”I was only warmed by the thought that one day I would be able to tell the whole world about the crimes of the Russians in Mariupol.” The story of a girl who spent two months in a surrounded city

Vostok SOS
”I was only warmed by the thought that one day I would be able to tell the whole world about the crimes of the Russians in Mariupol.” The story of a girl who spent two months in a surrounded city

Kate Ban / «Бабель»

Since May 20, Mariupol has been completely occupied by the Russians. From the first days of the full-scale invasion there have been heavy fighting for the city. Trying to capture Mariupol, the Russians bombarded it with prohibited ammunition, carried out several air raids every day, and destroyed the city with artillery shells. People who remained in the Mariupol didnʼt have access to water and food, and the Russian military often did not allow them to leave. Since 2014, the "Vostok SOS" Charitable Foundation has been collecting information on war crimes for the purpose of ensuring justice and transferring this information to international courts. Foundationʼs documentators Nataliia Kaplun and Maria Beliakova recorded the story of Ania from Mariupol, who had lived in the surrounded city for two months. She told how she drank water with whitebaits, how the Russians bombed Mariupol with phosphorus bombs and what happened to her and her boyfriend during the filtration. "Babel" publishes this monologue with explanations of war crimes Russians committed in Mariupol.

Iʼm not local — my boyfriend and I moved from Kharkiv to Mariupol about a year and a half ago. They bought a house in Prymorskyi district near the seaport. I liked this city, although it was not so big and there was no subway, but it was closer to the sea.

February 24 started as a normal day for me. I was woken up by a phone call. It was a friend from Kharkiv, and the first thing I heard was: "Ania, Kharkiv is being bombed". I didnʼt believe her at first, she asked if we were bombed, but everything was calm: the sea looked as usual, the port was clean, everything was fine. And as soon as I told her that, a rocket flew over us. The sound was very strong and scary.

After that, the phone began to explode with calls and messages. My mother asked me to flee the city, and I began to look for an opportunity to come to her [in Kharkiv]. All bus routes were canceled. Physically, on the first day, a person could leave Mariupol only by train or by his or her own transport at their own fear and risk. My boyfriend and I didnʼt have a car, and I was afraid to go by train. I believe our people, but I donʼt believe Russia at all. I was worried that they [Russians] would commit a terrorist attack at the [train] station, or that they would start hitting the trains right on the way.

Therefore, we decided to wait at home. At the beginning of March, electricity, water, and gas disappeared in the city. There was absolutely nothing, it was impossible to buy food, to go to the pharmacy. We were lucky that we lived in a private house and had a stove and a supply of wood, so we could cook. We had our own basement where we were hiding from the shelling. The biggest problem was the complete lack of drinking water.

We collected water from the streams, and it contained organic matter. We boiled this water, but still it caused stomach ache and nausea. No matter what we did, the water was still bad. Despite the poor quality of water, many people collected it from the streams, because there was simply no other water source.

From time to time, we saw the Ukrainian military, sometimes moving along Zintseva Balka Street and trying to stay a little further from private houses. They always chose such places — such as a cemetery — where there were no alive civilians. The invaders were afraid to engage in a real battle, they were fighting chaotically. And they hit both, civilians and others, no matter who.

In mid-March, my boyfriend and I tried to leave the city. We decided to do it on foot, but came under fire and witnessed how soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine were storming a checkpoint of the Russian military or the military of the so-called "Donetsk Peopleʼs Republic". Then ours came close to their checkpoint, this checkpoint was destroyed. We had to go back to the basement.

I decided to just wait. I knew, I believed in the Ukrainian army. Even when I was sitting in the basement and just crying all day because I was out of touch for a month. I thought that everyone had already buried me, but I still knew that ours would not give up.

At the end of March, the Russian military began targeting our area and the port, they used phosphorous ammunition for this purpose. There were many dead, not military, but civilians because the Russians were afraid to enter the port. It was easier for them to just shoot in that direction... They didnʼt care about the fact that this phosphorus falls, 95% of this phosphorus falls on houses. They did not engage in direct combat. They were just shooting all over the area.

