‘Bukvy’ continues documenting Russian war crimes and stories of civilian deaths in Mariupol and other Ukrainian territories. These are the stories from ‘Museum of Civilian Voices’ established by the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation.
Violetta Dresviannykova ‘Everything you were afraid of happened to you in one day’
Violetta was born, studied and lived in Mariupol. She was the student of the Faculty of Economics and Law and made considerable efforts to get into an international project that helps migrants. However, the war changed everything.
‘For the first time I came to the realization that this is not a dream, when my grandparents and I carried water just under fire. And then I saw two bomb huge craters near my school’.
According to the girl, people had to adapt to the military conditions, otherwise they would not have survived. Despite fear and shelling, they ran for water and food; despite air raids and lack of gas, they cooked food in open fires. Residents enjoyed the snow in March, as it could be collected and used for drinking water.
‘The worst thing I saw was a fireball moving towards my parents. The rocket exploded near them. I can’t even put it into words…’
Throughout her stay in Mariupol, the girl kept a diary, where she wrote down her emotional state, thoughts, and events that took place around her every day.
The family was evacuated from the city under fire when houses nearby were on fire.
‘The war taught me not to put anything off until tomorrow. To live just now, to enjoy the best things, because this ‘tomorrow’ may not happen… But I know for sure that Mariupol will be part of Ukraine. The city will be reborn, and I will be among those who will rebuild it!’
Violetta Zaiakina ‘Everything was in smoke, we didn’t even know which way we were going’
Violetta is from Donetsk; in the summer of 2015, she left the occupied city and moved to Zaporizhzhia. On the morning of February 24, the woman received a call from her daughter from abroad who asked her mother if the war in Ukraine had really started.
‘What war? And then I turned on the news. I didn’t want to believe it, we had to go through it a second time’.
Mariupol was home to a large Greek family: Violetta’s nieces and nephews. Russia had been shelling their homes and bombing the city with aircraft since the first days of the war. The family could evacuate, the cars were smashed and the fighting did not stop.
‘I told them to go on foot to Mangush. To go and get there. Only when the shell hit their house did they pack up and leave. They took a pan, dry fuel and some food with them’.
Violetta’s family did not even know which way to go because of the thick smoke. Later they were able to reach Mangush, where they stayed with relatives, and the next day they went to Berdyansk.
‘They told about Russian checkpoints, which constantly delayed traffic, telling civilians that the situation was the same throughout Ukraine and advised to go to Russia’.
According to Mariupol residents, the Russians took away everything they wanted – silver and electronic cigarettes. Violetta’s family was stuck for a day in Tokmak without water and food.
‘When my girls came to me in Zaporizhzhia a few days later at midnight, I was just shocked. They were dirty, tired, with white ribbons from sheets in their hair. 21st century…’
Violetta dreams of peace in Ukraine and about meeting the whole family at a big table, where everyone is alive and happy.
Anastasia Pavlova ‘Every night you say to yourself, ‘I’m going to die, let it be so!’
After three weeks of shelling in Kharkiv, Anastasia bought a minibus and went to rescue her parents from the ruined Mariupol. At the beginning of the war, her parents did not want to leave their home and lived in the hope that the city would survive as in 2015. Anastasia lost contact with her parents in early March, so for almost a month she tried to check whether everything was fine with her family.
‘I was very scared to go there. I was well aware that my parents were there and I had to save them.
‘Every 100 meters in the Russia-controlled territories, we were glad to have survived, because the control was total. We were always asked why we were going to the city…’
According to Anastasia, the worst thing is that anarchy reigns at these checkpoints. The Russian military could do anything and not be punished for it: shoot, take away a car or a phone, as they did with Anastasia’s driver.
‘When we arrived in Mariupol, I was shocked – not a single surviving house, rubble everywhere, ruins, garbage and burned cars. People could hardly walk along the roads – in dirty clothes, for humanitarian aid. It looked like the end of the world.’
The woman was absolutely happy when she finally met her family, alive and well. Anastasia took with her 20 loaves of bread, water and medicine for the neighbors, who were evacuated from the city that day with her parents.
‘Ukraine will win. This is not a question or an opinion, this is a statement’
Andrii Meretikov ‘Mariupol: you won’t see this even in apocalypse films!’
Before the war, Andrii worked in an orphanage. All children from the boarding school were taken to Germany when the war began.
‘We could not have imagined what would happen to Mariupol.’
Andrew told how the temperature in the apartment dropped, and the blanket was not enough to keep warm. The city was cut off from water, electricity and gas, and the inhabitants survived as they could.
‘I went outside and saw a sea of broken glass and destroyed buildings, corpses of people. You will not see this even in movies about the end of the world!’
When the shelling reached Andrii’s district, he spent all the time in the basement.
Andrii and his parents decided to leave the occupied city on foot. At one point, the boy fell to the ground, thinking it was a shock wave. His leg hurt all the time, Andrii could barely walk. Mother saw blood dripping from his leg and his pants were completely wet of blood.
The boy’s parents barely made it to the hospital, where they spent 4 hours in a queue. Andrii had a shrapnel fragment in his leg. Now the family is safe in Chernivtsi.
‘I have been to many places in Ukraine, but it is most pleasant for me to return to my native Mariupol. We will rebuild it again!’