АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation:
7 June 2022
Alyona Chausova, 26, remembers well how in 2014 Mariupol opposed the “Russian measure”. And already in 2022 she had to go through new “liberation”. Just before her eyes, the city turned into ruins, and its inhabitants went mad with hunger, fear and despair. Alena survived the ordeal of the war and now sees her mission as helping others.
I am a lawyer by education. She studied at the Faculty of Economics and Law. To pay for study, from the age of 17 I worked as a waitress, bartender. And then I became an administrator and remained in this field.
The day before, I had an interview and was asked to work in a new restaurant. At that time it was considered very prestigious in our city. And on February 24, I had to go on an internship.
That morning my boyfriend woke me up about the 5th year and said that the war had started. I did not believe. I had big plans for the day. It was not easy to accept that everything was being canceled.
“Honestly, we both doubted that something serious and large-scale would happen. We didn’t even plan to leave town when it all started. It seemed to us that in 1-3 days everything will end…”
Similar events have already taken place in 2014. Just then it was not called a war. But we saw tanks, we saw tires burning, the city defending itself. And it seemed to us that this time it would be difficult to do something like that.
Mariupol started firing immediately. While it was light, sirens sounded. We heard them for two days. And even hid in the basement. We were told that everything was under control. Everything is good. Do not ignore alarms. We did so. But when the light went out, I realized it was forever.
My mother taught me so much that I always bribed something. So at the end of February I had some food supplies. This brought us back, because it so happened that at one point there were no surviving shops in the city. I knew it would happen sooner or later, but not so fast! Very soon I realized that I do not have the opportunity to buy products even for money.
My boyfriend and I ate together, and I was still trying to feed grandmother-neighbor, who lived across the street. We brought her hot water, because she did not go down.
“To make it easier for us to light a fire, grandmother-neighbor gave me her board for slicing vegetables. Because she saw that there were no branches in the yard. We broke the branches, wet from the snow, brought them into the house to dry, and in two days they could use them to heat the water on the fire. “
I remember this moment: we just heated the water when it came to our yard… It was very loud. I stand, look at my feet, touch my hands and do not understand: am I still here or already? I hear my boyfriend shouting “Run!” And I don’t understand: is he shouting at me?
There were many such moments, but it was especially memorable because before that it seemed that you were safe in the house.
It was very scary to sit in the dark. It was at night that the worst destruction took place. For example, when the center was bombed with those terrible bombs, which in themselves leave terrible deep beliefs.
You are lying on the bed. At what point the room becomes very light. Everything is red, burning somewhere. At first, when everything looked like that, I thought, “At least it’s all over.” And then there were other thoughts: “At least not with us.”
I prayed every hour. I asked God to save our house, our life and our apartment. He saved our lives, the apartment did not work out.
There was no water at all. This is such a disaster, especially for women. I just can’t pass it on to you! I boil water, boil 2 eggs in it, then wash socks in this driver, and then wash it in the toilet. Just wash your head with no way and nothing.
To collect water in the city center, we stood on the first day for 6 hours under fire. We were not given anything. The next day we left, stood for 8 hours. Cold. Constant shelling. We just flew to the City Council. We then managed to collect 4 eggplants, but the water turned out to be technical. It was impossible to drink it. We used to boil it, and it is bitter-salty. I was sick of it, but they did it by the sip, because it was necessary.
And then we found a well in the park. The spring was beating from the ground. And people started going there. The water was delicious. But in a few days she was pelted with shells. 8 people left in the morning, two returned with handles from eggplants in their hands. And we realized that we no longer have this water…
I still had enough food supplies. I laid everything out on the floor to see how long we would last. But I was afraid that when he arrived at the house, it would not help us.
And you can’t put stocks in the basement, because they will take it away from you. People already lived there. We brought chairs there with us three times and stole them from us three times. Then we decided to stay at home. At least we have our own bed, toilet, and if we were to die, so be it.
There was still one labor market in the city. We managed to buy some products there. And when we went there by car, we saw that the market was on fire. We weren’t killed by those shells there either, because they were whistling overhead.
These trucks are on fire … People with wild eyes trying to stuff crushed persimmons in their pockets. Panic, shock. They didn’t realize it was inedible, they just grabbed what they saw… It’s a disaster. I said that tangerines are not worth our lives, and we must flee.
One store was still open, but it was difficult to reach. Because there were fights in that area. We went there because it was our last chance to get food.
