АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Kateryna Doroshenko
3 August 2022
She spent more than a month in Mariupol hell. She lost everything she had. But the house can be rebuilt, an apartment and a car can be bought. And the son, who was killed by the russian Nazis, cannot be returned. Ksenia Kayan, a refugee from Mariupol, decided to tell about her tragedy so that the world would know the truth.
On February 24, my son woke me up at 5 a.m. and told me what had happened and that I should pack my bags and leave. My husband called from abroad and told me to take my son and urgently go to Poland to see him. I understood what was necessary, but I did not understand where, because it happened all over the territory of Ukraine.
In the end, I told my husband that I have a mother, so we are not going anywhere. They packed things and moved to my mother’s private house in the middle of the city. We decided it would be safer there. Later, my sister and her family joined us. So we all lived together in this house – me, my son, my mother, sister, her 14-year-old daughter and husband.
On the second of March, our electricity, communication, and Internet were cut off, and in the next few days we ran out of gas. And there is no gas – you cannot heat the house, you cannot cook food, the water has disappeared.
All this time we lived in a certain information blockade. We heard shots, explosions, they sounded from everywhere and we could not understand what was happening. It became known that Mariupol is already half surrounded. The shots were getting closer, closer and closer every day.
We were waiting for the official evacuation of the residents of Mariupol, we were waiting for a “green” corridor, some official command that we could go. We did not understand in which direction we could move and how safe it was, because we were shooting from all sides.
People could leave only on their own in their own cars. That is, it was the case when the rescue of the drowning was the work of the drowning themselves. And then we realized that there would be no evacuation, that we just had to get in the car and go somewhere, but sometimes the shelling was such that it was impossible to leave the house.
Mariupol was bombarded with everything that was available – tanks, rockets, grads, “Solntsepyoks”, “Buratinos”. Everything except nuclear weapons.
The city was surrounded and flying from all sides. At first we hid in a pit in the garage when the air raid sirens went off. But they sounded for exactly two days, and then fell silent. We were just bombed and that was it. Only planes and only explosions around.
Our house was located about a kilometer from the Mariupol maternity hospital. When an aerial bomb was dropped on it, I was thrown by the shock wave onto a car parked in the yard.
We were not able to leave. We were abandoned. They abandoned all the residents of Mariupol. We were in a complete information blockade and humanitarian crisis. At that time, not a single store or pharmacy was operating in the city. Everything was broken, everything was ransacked, we were not even brought drinking water…
We constantly tried to catch a radio wave in order to have at least some information, but we only caught the radio waves of the “DPR” (Donetsk People’s Republic), they jammed Ukrainian channels. All I managed to find out is that there are negotiations on a “green” corridor for the residents of Mariupol at the level of the President. And when they reported on the negotiations, when the fire should have stopped, they started bombing us even more. That is, there was actually no possibility to leave. And on March 11, the house was covered with Grads.
Out of the whole family, I got the least, because I was then in the room, and they were all in the kitchen. I got shrapnel and burn injuries and a concussion. Now I have big problems with my health and with my psyche after everything I had to go through.
My son died instantly. I had a flashlight in my pocket, I checked the reaction of the pupils and they did not react… I realized that I could not help him, and decided to examine the others to understand which of my family could be saved. I was the only one who could move on my own.
Mother was lying unconscious, breathing, but she had a hole in her neck and heavy bleeding from her leg. I dragged her by the waist of the blouse. She began to shake her shoulder, hit her face to make her regain consciousness.
My son was lying dead, my sister’s husband was lying snoring and his rib cage has been pierced in several places. My niece was screaming in pain and asking for water. She was covered in blood, I couldn’t understand what kind of injuries she had. A sister begs for help next to her.
Neighbors came running, they helped carry the sister into the house, and a Ukrainian military man appeared from somewhere. Under constant fire, he pulled out my wounded relatives and asked a neighbor to take us to the hospital in the surviving car. So the four of us ended up in the pediatric traumatology department of the Third City Hospital of Mariupol.
What I saw in the hospital was terrible…
The niece was in intensive care, we did not know if she would survive at all. In front of my eyes, they resuscitated my mother, helped my sister. My turn came only after four hours.
