АвторAuthor: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk
29 June 2022
Daria Shycheva, 22, together with her husband and son were living in Mariupol. She is a legal consultant for a large retail chain, and he is a technical audit engineer at Donetsk Electric Networks. The couple were going to live a happy life: they were saving money for apartment renovation and a new car, and planning a second baby. But one day they were forced to flee from their own city. They walked nearly 20 km on foot under constant shelling, risking their own lives. Daria shared a story of her escape. This is her diary.
We woke up at 5:22 from a loud explosion. Our apartment on the Left bank is located in a way that previously such sounds were unheard here. It turned out that a missile hit a private house 4 km away from us. Later that day after my son Anton’s afternoon nap we decided to go to a shelter in The Palace of Culture.
In a shelter there was electricity, water, and wi-fi, and the basement was well renovated. The sound of shelling got louder, but bearable. We met other people and befriended a family: Misha, his wife Lilia, their 5-year-old daughter Vasylisa. Since then we were together all the time.
Grocery stores were still open. My husband Stas was even going home to feed the cat and cook meals for us. We didn’t take our cat with us right away, as he’s quite jittery and there were many dogs in the shelter. We thought this was going to end in a week or so, and we’ll come back home to him.
Phone connection went down. Kyivstar (translator’s note: Ukrainian telecommunications company) towers got destroyed, so were high-voltage power lines. There was no electricity and the water pressure fell. There were more of us now, around 300 people. Shelling got stronger, a couple of “Grad” missiles hit close to our building. Some of them hit the building itself, but didn’t damage it, because the walls were thick. Stores closed down, but we had some food left. Volunteers were bringing us some drinking water and bread.
We lost running water due to the lack of pressure. The crowd got bigger, around 500 at this point, according to our list. More shelling, more buildings destroyed.
For 500 people we only had 500 liters of water. There were 6 toilets, which we would clean with the rainwater. There wasn’t a lot of it. Because of unsanitary conditions many kids got rotavirus, later some adults got infected too.
From time to time our soldiers brought supplies but there wasn’t enough of them. Men looted stores to get us some food and water. A few times they broke into pharmacies. Priority was given to atoxyl, rehydron, smecta, nurofen and drugs for diabetics. Looting happened under the shelling.
On March 5th our military took those who wished to the center of the city: to the Drama Theater and the main building of the Priazovsky State Technical University. There were 250 of us left.
In the afternoon our soldiers brought supplies, meanwhile a drone was flying above. A few hours later we were purposefully fired upon. A roof was hit 4 times. Most likely, they fired from 152 mm caliber artillery. It was loud, the mines did not explode like that. One of the shells was incendiary, so the building caught fire. Our men tried to put the fire down and not let it spread, but to no avail. It burned so brightly, people in the center must have seen it. Police came and evacuated us to the district administration office.
This basement was worse than the last one – weakly built and very cold. There were 40 people in a room as big as a school classroom. As we breathed it got warmer. We slept on the boxes with office paper.
A routine was established: we found a big saucepan, and men chopped firewood. We cooked outside under the shelling. We ate twice a day, the meals were tiny, but we were incredibly grateful to the brave people who cooked something. One meal was usually shared for three people.
Police brought us supplies. A hardware store was looted, and we got a generator. We found a fridge and put some meat in the freezer.
By the way, among the policemen who brought us food, there was a patrol police sergeant Danilo Safonov. He died a hero at Azovstal.
The police could no longer bring us food and water: the Left bank was completely cut off from the civilization. Supplies got scarcer. A number of stores burnt down, most of the food warehouses were blown up. Water supply was going down too. We broke into offices in our building, took the water out of electric cattles and bottles.
When there was no water left at all, the men went to the fire station of the bread factory.
Landscapes were not pretty: they passed through the “200”-s* on the water pump. There were puddles of blood near the place where the water was collected, which resembled jelly in consistency. We still had a bearable situation. People from the yards in 5-7 minutes from us were collecting yellow water from the sewer.
One of these days, our building was purposefully shelled. There was a fire, but only two floors were burned down. The men were able to put it out.
*Translator’s note: “200” and “300” is a military code for the wounded and dead respectively.
After the fire a group of people went to the basements across the street. The buildings were of “Stalinka” design, with a quiet and cozy backyard. In a few days, two air bombs were dropped there in broad daylight. Eight “200”-s, seven “300”-s. Our friend Misha was on the first floor, looking out of the window. He saw the explosion. He told us that cars were flying from the middle of the yard, rolling in the air, like in a movie.
Everyday there was shelling. Our guys cooked food on one of the burned-down floors, to make it look from the outside like something is smoldering.
One day new guys came to us. They were held hostage by the Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group for five days. 16 men came on their military vehicles to their dormitory, divided men and women into different rooms, burned all their documents and telephones, and put up tripwires around the building. They treated them well. They didn’t take away the food and let kids play. Later our soldiers brought them down. Out of 16 there were 4 healthy left, a few died. They took them and left, leaving the “200”-s behind.
There was no food left. We only managed to cook something once a day. The three of us received only ⅔ of a normal meal. We gave this food to our child. He ate 3 times a day. We tried giving him a cookie with some kind of spread, some instant porridge or Mivina noodles.
Everything we found in the offices we gave to children. Four of us shared a chocolate bar called “Jack”. It was the only food we had in days. Later we learned that our cook prepared “salo”. Everyone got a nice slice. It was the best salo in my life.
