”Every yard was a cemetery.” The therapist fled the war in Donetsk in 2014, and now he was walking out of Mariupol and almost got hit by a mine — this is his story

Vostok SOS
Yuliana Skibitska
”Every yard was a cemetery.” The therapist fled the war in Donetsk in 2014, and now he was walking out of Mariupol and almost got hit by a mine — this is his story

"Unknown #2."

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Since May 20, Mariupol has been completely occupied by the Russians. From the first days of the full-scale invasion, fierce battles were fought 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 city did not 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 in order to ensure justice and transfer this data to international courts. Foundationʼs documenter Tetyana Petrova and communicator Kateryna Khrapovych recorded the story of doctor Stepan, who had already been forced to flee the war twice. He told how he bandaged wounded neighbors, how he witnessed a burial in the yard, and how he and his neighbors left Mariupol on foot — and almost got blown up by a mine. "Babel" publishes this story with explanations of exactly what war crimes the Russians committed in Mariupol.

I am a medical doctor, a therapist. Back in 2014, I moved from Donetsk to Mariupol and got a job at a local hospital in the Primorsky District. I was also at work on the twenty-fourth of February [when Russia started the full-scale invasion]. That day, the entire staff of the hospital arrived at seven oʼclock in the morning, as usual, we began to receive patients, and within three hours shelling of Mariupol has started. We continued to work: someone had to close sick leaves, and someone had to open them.

On March 1, very serious shelling of the city began: both the roads and our hospital. Therefore, the management ordered to stay at home, and if possible to go to the shelter, to the nearest bomb shelters. Residents of nearby buildings have already begun to move into the basement of the hospital, which was a bomb shelter. And the medical staff no longer went to work: some left the city, some stayed at home. The hospital has been closed since March 2.


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I was one of those who decided to wait in the apartment. I lived in the Strilka neighborhood, on Gagarin Street. There was already no heating and electricity, and March of this year seemed very cold — the temperature in the apartment was around five degrees Celsius. We warmed ourselves with hot tea while there was gas, but already on March 6, the Russians blew up the gas pipeline. The water disappeared along with the gas. Under fire, I ran to the House of Culture Chaika, because there were two wells near it. But the queues for water were huge: you had to stand for three hours just to have something to cook on and something to flush in the toilet.

The street "kitchen" where the people of Mariupol prepared food, March 29, 2022.

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As a doctor, I provided medical assistance to everyone: someone got high blood pressure, someone had a nervous breakdown. An 85-year-old grandfather lived on the first floor. He suffered a stroke and had attacks of bronchial asthma, so he constantly had to help to stop them.

People from other parts of the city in search of water passed through our yards and said that we have the most peaceful neighborhood. It really was like that for a while, and then it [the war] reached us. They [the Russians] started shelling our territory from the ships. The shells fell very close. There were no military facilities nearby, and I still canʼt understand why they hit us so hard. There are no intact buildings left at all. In our house, the outer and middle entrances burned completely. Someoneʼs upper floors were destroyed by shells, somewhere there were terrible fires. And so we lived: we ran for water under shelling, we cooked food on a fire near the entrance. Everyone supported each other. The neighbors thanked me for my work — some with soup, some with boiled water, thanks to which it was possible to at least make tea and warm up a little.

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Gradually, everyone's food supplies ran out, and only some dried bread and bagged tea remained. We heard that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church near the port was giving out humanitarian aid. There was no way out, and we went there. In order to get help, a person had to get in line in advance and enter his or her personal data. The occupiers constantly delayed the cargoes and did not allow them to safely reach the city. Thatʼs why we waited a long time for the humanitarian aid — it got stuck sometimes in Pology, then in Berdyansk. But our church helped as much as it could. Once I even got one jar of green peas and one jar of corn.

Soon this ended, because there was nothing left to give to the people. I remember how we were standing near the house next to the church — signing up for humanitarian aid, and the next day a shell flew into this house and a woman died.

