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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Kateryna Furman: “Polite people” are those who wish you a safe trip and then cover you with hail in the back”

    Life under fire

    АвторAuthor: Lidia Bilyk | Translation:

    27 April 2022

    Kateryna Furman is 26 years old. Before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the girl had a favourite job and friends and was delighted with life. Katia is an IRC specialist. The girl worked as a rehabilitation teacher in an international rehabilitation center for children and adolescents. She helped children with autism, malformations, and other disabilities.

    The girl had to get acquainted with the Russian world back in 2014. Then she was supposed to go to university, but fighting broke out in the city, so she was forced to postpone admission to the university for the following year.

    And although Kateryna witnessed many tragic events that the whole world is now talking about, she told her own story in an unexpectedly positive way.

    “If you don’t laugh at what’s happening, you just won’t get over it. In Mariupol, many people walked and smiled. It was something hysterical.”

    *Some expressions in this text may not be acceptable to any readers. Still, we consider it necessary to preserve direct quotes from people who had to go through hell to convey emotions of the narrator and witness of events to a reader as much as possible.

    The beginning of the war

    “I was born in Mariupol. I’ve lived and worked there for 26 years and did not know what grief is. Everything was fine until the Russian world came”Katia begins her story.

    On the first day of a full-scale war, we panicked and didn’t know whether to leave the city or not. On the same day, my friend and I bought a lot of food, water, backpacks, flashlights and batteries. We looked on the internet about what should be in the emergency grab bags and prepared them.  While we were waiting in line for groceries, something hit very hard nearby, my friend got scared and changed her mind about returning to Volnovakha, so she stayed with me.

    We are a little crazy people, so we were only twice in the basement (Katya jokes – Ed.). It was tough both mentally because of the panic people and physically because it was so cold that it hurt to breathe. There were many different people in the basement simultaneously, including pro-Russian ones. We had a very interesting man sitting with us, who had “Russia” written on his cup. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true: he was sitting in the basement with this cup and hiding from the Russian World. We asked him to go out because they would meet him there. Why do you stay with us?  There was also a woman who told others that she had seen with her own eyes “how Ukrainians shoot at us.”

    Dad’s friend heard this, and an argument broke out between them. The man told her that the Azov did not have planes and then threatened to hand her over to the Security Service of Ukraine. Unfortunately, there are pro-Russian people in Mariupol who do not understand what is happening at all. They live in the Russian information space.

    “Nothing can be done about such people; even if the Russian occupier comes and shoots their family, they will say that a disguised Ukrainian did it”.

    And yet, the percentage of pro-Russian people in Mariupol is not high.

    I don’t remember exactly when the water was turned off. It seems that this was the fourth or fifth day of the war. Since I live on the first floor, I could hear and see a lot. Right at my window, people broke a sewer pipe where rainwater flowed into the city sewer system. They quarrelled so that everyone would have enough of it.

    When the rains stopped, people started collecting water from puddles. I think that now Mariupol residents suffer most not because of a lack of food but water. In our city, there was never even normal water in the tap. Everyone bought bottled water, and during the war, there was no water.

    Once during the first week, I saw our young soldiers walking in a line and knocking on the windows, but for some reason, they bypassed mine. Then a neighbour came and said that our military really asked everyone to go down to the basements because there was fighting. Immediately after the guys told us to go to a shelter, our area started being bombed. We didn’t go to the basement because we live in a panel built house. We were afraid that no one would get us out of the rubble, so we sat in the corridor using the two-wall rule.

    Looting and chaos

    One day, when looking out the window, I saw many people walking with carts “Metro” (the name of one of the supermarkets). I lived a 15-minute walk from two major stores: Metro and Port City. Since I lived on the first floor, I could hear different people talking. On the same day, I heard a woman of retirement age say to someone: “There is a Ukrainian tank shot at the Metro. There is a huge hole, and everyone will rob the store.” My brother and I decided to look at the hole and at that “Ukrainian” tank.

    And there we go and see a crowd of people with a bunch of bags, carrying some buckets, powders, mops, and I think: Why do you need those mops? What will you wash if there is no water?  People also took out a lot of alcohol from the store. Of course, there was no hole as well as the tank itself. No traces of the crime were found (laughs – Ed.).

    Some people took what was really necessary. I remember a woman carrying a large bag of cat food in one hand and a large bag of dog food in the other. After her, the man was carrying diapers. That is, it is clear that people took things for children and animals.

    Shop in Mariupol

    Photo taken at one of the local shops

    The situation in the city was very different, and I can’t blame people for looting.

    Food was stopped being imported, and those who did not buy food on the first day of the war began to panic. Perhaps if the employees of large supermarkets themselves distributed food to people, all this would not have happened. The stores just closed, and that’s it. They could act like one of the gas station employees. He opened the well and let the men take the gasoline so that the orcs wouldn’t get it. Even our military drove up there and asked people to pour them at least a bucket of gasoline.  When they saw the military, everyone seemed to forget that they also needed fuel and started pouring gasoline into cans for the soldiers. Everyone understood that they were Ukrainians and needed help. 

    Generally, in the first week of the war in Mariupol, there was already a panic, but everything was not that bad. People still did not know what was ahead. When I was standing in line for bread, which we bought for 45 hryvnias per loaf, one woman was indignant and said that they had no conscience and bread was too expensive.

    People had not yet realised that they were under occupation and that that was the last bread. I thought: “Oh, God, just buy at least some bread. You will have no other, do not be indignant.”

    The next day, after the Metro was robbed, we saw black smoke. Something was burning. A neighbour came to us who always “brought” some terrible news that put us in a state of panic. She said they were robbing the Port City supermarket, and it was on fire at that time. People indeed went to rob the store that was on fire. We didn’t go there since we had enough food.

    It is also vital that the mayor of Mariupol fled on the first day of the war. For several days in a row, he pretended to be still in the city. If he hadn’t left Mariupol residents to their fate, the situation would have been different. People were just left alone with all the problems.

    Hot phase of the war

    While there was still gasoline in the city, mass graves were dug with an excavator, later with shovels. Many people died not only from shelling but simply from fear, and their nerves could not stand it. My friend’s grandmother died of a heart attack while they were running for shelter during the shelling. He buried her in our yard. We spent those terrible days in the Prymorskyi district, in the apartment of my father’s friend. There were 15 of us. Uncle Serhii’s sister also lived with us and his son-in-law, who died suddenly, right during dinner. Then uncle, despite the curfew, took him to the hospital, but there they only recorded his death. One day, when we were already living in the Prymorskyi district, I witnessed the death of a man caused by shrapnel. Two women were walking with bottles of water when a shelling suddenly started. One of them died, and the other survived. think it was a shock in a kind of joyful hysteria, she got to her feet and said: “Can you imagine? I’m alive! Alive! Only bottles are broken.”


    As you know, communication lines were jammed in Mariupol. People, risking their lives, went to the 9th floor, lifted the phone up and thus received text messages. Thanks to this, my father’s friend received a message from someone he knew who managed to leave the city through one of the destroyed checkpoints. In general, only those with cars left Mariupol because there were no buses or official green corridors. My dad, who has been abroad for a long time, left his car in Mariupol. That’s what saved us. Because if there hadn’t been his car, all we had to do would have been Plan B – evacuate on foot by the sea.

    It sounds crazy, but many people got out of Mariupol by water. We thought that we would go directly under the water and so on to the spit and from there on foot to the village of Melekine. However, everything turned out differently. We managed to use my father’s car.

    I also want to mention the drama theatre. It is such a great tragedy. It became an island of hope for Mariupol residents because every time you came there and thought: “God, if only they gave us a corridor. If only we could leave today.” And we were told that there were no green corridors, that they were being shelled. A considerable number of people gathered near the theatre every day, everyone was hoping and waiting for the green corridors, but they were never opened.

    Evacuation to the Dnipro

    Katia’s brother and friend in the Dnipro city. People brought them food when heard that they got out of Mariupol

    We left Mariupol on the 20th day of the war. People who managed to get a signal and exchange messages cooperated and tried to go together in columns. I can’t remember what kind of area it was, but we saw broken equipment and mines when we arrived at the checkpoint. There was also a burnt-out civilian car. It was clear that some person was blown up when trying to evacuate. Uncle Serhii refused to go any further. Suddenly, a car passed nearby, and the driver helped us avoid the mines. He knew the way. If we hadn’t met that man, we would never have left Mariupol. Driving past the mines was scary. They were one and a half meters away from the wheels, and you had to avoid everything carefully.

    “Polite people”

    On the way to Zaporizhzhia, Russian checkpoints were located almost every 300 meters. At one of them, we were asked: “Why Ukies are letting you out now?”. But we were not led astray. We understood that they were deliberately provoking us. At all checkpoints, Russian soldiers carefully examined things; some of them checked our bags. I hid my new phone and uncle Serhii’s phone in a sports top.  At checkpoints, we gave the Russians our old phones at checkpoints because they took away all good devices. Just at the end of the check, you will ask: “Can I have my phone back?” They say that it is impossible and that’s all. No one argued with them because there were people with guns in front of you. I already understand we were just lucky that we were not undressed.

    “I saw how some men were undressed, and if patriotic tattoos were found on their bodies (Ukrainian symbols, nationalist tattoos, etc.) they were taken somewhere”.

    I do not know what happened to them next. I think they were taken somewhere in basements for questioning. Perhaps after that, they were killed. There were also numerous cars shot at the checkpoints. Obviously, they were shooting at point-blank range. Even then, I understood everything about those orcs. I understood what the expression “polite people” means. This is when they first smile, wish you a safe trip, and then cover you with hail in the back. Also, the Russian soldiers standing at the checkpoints had fun. They fired light-weapons fire in different directions. We quickly put on the brakes and drove on because they could shoot to the side and then start shooting the column.

    There was a funny case when the occupier asked us if we didn’t want to go to the restroom at one of the checkpoints because they had a good one and if we needed some help. We said we didn’t want any help, but I thought: “If you hadn’t come here, I would have gone to poop in my normal restroom, and everything would have been fine.” (laughs, – Ed.).

    The Russians also distributed humanitarian aid to people, which they stole in Berdiansk. That is, there were our Ukrainian products. Even people who were isolated entirely in Mariupol knew about this.

    Rehabilitation specialist from Mariopol

    Kateryna’s job

    I am anxious about the children I used to take care of. They stayed in Mariupol, and I feel very sorry for them. There were also children with developmental disabilities, autism, and cerebral palsy who couldn’t be explained what was happening.

    Now I am in Lviv, and I am engaged in volunteering. We are collecting humanitarian aid for Kharkiv and Mariupol. Unfortunately, it is simply impossible to deliver any assistance to Mariupol now. I also started posting videos on Tik-Tok (social network-ed.) to tell about the actual situation in Ukraine.

    I believe that we will de-occupy our Mariupol. I believe Ukraine will win!

    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: Lidia Bilyk | Translation:

    Life under fire

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