"The price of borsch cooked on a fire under shelling": The story of Yelyzaveta from Mariupol

Maryna Kuraptseva
"The price of borsch cooked on a fire under shelling": The story of Yelyzaveta from Mariupol

Yelyzaveta lived in Mariupol, where she studied and worked at the Mariia Fedorivna confectionery, which produced the Mariupol Cake. At the end of 2021, she got married and moved with her husband to a new home near Svobody Square.

Yelyzaveta's story was recorded by Mariia Biliakova, Nataliia Kaplun, and Kateryna Khrapovych, who work for the Vostok SOS charity foundation. Since 2014, the foundation has been collecting information about war crimes committed by the Russian Federation to ensure justice and the right to truth.

Read the story of Yelyzaveta in her own words.

On February 24, we woke up and started calling our relatives. We did not want to leave the city. We hoped that the Ukrainian military would drive the Russians away.

On February 28 or March 1, we heard explosions, the Russian army was bombing the Livoberezhnyi (Left bank — TN) district. The power was eventually cut off on March 2, when we looked out the window and saw no lights. Then the water disappeared. And on March 7, we were left without gas. There was no cell phone service, no internet.

We could hear explosions all the time. We moved the sofa into the corridor. We slept a lot — we wanted to wake up and see that it was over.

In the first week of March, we would go to the store — there was no bread, flour, matches, or candles. Eggs were sold in huge trays. It was cold, so we took turns going home and pouring hot tea into a vacuum flask. The store had huge windows, and we used to cover our faces and necks with hoods to avoid injuries if the windows shattered from the shock wave.

On March 12, we went to visit our aunt, who lived nearby, when the shelling started. We ran, and near Zerkalnyi (a shop), I spotted two bodies in the corner of my eye. We were running and crying because it's one thing to hear about someone's death and another to see it.

We ate once a day. We cooked quickly — we had to throw in all the ingredients and run back to the building — there was shelling. When we ate this borsch, we thought at what cost it was cooked.

On March 9, there was heavy shelling, and when an explosion occurred nearby, my grandfather and mother-in-law were drinking tea in the kitchen. A window frame flew past them. They survived. My husband and I ran there practically under fire, our hearts were pounding with adrenaline. Our neighbour was injured — shrapnel cut his neck and face, and he was covered in blood when being carried out.

Around March 5-6, in a neighbouring building, two or three upper floors fell down as a pile of stones and crushed a car. Our house was also hit directly — we were returning home after fetching water and saw flames.

On March 16, we left our apartment. The shelling became more frequent, and the wind blew the smell of smoke and burnt plastic into the apartment (later, we found out that our apartment burned down because the wind had spread the fire). There was heavy shelling that day.

We were looking for shelter and wanted to run to the first building we came across, but they were bandaging the wounded and wouldn't let us in. We reached my aunt's house, but there was a fence. And at that moment, we heard the sound of planes. I started hysterically panicking. People were passing by and told us where we could climb over. I ran to my aunt first and knocked on the door, she got scared, and I shouted: "Everyone is alive!" And then the shelling stopped.

We settled there for the next three days: me, my husband, grandfather, mother-in-law, aunt, uncle, brother. The shelling and bombing continued. On the morning of March 18, we were woken up by an explosion near the house. We did not go to the basement or a parking lot — it was damp, cold, and people were sick.

It was on March 16 that almost the entire house left — allegedly, humanitarian corridors were organised. My uncle decided not to go because they said the evacuation convoys were being fired at.

On March 19, we went up to the eighth floor to get a signal and read the news from the State Emergency Service about the humanitarian corridor. We decided to go.

In the car park, my uncle met some people, and a man who knew which roads to take had just arrived to pick them up. We agreed that my mother-in-law and grandfather would stay because my grandfather would not have survived the journey. But we wanted to take my mother and brother, yet we didn't have time: the man could wait for us for only 15 minutes, and the shelling started. We met Ukrainian soldiers on the way, and they guided us.

We were stopped at the first Russian checkpoint on the road to Manhush. My 23-year-old husband and 14-year-old cousin were forced to get out of the car and undress — they were looking for tattoos. They also taunted us — they behaved disrespectfully and tore off our hats. They stopped us near Berdiansk and wrote down our passport details. We passed about 30 checkpoints like that.

On March 20, it was my grandfather's birthday, and we didn't even know how he was doing.

In Zaporizhzhia, a relative met us, but we decided not to stop, as we could also hear explosions there. We went to the Cherkasy region, where we still live.

At the end of March, I received a call from an unknown number and heard my mother's voice. I was so happy! It turned out that they had gone on foot to Melekino, and from there they were going to Zaporizhzhia.

My grandparents stayed in Mariupol. Around March 20, my grandfather went to look for us. Then he ended up in the hospital where he used to work and was stuck there for a week because of the shelling. Then the Ukrainian military came and warned him to leave. He got to the village of Portivske on foot. Then he returned to our grandmother. Now they are in Mariupol — they do not want to leave their hometown.

Remembering everything I had to go through, I realise that only the instinct of self-preservation helped me survive. I have reconsidered my values. If a dispute is brewing, I think: "How much of this life do I have left?" and stop.