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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Oleh and Olia after 13 days in the basement

    Oleh Husak: “You should look “Saving private Ryan” or “Sniper” films to realize what we survived in Mariupol”

    Life under fire

    АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation:

    4 June 2022

    Three days before russians dropped a bomb on Mariupol maternity hospital, Oleh Husak took his wife there to give birth to their daughter. The video where he helps to walk his wounded wife out, and then his son-in-law, pregnant Anastasia and 11-year-old son walk out after them, was seen by the whole world and made it shudder. Oleh Husak’s story is the witness of the aggression and atrocities of the russian army in Mariupol. 

    I was born in Cherkasy region, in Blahodatne village. I graduated from Odesa Naval Academy with a specialty in technical-operating, received a referral to Mariupol. It’s been 36 years since I started to live and work there.

    I was married for the second time, and in this new marriage my wife Olya and I had a son Vlad, who is 11 years old now.

    There are so many unusual things in my story that you can make a film about it. Can you imagine that very night of February 23-24 I was traveling by the “Kyiv-Mariupol” train? My vacation was over and I had to go back to work on February 25th. 

    As being on my way I heard they started bombing cities all over Ukraine. And I said it was the war. I started calling my close ones to fill all the fuel tanks.

    The first thing that caught my eye when I got off the train was an armed soldier saying goodbye to his girlfriend. Everything became clear to me at once. And then I heard explosions coming from the left bank of the city.

    All her relatives already gathered in the private house where me and my wife Olya lived. Including those who came from the left bank of Mariupol. Sharply there was a question about leaving the city, but how? We already knew and heard how cars were under the shelling on the roads in 2014.

    “But the most important thing was that Nastya, my wife’s daughter from her first marriage, was 9 months pregnant. We didn’t know what to do. What if something happens along the way? Would we be able to help her?” 

    Then we realized that we needed to prepare the basement. It was in the kitchen, we put the mattresses there and as we prepared it, there was a place available for 8 people. And from February 24 to March 6, we were sitting in this basement.

    “The main task was to unite, to gather the family so that we could all be together”

    I was very nervous. I just didn’t know what to do. Everyone was waiting for the “green corridor”, but from March 5 to 6, the first houses were bombed in the downtown. I went there and saw that horror.

    After my first marriage I have two daughters, the eldest Oksana and the youngest Aniuta. And I ran to Aniuta to say that she couldn’t stay home. I heard that the Red Cross would organize a column and a “green corridor” and I wanted them to leave the city. Aniuta and my first wife were already closing the apartment and planning to go to their father-in-law’s, where all their relatives were also gathering. 

    My main task was to bring my family together so that we could all be together. So that we didn’t have to look for each other later, because the worst thing is when you don’t know where some members of your family are.

    “That was the last time I saw them live. Then we talked a month later on the phone, when my daughter had found me”.

    That day we heard shells flying over the house, something exploding at the neighbors’ nearby. Nastia’s husband decided to take her to the Mariupol maternity hospital №3, which was situated in the city center. And when he returned, he told us to pack our things and be ready to leave as well.

    We took some things with us. When I was visiting my mother in Cherkasy region, I sent a parcel from Blahodatne. It was a box of potatoes. So, I threw it into the car.

    I was watching our house, which Olia and I had been caring for, repairing and had loved for 13 years, and was kind of saying goodbye to him. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time. I understood only one thing, that I have to keep all close ones and loved ones alive. I realized that it was dangerous there.

    Olia’s brother remained in the house. He didn’t want to go anywhere because he was very ill. We already know that he died there. Neighbors shot a video of what our house now looks like after the bombing.

    There were 6 of us who were leaving by 3 cars. Vlad said there might have been a “green corridor”. Then he advises us to get out, and he himself with Nastia will stay there till birth. 

    “I yelled, “Plane!” And we ran to the shelter”

    It is clear that there was no “green corridor”. We couldn’t go back. So we decided to stay in the maternity hospital. There was a large basement. At that time, there were about 100 people who fled from the left bank of Mariupol which was constantly under the shelling. Not including, of course, pregnant women, mothers, children and medical staff. I know this for sure because I talked to a person who was responsible for food supplience.

