Nataliya Kharchenko   ‘He was buried in his own garden’

Nataly and her kids left the house on March 5, when she found out their village was hit with a shell. Her big family went to live in a church near the Drama Theater. She had to look for another shelter in two weeks’ time as it was unsafe to be in the city center. The family went to live in another church, in Kosmomoltsya street.

This is where the bus came to evacuate people from Mariupol. It was March 19..

‘How can you stay on if there is no food and water, and the city is burning, and the ruins are everywhere around?”

Natalya recounts the moments when her kids asked for yogurt, sweets, toys, and she found it hard to explain to them what a war means.

‘Now they say it is shooting when they hear any pattering sound. The younger son cries at nights, he has nightmares about planes and bombs. The kids have this fear and it is very acute.’

‘I saw a big hollow in the ground and there were many people there, they were not alive.’

People who survived amid shelling and bombardments had to dig hollows in their own yards to bury their relatives, neighbors, and even strangers. A woman who took cover in the church with Nataliya, told her about the death of her husband who was killed when he stepped outside to fetch water. He had to be buried in their own garder.

‘Traveling with three kids was hard. At first, we were driven to Zaporizhzhya, and then to Rivne’.

Natalya still hopes that her relatives she left behind in Mariupol are going to be okay. She also wants to return to her home town.

‘I have this feeling the war will hardly be over until they wreck everything there completely.’

Viktor and Yuliya Rybalko

‘It is terror in Mariupol. We covered our kids’ eyes for them not to see it.’

‘We had lived that way for a long time – blasts were often heard in Mariupol suburbs. We could have never imagined it could start so close to us.’

Yuliya says [when it started] her family slept in a small hallway, away from the windows as it was hard to run each time to the bomb shelter that was three entrance doors away from them.

We went there 3 times. And later I just physically couldn’t  carry my little boy, a bug-out bag, and drag along a daughter.’

She understood that they needed to flee, they were scared and there were no safe passages out of Mariupol at the time. Yuliya tells she saw blow-up cars and Mariupol on fire.

‘When we saw a tank and there were lost of dead bodies with no limbs, we covered our kids’ eyes for them not to look.’

Some of Yuliya’s relations stayed in the city. She has tears in her eyes recounting their  stories about them fleeing amid shelling from one part of the city to another, seeing piles of dead bodies, seeing their once flourishing hometown being reduced to rubble.

‘We were evacuating wearing winter clothes. Only when we arrived in Zaporizhzhya, they gave us slippers, jeans, diapers, and baby food..’

Her husband Viktor lost his son-in-law and nephew in the war while his sister is not answering his calls.

‘I found the information about their death in groups on social media, but we still don’t know what happened to my sister and other relatives.’

Yuliya and Viktor hope their daughter will enroll into school, the little son will be admitted  to a nursery school, and they themselves will be able to find a job in the new city. They say: ‘We want to move on’.

Iryna Gusakova  ‘We have nowhere to go back to’

Iryna is a Mariupol native – she spent her whole life there. The war dramatically changed her life. She heard the first blasts on Ferbuary 24 – they came from the eastern city suburbs and Taganroh motorway where Russian launched their first attacks.

‘My sister called me at 7 am and told the war started. To the very last moment, we hadn’t thought it could happen, we hoped they would just shoot for a while, much like in 2015, and would go back.’

In the first days of the invasion, Iryna was hesitant about whether they should flee because her mother was sick, and they had a garden, 4 cats and a dog to look after, but then a shell hit their house on February 28, one more, a Grad missle, followed the same night.

‘I screamed that mom should cover herself with a blanket. Then we were pelted with broken glass. The cats fled, there was practically nothing left of the house.’

Iryna and her old mom now had to hanker down in a cold basement – they slept on old mattresses and wrapped in blankets.

‘On March 2 the blast were scary. I was on edge hearing the heavy blasts hitting the ground’.

They had to go over to another part of the city as their own Eastern neighborhood, was literally hell let loose. But shortly  the war seeped into the rest of the city- you got shelling, mortar fire, airstrikes.

When water, gas, and electricity were  cut off,  Iryna helped her neighbors to chop wood in the city park and cook meals on an open fire near the building where all of them took shelter.  Getting water was an ordeal as the well they drew water from was 4 kilometers away.

‘Then Grad missiles started to hit our yard and they badly damaged my car, it didn’t start. It was then we found out that people were able to leave to Berdyansk.’

On March 22, a 19-year-old neighbor got me a battery and new tires for my car.  The vehicle still had an intact windshield and one wobbly wheel, but it got Iryna, her mother, and neighbors family to Mangush where people offered us some bread, cucumbers and canned meat.

Now Iryna’s family is in Dnirpo.

‘I want to go back home, to the seaside. I had bought that apartment, we had renovated it and repaired our house, we worked and lived in Mariupol. And now we have no money, no job, no home, we don’t know where to live.’