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Once I was already leaving the church when a young girl and a boy came up there, and he had a shovel in his hands. They turned to the church worker — they asked for help in burying the dead girl's father. His body had been lying there for several days. And the church worker says: "I canʼt help you." Then they started burying people in the yard among the fir trees.

There were many deaths. We did not see mass burials, but new graves were constantly appearing in the courtyards of multi-story buildings. Every yard was already a cemetery. There were also many wounded. I constantly had to apply stitches and bandages. People came with shrapnel injuries to the abdomen, chest, head, hands, face, eyes — because the glass was flying. No matter how much I told them not to stand near the windows, they still didnʼt listen.

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My phone no longer worked — I could only look at it: there was no connection, no electricity to charge it either. I decided to go to my hospital in Cheremushky district, because before the full-scale invasion, we had installed generators. I was walking near high-rise buildings and everything around was empty, shells were flying.

In the hospital, I saw our laboratory technician Klavdia Viktorivna from the biochemical laboratory. She had a very serious injury to the right part of the body — chest, stomach. She was leaving the house when a shell fell on the porch. Miraculously, with the help of her daughter, she got to the hospital, and there our nurse removed the fragments and applied stitches. Fortunately, the surgical room was equipped and it was possible to do it.

The phone could not be charged. The guard on duty said that the generators would not be turned on soon and that I had better leave. Because during all the half an hour that I was there, shells were exploding in the nearby yards and on the territory of the hospital itself. The building was literally shaking from that.

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On the 21st of March, a nurse who worked in the neurology department in my hospital walked through our yard. I didnʼt recognize her right away — during the twenty days that I hadnʼt seen her, she had lost a lot of weight. Together with her husband, she was carrying a baby carriage. As it turned out, they went to see what their daughterʼs apartment looked like on the sixth floor of a nine-story building. It was completely burned down, only a few things and a cart remained. They were leaving the city and planned to put things in it.

Then I also decided to get out of Mariupol, because it was simply hell: everything around was in smoke, everything was on fire, shells were exploding overhead. Black clouds of soot hung over the city and behind it. Exactly one month after the beginning of the full-scale invasion, on March 24, we, together with a retired neighbor and her son, moved towards Melekyne. It was the second time we had to flee from war, from this horror — in 2014, they left Luhansk, and I left Donetsk.

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People followed us in small groups. There were no more cars, only sometimes broken cars stood on the roadsides: with broken windows, flat tires, defunct engines. There was devastation all around, shrapnel and unexploded shells. I almost stepped on one of the mines. If it werenʼt for my fellow travelers, then two more steps and thatʼs it.

We reached the checkpoint of the so-called "Donetsk Peopleʼs Republic", and the inspection began. They looked through everything — both things and documents. We were allowed to board the buses and reached Mangush village [near Mariupol]. We were told that there are carriers there. We called one of them, and he took me to Novovasylivka, because my niece was there. I was stuck there for three weeks as it was impossible to leave there to the controlled territory of Ukraine.

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But on April 15, I got out of there — as it turned out, on the last bus. I drove to Berdyansk for about three hours. We passed 14 checkpoints of the "DPR" — we constantly got off the buses, were repeatedly examined, interrogated, they rummaged through our things. At the last checkpoint there were already Russians — Buryats, Kadyrovites. At one of the checkpoints, I saw a girl and two men kneeling next to a car, while their belongings and the car were being inspected. I donʼt know what happened to them afterwards.

Now I am in a safe place in Kyiv oblast. I am very grateful to the people who accepted and helped me here. I try to serve them in the same way: I work both as a doctor and help around the house.

Everyone involved in these atrocities must be held accountable. There is no Mariupol anymore. Mariupol was destroyed, purposefully and brutally. The Russians tried to justify themselves, saying that they destroyed the bases of the "Nazis", but in fact they killed hundreds of innocent women and children. I noted for myself that Mariupol has become better than Donetsk, where I once lived and worked. And now Mariupol was wiped off the face of the earth.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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