Occupied ‘City of Mary’
Це англомовний переклад статті «Окуповане місто Марії: у Маріуполі з однієї сторони свіжі могили, а з іншої – продають скумбрію», який закликаємо поширювати для іноземних друзів.
Occupied ‘City of Mary’: in Mariupol there are fresh graves on one hand while on the other mackerel is being sold
We are sitting at McDonald’s at Kyiv Railway Station. A farewell awkward silence is already hanging over us. My companion returns to Mariupol by train, I take a minibus to Rivne. She will be at home in about a day and I will be at mine in a few hours.The end of May 2021 is flying in the air.
Mariupol is not yet occupied, the whole of Ukraine is not yet talking about «Azovstal», but she, this girl from Mariupol, invites me to visit her, to Azov…
Summer of 2021. I promise and promise but I still don't find the time to see Ukrainian Mariupol. I say I will come later, later, in a better future. According to my friend I know that this fortress-city that withstood in 2014 was strengthened and became a refuge for many Donetsk residents. The “Azov” Regiment and other servicemen defended it with dignity.
On the eve of the full-scale war
At the end of December 2021 I sent Nelly an embroidery in Mariupol, as a gift. This embroidered shirt remained lying in her apartment, which she left only for a few days right after February 24.
Read also: The place of death and life: the "Azov" fighter published heartbreaking photos
Nellie planned to return home then. But now on the 100-th day of war the girl is in Bulgaria. She is there with other Ukrainians who were forced to flee abroad because of the war, she lives in a so-called "filtration camp". The last words in our correspondence on the 100-th day of the war were as follows:
"I never thought I would say that. I want to go home (to Mariupol, - author) ".
But one thing at a time.
Back on February 23 we talked about work, plans for life and, of course, about the approaching war, which everyone was talking about at the time. Nellie wrote to me then:
"I am in Mariupol. So far, everything seems to be fine. I heard some shots yesterday. I was calm until yesterday, but I have already started thinking about where to run if something happens.… However, I hope that everything will be fine. But these are strange times, considering this could happen in the 21st century"
The War: loss of contact with parents
On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine. The danger looming in the air seemed both near and far at the same time. On February 26, the girl left for Dnipro. She took her stuff for a week, believing that it wouldn't be long.
Maria's relatives remained in the city at the time: her mother, stepfather, grandmother.
Initially, she kept in touch with them by phone. On March 1, my friend sent the following message:
"Everything is okay. Light, gas, water and internet was turned off in Mariupol. My mom has just texted me recently. I hadn’t been able to reach her since yesterday. Water and food are available so far."
Within two days, the message from Nellie took on a different content: "I don't know, it’s hell in there." Day after day the situation in Mariupol kept getting worse and worse, communication with relatives was cut off:
"I'm just shocked, I’ve been reading the news all morning and every hour there have been new air strikes. I can't get through this."
It was minus 6 degrees Celsius on the street, March 10.
«An air bomb fell on the street next to my parents. People were collecting water on another street and the Russians dropped a bomb there too. I don't know what to think at all. In Mariupol everything is close to each other, only every other one building survived. It seems to me that nobody in their right mind can comprehend it… I have never had this feeling that I have no home, no job… ».
The Russians were bombing and shelling one block after another, destroying the maternity hospital, and then dropped a powerful air bomb on the local drama theater where hundreds of people were hiding.
It was difficult to keep in touch with Nellie's family. Her friend's parents also stayed in Mariupol:
"They live in the center, mobile signal there works at times. For only 2 minutes they would manage to leave the house to call, and then ran back because the planes would reappear in the sky. What is happening there is complete hell. The Russians have already dropped 100 bombs from planes."
On March 18, I asked if her parents were alive and received the following answer:
"They are alive. We got in touch for a few minutes. But they can't flee. I became even more worried about it. Mom and stepfather are very scared, it seemed like they were not quite sane.”
According to Nellie they somehow managed to charge the phone from the car, because cell towers there were destroyed. And it was very dangerous to get to the place where the mobile signal somehow works, because there was always a chance of coming under shelling of the Russian troops.
On March 19, my friend wanted to go to Mariupol and pick up her mother from that hell. I was looking for volunteers who would be willing to go there for money. My efforts weren’t successful. Later, she lost contact with her parents.
On April 4, the situation remained the same: the self-proclaimed pro-russian authorities of Mariupol closed the exit from the city. And, meanwhile, they’ve been taking Ukrainians to Russia.
«Phoenix», $500 and humanitarian aid. The war continues
The only thing left to do is pray. Because no one could provide Nellie any information about her family. The news that her parents and grandmother were alive came unexpectedly: the girl found their names in the lists of those who were receiving humanitarian aid.
But where they are, what’s with them, in what condition they are - Nellie had no answers to these questions. She was getting information on the situation in Mariupol from local groups.
While the girl was looking for relatives, they've been through a lot:
«My mother said that she had spent 2 weeks in the basement, she developed an allergy because of this. She only went out to cook food for herself and her neighbors on a gas cylinder. At one point she would not stand it and said that she could no longer sit in the basement and will be sleeping in her bed. She and stepfather had already said goodbye to each other because planes were constantly circling, and my mother thought she would not survive. The bomb was thrown nearby and the ceiling came falling on them… ».
Later, the rashists began selling SIM cards of the Phoenix operator, which operates in the territories temporarily occupied by Russia. Thus, mother, stepfather and grandmother got in touch.
The girl managed to find a driver who was ready to go to Mariupol for money and take her mother to the territory controlled by Ukraine. Girl’s mother did not want to go to Russia. For such services drivers asked for payment in foreign currency. The asking price was $500. But this "special operation" also didn't work out.
The lifelong journey from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia
In late April - early May, the girl's mother managed to leave Mariupol with friends. The driver went around practically all Russian checkpoints. Therefore, the woman did not undergo filtration.
The next point of her stay after the enemy’s destruction of Mariupol was the temporarily occupied Berdyansk. There, for the first time since the invasion, the woman slept peacefully at night. There was no place in there for the immigrants from the City of Mary, so they had to rent an apartment.
However, the Russian trail caught up here too: the mother of the heroine of our story had to delete all the photos from her past life from the phone. As the rashists were checking its contents at checkpoints on the way from Berdyansk. Mother and daughter met a few days later in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.
An apocalyptic movie in Mariupol
After a personal meeting with her daughter, the woman was able to tell the realities of Mariupol, which she could not talk about via "Phoenix".
«My mother says that soldiers (Russian soldiers) came to her (in the yard), shot the dog, and she ran out shouting: “Why did you come here? What did you do to the dog? Maybe you came to kill me?”. They "apologized", checked the documents and left. It seemed to the Russians that the dog was "rushing" at them. My mother says that it was just scared»
Despite the fact that the Russians are cynically shouting "life is getting better in Mariupol", this is all a lie. Native Mariupol women recount the realities of the city occupied and destroyed by the Russian army:
"A ruined market has opened in Mariupol. Products are being imported from Russia. My grandmother went there to buy fish. You know, in Mariupol there are fresh graves on one hand while on the other mackerel and other things are being sold. It's like an apocalyptic movie, a series that never ends, and which you can't turn off or pause"
News from Mariupol also comes from her inner circle:
"Today my friend wrote that her acquaintance is slowly moving to an apartment, that she will patch everything there. "There is still a corpse smell on the "drama"(drama theater), no one cleans anything…"
There is no happy ending to this story. But at least one piece of news from Mariupol must be good: their family's pets, 4 cats, survived.
The girl's grandmother refused to leave, explaining that she had lived her whole life in this city and could not leave it. The stepfather of the heroine of our story stayed to take care of the old woman.
"It can't be erased from memory. People who have seen hell will never be the same again. The Lord's hand is in all things. Faith saves my psyche. We will all live somehow and somewhere, and everything will be different later, maybe even better. However, it is a great grief, and it will take a long time for the understanding of all this to come", – says Nellie.
Meanwhile, the occupiers in Mariupol "restored" water and electricity. The power surges began and as a result fires broke out in apartment buildings where light came on. Water supply systems were also destroyed, and from water pressure the corpses began to float to the ground.
People who stayed in the City of Mary dismantle the blockages and even go to work. Occupation administrations issue permits to drive around the city. Despite the uninhabitable situation in the city, the enemy opened a school. An ad appears on social networks: "Will buy housing on the left bank of Mariupol".
100 days of war
The 100-th day of the full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war. Now the girl is in Bulgaria. Most of all, she wants to go home to Ukraine. But there's no place to go back to: her grandmother's apartment burned down due to ammunition, Nellie's house was destroyed, and the private house where her mother and stepfather lived was also damaged.
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Translated by Maxim Stupak