‘Bukvy’ continues a series of stories that tell about war through the eyes of simple people.

Here is the story of Nadia Sukhorukova, a Mariupol resident. The story was first posted by Azov regiment.

My cousin Roman stayed there forever. Death found him at a small bakery while he was going to fetch water. His little son was just hungry and thirsty. There was shelling and my cousin’s friend screamed ‘go down’. They fell to the ground. It proved fatal for Roman as the shell hit near him. My brother, or it is correct to say, what was left from him, was taken to a garage.

In panic, his wife took their little son and left Mariupol in a stranger’s car. His son still texts Roman messages because his mom couldn’t tell the boy his father was gone. The boy is a spitting image of Roman. Quiet, thoughtful, and reliable.

Roman’s own father has only recently learnt about his death. He went to the garage to collect Roman’s watch. I dread to think what it was like for him to see his son in that bloody garage. The watch must be passed over to his little son Sava. I think our uncle Vitya will now be able to survive and leave Mariupol. Otherwise, how could he be able to pass this only keepsake from his father?

My cousin Lyubasha lives in Cheremkha neighborhood. Their Lysenko street has been fiercely shelled and bombed. We called her in those rare moments when mobile connection was still available in Mariupol, and now we have called her from Chornomorsk but there is no answer. We wish she, her husband, their neighbors and friends could survive.

We wish all those who keep defying death in this hell survive. Even when you think you have no strength to go on, when you think it makes no sense to fight, and help is slow. I know and feel how frightened and helplessly lonely they must be in that dark cold basement, and how painful it is for their hearts to beat to the sounds of blasts they keep counting thinking the next one may come their way.

Bright spring. The skies blackened by a smoke plume. The trees burned and deformed by shells that will get no buds. A strange woman at a playground and sounds of a swing she keeps pushing. March 15 is my son’s birthday. My last but one day in hell.

Wagging tail of my dog with scared look in the eyes. Our walks with Angy were brief. Two minutes, at most. The dog got its ‘thing’ done quickly and we ran to the building and were trembling. Me and my dog. There was firing around while that strange woman was still on the playground swinging the empty swings.

My friend’s mom who later saved my dog from the burning building, saw me making notes and wondered what I was writing. I told her I described the things that were happening that very moment. She told me I should call it ‘Those who got out of hell’. I disagreed telling her ‘We are still there, aunt Sasha’. She was confident we would get out of it, but I wasn’t.

Lyosha who would roam about the town to learn the news told me once he has lots of videos showing our streets. ‘The scenes are really awful’. I didn’t want to watch them but asked him to show them once we could flee. I even joked: “As you have nowhere to work, you can become a journalist’. He had worked at Azovstal steel plant, and when he went to visit his children to Livyi neighborhood, he found that the building of his department was ruined and looted.

‘Just in case, my phone unlock code is four eights.’ When he told me this I wondered ‘what do you mean just in case?”

It is a strange half-life, half-death, and today has no tomorrow here. You have just one day. One day of your life. No future, no money, no hope. In twenty days we spent there we never felt safe. Not a single moment. We were hardly alive. We forbid each other to use word ‘tomorrow’. We were not sure it would come.

We could do with very little for life. The most important thing was not to be bombed and fired at, have water, and find something to eat. Whatever comes our way. We ate to be strong enough to go on. We saved food. We saved it, rationed it, and had to make do with very little of canned meat in our portions of grains. And then a shell hit the roof of the house, and fire burned the stockpile of food we kept upstairs.

Yet, even this didn’t make us cry. We just froze.

They dropped bombs on our emotions and targeted our souls with rockets. We didn’t believe it was reality. We thought all things around us were unreal. Life had frozen, and each next day looked much the same. There were more bombardments and their weapons were more sophisticated.

Nadia, who told Bukvy this heart-breaking story, says Russian violent acts in Mariupol are a real genocide of the Ukrainian people.

She recalls humiliation Mariupol evacuees faced going through the enemy checkpoints when Russian troops would look at battered cars and shattered windscreens and told people ‘why don’t you roll up your windows for your kids not to get a cold’.

‘They are bombing Mariupol, thousands of children are in basements, they are starving and scared, some of them are wounded, and there is no way to reach them to help while aggressors pretend they are taking care of Ukrainian kids. It is brutal and cynical,’ said Nadia.

Nadia’s story is not unique for Mariupol as thousands of people are still trapped in the besieged city.