Hanna Rastyagayeva. Mariupol.

They came in the morning and told us to get out, otherwise the place will soon be a burial site.

Hanna was a nurse in chidren’s intensive care. The war caught her when she was at work. Hanna kept working and saving children’s lives until March 1. Two days later, the city center woke up to sounds of shooting.

‘There was no mobile connection at that point. I and my daughter packed things and I took her to my sister. I went to work. I got a text from my daughter at night saying she was okay. It was a moment of joy. But nightmares happened next morning’

The city center was fiercely and ceaselessly shelled.  Hanna was afraid to leave the hospital but she had to get back home. She could hardly walk. As soon as the woman got to her sister’s place she saw the house had been shelled – the windows were shattered and balconies gone.  Fortunately, Hanna’s family wasn’t hurt, they were waiting for her.

‘When the maternity hospital was bombed, they brought us abandoned newly born babies. There was a little boy, 8 or 9 month old. He was brought by emergency service men. We called him Myshko. The note that came with him said ‘ Save my son’.  The wounded started to arrive from the central district. Our children’s hospital was admitting whoever came. There was no water, energy, we were working using a power generator. The biggest gif for Women’s Day was snow’.

The hospital suffered intestive artillery assault late into March 16. All the personnel and their family members, and newly born babies, and orphaned babies hunkered down in a shelter for a week, March 17-24. Hanna says it was a damp and cold place but at least it was safe there. They heard combat going in the streets nearby, the earth was shaking.

‘Once an airstrike was so powerful that I had to cover my daughter and she kept saying: I don’t want to die, I am just 14!’ It was the biggest shock.’

On March 24 they came to the hospital and told us: Get out of here, take the kids, otherwise the place the place will soon turn into a burial site.’ It made  people pack things and leave, asking no questions.

‘When we we going on the bus, it hurt to see our city. When we had been in the hospital, we couldn’t see it. We could have only guessed what it could be like. News about the destruction came by word of mouth. This is how I learnt my house burned down. We had nowhere to go back to.’

The family was taken to a safer place in Mykolske, and later to Zaporizhzhya. Hanna believes Ukraine will win and they, she and her daughter, will be able to come back and go to the sea.


Kateryna    We lived by hope in Mariupol, but the hope was doing with every blast’

Many Ukrainians hadn’t expected a war could come into their country and turn out to be so brutal. Kateryna is no exception. When the war broke out, she was also at work.

‘I heard the sirens. But I didn’t know where to run. This is how the war started for me. I woke up to the sound of a big blast. The house across the street was buring. I had a fit of panic, I was gasping for air. I heard an awful scream in the street. People were screaming.’

The woman and her husband sheltered in a basement for the next two weeks. She said the awful situation made Mariupol residents team up to defy the inhumane war and death. People were trying to help survive others. This is when Katya understood that humanity persisted.

‘I haven’t seen so powerful unity, humanity and compassion in my life!’

The most memorable moment happened on March 13. It was the day when Kateryna could die three times.

It was a scary experience going to sleep in a shelter amid ongoing shelling. Blasts came night and day. Her house caught fire several times for shelling. People prayed in basements.

‘I woke up at 4 am. Sashko, an emergency service worker, woke up the same moment. There was this smell.  Paint cans were exploding in the store above us. We had mere seconds. We rushed to the hallway. And then to the exit. The crowd of people, stampede, screams. Some people stepped out of the shelter to get away from choking fumes. It was dark. When we got into the open place. There was a plume of white smoke, a group of men was running to us. We though it was DNR troops. Then came a mortar fire. They targeted us. We were like live targets. We went to some adjacent place. Another mortar shell came. We didn’t know where to run. We thought we were going to die. Right there in the open place. We saw the door, rushed to it – it was locked.’

People pounded on the door amid mortar shells blasting. The door finally gave way and Kateryna was saved. Afterwards, she went back to their basement.  Another shelling came – the house was rocked by several blasts. People were running out, weeping and screaming, people were bleeding. The concrete section collapsed and buried some of them.  The blast, a cloud of dust – she could have perished there as well.  People came to rescue but couldn’t clear up the rubble.

‘Many people died that night. There was a woman with a child and a 5-year-old boy. He had made everybody laugh in the basement. We didn’t see them after that. I will remember the scene till the end of my life. People were dying in Mariupol. Every blast meant somebody died or was wounded.’