling above us. We climbed into the sewer hole and prayed to survive. It was difficult for the men to push the bus up the hill, but they succeeded.

    We quickly ran in and forgot to see if the others had got up. We drove further – and there was no column behind us. Then we reached Temryuk, tried to call the people who were following us. It turned out that russian soldiers ran out of private houses onto the field and shot at cars. Fortunately, there were no injuries. People went back. We stayed in Temryuk for two days because the men came back for them. They picked up about 120 people the next day and picked up people along the way.

    Russian checkpoints

    After Temryuk, we left for Zaporizhzhia. The road was difficult because it passed through occupied territories and russian checkpoints. It was scary, we had heard stories about rape before. The girls rode in hats, hoods on their heads. We got dirty on purpose. I generally looked like a boy. Several times at checkpoints they asked how old the boy was. I was so happy then.

    The Russians nagged at everything: the tattoo is not proper, the look is bad. They did not believe that our phones, especially men, were discharged. But the most terrible were the chechen and buriat checkpoints.

    “They mocked the men. They undressed, touched their stomachs and said that they would take them away. The soldiers seemed to like it when mothers, wives, and daughters looked out the window and cried. They told the men to leave, and then shouted that they had not given such a command. After an hour or a half of mockery, we were released”.

    We drove through all twelve roadblocks with our heads down. It was disgusting when the military came in and said: “Hello, compatriots.” Someone offered humanitarian aid, and someone took away our cigarettes.

    Before Orikhiv, Zaporizhzhia region, we got to an unknown village, where hostilities began. I saw a tank with the letter Z in the bushes, completely burnt. I see someone running out of there and waving his hand for us to stop. It seemed like they were throwing a grenade. In fact, a russian military man was motioning for us to leave here as soon as possible. After that, the bombing began.

    The only thing was that at that moment it was not clear why the russian soldier got out of the tank to show us the way, when at that time the Armed Forces of Ukraine were shooting. Then the question arose, maybe they really do not understand what is happening? Some kill, and others help. Maybe there really is a percentage of normal? But these were foolish thoughts.

    On the way, we saw corpses of russian soldiers. The children’s eyes were closed, and they opened them, poked a finger and said: “Oh, that’s russian”. It was joyful for them.

    “We spent five days on the road”

    When we arrived in Orikhiv, the minibus was the first to stop. People started screaming, crying, and running out of cars. They saw ours. I flew into one tall military man, hugged him and cried so much. And he stroked my head and said that we are already safe. They gave a lot of water, food, medicine.

    “It is difficult to describe in words all the feelings when you finally see our military. The children gave them their drawings, which they drew in the basements. And these brave men cried”.

    We spent five days on the road. When we met in Zaporizhzhia, it was the best day of my life. Then we got to Ternopil, and my mother and I left for Germany.

    Our drivers are heroes. How they knew these roads, loopholes, is unknown. Artem Aliferenko said: “I was simply led by God. I didn’t know the road myself.”

    Search by photo

    Our apartment survived well. Repairs were made even a month before the full-scale invasion. A few days after we left the house, ‘DPR’ members and chechen came to the yard.

    Everything was taken out of the apartment. There were pictures on the wall above my bed. And in the room there were many interesting things from the boys from the Azov regiment, with whom I communicate: a T-shirt, a hat, a knife. I guess those things were found.

    Photo in the chechen filtration camp

    Photo of girls found by сhechen

    They took my photo, in which I was with a friend, and went down with it to the basement. They asked if these girls were here. The neighbors replied that I had left the city. Although I was still in Mariupol, but in another place. I don’t know if they were looking for me further, but I know that my photo hung in the filtration camp. Probably, because of the symbolism of “Azov”.

    A love story with a captive “Azov” soldier

    I used to have a relationship with a guy from Azov. But I was intimidated about what I would do if something happened to him. That’s why I decided that it’s better for us to be friends. But friendship did not work out. As a result, there was a relationship, but we didn’t call it that.

    On May 18, he left Azovstal. They were given an order. He warned that he would throw away or smash the phone when he got out. Apparently, he did so. He said that there would be no contact for a long time, he even specified how much. I don’t know if he just said that or if he knew something. Over time, I found out that some “Azov”soldiers also wrote the same to their loved ones.

    As strange as it sounds, it was easier for me when he was at Azovstal. There was a connection. And now there is no information for more than a month. He does not appear in the photo or video.

    I want to marry him. I once had a ring from him. He proposed to me before the war, but I refused. However, the ring remained with me. I didn’t wear it for a long time, then I put it on and took it off the day a rocket hit the house.

    “I’ll get out of here to buy you a wedding ring again. But this time I want to hear another answer,” he said when he was still at Azovstal.

    Once he left Azovstal and for some reason ended up in the field. He was covered by a strong explosion. He miraculously survived and said that he was just praying and thinking about me.

    I believe that he will get out. Did everyone sit in “Azovstal” for so long to stop and surrender? Oh no.

    What’s next?

    I plan to return to Ukraine. Living abroad is not so cool. I am grateful that they accepted me, but it is better at home. Too many details, their own rules, a different rhythm of life. For example, it is faster to die than to make an appointment with a doctor. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a concentration camp.

    The language barrier is also an obstacle. I don’t want to learn German. When I sit down and start learning it, I feel as if I am selling my country.

    Evacuation to Germany

    Anna evacuated to Germany

    Parents also say that we should go to Ukraine. We will probably be back at the end of the summer. We were thinking of moving to Kyiv.

    “Mariupol was different from other cities”

    ​​I saw how my city was changing. Everything becomes beautiful, and people become patriotic. It seemed to me that Mariupol was fighting for freedom the most. In 2014, when it was defeated, it felt something that other cities did not.

    Mariupol has not become a hero city since 2022. He has been a Hero to me since 2014. A city where people loved, where history was made.

    I don’t want any other cities to suffer like that. I don’t like how russian-speakers are attacked in Lviv, how a disco is organized in Odesa, while shelling continues. Cities forget about the war because nothing happens there. But this is no reason to relax. There must be a limit to everything.

    I can no longer live, publish photos. My city does not exist. There are people who have left and are resting in full. And there is no mention of the war in social networks. I am disappointed by people who left for the territory of russia. How can you forget this? This is an imprint for the rest of my life. People will not forget the torn bodies, the bombing, the survival game. Perhaps they simply did not love, did not appreciate their city and country.

    Silence is not an option. Saw the post – make a repost. It’s a few seconds. When I made a video on TikTok about Mariupol, I did not expect that it would be seen by thousands. That they will hear me and start supporting me. And people who do not publish important posts due to aesthetics in the profile are also annoying. Because it doesn’t fit. Is beauty more expensive than events in Ukraine?

    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: Violeta Shenkariuk

    Life under fire

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