"Russia was deliberately shelling Mariupol": The story of Serhii and Maryna from Donetsk who escaped for the second time

Maryna Kuraptseva
"Russia was deliberately shelling Mariupol": The story of Serhii and Maryna from Donetsk who escaped for the second time

Serhii Ihnatenko and Maryna Akselrod left occupied Donetsk in 2014 and moved to Mariupol. On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Vostok SOS tells the story of a Ukrainian family that was forced to flee Russian aggression for the second time. Read their story in their own words.


In 2014, we left Donetsk. We built our life anew in Mariupol.

On February 22, 2022, we listened to Putin's speech on the recognition of the so-called "DPR" and "LPR," so we expected the outbreak of a full-scale war on February 24. We heard the explosions at four a.m. and thought: " It has begun..."

I remember February 24 as a day of queues in shops, ATMs, and petrol stations. We lived in a nine-storey building on the eighth floor. When the Ukrainian military settled in a neighbouring school and started digging trenches, we moved to my parents' place in the Prymorskyi district.

There was a basement there, and we got it ready as best we could: we cleaned it, put in light bulbs, and brought in chairs and stoves. The basement was divided into rooms, and electricity was supplied to each of them. When the power went out, first the stocks of candles helped out, and then the oil lamps. The heating and water supply went out. On March 6, the gas supply was also cut off.


In the first days of March, when the shelling became heavy, there were 25-30 people in the basement.

We went outside only to get food. But we ate sparingly because we didn't know how long we would stay in the shelter. We had a lot of meat, we used to grill it every day, and we still don't crave it at all…

We cut wood and stored it in the building because it was constantly snowing. We cooked on the fire near the entrance. First, mothers with babies ate, then older people, and then the rest of us. Until there was constant shelling, we managed to cook twice a day, then once.

We became one family: we helped each other and shared food. Our neighbours had a dog, so we gave him the leftovers. We shared medication and even went to other basements to ask if they needed anything for the children. We celebrated two birthdays in the shelter — a woman's and a teenage girl's.


There was not enough water — 30 or 40 litres. We preserved it and collected rainwater in wash basins and bowls. In the first days of March, a truck with technical water from the city water utility arrived at the Prymorskyi court. The driver ran away because the shelling started. About thirty people gathered to take water because we needed something to drink, and mines were flying everywhere... The car remained there, and then we saw that it had completely burned down.

On March 12, we went to a well in Prymorskyi Park. It was a small stream, and there were a hundred people in line. You stand there for two hours, and the shelling continues, and something is constantly flying over your head…


On March 4-5, we heard explosions nearby, and shelling of the residential buildings began. On March 6, we were sitting in the basement, mines were exploding every minute, plaster was falling on our heads, and glass was shattered in the entryway. Three mines exploded in our yard. Almost every house was damaged. But ours was lucky — it is still intact now.

On March 7, I went to the well to fetch water and saw the aftermath of the shelling: houses with holes in them were burning, and people were lying on the street covered with rags. No one was burying them. The place where I was going down to the spring, there were a dead man and a woman with empty plastic bottles lying nearby. They were also going for water.

There were no Ukrainian soldiers, military bases, or other strategic military facilities nearby. There weren't even any schools (only empty kindergartens) — it was just a normal residential area with only residential buildings.


The worst thing is Russian aviation. You can still survive shelling from tanks, mortars, or artillery. But an air raid leaves no chance — buildings just collapse.

Our neighbourhood was lucky because it was mostly mortar attacks. Since March 8 or 9, planes were constantly flying above us. A few explosions, after which they apparently turned around, a few more explosions — and then they would fly away.

And when they flew away, we knew we had 20-30 minutes of peace. And then it would start again. During the last days of our stay in Mariupol, there were no breaks at all, they were flying constantly.


We left on March 15. We saw a huge convoy of cars, many of them had white flags. It seems that the whole of Mariupol was leaving, trying to escape that day…

We had 8-10 cars there. We quickly took our children, pets, and a few things — we didn't even take any memorable things like photos. There were five people in the back seat of our car: three children and two adults.

The first Russian checkpoint was in Berdiansk — there was a queue of about 50 cars. A Russian soldier wrote down passport details and car plate numbers and asked: "Are you all right?" The Russian servicemen also offered the children cookies and recommended that we close the windows in the car "so that we don't get cold." The people who destroyed our lives asked if we were okay. Of course, we couldn't answer the way we wanted to.

We cannot get over it easily. We startle at loud noises, we shudder at the sound of planes. My daughter is afraid to be alone in the room. But we are adapting. Now we are safe, and the nervous system is gradually recovering.

The biggest question that stays with me from Mariupol is how the Russian side could have razed to the ground a city full of civilians, the fact they knew for sure? How could they lie about "localised damage to military objectives" and kill civilians? How could they destroy a city with people in it with bombs?

Documenter: Tetiana Petrova