My father burned alive after tank fire" - Mariupol resident recalls life under Russian occupation
Mariupol resident recalls life under Russian occupation
The Russian authorities have announced the establishment of full control over Mariupol. The fighting for the coastal city lasted almost three months, tens of thousands of people died, and almost all buildings in Mariupol were destroyed. 40-year-old Svetlana Kirillova spent three weeks in the basement with her husband and two children, the family survived by collecting rainwater. Her elderly parents died two weeks apart. “Spectrum” recorded Kirillova’s story.
“They bombed the airport, and the house began to shake”
I have been living in Mariupol for my entire life. Before the war, my husband and I and our two sons (aged 9 and 15) lived on the ninth floor of an apartment building in the Cheryomushki area, near the port. Our area was located near the former airport of Mariupol, although it is not operational, they started the bombing of the city from there.
On the morning of February 24, shelling began, and our house began to shake. My husband worked the night shift, and my eldest son woke up first and read on the Internet that the war had begun. We were in a panic, ran out of the house, I only managed to take our passports and birth certificates of children. No diploma, no documents for the apartment, no cards. It was very scary to stay there. I was the chairman of OSMD (Association of co-owners of an apartment building – approx. “Spectra”) of our apartment bloc, so together with assistants we quickly went to buy water and prepare a basement for sheltering people. Of course, we often heard in the news about a possible attack, but did not want to believe it and did not realize how large-scale it would be. Nobody could have imagined it!
On the first day we hid in the basement of our house, although it is not a bomb shelter. Previously, it was often flooded. My youngest son is asthmatic, after half a day in the basement he began to cough and suffocate, because of this we decided to go to friends who lived nearby in a private house. At the same time, their basement was not under the dwelling itself, and in the event of a shell hit, we would have a chance to get out. There we stayed for three weeks before evacuation.
Soon our apartment burned down. On March 4, the first shell flew into our hall, the next day another one was thrown onto the technical floor above us and pierced the ceiling. After that, we ran home to get warm clothes, because it was very cold, almost -15 degrees. We were horrified to see that there was no ceiling in the hall, but the house had not yet burned out completely and we managed to rescue some things.
On April 1, a shell hit an apartment on the third floor in our entrance and killed a man. The house immediately began to burn and burned down to the very roof. The shelling did not stop until the last, until they captured the port (Kremlin media began to report the complete capture of the port of Mariupol on April 11 – approx. “Spectrum”). Now our entire neighborhood has been destroyed.
By the end of February, we were all left without electricity, water and gas. We cooked on a fire, ran outside between shellings, trying to at least warm the children with warm water for drinking. It was scary – you run out, and these shells constantly whistle above you.
When you are shelled with Grads, you can hear both the launch and the falling, and during this time you can manage to hide in the basement. But when mines fall, all you hear in a second is a whistle and a strong explosion. On one of days when we were preparing food, fragments began to hit the canopy under which we stood and we hardly managed to escape. We sat in pitch darkness, I didn’t even understand whether my eyes were open or closed. We just lay with my husband covering our children.
During all this time, we would eat twice a day, at best. In the morning or afternoon, we cooked porridge on the fire, and for dinner, one egg per person. My husband was hungry all the time because he gave his food to the children.
“We melted snow to make tea and collected rainwater”
On the morning of March 16, I went out and it was almost like picture from films about Chernobyl or the Apocalypse-not a single soul, everything was on fire and there was a column of smoke. Suddenly I saw that a car with white ribbons and the inscription “Children” was passing in front of the house, after a couple of minutes another one and so on.
I stopped one of them and asked what was going on. They said that people are trying to leave the city in a column. I told my husband: “That’s it, we’re leaving, we’ll die here anyway, and it’s risky there, but there’s some chance to escape”. 9 people somehow fit into a Lada car we took some friends with us). Russian checkpoints stood at every 300 meters, the military entered the buses, and checked phones, social media, photos. There were a lot of cars, we drove to Berdyansk for almost seven hours (the distance between the cities is less than 90 kilometers – note by Spectra).
When we got to Tokmak (a city in Zaporozhye region, since the end of February it has been controlled by RF – “Spektra”), some locals offered to spend the night with them. There we washed for the first time since the beginning of the war. We didn’t have water to wash, there was nothing to drink! First, we melted the snow and used it. When it rained, we put various dishes outside, and the old tub was still standing outside. We collected water, boiled and drank it. The children, of course, spat it out, and only drank coffee sometimes, because it somewhat got rid of the unpleasant taste of rainwater.
When we arrived in the Ukrainian part of Zaporozhye, it became calmer, because we saw our own people. I don’t know who your readers are supporting, I support Ukraine. We were attacked, and we didn’t start this war. We prayed to God to get there, and not to Russia. We went to Lviv, from there to Poland, then to Italy. This is where my sister lives. We were given documents for temporary shelter. We have not received the money yet, the first payments were promised on June 10th.
Here we get free medical care. This is very important because I have a serious illness, I had several expensive examinations here. The youngest asthmatic son had panic attacks in Mariupol, which haven’t stopped to this day. Because of stress, his hair fell out on his forehead and in the middle of his head.
“They brought war upon us and killed my parents”
The main tragedy for me is the death of my parents, who also lived in Mariupol, in the 21st microdistrict. They also had no water, and my mother was lying down, in diapers, she needed care. About ten minutes from their apartment was the old house of my grandparents on my mother’s side, which we used as a summer house. Dad’s car was parked there.
The house itself is located almost above the river and not far from it there is a spring. Finding himself in a hopeless situation, dad collected eggplants from the neighbors, who were also left without water, and went to the spring. When he was returning, he came under fire not far from the apartment. Our neighbors were driving in front of him, who heard the noise and managed to turn into a corner, and dad had hearing problems and he probably simply did not hear the sound and drove on.
As the neighbors said, he drove home wounded, got out of the car and fell. Unfortunately, there was shelling that day, because of which the neighbors could not come closer and pick him up. When they dragged him into the entrance, a doctor from a neighboring house said that his lungs were pierced, as well as his stomach, and he had to be taken to the hospital, otherwise, he would die.
The guy from the next entrance agreed to drive him there, the doctor sat next to him, and dad was put in the back seat. The house has six entrances, they drove around behind the building to the first entrance and fired at us in the front from a tank. The doctor and this guy were torn apart and thrown out of the car, and dad was completely burned in the back seat. It was March 12, and less than two weeks later, my mother died of cold and dehydration. Neighbors buried them, albeit in different places. Only Russia is to blame for their death, it was they who came with the war and killed my parents.
Now I have many acquaintances and friends who have not left the city for various reasons. Recently, a friend of mine managed to travel to Estonia through Russia. In the city, people somehow survive, now they sell 10 eggs there for 100 hryvnias, although, usually, they cost 10-15 hryvnias [for a dozen].
Many live in the basements, in our house, the neighbors from the sixth floor live in their burnt apartment, people simply have no other choice. It has been raining there lately, on Cheryomushki we have a large ravine where the dead were buried shallowly. And now, because of the rains, a layer of earth washes away and takes out the bodies, they say that the smell is simply terrible, I cannot even imagine what it is like out there.
Our neighborhood suffered the most from the fighting. We didn’t have a single high-rise building left, absolutely everything was burned down.