“We look out of the window — and itʼs like a black paper there. Iʼve never seen anything like that in my life.” Alina Musiienko has already fled the war once. Now she escaped from Mariupol ― hereʼs her story

Yuliana Skibitska
“We look out of the window — and itʼs like a black paper there. Iʼve never seen anything like that in my life.” Alina Musiienko has already fled the war once. Now she escaped from Mariupol ― hereʼs her story

Evgeniy Maloletka / Kate Ban / «Бабель»

From the first week of Russiaʼs all-out war against Ukraine, Russian troops have been mercilessly shelling Mariupol. As the city holds its defenses, the occupiers bomb it from the artillery, warplanes and even warships, striking at civilian targets. The city has been under siege since March 2, when heating, electricity and gas supply were suspended. The Russians bombed the maternity hospital, drama theater and art schools — civilians were hiding in all these places. According to official data, 2,187 people were killed ― but this figure may be way higher as rescuers are often unable to reach the rubble due to the fighting. Since March 5, the occupiers have been constantly violating agreements and are refusing to open "green corridors" for the evacuation of civilians. And only a week ago people started leaving Mariupol. "Babel" editor Yuliana Skibitska spoke to Mariupol resident Alina Musiienko, who managed to leave the city with her family. Now they are migrants twice ― back in 2016, they moved from the temporarily occupied Donetsk to Mariupol.

Alina Musiienko, 28 years old. She moved to Mariupol in 2016 together with her husband. They have a 7-month-old child

[On February 24] we woke up because my husband received an SMS from his friends: “We are under attack. They bomb Kyiv, Kharkiv. The war has started. We immediately started to monitor the news, switched on the TV. It was shock and panic: we didnʼt know what to do, where to go and what to expect.

We are from Donetsk. We left the city in 2016 for Mariupol as the branch of Donetsk Management University, where I was studying. Everyone was leaving Donetsk to have normal education, a Ukrainian diploma. My husband got a job in Mariupol, so it was a match.

We compare Mariupol we saw in 2016 to the city it has become [before the war]. With new parks and renovation projects, it became way nicer than Donetsk was when we left it.

In 2014 [when there was active warfare in and near Donetsk], everything was different from now. Donetsk is a large city ― my parents lived in one of its districts, we lived in the other, it was possible to move around the city. If you donʼt have running water — you can go to another district where the communal services work. Yes, there were shellings, it was scary, we heard how missiles came. We understood: this time [the separatists are] shooting, and now the missiles [from the Ukrainian army] are coming. But there was a cellular connection all the time; people were discussing what happened in chats.

Probably this relatively not dangerous situation in Donetsk played a bad joke on us. [On February 24] we packed two emergency backpacks ― with documents, money, food for the baby, two chocolate bars for ourselves, and water. They were always standing near the exit from our apartment, so in case of, say, a missile hitting our flat, we could run asap. But back then, we were mainly following the TV news and hoping that it would be like in Donetsk in 2014: some small hustle and back to normal.

In the beginning, it was relatively quiet in Mariupol. We heard [some shooting] in the distance, but it was possible to move around the city center. We went to the grocery stores. Life went on like at normal times ― plus binge-watching the news and getting a continuous shock from whatʼs happening.

On the morning of March 2, the central heating stopped working, the electricity and cellular communication went off in the evening. And it was in all the city: we watch out of the window, and itʼs just a plain black paper out there. Iʼve never seen anything like this before. On the following day, there was no running water anymore, in two days — no gas for cooking. The war was getting closer and closer. We lived on the sixth floor, with a beautiful view from the window. First, there was one fire, then another one, then more and more and closer and closer to us. Just stretch your hand, and here the warfare is.

When the shelling started, we went to the corridor, following the rule of two walls [between people and windows]. Our neighbors often went to the basement. Later they started living there as the windows in their flat broke because of the shelling and it was too cold. We also went to the basement a couple of times, waiting for the attack to stop, but staying there with a baby was too inconvenient. So later on, if the snelling was too heavy, we went to the corridor.

Getting the food was a quest. In two days after the electricity was off, heavy looting started in the city. [The marauders] took everything thatʼs possible to take — when I went outside, I couldnʼt believe my eyes. Even the shoe shops were looted.

We started stocking up food and water on February 24. We had groats and meat, but all our meat thawed after the electricity went off. While there was still a gas supply, we cooked the food in frying pans. After the gas was cut off, I realized that now there was no warm water for our child and sat on the floor, crying. I couldnʼt bear this anymore. During the nights you are lying and listening: is [the shelling] far or close, should we run to the corridor or not. Itʼs cold. You sleep in the hat, walk in the hat, put five coats on your baby.

In the morning, all the people in our apartment house went out to light fires, as everything was cooked over a fire. The daily routine was like this: you wake up at six in the morning because itʼs light already and no one is sleeping. We had three large fireplaces surrounded by bricks, using them as shared kitchens. Men cut down trees for firewood because no one was prepared. Actually, how can you prepare — where will the firewood in the apartments come from? In a whole apartment building, we found just two axes. Now I remember all this and think: how did we survive in that hell?

We left the city at our own risk. There was no connection, no information — we donʼt know anything. Someone somewhere listens to the radio, if there is one. Someone heard something somewhere, but the information is already crooked and outdated while it reaches us. Our neighbor sometimes caught Kyivstar [Ukrainian mobile carrier] signal in one place, so we could contact our relatives and friends every couple of days. We called two people, they monitored the news for us to give some up-to-date information. They even said what the weather would be like, so we could get ready.

On March 14, there was information that 160 cars had left Mariupol. At 5 pm we decided to go the next day. We told our neighbors to decide if they wanted to join us.

The next day we woke up, had breakfast, put a sticker saying "Children inside" on the car, threw in our two backpacks, two suitcases, and two bags — thatʼs all we took with us. We put on our jackets and left with the understanding that we would never return here. It wasnʼt easy. But I was in such a condition that I was ready to take my documents, baby food, and water — and just run. I didnʼt need anything anymore, just thought: "let it all stay here, weʼll buy everything [we need]". Every day there was like a groundhog day. Fire in the morning, preparing food, warming the water, listening to the shelling in the afternoon, thinking how close it will get, after dark ― going to bed with the wish this night to pass well. In the morning, you go out again, wait for some news, looking at what is on fire now. Itʼs challenging both morally and physically.

The trip went well. It was scary when we drove around the city, because [the missiles and bullets] whistled over the head like itʼs an action movie. When we left the firing behind, it was a little easier. We rode in a large column, no one accompanied us, there was no [promised] ceasefire. We just rode one after the other, asking each other for directions. We arrived in Zaporizhzhia, got registered in the distribution center, volunteers asked if we had a place to go. We had, we got there quietly and went to bed.

A woman I know was driving her neighborsʼ car, which had Kyiv license plates on it. Russian military took the car, so she and other passengers had to hitchhike. Now they are in Berdyansk city. Itʼs not the best choice [as Berdyansk is occupied], so they will continue their escape. We are now in Dnipro city, with relatives. This is the first time for me in this city, so weʼll see whatʼs in here.

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