‘Bukvy’ continues documenting Russian war crimes and stories of civilian deaths in Mariupol and other Ukrainian territories. These are the stories from ‘Museum of Civilian Voices’ established by the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation.


Olha Butrimova. Mariupol

‘People were coming to the bomb shelter with the words ‘Our apartment has just burned down. We have no place to live’

For Olha, the beginning of a full-scale invasion was not unexpected. Since 2014, the pastor of the church that the woman attended had been talking about the horrors that Russia is capable of, and prepared his loved ones for the war in Mariupol. However, no one could predict the scale. The basement of the church became a shelter for many peaceful residents. Even before February 24, water, food, candles, , and sleeping bags were stored in the shelter.

‘On the morning of February 24, the members of my church group left at dawn to pray on the hill. The sounds of explosions and gunfire were heard from the sea. At 7 in the morning we were praying and understood that the war had already come.’

In the evening of that day, the woman, her daughter and a friend moved to live in the church. According to Olha, in the early days the city still lived a regular life: transport and all communications were operating. However, people began to appear in the church, looking for a shelter. Starting from February 26, the eastern district of the city began to be intensively bombarded.

At the beginning of March, the electricity and gas supply was disrupted, so Olha and her people cooked on a bonfire for 400 people at once. According to the woman, the lack of water was the worst thing. The men dug a street toilet on the territory of the church, and Olha and her team walked under shelling to the springs for drinking water.

‘We used more than 200 liters of water per day. There was nothing in the shops, and we had to somehow feed hundreds of our residents.’

Olha says that at first people from remote areas of the city lived in the shelter, but over time, people came from houses located near the church saying, ‘Our apartment has just burned down. We have no place to live.’

The woman remembers a terrible day – March 14. The man from the church was standing in a queue when the shelling started. He was wounded and had a punctured lung. The inhabitants of the shelter took the man to the church, but they could not save him… He died in the church.

Olha stayed in the church bomb shelter until the end and helped people, but the bombing of the city only intensified. Volunteers tried to evacuate people, the woman and her child managed to evacuate from the city.

‘I stay in Zaporizhzhia to be closer to Mariupol and I will return home when the city is freed!’


Maryna Kuraptseva. Borodyanka

‘Death was just one hour ahead’

Marina is 38 years old. She calls herself a ‘double refugee’. In 2014, she had to leave her home in Yenakievo, Donetsk region, and now she barely managed to get out of the bombardment in Borodyanka.

According to the woman, real hell began in the center of Borodyanka on February 27. The city was on fire, civilians were running under fire to burning shops for water and food. Bullets flew everywhere, artillery fired without end, fierce battles continued. The Russian army tried to enter the city three times and three times their columns were completely destroyed.

‘There is a video where a Russian tank turns towards the house and just fires at the house. They have no rules of war or humanity. To stop the fire on civilians, a woman showed her newborn child from the window of the house. This only angered the Russian bastard, and he deliberately fired at her.’

Marina says that air bombs had been dropped on the city since the beginning of March. Houses were destroyed, people were rescued from the rubble. Russian tanks were in different directions and crushed everything that was nearby. Civilian victims will be counted for years, and crimes of terrible deaths will be investigated for decades.

‘The entire center was burned, but they did not reach our place for 30 meters. I turned gray in one March night from horror. Two rescuers ran into our basement and shouted to leave the city quickly, because the enemy was already very close. I asked them to show their documents, and one of them started to say Ukrainian words that Russians cannot pronounce. I realized that I could go with him.’

The family was evacuated with the buses provided by the Ukrainian authorities who were staying in the town until the last moment. They were leaving Borodyanka under artillery fire and airstrikes.

‘I no longer have hope for a diplomatic solution to the conflict with Russia, my tolerance died on March 2 in Borodyanka.’


Olena Hrechana. Mariupol

‘We were afraid to be buried alive in the basement’

Olena learned about the start of a full-scale war from a friend’s call on the morning of February 24. On the first day, the woman and her family managed to buy groceries, but no one could prepare for the scale of such a disaster. Olena lived in the seaside part of the city, so she only occasionally heard the first shelling.

The family literally survived without communication in the cold since the beginning of March. Those who had their own cars left the city, others stayed in the hell that was arranged by the Russian military. Some left the city on foot to nearby villages.

On March 16, her house was hit with artillery and they stayed in the basement for a couple of days. They decide to leave the city.

On April 17, the woman and her daughter managed to get through the Russian checkpoints and reached the Ukraine-controlled territory.

‘There are a lot of people in Mariupol who want to evacuate, but new artificial barriers or rules are constantly being created for them by the occupiers.’