АвторAuthor: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Lola Khabibova
11 October 2022
Valeria Mazurenko is 22 years old, she is a native of Donetsk, and twice a displaced person. In 2016, the girl moved to Mariupol where she studied at a university and set up her own business later. On the first days of the full-scale invasion, she had to leave this city as well because she didn’t want to be captured as it was in 2017. “Monologues of the war” learned why Valeria had been detained by “DPR” terrorists once before.
Donetsk is undoubtedly my favorite city. I was living there for a couple of years even under occupation. I remember how the buses with non-natives arrived at pro-russian rallies. The last Ukrainian rally against “russian world” people of Donetsk attended in April 2014. There was an incident when a man got his feet cut.
My great-grandpa lived near Donetsk airport. In 2014, we offered him to move in with us, but he refused. We all worried that his house would get affected as “DPR” was close back then. He stayed at that house until the end of his days. There were only four houses left on his street.
I remember the battles for the airport as these were the worst days ever. We stayed in Donetsk and we couldn’t bear to listen to that sounds. During every explosion, I understood that our people were dying. I begged my parents to leave, so we left the city for a couple of months.
The fact that we had been occupied so quickly scares me. Now when I see the news about explosions in Donetsk, I rejoice because it means that Ukraine will soon liberate our city and I will be able to return home.
I was leaving Donetsk in 2014 and 2015 but was coming back still. I left the city permanently in 2016. On January the 2nd, I wanted to visit my great-grandpa but I was detained by the MGB “DPR” at Hnutove checkpoint. It is something like the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). They knew everything about me as they were wiretapping my phone because I had a lot of friends from “Azov”. These are people from Donetsk who decided to serve in 2014.
When they scanned my ID at the checkpoint, their database showed a red light on a screen. They were surprised that I was banned to enter. One of them asked me what I had done to be banned in my six-teens. I had no clue what they were talking about. Then a militant asked me to proceed to the interrogation room.
I thought “Lera, don’t harm yourself”. I have problems with my nose, so I always carry my medications with me. My meds were in the car then and I asked to pick them up. They said that I wouldn’t need them in prison adding that I would be jailed for 14 years.
My parents stood near the checkpoint, and they detained them as well. Four people followed me to the bathroom while I was handcuffed. I asked them to turn away but they didn’t, telling me that they had to “stand and watch”. Fortunately, I had a long coat and could cover myself with it. I felt extremely uncomfortable. They followed a 16-year-old girl in handcuffs and looked at her using the bathroom.
I spent eight hours with militants, then people from “MGB” came. Some men were wearing balaclavas and masquerade masks of different animals: a rabbit, a bunny, a tiger, and a cat. They started asking provocative questions, and I gave evasive answers. I wasn’t scared because I thought that they are clowns. Two of them were ultras like some other people from Donetsk, they stood in the FC Shakhtar sector.
They called their chief eventually and he said to let me go. I stayed with them for a whole day, then they sent me back to Mariupol.
They refused to let my father go for nine months. They tried to recruit him but didn’t succeed. The militants let him go later, he left and hadn’t entered the “DPR” for three years after the incident.
In Mariupol, I enrolled at Donetsk National University of Economics and Trade named after M. Tugan-Baranovsky. In 2017, I started living in the city on a regular basis. I didn’t like Mariupol at all when I came there. I thought it had a soviet style. I changed my mind and want to live in this city and nowhere else. I worked for other people in Mariupol, and later I set up my own business from which I was “liberated”.
I knew that there would be a full-scale invasion. Nobody believed me, but I packed all my things on the 16th of February. On February 24th, I drove my mother to the airport in Mariupol (she is a сombat medic). I drove my mother for the next two days and saw a destroyed air defense system.
On the 26th of February, I was contacted by some of my friends from “Azov”, who said that I had to leave the town If I didn’t want to be captured again. When we arrived at the train station, we found out that Volnovakha had already been occupied and trains weren’t operating. Then I heard that evacuation buses with guides would be departing to Zaporizhzhia soon. I drove home where all my packed bags were, but I didn’t take any of them, I just grabbed some things and money. When I was saying goodbye to my father a russian fighter flew over us right above our heads. We didn’t know whether it would drop a bomb on us or not. I was standing all the way to Zaporizhzhia, then I changed that bus to another evacuation bus to Lviv.
I begged my parents to leave the city for a long time. I remember how the house across the street was burning for three or four days after being bombed. The apartment of a person from “Azov” also caught fire later. Even then my parents didn’t lose hope and didn’t want to leave. I begged them to leave by car through a non-official green corridor. It was the time when our soldiers had already been in Azovstal. My parents didn’t know about it, they were cut off from the news. After four days, on the 21st of March, they decided to go. Our car was in the wreckage and had no windows.
There still are people who are close to me in Mariupol. Many of them flip-flopped because that’s how informational war works. Even some people who communicated with “Azov” said that they supported the wrong side for a long time.
Now I am starting everything anew again. I believe that I will be able to return home because everything I had I left in Mariupol. There is a russian soldier living in my apartment in the center of Mariupol. Our rooms’ walls are covered with “Azov” stickers, there are also my mom’s awards but we can’t pick them up.
On the 28th of February when I was evacuating to Lviv, “kadyrovites” messaged me from my grandmother’s phone. They sent a message in telegram and I was surprised because we had never used telegram for communication before. Then I understood that “kadyrovites” were sitting with my grandmother in her apartment. I got cold feet.
They offered to exchange me for my grandmother. She was released eventually but we didn’t maintain contact because she is scared to phone me. They took her smartphone away, so now she uses a push-button phone. Now we are communicating only through her neighbors.
Now I do charity work, helping women and children from Mariupol. I founded a project named “Help Mariupol people” in memory of my friend Karina who died. She had stopped communicating in one moment and on the 18th of March I was told that Karina was dead, they even showed me the photo of her grave. I’d just returned home from Poland to help people.
In December 2021 Karina and I volunteered in orphanages. This project exists for her. We have two other volunteers on our team. We’ve already helped nearly 400 families. Now I am in Cyprus but the project exists and will continue.
I was a radical person even before the war, and now my radicalism only grows. When I was captured, I understood how stupid they were. That’s what they do: detaining underage or old people. I will never be standing for russians.
I became stronger. My hatred grows every day. I lost a lot of close bright people while these beasts continue living. But I also became more humane and I want to help people who need it.
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: Lola Khabibova