    “That’s why, when the russian media began to say that there were the military in the maternity hospital, it was nonsense! There were no soldiers there! I saw it with my own eyes!”

    Mariupol Maternity Hospital №3 is a complex of buildings: children’s hospital, laboratory, maternity hospital itself. From the 7th to the 8th of March, a shell from the ‘Grad’ landed into the 2nd or 3rd floor of one of the buildings and destroyed the children’s laboratory. Despite the shelling, we tried to somehow establish a life.

    In the yard, people prepared food for everyone in 25-liter pots. Mariupol citizens brought us their food, any food they had. I brought my box of potatoes. And the military brought two or three swine carcasses before my eyes. It was really necessary to feed pregnant women, mothers, children, doctors.

    On the morning of March 9, Olia and I went out into the yard, and that man responsible for food, complained that the people who had been cooking, left. So Olia volunteered to take their place.

    I then took a photo of Olia with a ladle standing by those big pots and Vlad by the fire.

    the bomb is dropped at the maternity hospital

    Half an hour before the bomb is dropped at the maternity hospital

    For the first time since February 24 that day, I called my mother. She is the 38th year of birth, by the way. You can only imagine how she was worried about us! We went for firewood and I accidentally caught the mobile connection. My mother then asked, “Are you injured?” And the conversation ended, because the shelling was always ongoing.  

    I’m the only one who kept running to my Lanos car standing in the yard to listen to at least some news. As I recall, the average radio wave available was 87.3. Can you imagine? Just a few minutes before the bomb arrived, I was in the car!

    Then I went to my family, hung around there. The soup was ready, Olia was cooking compote and was standing with a soup ladle in her hand.

    “I was just 10 meters from the entrance to the basement when I heard the sound of an airplane. I shouted, “Plane!’ And we ran to the shelter. Suddenly there was an incredible explosion, crashing! I can’t explain exactly in detail the way the explosion was!”

    Olia hit her head on the wall, glass and bricks fell onto her. I was in a puffer coat. I fell onto her, covered my legs and started shouting “Olia! Olia! ”

    I heard one explosion, but people said there were three of them. I think I must have fainted for a while. And if it wasn’t for the puffer coat, my whole back would have been cut off, because I was wearing only a long-sleeved T-shirt and sports pants were under it. I then found myself in the hospital №2 of the 17th microdistrict of Mariupol wearing exactly the same clothes.

    “This video was shown on all the channels around the world” 

    I crawled to Olia and I was terrified – she didn’t move! But then my wife opened her eyes. She was all covered in blood, left cheek torn. I couldn’t hear anything, my left ear was bleeding. The chin was cut. She regained consciousness and asked, “What was that? Where am I?”.

    We dragged her deep into the basement, put her on a chair. Vladyk’s son saw it all with his own eyes. He didn’t go outside. Nastia kept him close. And Olia was partially lying, blood was flowing. I found some cotton wool, put it to my cheek so that it wouldn’t bleed so bad.

    Child just survived the bombing

    The son of Oleh Husak, who has just survived the bombing

    Then I saw Nastia’s husband Vlad. He later said that when he ran after us, the blast wave threw him on the floor in the foyer of the maternity hospital. It took him away for 10-15 meters for sure, even the sneakers were torn off one of his feet.

    There were shouts: “Are there any wounded people?”. Vlad replied that there was. The policemen went down, and we started to climb the stairs to the exit. We saw journalists there.

    We just came out and a “Reuters” correspondent turned on the camera. I saw this video later, which was shown on all the channels around the world. We pass on it, people come out of the basement by the same stairs, Vlad, pregnant Nastia and our son Vladyk. And the military leans towards him. He asks if he is safe. And Vladyk answers that he feels sorry for his father and mother.

    My classmate saw the video and has been looking for me and my daughter Aniuta since then. But that’s another story.

    In such a way, by supporting each other, we got to the police car, where our wounds were bandaged, and we were taken to the hospital №2 of the 17th microdistrict of Mariupol. And then the horror began.

    “It was horror, it was the second Stalingrad…”

    Olia and I were taken to various dressing rooms. I was sewn without anesthesia because they said I was in shock, so I won’t feel anything. They patched his chin and put a bandage on his ear.

    The man wounded during the shelling of Mariupol

    Oleh Husak was wounded during the shelling of Mariupol

    I went out into the corridor and started waiting for Olia. And then I hear: “Anesthesiologist!”. After a while – “Neurosurgeon!”. And then they called for an ophthalmologist. And then I look at my Olia being carried somewhere on a stretcher. She is all bandaged and her eyes are closed. I felt very bad, and then my heart started to ache for her… You can only imagine what thoughts came to my mind.

    There were no seats in the wards, and we didn’t want to go there. Because there were windows in the wards, and we saw what a disaster glass can do: my down jacket was chopped by it to the flaps. I was allowed to sit next to her, they gave her a drink. Since that day, we have been with her like a thread with a needle. I’d been with her all the time.

    The woman suffered head and face injuries during the explosion

    Olia suffered head and face injuries during the explosion

    What we saw in the hospital is hard to describe. They took out 4 bags of the dead in a day from neurosurgery. There was almost no medicine. People died of their wounds. Olia wasn’t given any dropper, or anything because there were people with more serious problems. We were there until the 13th and there were bombs every day… We saw the houses burning around. It was horror, it was like the second Stalingrad…

    What did we eat? Sometimes it happened that 1 candy and 2 cookies, and boiling water was made by a nurse, and we are very thankful to her. We could get 4-6 pieces for a day. The nurse also brought me a jacket, because I was wearing only a T-shirt covered in blood. It was cold. The hospital was not heated. I’m very thankful to that nurse.

    On March 11, our troops picked up their soldiers from the hospital, and on March 12, lugandists (a vulgar name for members of the so-called LNR) and DNR members with white bandages arrived. They went around the wards, looking for us. It seemed that one of them, a member of the armed forces of Ukraine was seriously wounded., lying on the hood. We don’t know his fate.

    “On March 13, a russian tank fired at a hospital on purpose. He aimed just above us – between the 4th and 5th floors. Everything fell down on our neurosurgery department, and we were told to go down to the basement. Then many people came there to hide from the neighborhood”.

    It was cold there, but we happened to have 2 mattresses. Olia managed to find a red blanket. There were days when all we could eat was 2-3 teaspoons of green peas.That’s all, nothing more. For the next 13 days we hardly went up from that basement.

    “You go outside, and the dog pulls human limbs there …”

    If you only knew what we went through those days… One day in that basement DNR members were looking for those who put up a tripwire. They were told that there was a group of three people. One of them was a woman whose face (attention!) was pierced.

    Olia was just lying there, wrapped in a blanket, when a DNR member approached her, tore off that blanket and shouted: “I found her! Why did you hide?Did you put up a tripwire? I said to him: “Who did you find? Where are you taking her? I am her husband. I’ll go with her”

    He had a machine gun in his hands. And we left. And in the basement there was an area 10 meters long, where you can’t see anything, it was darker than black. He threatened to fire if we took even a step aside.

    They took us upstairs, and there was a military man rocking in a chair with the nickname “Ossetin”, as if he was from Donetsk. “Where are you taking her?”

    “I asked. I was told that into the department where the ‘dill lies’ (dill – “ukrop” is a russian ethnic slur which refers to Ukrainians). If he’d recognized her, Olya would have been shot.They took her, but the eternity passed for me until she returned. That ‘dill’ didn’t recognize her. It was a huge shock”.

    Or here… DNR member comes and shouts, says we don’t have to just sit there, that our fellow citizens were brought, so we have to take them to hospital. You can only imagine what they brought in… How it all was going… And when you go out, the dog pulls human limbs there…

    “In that basement Anastasia Piddubna gave birth to a boy”

    All these days we were thinking about what happened to Nastia and her son. We were sure that she and her husband, his brother and Vladyk remained in the basement of the maternity hospital. Olia and I were ready to get there on foot, but the road led through a district that we call “Thousand”. And there were fights all the time. And snipers were sitting around.

    On March 15, we saw a woman in the basement working in the maternity ward №3. She was brought in with a back injury, and she told us that everyone stayed there. And now just listen: somewhere around the 17th or 18th, she cries out to us in tears.

    She said: the priest came and said that there was another strike to the maternity hospital, no one survived … Can you imagine our condition?

    Maybe, on the 23rd, Olia and I went upstairs to cook. I accidentally turned on the phone and the connection appeared! I looked at the screen and saw that I missed a call from an ex-classmate. I call back, and he shouts into my phone: “Where are you? The whole world is talking about you, I saw Vladyk in the video! It’s good that you’re alive!”

    We got to know that after the bomb hit, all our relatives were taken to another maternity hospital on the left bank of Mariupol. There, on March 18, our son celebrated his birthday in the basement without us. Strangers wished him best wishes. We thought about him all the time, we even prepared a bar of chocolate as a gift. My daughter then read our son’s essay to us, where he wrote that the greatest gift for a person is when they are given some water, so they have to drink all of it, because next time they can be without any water at all.

    In the same basement, our daughter Anastasia Piddubna gave birth to a boy.

    The next day, a relative came to us from occupied Hurzuf by car.

    “We passed 25 checkpoints, prayed to God, remembered all the ancestors”

    We did not have any documents, only the driver’s licenses. That’s all that was left out of the car. At the first checkpoint I was asked to get out of the car and undress. I seemed to have deleted everything on the phone except the Telegram. And there I wrote to someone there that “the rashists will come, you will find out what the russian peace smells like.” And the russian tells me to go with him to the booth, he will show me and tell me how things are done there. Supposedly, they will blame it on the war.

    I was saved by the senior standing nearby. I started begging, saying that I had already been punished. Then they let me go.

    after 13 days in the basement of Mariupol

    Oleh and Olia after 13 days in the basement of Mariupol hospital №2

    For you to understand, I thought of writing it all down into a notebook. But, apparently, I did the right thing and didn’t start doing it. If they found it, they would shoot me.

    My former colleague, who now lives in Kyiv, gave his dacha for three families in the village of Babah-Tarama (a village between Mariupol and Berdyansk – author’s note). We lived there until April 13th.

    Everyone rushed into the city to pick up the children to the left bank, but couldn’t reach them by phone.

    “One evening I was looking at my phone and noticed that a connection appeared. I call, and here Nastia says: “We’re crossing the state border.” What? Where are they being taken?! I’m shaking, my son was stolen! I was screaming so much! Olia was crying”.

    It turned out that the volunteers arrived, it seemed, the French. They called for fleeing, because there would be fighting there tomorrow, and the russians would use some new weapons. We had to leave. And where should we go? To russia!

    This is how it’s done. They say they get to Rostov, stay there for 4-5 days, then get in their cars and go through all of russia, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland with a baby in their arms, travel through Germany and end up in the Netherlands. I also heard another story that they did not want to let a baby go, because it didn’t have a birth certificate. They were going to make him a citizen of the russian federation.

    We stayed in Babah-Tarami until we found out that our people were leaving. Then my wife and I dropped it, and miraculously reached Zaporizhzhya.

    We passed 25 checkpoints, prayed to God, remembered all our ancestors, because we had only photocopies of passports with us, which my daughter managed to give us. Everywhere they made us undress, looked for tattoos, prowled in our phones.

    “One guy was seen getting a tattoo, he was threatened with execution, they looked at his reaction… All this was happening before our eyes… Very scary and dangerous”.

    When the volunteers brought us to the Third City Hospital in Cherkasy, we experienced another stress. Complete deja vu. The fact is that the Cherkasy hospital is similar to the Mariupol hospital. We walked with Olia and saw the same offices where she was taken to the “dill”, threatening to shoot. The same way the operating room was located, where they brought the mutilated bodies without limbs… I felt a strange chill.

    I stayed in Ukraine. I am undergoing treatment. Olia went to the Netherlands. To understand what we experienced in Mariupol, you have to watch the American films “Rescue Private Ryan” and “Sniper”. And I am not sure that they will show exactly the whole horror that took place in our city.

    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:

    Life under fire

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