АвторAuthor: Kateryna Bankova | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk
22 September 2022
After living under shelling in Mariupol for a month and a half, Viktor and his wife decided to evacuate. Living there had already become unbearable: their apartment burned to the ground, food and medicine were in short supply. The couple did not have a car, so they went on foot. Viktor told “Monologues of the war” how they cooked food on a bonfire, buried people in the wasteland, and escaped from shelling.
In the morning, my wife and I woke up to explosions. We did not immediately understand what was going on. Around 8 am, my wife received a call from work and was told to come and get help, because the war had started.
I couldn’t believe it. Our people immediately ran to the shops, started buying sugar, flour, everything they could get. There were long queues. We did not buy anything, for some reason we believed that it was just some kind of misunderstanding. We thought that it would be like in 2014: some districts and suburbs would be shelled and that’s it. Then it became clear that everything is much more serious.
We lived under shelling for 45 days. We counted. Why didn’t we leave for so long? Firstly, my wife had relatives there, whom she could not meet, and secondly, I thought that help would come to us. My friend had a radio. He said that there would be no help, there was no such possibility. Some were offended, they thought that we had been abandoned. I was calm about it: I already understood the situation perfectly. We decided that if we survive, so be it.
We would get up at 6 in the morning. Before the shelling, we had to bring water so that it would be enough for the whole day, to chop firewood. Then we would go downstairs with saucepans, light a fire, and start cooking. We cooked twice a day. The day passed quickly, there was a lot of work.
The heating was turned off on February 28, then the lights, and the next day the gas. We had nothing since March 1st or 2nd. This is the first such long winter in my memory. Previously, it was already warm in the middle of March, but now there was frost. And it was like that until the end of the month. When the shells began to hit closer, all our windows flew out. They had to be covered with blankets, plastic, whatever we found. A few more explosions and there was a hole again – so you had to cover it again.
We hid from the shelling in the hallway of our building. Next to us was the Palace of Culture of Sailors, there was a bomb shelter. But it was overcrowded, about 40 people lived there: pensioners, people with disabilities, those who lost their homes. We would spend the night at our place on the 9th floor. At night we would go to bed, kiss and say goodbye. We wished to be killed immediately, if it had to happen. But in the morning we would wake up alive. This is true happiness.
In such circumstances you begin to understand the true meaning, taste of life. When someone whines: “That’s bad, that’s so bad,” I say: “But you’re stupid, you don’t understand. I woke up in the morning, saw the sun – I am alive. This is happiness.”
An old lady lived on the first floor. Her husband was ill. She once came up to us and said: “Boys, help, he died.” We buried him. We dug a hole in the wasteland, wrapped him in a sheet. We buried 14 people in total. They did not die from shelling, no. It’s just that people were dying because there was no medicine, no medical care, nothing. The ambulances did not work at all from March 1. There was a hospital in the city, but it was impossible to get there due to constant shelling. People would come to us and say: “We need men to help in a burial”. We did everything as it should.
We would go to a church not far from us. It is ours, a Ukrainian one, and humanitarian aid was provided there. We stood in line for two or three hours, and shells were flying around. We could get a jar of peas, or a jar of corn, or some imported mixture that expired two years ago. But we ate it because there was nothing else. We hadn’t seen bread for a month. My wife would go and ask for a glass of flour to bake pancakes. She said: “You’re a man, you need to be fed.” And I was worried about her, that she had to eat.
A neighbor would give us eggs. We boiled them and fed the cat. We would divide that egg several times. Then a spoonful of green peas. When someone left, they gave food to others. It is a law of the universe: the more you give, the more you get back.
When I realized that there would be no help, I began to prepare my wife for evacuation. She was dead set against it: she had a sister and a nephew, she did not want to leave the apartment. Then we saw from the landing how a shell hit the house opposite the church.
When we went out to get the humanitarian aid, we saw a destroyed house and a murdered woman lying on the lawn. It turned out that she had gone out to cook. A shell fell, the fragment fatally hit her in the head. And that was when my wife began to think about the fact that she had to leave. We didn’t have a car. Those who had it left in early or mid-March.
During shelling, we hid either on the first floor or on the fourth. Once, we were hiding on the fourth floor, and we heard the explosion. It seemed to be somewhere nearby, but it turned out that the missile hit an apartment on the fifth floor. We smelled something burning. We went downstairs, and we saw that the apartment on the fifth floor was on fire.
The shelling ended, and we stood and watched our house burn. Our cat was left at home, so we decided to try and save it. We covered ourselves with a damp cloth and got up. The cat hid in the bathroom under the sink – there was a small crack, so it was impossible to get her out, and she would not go because she was scared. Finally, we had an idea to use a mop. We got the cat and left the house.
The apartment burned down. I used to be in network marketing. I had 4 thousand dollars worth of goods. But this is trivial, money is not the main thing for me. Photos all burned. Absolutely all family photos. That day I realized: “If we don’t go, they will kill us tomorrow.” Together with the neighbors, we decided to leave the city. Yes, it was dangerous, but at least it was a chance to survive.
On the night before leaving, we were sitting in the apartment on the second floor. There was nowhere to hide: there was a large window and a balcony, anything could fly in there. Then we saw the lights, like on New Year’s – it was bombardment with phosphorus bombs. In the morning, we gathered at 6:30 am, put our bags on our shoulders and slowly left. We had one bag of things. My wife wrapped the gold in a cloth and put it in a carrier with the cat.
We walked for seven hours. On the way, we saw a family – a man and a woman with a child. They walked ahead of us, turned from the road onto the sidewalk, walked a little, turned around and said: “There are mines on the road.” What if we hadn’t met them?
We reached Portovskyi, then hitchhiked to Mangush. There we bought pies and normal coffee. There was a filtration camp in Mangush. We were lucky, we happened to find a man in the market who drove people out without going through that camp.
In total, we passed 18 russian checkpoints. Young people were taken out at every checkpoint, forced to undress to show there were no AZOV tattoos. Thank God, they didn’t touch me: I showed my passport, I was born in 1953, so they let me through: “Father, go ahead.” They checked the phones, and I had an old button one.
At one of the checkpoints, their soldier took my passport and asked: “Do you have children?” My heart shuddered. I said I had two sons. “And where are they? In the army, fighting against us?” My wife was sitting next to me, pushed me and said: “Shut up, don’t say anything.” I said “No, not in the army.” We were sitting there and praying.
There was no mobile connection in Mariupol. On February 28, I spoke to my sister and son for the last time. Our next conversation was already on April 11, when I was in Berdyansk. There were tears, and the same question: “Are you alive?” I say, “Well, if I called, it means I’m alive.” My son bought us tickets to Odessa. So we left on April 10, and on the morning of the 13th we were already in Odessa.
Life there was under constant stress, but I tried to hold on: I have a wife, a cat, and I supported them. It takes much less for other people to require rehabilitation and a therapist. I seem to have been able to go over it myself. I consider myself a strong person.
When we arrived in Odessa, we went to humanitarian funds for help. We signed up, waited in line, got what we needed. And somehow, spontaneously, an idea came to me – why don’t I go and work? I asked the girl who checked me in if they needed help. She saw my passport, I am a pensioner. “Can you unload the trucks?” “Well, that’s not a problem.” So I was in.
I work from 9 am to 5 pm with one day off per week. Other than several breaks for lunch and coffee, I am constantly at work. Why did I become a volunteer? Because I understand the displaced people. I understand them perfectly. People need to be helped. I have no doubt that Ukraine will win. I hope that after the victory they will help us with housing. I would really like to return to Mariupol. After all, this is our home.
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: Kateryna Bankova | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk