Maria comes from Mariupol. Here she studied, fell in love and got married. In 2018, her husband joined the National Guard of Ukraine, and from the first days of the full-scale war, he defended the country. He heroically defended Mariupol and Azovstal for 82 days, now he is in captivity.
For almost a month, Maria and her family were under attack by the Russian air force, without safe drinking water, mobile communication or information. The "Svidomi" talked to her about her hometown, how she managed to get news from her husband, about life under fire and how she managed to leave the temporarily occupied Mariupol with her family.
"We used to have a wonderful life in Mariupol"
Maria is 24, her husband is 25. In 2018, Mykola joined the army. Maria studied at the Faculty of Law, worked as legal assistant, and later as a lawyer at the Mariupol City Council.
There was everything in Mariupol: a resort area and a location for music festivals, modern infrastructure, transport communications and wonderful people. Maria began to notice how since 2015 the city has been rapidly changing, developing and creating opportunities for quality European life for everyone.
"Mariupol has become mobile in everything: from transport to obtaining the necessary documents in government agencies. Many investors from different countries came and poured cash. Small and medium-sized enterprises developed rapidly. The city has become younger. People wouldn't leave, on the contrary, they started coming back,” shared the girl.
The cultural life of the city also developed rapidly. Music festivals, contemporary art exhibitions, new establishments and public spaces have sprung up.
“The annual music festival was a large-scale, emotional and cool event. 4 venues were set on the beach of the village of Pishchanyi. There were food courts, shops, and attractions. But the military said that the money invested in the festival should have been spent to strengthen the city, - says Maria. - Since February 24, Mariupol has paid a very high price for the whole of Ukraine. And if this could have been stopped by investing not in the festival, but in the defense of the city, the consequences would be different. I didn't know about it, but the thoughts about that conversation still haunt me”.
Invasion on February 24
From the beginning of February, Maria had a premonition that a full-scale war might break out. She understood that Mariupol was the only city in the Donetsk region important for Russia.
"Mariupol has already exceeded the level of Donetsk by 2014 - the city has developed with insane speed. Mykola said that no one panicked in their military unit, there were no changes, everything was as usual,” remarks the girl.
I thought, my husband being a soldier was to know for sure when it would start.
On February 19, Mykola went out for a day shift. At midnight, Maria received a message from her husband: "Pack the suitcases and documents, get everything ready for our cats."
"Mykola returned in the morning and said that at the moment there was only a meeting, preparation just in case," says the girl .
On February 23, the man had night-shift duty again. He did not return the next day. At 5:15 Maria woke up from a phone call from a friend: "A full-scale war has begun, there are explosions in Mariupol."
"I start texting and dialing Mykola, he rejects calls, will not answer messages. While I am getting dressed, I hear explosions once again, and understand that I urgently need to go somewhere, because I am alone at home. The rented apartment is almost on the outskirts of the city - close to "PortCity" and the big METRO. It was just one of the first fronts, from there the Russians entered the city,” recalls Maria.
A few hours later, Mykola got in touch. Having asked him for advice, the girl decided to go to her parents, whose house was located in the private sector of Mariupol without any objects of strategic importance, only a large cemetery and a wholesale market.
Life under Russian shelling
"I moved in with my parents. At first, everything was strange. Despite the war, we had electricity, internet, water and gas supply. We heard though that people on the Left Bank no longer had electricity. The left bank in general is the most remote point of the city, and we are used to everything starting there,” says the girl.
February 28. The electricity disappears in the city for almost a day. Everyone in the city plunged into the night. Nobody turned on the phones, because it was necessary to keep them charged. Сell phone signals across the city were fading.
"The Russians were approaching the city. The difference between February 24 and 28 was huge. In the evening my brother and I went out to the yard. There was no electricity, but there was a 360-degree glow in the sky around us. We went a little further from the yard, looked towards the Kalmius district and saw rockets fly. Until then, no one had seen or felt anything like this. You are standing on the street. You were just on the internet. You are 24, it’s 2022, and rockets are flying in the sky,” says Maria.
The day passed, and the electricity went out. Maria immediately started reading the news and realized that the entire city of Mariupol was already without light. Only the central district wass left, where she was staying.
"Then we realized, those were the last days in civilization with electricity," - adds the girl.
On March 2, the electricity went out completely. The water was turned off, phone connection was cut off. There was only gas. Russian missiles flew closer. My family saw PortCity burning.
"People started saying that on March 2, Mariupol had been beleaguered. We were surrounded and from then on we were completely cut off from other territories. From that day on, the meaning of life was limited to survival,” says Maria.
On March 5, the gas was gone. Maria recalls how people from neighbouring high-rises came to cut down trees and tear down fences to light fires and cook.
Explosions grew closer, and shelling got heavier. March 7 was the day when aviation flew low for the first time. In three days, a Russian plane dropped the first bombs on the area.
"The house shook like a cardboard toy. We were sitting in the hallway all day. Mom was crying, Dad didn't know what to do. My brother and I covered ourselves with a blanket, pillows and pots so that if something fell, it wouldn't kill us,” the Mariupol resident recalls. - We bedded down in the hallway. It is 23:30 and I am waking up from screaming in my sleep. I open my eyes and scream: the ceiling is crumbling, it is falling on my head, face, and body. I’m trying to wake my brother. The shock wave is throwing mom and dad out of bed, they are falling onto us. Behind them the window is flying out, the TV is falling, the house is shaking".
After recovering, Maria's father opened the front door - there were people, children screaming outside.
"Our house has collapsed almost completely. We run to the neighbours in the basement. We sit and do not fully understand what happened. The Russians have dropped seven 500-kg bombs on our area, that’ s what we counted after we had woken up. It turns out that they had dropped three more before that,” shared the girl.
Maria remembers falling asleep, and all the houses around were intact. Within hours of the Russian air strikes, there was nothing around: no house, no people.
"Everything was like a battlefield, scorched and smashed to the ground. Bricks, wires, poles, trees, furniture and machines - all endured. The house next to ours was completely covered - the rocket flew right into the centre, it collapsed, and people died in that basement,” says Maria.
After living in the basement for 4 days, on March 14 Maria and her family moved to a nearby apartment building. They stayed there before leaving Mariupol.
"The Russians came to kill the civilian population. They did not come to fight with the military, it was us, ordinary people. Your home is gone, your neighbourhood is gone, and the people you grew up with are gone. Yesterday I agreed to go for water with friends, and today they are gone. And you can't even bury them. You just bury in the yard with the hope that everything will end soon, and it will be possible to arrange a proper burial,” says the girl.
She adds that in complete isolation it is almost impossible to know the situation at the front. She knew nothing about her husband.
On the 5th day, armed Russian soldiers entered Maria's house. They demanded documents and searched apartments. They asked about the direction to the Azovstal plant. Maria deliberately pointed in the wrong direction.
"I remember seeing Ukrainian policemen on the street before the Russian military entered the apartment. I ran up to them and asked:
- Guys, my husband is in the National Guard, where are they?
- The National Guard? Probably at the factory.
- At what factory?
- The military is at Ilyich and "Azovstal".
One added that the factories were quiet,” recalls the wife of the member of the National Guard.
Until March 2, Maria and Mykola talked when there was a phone connection. The man did not say exactly where he was, only wrote that he was on-site. After March 2, the connection was lost. Upon learning that the Russians had reached Azovstal, Maria decided to leave Mariupol.
"We did not shower, the food ran out, and there were not enough medicines. Everyone died: people, animals. We ate animals: my father made us pigeon soup. We constantly saw people, children dying, houses being shot at, acquaintances' apartments being burned to the ground,” says Maria.
"I managed to persuade my mother and brother to leave, but not my father. He remains in Mariupol. We did not know about the evacuation. There was a feeling that we were abandoned and nobody needed us. From people, we learned that from the Volodarsky checkpoint you can leave the city by Russian buses to the village of Nikolske”, recalls the girl.
There was no bus that day. The Russian military took Maria and her family to Nikolske in a private car, forcing them to put their things into the trunk.
The family stayed in the temporarily occupied Nikolske for almost a week. The flags of the so-called "Donetsk People’s Republic" and Russia were up in the city, commandant's offices and local occupation police departments were working, and armed soldiers were walking the streets.
That day, the girl managed to contact Mykola for a few minutes. The man said that he was at the Azovstal plant and stressed that they should leave and get to the territory controlled by Ukraine immediately.
"We managed to find a driver who agreed to take us to Berdiansk. Then I learned that an evacuation column from the Red Cross was going from Berdiansk to Zaporizhzhia”, says Maria.
The family left the next day, passing more than 25 Russian checkpoints.
"The first 3 days I wailed, especially when I was taking a shower. The water from the tap is running, and I don't have to heat it, it's already hot, and that is ok. I can cook on the stove, not on the street by the fire. In the store I can buy what I want, not what I see”, says the girl.
A few days later, Mykola wrote: "I have a shrapnel wound, I threw out my back, but I'm not in the hospital, I'm helping other guys to take the wounded from the battlefield to the hospital - this is my combat mission for now."
"I asked him how he pulled out others having a shrapnel wound, and he replied: “Marusya, the wound I have is no big deal. It does not count as an injury at all. Here are the guys without arms and legs. And I am grateful to the command that I was allowed to rest and come to my senses”, says Maria.
Each time, the man said goodbye to her and said that bombs were flying at them from the sky, which he did not think the earth could withstand: 5-ton bombs and phosphorus shells from the sky, shelling from ships at sea, from artillery on land, storming the plant with tanks and with machine guns.
"I told him that you couldn’t be discouraged even if it was difficult not to. It will end sooner or later”, says the girl.
Now Maria is waiting for her husband from Russian captivity and is doing everything possible to make it happen as soon as possible.