Andriy (family name is unknown)  ‘We left Mariupol on March 15, and the next day the [evacuation] convoy came under fire’

Andriy remembers they had no electricity, water, and gas  – it was cold, minus 8 at nights. Shattered houses and windows, battered roofs are the picture of Mariupol after ‘liberators’ arrival. People had to make fires outdoors for several months and cook on open fire.

‘On March 2, the phone network went down in Mariupol. You could still, though, ‘catch’ it in some city districts.  Miraculously, I managed to do so. This is how I found out columns of civilian cars planned to take a risk and drive out of  the city on March 15. We passed checks at 15 checkpoints while people who started out on March 16 were targeted with shelling.

Next to Andriy stands his wife. She has tears in her eyes. They would love to return to their hometown, but it is gone. Now it is all rubble in place of once thriving Mariupol.

Artem Ilyin  ‘With God’s Help. How to get out of Mariupol…’

Artem Ilyin’s parents and brother survived in the besieged city of Mariupol against all odds. Artem’s brother managed to get out through a “green corridor” together with his family, while their parents had to come a long way from Mariupol to non-government controlled territories of Ukraine and then back to Ukraine via Russia and Belarus… Their journey from Ukraine to Ukraine lasted nine days.

Together with my brother (he and his family managed to leave the city a couple of days earlier through the so-called “green corridor”), we learned that our parents are alive, that they left the besieged Mariupol on foot! That they do not have any property left, except for their two suitcases. That now we needed to take them out of that so-called DPR back to Ukraine.

Dozens of thousands of people from the besieged Mariupol are forced to flee the fighting, leaving for the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk region and going further to Russia. Is it possible for them to return to Ukraine then? Yes, but it takes time and money.

We managed to test one of the travel routes first hand. It lasted nine days.

Notably, none of the officials in Ukraine has any reliable information about the ways to return. The situation keeps changing every next minute. Mostly for the worse. In particular, the control of people’s movements in the occupied territories is being tightened.

The registration process took about a day. There, they were questioned and asked to fill in their personal profile papers THREE TIMES (‘this is the procedure’). In addition, their fingerprints and palm prints were taken. Then, they were also photographed three times – one full-face picture and two pictures in profile. After that, they were given a paper with their basic data and a stamp from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the so-called DPR.

They managed to return from the coalmine town to the Azov Sea coastal area only together with the “DPR” military, who earn a good bonus to their military allowance by providing a private transport/taxi service. Ordinary local taxi drivers do not go outside their hometowns due to the risk of mobilization and risk of being sent to the frontline.

I had the opportunity to come to the border of Ukraine with Belarus by car, so we decided that the final destination for our parents’ trip should be in Brest region.

We insisted that our parents get off in Rostov-on-Don. Acting remotely from Ukraine, we found some volunteers who helped them with a temporary lodging and the purchase of tickets for a train to Minsk using an online app.

The railway part of the route was supposed to be the simplest — you board the train, have a sleep, have some tea, and you get off. However, in practice, it turned out to be the most nerve-racking.

When boarding the train car, it turned out that crossing of the border between Russia and Belarus by train is formally prohibited for citizens of other countries. That is why the train chief gave them a paper notifying them that they will be fined for an amount from 2,000 to 5,000 Russian roubles when approaching the border. Moreover, they will be detrained in Smolensk, the last Russian railway station.

That was a strange situation as when you enter Russia you get a migration card that is common for both Russia and Belarus.

Our acquaintances, who took a similar route to get from Mariupol to Poland, could not buy the train tickets at the station ticket office at all (buying online allows you to hack the system though). At that time, there were also border control points on highways between Russia and Belarus (they were removed in the second half of March) where citizens of other countries were not allowed to pass, as formally there are no international border control points between these countries. For that reason, our acquaintances had to take a taxi to get to the so-called “three sisters” border crossing point on the border between Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. And from there, they went to Poland. That is both money and time consuming.

Our parents are retirees, that is why the border guards were easy on them. And after a visual contact in Smolensk, they left them in the train car, letting them enter the territory of Belarus even without a fine. Their major concern was that our parents do not go further to Poland.

If they were taken off the train, we had a backup option. Being in Ukraine, we managed to find people in Minsk remotely who were ready to go to Russian Smolensk or Novozybkov (another train from Rostov-on-Don goes through this station) and drive them to Minsk or to the border with Latvia by road.

After the train, our parents fell into the hands of people who are in fact involved in what is considered volunteering in Ukraine and Europe. However, in Belarus, such activity is prosecuted according to the legislation, and that is why they just became good acquaintances.

After a short break for rest, they headed off to the border between Belarus and Ukraine by car.


Volodymyr Pinaiev  [They] burnt the house… burnt the daughter…

On February 24, Volodymyr woke up to the news of Russia’s aggression. The man could hear distant blasts and shelling coming from the front-lines. Two days later, the war arrived in his neighborhood.

‘You can’t live in a middle of all this with endless fighting going on, shells come whizzing over your head, flames’

Volodymyr was at home when a shell hit his house. I rushed to find my daughter and granddaughter – they came for a school break to Mariupol, and got stuck here for long months of this war. The house was gone, just a crater in place of the basement. There was nobody there.

‘I ran to our neighbors. The girls were not there. My head was throbbing. There was ash everywhere.’

Their house burned out after it was hit by a shell, and there lay a young man, all burned, with no limbs and his head, Volodymyr’s daughter lay nearby – one arm was gone,  she was also headless.

Volodymyr left Mariupol only for his wounded son-in-law. “It was a decision to evacuate, it was the only way to save my daughter’s husband.’

There were no ‘green corridors’ – the two men and Volodymyr’s granddaughter traveled amid shelling and bombardments. The two cars on their convoy never got out – they wer crushed with people inside.

‘We found ourselves in some village where a medical worked lived and our friends knew her. We were really lucky. My daughther’s husband got medical aid there.’

The next day the car carrying Volodymyr, his granddaughter and her daughter’s husband got to Zaporizhzhya where they were met by volunteers who offered them meals. The family later went on to Dnipro where his daughter’s husband underwent a surgery.

‘My son wants to take us to Poland. I don’t know, I need to go back to Mariupol to bury my daughter.’