There were many wounded, and there were not enough medical personnel. Half of them ran away and sat at home, while the rest provided help to people under fire.
Conditions in the hospital were very difficult. There was also no water, only drinking water. I couldn’t even wash my hands from the blood.
There was no light. My sister had a very severe fracture. Broken bones and a lot of injuries. And it was not possible to do an X-ray.
I could walk. Although it was difficult because of the concussion, I had to take care not only of my relatives, but also of all the patients. I even helped to give birth to a 20-year-old girl. Both of her legs were broken, and she was 39 weeks pregnant. Labor had begun, but there was no doctor. They were simply not physically enough for everyone. The wounded were constantly being brought. It was hell in the corridors. Hands, feet, heads lay separately… People did not even have the opportunity to bury their relatives. There was such shelling that it was impossible to go outside.
At that time there was no food in the hospital. And in order to feed the children who were in the intensive care unit, we ran under fire to the destroyed maternity hospital and tried to find the infant formula used to feed the babies.
Only the living were taken to the hospital – me, my mother, my sister and niece. The bodies of my son and my sister’s husband remained in the house.
I know that there were several more flights there. I know the house burned down. Maybe they burned there, maybe they were buried. Perhaps their bodies were burned by the orcs in their mobile crematoria, which they drove into Mariupol to cover up their war crimes. That is, I didn’t even have the opportunity to bury my son, I didn’t even have the opportunity to say goodbye to him properly.
According to official information provided by the authorities, 22,000 people died in Mariupol. But you can multiply this number by 10. People died under rubble in basements. They died from injuries without medical help… The social networks of the surviving residents of Mariupol resemble a tape of grief. We understand that all these people who have gone missing are most likely already dead.
We know what was there. There was hell on Earth…
My mother and I spent 4 days in the hospital. And then we were asked to go to the bomb shelter, because there was not enough space – there were so many wounded. A sister and a niece remained. The volunteer who was driving us asked: ЄWhere are you going to be taken? To the drama theater or to the Philharmonic?”. I chose the Philharmonic. And in two days, the drama theater was bombed.
In fact, since March 14, we had no idea if my sister and niece were alive, and they did not know if we were alive, because there was no communication at all. From March 15 to 26, very intense shelling continued. In fact, we found ourselves on the front line: on one side the “DPR” and on the other – the Ukrainian military.
We ate once a day. Mostly dumplings, sometimes there was some kind of soup, once they cooked borscht and it was very tasty.
At first, we cooked outside near the philharmonic hall, but then the shelling was such that they had to hide inside the building. We did not see the sky for 16 days. We were in the basement all this time.
It was impossible to even climb to the first floor, where the toilet was located. Buckets were used for these purposes. It didn’t matter whether you were a man or a woman there. There you lost your human form, there you were frozen like a pig, you smelled because you couldn’t wash yourself, you slept wherever you could, you were always hungry, you always wanted to drink, and water reserves were limited. And all this under constant fire. Plaster and pieces of concrete were falling on us.
Somewhere on the tenth day, people began to lose their common sense. I saw with my own eyes what a mass panic was.
At the time we arrived at the bomb shelter, there were 260 people and probably 60 children. The youngest is two months old, the oldest is eight years old.
Of course, there was no light in the basement, and we made lamps – that is, you pour oil on a plate, twist a cloth, set it on fire and it burns, smokes, and smells very bad, but it is at least some kind of light. Because we had very few candles and they ran out somewhere on the third day.
I had a flashlight from my father, who died on February 14, a few days before this horror began. And three weeks later, on March 11, my son was killed before my eyes. My sister’s husband was killed. People were dying in the hospital before my eyes. I saw children dying. And there were many, very many of them…
The realization that you could die at any second created an animal fear that chilled the blood in the veins. And you understand that under those attacks you can simply stay in this basement forever. And no one will know where you are.
I said: “Lord, not like that! I don’t want to die in this pit with dirty hair! Just let me see the sun and the sky. I want to be clean. I want not to be hungry.”
When I realized that we were running out of water and food, and our roof was coming off, we decided to get out at any cost. We have a group of 15 people. And we set off on foot under hailstorms. I carried my mother on me.
All of us who survived are mutilated. All of us need to heal our nerves, bodies, and souls until the end of our days. Because what we saw, what we went through, it is impossible in the 21st century. This is impossible in a European country.
The military are our angels, they help people, but their resources are so limited… I understand that there is hell. And the fact that they hold Mariupol should be included in all textbooks of world history, because it is heroism.
Our group went towards the sea. From a man who was looking for his mother and made his way to us, we learned that the seaside area is quite calm compared to the center. There they learned from people that there is an opportunity to leave the city to the small resort village of Melekine.
Our route passed by the house where my apartment was. It was more or less untouched at that time. The garage also survived. And my car started, because my son charged the battery, and with that he saved us. I took my mother and other women with children to Melekine by car. We left the Ukrainian city and ended up in the “DNR”.
Of course, we couldn’t know that. Soldiers of the “DPR” passed 4 checkpoints. I brought my mother to this village and then returned twice under fire to the city of Mariupol to pick up the rest of the women. I could not do otherwise, because I knew that they would not survive. I believe that my son helped me get out, because it is a miracle.
It was very scary to drive through those roadblocks. I understood that if they somehow broke through the base, they would either shoot me on the spot or hold me hostage. Because in peacetime I worked in an organization that was engaged in humanitarian demining. In russia, this organization was officially recognized as a terrorist organization after the conflict in Georgia. This international humanitarian mission is called “Halatrast” and it did very important work for the people living on the demarcation line. They demined the fields, otherwise they could not be cultivated and something could not be grown.
The situation in Melekine was like this: if you had some money in your wallet, you were very lucky. If the money is on the card, then your problems are where to live, what to eat. At that time, a package of buckwheat cost UAH 180 in that village.
We went to the beach every day and watched our city burn. It was black. We saw it being shelled from the sea from ships. How planes constantly fly there, how bombs were dropped there. They heard how my city was shelled with hail, and they could not do anything. Because they had no connection, the Internet. We were actually in the ghetto there.
In two days Mariupol was closed for entry and we could not go to bury our loved ones. And two days after I left for Zaporizhzhya, all the resort villages where Mariupol people lived were closed. They are actually now being held hostage.
It was decided that at first I would stay in the territory of Melekine in order to return to the city when it was opened, bury my son and find my sister and niece.
We looked for them in hospitals, showed photos to people. And how else are you going to look for a person if you don’t have a connection and the Internet? But when I managed to catch a weak Ukrtelecom signal, I received an SMS that such and such a subscriber had changed his phone number to the number of the mobile operator “DPR”. And I realized that they are alive.
When I contacted my niece, she said that the hospital was bombed on March 17. And on the 18th, those lying on the KAMAZ were forcibly taken to Donetsk. They cannot leave.
My mother and I, another woman with a child, decided to go at our own peril and risk, having no idea whether we would make it to Zaporizhzhya alive. 28 “DPR” checkpoints were passed along the road. And at each one, they inspect the car, check documents, look at your phone, gadgets, strip men and look for a tattoo related to Azov. And all this time I knew that at every post I could simply be shot.
The zone between Pology and Orikhove turned out to be completely mined on both sides on the roadside and on the road. And we had to somehow maneuver to pass. And everywhere there are shot cars, a blown-up bus, shelling is going on. You go and pray.
At that moment, I asked my 16-year-old son to help me. I felt that he was my Angel. I said: “Bogdan, Bodyu, help me, please.” And I heard the answer that I would pass.
The first Ukrainian checkpoint was located in Orichove. All the people who passed the first Ukrainian checkpoint were crying. Both men and women. Because it is such a joy that we were able, that we broke through, that we survived!Right now, I don’t know how to live without my son. For now, I plan to go through rehabilitation, and when I become fit, I will do everything I can. Anything I can do to help my country, my brothers and sisters who are in the same situation as me. Perhaps I will translate articles for foreign publications. Because I am a translator and I know how to do it well. Because the world needs to know the truth.
The interview was recorded by espreso.tv presenter Iryna Koval
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: Kateryna Doroshenko