Due to constant shelling, it became dangerous to go far from the basement, but there was no drinking water at all. We were happy even with the water in which the whitebaits were swimming, we took it from the neighbors. We felt sick after it, but there was nothing to drink, so we drank it.

On the night of March 31, the Russians began shelling our area with phosphorus ammunition. The port was on fire, other houses were on fire. During that night, fifteen houses burned somewhere not far from us. Usually when there is a fire in the house, it starts from the inside, and then the slate finally bursts. But that time everything was the other way — first the slate cracks, because the phosphorus falls, burns the roof, and then the house burns down. That night we just went outside and there was a really loud crack of this slate and we just knew we might not make it through the next night.

Then we decided to get out of there. In the morning, we set off on foot to the Russian checkpoint on the way out of the city.

There was a rumor that if you leave the city or move anywhere, you must wear white stripes. As they said, so that the Kadyrvites do not kill. In order for the house not to be bombed, it was also necessary to hang a white bandage on it. And people believed this as there was no news or communication for a month.

We also tied these bandages on ourselves, not understanding how dangerous it was. When we reached the Russian checkpoint, I was so tired and wanted to drink so much that I simply asked not to shoot and to give us water.

They gave me something to drink and asked: "Why are you wearing white stripes?".

And I answered: "People said, itʼs not to be killed".

The soldiers began to laugh loudly. Only later we found out that the white stripes were worn by the Russian military as a distinction from the Ukrainian ones, and a person with white stripes could become a legitimate military target for snipers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. That is, when we walked through the city, we were like a target for Ukrainian snipers. And thank God, no one shot us. The occupiers constantly did everything possible to have as many victims as possible, and then say: "We said, Ukrainians are firing at themselves!"

After that, the military asked us who we were and where we were going. I replied that we are peaceful residents and want to leave the city. After that, they asked me who my boyfriend was. I said that we are a couple, but out of spite, I gave the wrong date of his birth and he was taken somewhere for a check-up.

The worst thing was that the military did not explain any of their actions and said almost nothing. I began to ask — what was happening, where was he taken — and no one answered anything. Then they shouted for me to show all my belongings.

During the treatment, the soldier took away a book on tarot readings, a vibrator and yelled at me for having a discharged laptop. But how could it stay charged if there is no light in the city?! After that, they finally took my boyfriend out and ordered us to get on a bus that was parked nearby. We had no choice, so we sat there.

The bus brought us to school in Portovske village, where we had to wait for the filtration, which took place in Mangush, in the police building. That process was very slow, during the month that we were there, the total queue moved only 100 people.

All those who were waiting for filtering at the school in Portovske, which is a total of about 200 men, women, and children, were kept in unsatisfactory conditions. In the nearest kindergarten, you could take childrenʼs mattresses, blankets and pillows, but you had to sleep in the school, which was not heated — right on the floor in the classrooms. We were fed once a day — there was soup and porridge to which stale stew was added. There was a possibility to boil water and make tea. There was always drinking water, because the village had its own well, and everyone drank water from the tap. Everyone had phones, but there was no connection. There was no medical help either.

Among those waiting to be filtered at school was a nurse who tried to help me when I had bronchitis and was coughing really badly. The nurse advised me to brew raspberry leaves, and I walked around Portovske looking for these leaves. Two days later, the nurse brought me a bag of Teraflu type medicine. And she handed it directly to my hands, yes, as if it was something absolutely forbidden, as if it was some kind of drugs. Because the people of “DPR” and the Russian military did not give medicine to anyone, they said, we will give you medicine now, and you will give it to the Ukrainian military. There was a man with epilepsy, he had a seizure at night. One of the men yelled at the school principal, who had a walkie-talkie, to call an ambulance. The ambulance arrived, but they also had no medicine, and the military did not give any of theirs.

At the beginning of May, we decided that waiting for filtering in the general queue was not an option. We quickly found military personnel who, for money, organized the passage of filtering without waiting in line. By this time, my boyfriend and I were already mentally ready to go anywhere, even to Russia, just to not stay at school.

In Mangush, one had to write down his or her e-mail and all phone numbers on a piece of paper, and list all the relatives one had left in Ukraine. Then to write how one feels about the "special operation in Donbas". How one feels about the president of Russia. The boys were undressed, the Russians looked for tattoos. Those who had it were very unlucky, even if it was just a flower — they [the occupiers] treated you as if you had the flag of Ukraine all over your body.

We went in, there were two Russians sitting with computers, they were taking fingerprints. Then they photographed you from all sides. They could take a look in your phone. They asked about acquaintances in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, whether we helped the Ukrainian military, if yes, how exactly. FSB officer was the last to communicate, this is the end point in the whole process, because he puts the seal. He asked questions — where did you live, what were your views. If he believes you, he will put a seal and give you a piece of paper that says you have been fingerprinted, with your last name on the back. With this piece of paper, you can move around in the occupied territories or go to Russia.

Finally, after that, we were able to leave the Donetsk oblast. While crossing the border with the Russian Federation, another check-up was unexpectedly waiting for us. We had to fill out the same sheet of paper again (which we had already written in Mangush — postal addresses, phone numbers, “how you feel about the special operation in Donbas?"). We decided to write that we are neutral. Before that, I heard a shout from the office, and then I was told that the man answered the question in the same way as we did: he wrote that he was neutral towards whatʼs going on. And the FSB officer yelled at him: "What the hell is wrong with you, your houses are being burned, corpses are lying around — and you donʼt care about that?!" The men were stripped and checked for tattoos again. A woman was sitting next to me, she was uncomfortable because a stranger man was stripping down to his underwear. But there were no options, everyone was silent, because if you talk a lot... [nothing good will happen]

My boyfriend and I were lucky — we were reviewed by a young FSB employee. He looked at the phones, reread the completed questionnaire, asked about where we worked, the names of our bosses, etc. At that time, I already knew how to behave correctly during such inspections. I subscribed to pro-Russian Telegram channels, and put them at the top, as if I read them the most. The FSB officer looked at the phone, photos, and asked what we did in the winter. And I answered — we caught shrimp in the summer, and fired the stove in the winter. Because the photos in the phone were just about that — here we are catching shrimp, and here we are heating the stove.

Anya spoke about the numerous violations of the rules of warfare recorded in the articles of the Rome Statute, namely:

  • i) deliberate attacks on the civilian population as such or on individual civilians who do not take direct part in hostilities;

  • ii) intentional attacks on civilian objects, that is, objects that are not military targets;

  • v) attacks on defenseless and non-military targets, cities, villages, dwellings or buildings or shelling them using any means;

  • xx) the use of weapons, ammunition and equipment, as well as methods of warfare of such a nature as to cause excessive damage or unnecessary suffering, or which are indiscriminate in nature in violation of the norms of international law of armed conflict.

Thatʼs how we got permission to go to Russia. We went first to Rostov, then to St. Petersburg. While we were driving to Rostov, we noticed that FSB officers were on duty at every traffic police post, inspecting every stopped car. We were not very lucky on the road — our car was stopped and inspected several times, again and again checked for loyalty to the Russian Federation.

From St. Petersburg, we went to Estonia, and when crossing the Russian border, a very thorough inspection awaited us again.

My boyfriend was taken for filtration again. I was allowed to go and I was standing in this cage, waiting for him. They constantly told me: "Get out," and I said: "Iʼm not going anywhere, I have a boyfriend who stayed at your Russian border". They really didnʼt like me waiting for him. Then he came out, he was undressed again, checked, asked many questions.

For now, we have found refuge in Europe.

The only thought that warmed me was that the moment would come when I could tell the whole world about what was happening in Mariupol. About occupiers, what they do, how they talk. The attitude is terrible, they have closed the city and are not letting anyone out, because they need to sort out the debris. They are trying with all their might to hide the number of dead civilians.

Translated from Ukrainian by “Vostok SOS” and Anton Semyzhenko.

Documentation of war crimes will help bring Russia to justice. Help “Babel” keep collecting them: donate in hryvnia 🔸 in cryptocurrency 🔸 Patreon 🔸 PayPal: [email protected]