We decided to flee, now or never. We packed and six of us, four adults and two kids, went in the direction of the city center.
At the turn to the Embankment, a four-lane road was mined across (about fifteen meters long). We saw round mines with antennas. Misha said he would go first, and we, if all goes well, should follow in his footsteps. He passed it without exploding. We took the children in our arms and walked through the area.
After 150 meters, the road was blocked by tractors and trucks to prevent military vehicles from passing. We went through this area, turned to the Embankment. Everything was broken, new fences separating the strips were destroyed by the blast waves. There were broken and exploded cars. Several six-meter shells from the “Smerch” protruded from the green zone, closer to the river. Every five minutes planes were dropping bombs on Azovstal (to the left of us) and Ilyich (to the right across the river). The sounds of air strikes, “Grad”, mortars, howitzers and machine gun fire could be heard in the center. All the city center was on fire and smoky.
We were looking for a way to cross the river. In peacetime, there were five options: a footbridge, a bridge on “Kommunalnyk”, a wide gas pipeline, a Post-Bridge, and an emergency fishing bridge which was only used for fishing. We approached each place and saw that it was blown up. It seemed impossible to cross. When we almost lost hope, we saw that the emergency railway bridge was half intact.
We crossed to the other side and bypassed the center. On the way we asked good people to let us in for a few hours because the children were tired. We were fed, the children were put to bed. We moved on with new strength.
On the way we met a pregnant girl at 38 weeks and her mother. They also left the city. We decided to go together. At that point, we had covered about 13 kilometers, and there were about five or six more to the checkpoint. We went to the Embankment, where there were a lot of cafes and restaurants. We walked by and heard a suspiciously loud roar of the plane. Then the bomb whistled too loudly. I covered my child’s ears and looked away. I thought then, “That’s it.” The bomb fell about thirty meters away from us on the roof of the European Hotel, which I was looking at. Branches, pieces of the roof, debris flew in all directions.
I look around to see if everyone’s okay. It seems so. I go back, and there lies Lilia, not moving. Stas and Misha run to her. I grab the children and run to the shelter of the cafe “Garden” next to me, the girl and her mother, too. I see people, ask to open the door. They let us in, waiting for the men. Lilia is brought to the kitchen and laid on the floor. I look and see that her intestines fell out. The debris pierced her through, it came in from the back and came out through the side. Among the people in the cafe there was a doctor. In the pregnant woman’s first aid kit we found an ampoule with drugs that stop internal bleeding. In Lilia’s kit there was a clean syringe. The doctor injected Lilia with the medication, gave her painkillers and treated the wound as best he could.
For the next two hours, under fire, my Stas was trying to catch a car to take the wounded to the hospital. But no one stopped. Meanwhile, Misha was lying next to his wife, hugging her. I was sitting nearby, taking care of the children.
“Lilia begged us to take a knife and finish it off, and go save ourselves. She asked us to tell Vasylisa she loved her very much”.
Finally one man, a real hero, stopped. He said he’d come back for Lilia in 20 minutes. He came back in an hour, but it didn’t matter. I bow to him for not abandoning us. Misha went with her. People took all of us together, with little Vasylisa, to the hotel “Chaika” for the night.
As it turned out later, Misha and Lilia were first taken to the village of Mangush. Then she was evacuated to Donetsk. Misha stayed overnight in the village. There he met a volunteer who had lost his company. He had come to Mariupol with humanitarian aid, but did not know the city. Misha offered to help him, and in return he would take us out. The volunteer agreed.
At seven o’clock in the morning Misha flies into our basement and tells us to pack. A volunteer will pick us up in a few hours. My Stas decided to go with them to help distribute the humanitarian aid. They came back for us around 9 am. The guys from the cafe were persuaded to go with us. We took them, our children, a pregnant girl with her mother and went to Mangush.
We spent the night there, waited for other volunteers and went to Zaporizhia. On March 25, we passed 19 Russian checkpoints. It was hard, but it’s nothing compared to our previous experience.
The first three days in civilization, not in the basement, without those sounds were incomprehensible. I was dizzy, weak, and just wanted to eat and sleep. We didn’t feel anything emotionally, there was complete apathy. Later, we began to come around and understand what hell we had experienced. I cried every day when I saw photos and videos of Mariupol and remembered what I saw with my own eyes.
I lost 10 kilograms. I’d weighed about 50 kg, and left Mariupol with a weight of about 40. During the first month I managed to “eat back” what I lost. Plus hormonal drugs helped me to gain weight.
Now I’m working as a content manager and copywriter in one of the Kharkiv companies. They moved from Kharkiv to Rivne, where my family and I decided to stay. The company has opened several vacancies exclusively for migrants from the East of Ukraine. My husband works as an engineer at a small production plant in Rivne. We are able to get used to the city thanks to the relatives and good people who helped us financially in the beginning. Next we plan to earn money for a new apartment, a car and a happy childhood for my son.
I remember my city as very cozy, green, and family-like. In the summer heat, you walk in the park and, to freshen up a bit, go to a pedestrian fountain. I will never forget the smell of our sea. The way my family and I could just go down to the beach any time, sit on the sand, eat some rolls overlooking the sea. I will always remember the green lawns near the Drama Theater, on which I always wanted to roll around. The city lived, prospered, people wanted to walk around it, live their life in it. And even “Azovstal” and “Ilyich”, which polluted the city a lot, did not lessen the desire to build a life there.
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: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk