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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Mariupol's apartment buildings now

    “Dnrvtsi collected and burned dead bodies at night so as not to leave evidence of their crimes,” – this is the story of a woman from Mariupol who had lived in a cellar for two months

    Life under fire

    АвторAuthor: Maria Havrylian | Translation: Anna Shliakhova

    16 September 2022

    Before the full-scale invasion Lilia Mazenko worked as a nurse in Mariupol. She raised a teenage son and dreamed of buying an apartment for him. Now she doesn’t even have her own apartment. From the district on the shoreline of the sea, where she lived, only burnt and bombed-out houses are left. Unable to withstand the shelling, Lilia’s entrance collapsed completely. After living for two months in the cellar with almost no water and a severe food shortage, and under the constant surveillance of armed enemies, she managed to escape from occupied Mariupol. She found shelter with relatives in Cherkasy. Lilia Mazenko has shared her story with “Monologues of the War”.

    In fact, we’ve been living in a state of war for eight years already. There was shooting from time to time, but then it always became quiet. On 24th of February at 5:30am we heard a loud explosion. Within the hour, when I was getting ready to go to work, I saw in the window a flying fireball. My son and I hid in the corridor, because it was scary. My son didn’t want to let me go, but I left him with my parents and still went to work. Coming home in the evening, I heard shooting in the East microdistrict. At 19:30pm I heard a hum like a plant was working (we lived near Azovstal). I instantly remembered all the guidelines to lie down in the case of “unknown loud sounds”. But I kept going home. I didn’t manage to get to the entrance before it exploded. I saw fire, the explosion was nearby. My legs were shaking so much that I could barely get up to the tenth floor. Elevators already didn’t work, but electricity still worked. A few days later, there were already no utilities at all.

    We were shelled from everything: ships, aircraft and tanks

    Until the 13th of March we still were in our apartment, hiding in vestibules. The most intensive bombing raids were at night. We had almost no sleep during the first two weeks. My grandmother is seventy. She hid with us every night. She was so scared that she ran like a young girl. We didn’t even change our clothes.

    The food situation was tough. We survived on stored food. Water was sorely lacking. At first we took water from a elderly man’s well on Chaika, but it was shelled. Then we went to the bakery but, when people lined up for water, an aircraft came and dropped a bomb on the line. Our neighbour’s daughter died there. She was thirty-two. She was killed by a direct hit right on the spot. My father narrowly escaped death. He went home a few minutes before the aircraft came.

    Azovstalska street

    Azovstalska street, Mariupol Photo by Liliia Mazenko

    At that time, we already lived in the basement because it was too dangerous to stay in our home. I was so scared that (sorry for the details) I vomited.

    We didn’t wash at all for two months. We barely had enough water for drinking and cooking 

    There was a woman with a seven-month-old baby in the basement with us. Its bottom was red from irritation. I don’t know how we didn’t get fleas, but we all itched badly. Thank you so much to the store owners. They all opened their fridges and basements and gave food away to people. Someone even got some meat. Others weren’t so lucky. People counted bites of food and sips of water to ensure that there was enough for everyone.

    Risking her life, my mother went home to cook something for us and our troops. Then we cooked on a fire near the house entrance. But then snipers set up in the opposite building and the place where we cooked was exposed to them. Four times they aimed their fire at us. Of course, they saw that ordinary civilians were just cooking. To avoid sitting in the dark in the basement we made DIY lamps: poured oil in a can and burned cotton wool in it.

    It was the 13th of March. The shelling became especially terrible on that day. Windows blew out, balconies fell down, and whole walls collapsed. In the neighbouring building people were buried under debris in the basement. I don’t know, I really don’t know how we managed to survive.

    Buildings remains in Mariupol

    The remains of Azovstalska street in Mariupol Photo by Liliia Mazenko

    There was a house nearby. A disabled woman lived there on the eighth floor. We heard her screaming for help a few days in a row. Then it was silent again. Only later did I realize that only one wall remained from the house, and she probably hung in the air, maybe hooked on something. After our soldiers had been knocked out of the city, people from ‘DNR’, Russians, and Chechens started to come to our cellar.

    Once, my 13-year-old son went outside to the toilet and, after coming back, he said: “They gave me a machine-gun. They wanted me to shoot at the building where the snipers are”.

    Then on emotions, so it was foolish, I rushed to clear up the situation. I found out that they were Chechens and, according to their custom, boys become men at the age of thirteen. They should learn how to shoot for this, they explained to me.

    People from ‘DNR’ were always drunk. We were afraid that they could have started shooting. They were arguing with each other and even killing each other. We were in the basement, and they were on the first and second floors arguing and shooting each other. Those Russians I talked to, were convinced that they were saving us, liberating us. They also were genuinely perplexed by the level of life here, by our apartments and our cars.

    Mariupol's houses

    Mariupol citizens were forced to live in cellars because their houses became inhabitable due to the constant shelling Photo by Liliia Mazurenko

    They didn’t touch us. Some of them even apologized for burning down our house. Some of them said: “We were eight years under the shelling in Donetsk. Now is your turn”. A Chechen contractor even told us that it was worse in Mariupol that it had been in Groznyy. It was not possible to even hint at supporting Ukraine. In this case one would be shot on the spot, with no option.

    We were strongly advised to evacuate to Russia. We had to go to the church at 5am. It was five blocks from us. We all desperately wanted to flee this hell, but were afraid that we would never be able to come back to Ukraine from Russia. Later we discovered that we could have gone from Russia to Georgia, Estonia, then to Poland and back to Ukraine. But back then we didn’t know anything.

    Some people dared to take risks. Once in the morning people went to that church. Then we heard aircrafts flying in that direction. They dropped bombs. We don’t know if people survived there.

    It wasn’t safe to go with transporters, either. There were cases when people were thrown in a field, and all their things were stolen. There also were cases when people paid 2000-4000 hryvnia in advance, and they were deceived. And people had given all that they had.

    Read also: A Russian woman living in Ukraine: “This war was started by the president of Russia and all people with a burgundy passport are also responsible for his actions”

    We were in total information isolation. We didn’t know what was going on in Ukraine, we didn’t even know what was going on in the city. Our men found a generator which worked for about a few weeks, so we could charge our phones, but only after queuing for a few hours. We burned in the sun lining up for phone charging. After my phone charged a little bit and I managed to connect to mobile data, I downloaded the news from The Telegram and then read it aloud in the cellar.

    It was so important to us to know that we weren’t abandoned in Mariupol, that our Army was going to come and liberate us

    We had no green corridors. Everyone who wanted to leave had to go through selection process. There was a checkpoint everyone was afraid of. A family was going through it, and a dnrovets started harassing the daughter. Her parents stood up to him and they all were shot on the spot. The entire family – mother, father and their daughter. On the 23rd of April when Azovstal was set on fire, it also became hot for us as we lived nearby. We were forced to leave our basement. Soon afterwards, our house was destroyed by shelling and it just collapsed. We have no more home.

    We went to another house in an area of private houses. It had no basement and no place to hide. I felt I could do nothing, just lie on the bed and pray that a shell wouldn’t hit us, while everything around was shaking from explosions. A volunteer let us live in this house. His mother was in the cellar with us. She died. It was very dangerous to bury a body. When we could, we buried them in the yard, but then we couldn’t do even that due to the constant shelling and shooting. We just took bodies out and left them on the sidewalk. And in the morning they were already gone. They told us that dnrovtsi had two mobile crematoriums.

    At night they collected bodies and burned them

    They took the body of an elderly lady, this volunteer’s mother. And one more body of a guy. He went out for smoke and was killed by a sniper. He had a huge hole in his belly and died just there. His wife stayed in the cellar. It took us a lot of effort to calm her down. We couldn’t bury the body because they took it away. Later his wife tried to find out where his body had been taken and if it was buried. They had a very long list of names. There was a queue of people who wanted to check this list. Those who didn’t want to wait could pay 500 hryvnia to take a picture of the list and check it at home. She paid. The list contained such rows as “an unknown man of 30-40 years” or “an unknown man of 18-30 years”. In short, she didn’t find out anything.

    A house in Mariupol

    Lilia Mazenko’s house. The entrance, where the woman lived, hadn’t survived Photo by Liliia Mazurenko

    Volunteers from an American organization helped us to flee. Totally free. My colleague told me about them. I appealed to them and they came in five days on the 11th of June. They took me, my parents, my son, my 70-year-old grandmother and two cats. We went through Melitopol, then through Vasylivka to Zaporizhzhia. They paid for the transport and overnight stay. They placed us in hostels for internally displaced persons, such as churches or kindergartens in Zaporizhzhia. We could go then to Poland, Germany, or elsewhere, and it was absolutely for free. We went to Cherkasy because we have relatives there.

    Now we are far away from the front line, but we see in our dreams everything we have experienced. I remember everything

    We are still stressed. I worry a lot for my son. I’ve expressed my emotions. I have cried and I have had fits of anger. But he has withdrawn into himself without shedding a tear. There were two weeks when we lived in the basement, when he refused to eat or drink. I dissolved sugar in water and forced him to drink it. His father, my ex-husband, is missing. On 12th of March he was taken to a hospital and on the 16th of March a missile hit the hospital. We heard that he was evacuated from the hospital, but we still can’t find him. Wherever we looked, he was not there…

    I can never forget all I went through. Now I think that there will be one more house someday, and I can buy new furniture, but I have nothing that will remind me of my son’s childhood… not a single picture… It was so valuable to me. I kept his first drawings, notebooks, and videos with his first steps. I have nothing of that now.

    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: Maria Havrylian | Translation: Anna Shliakhova

    Life under fire

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