We arrive, and there people stand in line for three days. That’s really three days! Mattresses lie on the street, on benches. People stand in line for three days in the store, where the products are potatoes and some canned food!
“It simply came to our notice then. They stood for 2 years. And at this time on the roadside are bodies covered with towels, sheets. And everyone pretends that nothing strange is happening. I even asked my boyfriend if he saw the same thing I did. And I understand that these are ordinary people. This is someone’s dad, someone’s uncle… Very difficult “.
And then a young soldier came running and started shouting: “At home!”. We ran to the car, and those people stayed! They just clung to the wall of the store so as not to lose their turn. It was a disaster for me. We are leaving because the shelling started and they are standing! And the next day we learned that this store no longer exists. And the queue that was there, too. And it was a huge queue… Of course, someone survived. But then a lot of shells flew there.
That’s all… We did everything we could. And we have little gasoline left. Just one try to leave.
A couple of days after the lights went out, there were no more shops or pharmacies in the city. People did everything on their own and endured everything they saw. It was a real looting. In addition, not only grocery stores were broken into, but all in a row.
“I think people have lost their temper. They were driven by fear. Because we were actually dumped, to be honest. No evacuation. The mayor said, “Sit down.” And he left for Zaporozhye. And they belonged to me”.
And why don’t you get hurt, because it won’t come to you soon. If you are robbed or killed in front of your eyes, the police are not called. The house will be on fire, the rescuers will not have water – they have neither fuel nor fuel… That’s why you had to take care of yourself.
I was standing in line on the water and a rumor spread that the Prostor store had opened. In my opinion, “opened” means that the seller came out and sells the goods. Yes, without checks, because there is no light, but the goods are for money.
I asked my boyfriend 300 hryvnias to buy basic necessities. But when I went to the store, I saw that something was wrong. I turned to the man next to me, and he said, “Go get what you need. The police arrived, allowed. Come quickly. Because that’s all”.
And I left. I realized that I could not buy what I needed with money. But I can’t tell you this feeling… You step over yourself, everything moral in you suffocates, and you cry and walk on the floor, strewn with glass, you choose a chewing gum, some candy, adhesive tape, alcohol, battery . .. You crawl on your knees. It was awful… but we were in such a situation that we had to survive.
When the ATB was “opened” in our house in this way, I could not go there. Because this is a place where you greet the security guard every day, wish the seller a good day. And I couldn’t even look at it. I was in pain.
And when people opened the warehouse with alcohol at night, we, non-drinkers, went there. They took everything to then exchange for food, so that there was something to flush down the toilet. They took vodka so that in case there was something to sterilize the wound…
The biggest shock for me was when I flew to kindergarten. We needed chairs. And my boyfriend and I went there.
“I stood in the doorway and saw these small slippers and could not take another step… I had a sharp feeling that I was stealing from children. Everything inside me broke off. I stand, cry, look at these slippers, pencils, drawings scattered on the floor… And I thought, if something comes here now, I deserve it”.
In those days, many people lost their human form. I believed it would last and you need to remain that person for any life.
People were selling a place by the fire, selling the opportunity to charge the phone in the car. Or, for example, to transport a cat from one end of the city to another – 10 thousand UAH. One liter of gasoline – $ 200. They went crazy. I don’t know why they needed money there.
We left on March 15. For the last two weeks the day before, I had hardly slept. More precisely, I slept only a couple of hours during the day, when it was not as scary and not as dangerous as at night.
That morning I went to the window and saw a blanket hanging on a tree. Just in front of us. The first thought that it was the wind from where it brought her. And then I turn my head and see that there is no apartment nearby. it was blown up. Instead – a hole.
And I understand that you will not hide from such destruction anywhere: neither under the earth, nor above the earth. What is happening here is incompatible with life.
It so happened that in the first days (full-scale invasion – author’s note) I met our neighbors on the stairwell. These are young people: a girl of 20, a boy of 21. We started talking to share some news, because we had no connection. And on March 15, our neighbor Rita brought us the remains of their food and they told us again, for the third time, trying to leave Mariupol. And offered us.
I didn’t believe, to be honest, that we would succeed, so I even had an apple and two boiled eggs on the table, the last ones I could get. She bought only a backpack with documents. I was sure that we would be deployed now and we would have a bad time burning the last gasoline we had at one end.
But I had to try, otherwise I would not have forgiven myself. Although the chances of surviving under those conditions were even minimal than this attempt to leave and be shot.
And we, like kamikazes, went. We passed 16 Russian checkpoints. We were examined from head to toe. It was simply unrealistic for us girls to go to the toilet, because the Russian military did not take a step back and look at you. They laughed.
SIM cards were confiscated from people at gunpoint. I was very worried that the last money I had left would be taken away. And I hid them in my underwear.
The boys were very meticulously examined and morally humiliated. They threatened to choose to dig diggers. Our men agreed, but asked to allow the family to be taken away. And so 16 times.
“It was very difficult because I did not understand what was waiting for us. The Russian military was like beasts. Everyone is armed, shout at you. It was emotionally draining. Especially when you consider the condition in which we drove”.
The Russians looked at their phones every time, read all the SMS messages. We issued a Telegram in advance, destroyed all the photos, even if it’s your house.
When we left, our high-rise already had three direct hits. After that, I know, it burned three times. And then she was fired upon from the equipment. I was later sent a photo and it was very, very painful to see.
At each post they asked: “Why are you leaving Mariupol? And what is happening there? ” To me, it sounded like bullying. I replied, “Because my city is gone.” They asked why we are going to Zaporozhye, why not to Donetsk? And why not in Berdyansk? “Because we are Ukrainians, we live in Ukraine, and we go where our relatives live.”
We were intimidated. They said that we would not get there, that we were being shot in front of Zaporizhia. And we were out of touch and didn’t know what was really going on.
But where in what the Russians did not lie: before Zaporozhye the bridge was really damaged. A convoy of 150 cars stopped near the bridge. The man who had the most fuel in the gas tank went on a reconnaissance and the locals told him how and where to go. But they warned: it was replaced there.
But the road was so narrow that their cars followed one another. And you had to keep your distance: if something happens to you, so that you do not harm people in front and behind. Everyone’s nerves gave out… and it was getting dark.
In short, I don’t know how we did it, but we did it… I think we remembered all the gods we knew. I think we prayed for our parents.
So you understand, the next day on that road after us people exploded… It was a disaster. Our driver was very young and inexperienced, but he took responsibility for our lives! However, we had no other options – there was no gasoline at one end and back. By the way, our driver, a 21-year-old boy, turned gray.
It simply came to our notice then. And I left notes in the mailbox, in a notebook and in my mother’s pocket. Because it was so scary. Because you can’t even say goodbye to your relatives in a humane way, and I wrote notes with the hope that if they know me, they will tell her what happened to me.
We were in Mariupol when my mother received an SMS that we were in touch. She immediately called. I understood that nothing superfluous could be said, and she asked us to sit in the basement, in safety. We assured that we would sit down. And when we entered Zaporizhia, we had been talking on the phone for 2 years. They talked and cried.
It is a memory that will be remembered forever. I realized how important it is, it’s important
Among my friends there were many who fought. They were very supportive of me when it all started. They are no longer alive. I had a lot at Azovstal, the husbands of my friends, the people I worked with, the people I made coffee with every day… It was a small town, I knew many. Survivors can be counted on the fingers of both hands. And it’s scary.
My uncle was recently torn apart by a shell. Buried in the yard.
My mother lives with her grandmother in a village near Novoazovsky. They now have a filtration camp there. Since 2014, they are under the DNR. Because of this I have not seen her for 5 years. And I don’t know when that will be possible.
“I just got a call from my ex-boss just in the middle of the night. She was a very well-groomed woman, beautiful, with make-up and a hairstyle. And I thought I wanted to be like her at her age . She called and said, “I wanted to text you, but I don’t have hands”.
And she told me her story. I did not sleep for three days after that. She lived there, constantly changed the government, cultivated headquarters, prisoners were required to dig their own graves, people were forced to pick up corpses in the streets for food. It hurt a lot to hear that.
I left in a strange state. I did not understand what was happening. Because life literally believes outside Mariupol, people walk, do not fall to the ground from loud sounds, do not look back. We moved aircraft from tree to tree, because it destroyed us mercilessly. I don’t know what kind of weapon it was, but it was horrifying.
Here I realized that I was robbed of more than just things, an apartment. My life was taken away from me. And the understanding came that we need to do something, we need to help the survivors. And it gave me a lot of strength at some point.
I helped an acquaintance find an apartment in Zaporozhye. She found a pram and a playpen for a girl who escaped with a child in her arms. She bought a helmet for one of the guys for the money they collected for repairs in the apartment. It seems to me that such drops in the sea are very necessary now. They make me believe that I survived for a reason. “
Now we are in the Dnieper. It seemed to us that here we could find some work. We do not want to leave Ukraine, I can be useful here.
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: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: