Fr. Jacek Zdzieborski SDB: How did the war start in Mariupol?
Maria from Mariupol: When the war started on February 24, they cut off the heat in our city (Mariupol), then the water, the electricity, then the gas. We have been deprived of any communication. It is winter outside, March, negative temperature: -8 degrees. We lit a fire on the stones to keep warm in the yard and to cook. For this purpose, among others, desks were removed from schools and kindergartens to have dry wood for burning, because everything outside was frozen and wet.
In the first days of the war, our strength left us. The mayor of the city was already in Germany on February 23, and those who worked with him on February 25 confirmed this. No water, no bread, nothing – at least in the neighborhood where I live. We went to the river to get water from the toilet, and we brought drinking water from a well near the church. All this happened during the bombing, but we had no other choice.
People killed by bombs were lying on the streets. If anyone knew them, he would take them to bury their relatives with dignity, write their names, and crucify them with sticks. The rest were buried like cats or dogs … wherever they could. Mariupol is a cemetery, a grave next to the grave, in the streets, in the courtyards … No one will know exactly how many people died.
They shot and bombed my house day and night. First there were tanks, then planes came and continued to bomb. It all happened to us. When the war broke out, it affected people who lived peacefully in their homes, workplaces, schools, or yards. When the bombing started, we hid in our apartments, in the corners, in the elevator, some in the basement, but they did not adapt to take refuge in them, because if the house flew, no one would be able to take it. take us from there. Once upon a time, a bomb exploded at the door of our neighbors. We saw how powerful it was and came to the conclusion that it is impossible to take risks.
My friend’s family (13 people in total) decided to hide next to their father-in-law, not in their apartment building. Among them were women with small children (the youngest was 2.5 years old) and her son-in-law. It was a rich, good family that liked each other and helped each other. A friend’s son asked his grandfather to overtake his mother. The bomb fell as he took a few steps. All of them were believed to have died, but five people, including a 2.5-year-old child, were killed when they began clearing the rubble. The rest were taken to hospital.
But my neighbor was working in the ambulance. He drove “under the bombs” every day and nothing happened to him. One day, when the explosions intensified, he stayed at home and was crushed by a powerful bomb on the roof of his apartment building. There are many similar examples. A neighbor’s son and his wife went to school to charge their phones, and a bomb exploded at the school. His son’s fingers and toes were torn off, his wife’s chest was torn … he died.
– How did you get away from this place?
– Last night, when the house shook like an earthquake (every night and every day felt like the last), we took a risk and went to the basement, we felt that something terrible was going to happen. . The basements were already full, but we were somehow trapped to spend the night there. At night, Ukrainian soldiers approached us and asked who we lived on the third and fourth floors, and then said that we had two choices: either to die under the rubble of this house, or to go to the city and look for another shelter. . Were it not for the warning, we would have waited and gone nowhere. I was leaving because my house was bombed the next morning.
It was 5 in the morning when we came out of the basement and we ran under fire. Houses are burning, people are shouting “help, help us!” they shouted. They were told to flee, but it was no longer possible for them – they died in the fire. 15-20 people escaped from the basement, and the adults returned because it was difficult to escape. We fell on the road and got up again: adults, children, dogs, cats … Everyone was doing their best.
I didn’t take anything because there was a knock on the door of my apartment – neither photos of my relatives, nor my favorite things. We fled to the center of the city, then descended into the sea without any bombing, and entered the area where the city road was. There we waited for a long time, 24 hours, for the bus to Berdyansk (editor: the city and the port on the Sea of Azov). After a long time, 50 coaches left and took us to Zaporozhye (editor: the city of Dnepr, the capital of Zaporozhye region).
We were admitted to a kindergarten in Zaporozhye. Paradox: When I went to kindergarten, I remembered my childhood, and now, at the age of 60, I was given shelter. We were greeted very kindly there, fed with great love and given clothes. Our next stop was Vinnytsia, where we spent the night at school (editor’s note: on the Boh River, a regional city in Ukraine). We went to Lviv only 10 days, so the bus from Mariupol usually takes 8 hours.
I haven’t said everything yet, there are many …
First, in 2022, in the 21st century, such a terrible war is unacceptable. My Mariupolum (450,000 people) was a beautiful city, had beautiful roads, fountains and a zoo were renovated in three years. We had beautiful parks, kindergartens, schools, and a magnificent theater. People took refuge in the theater and basement (800 people) during the bombing. They said that 300 people were killed then … I don’t know if it was true or not. People were buried in the basement, dug up and rescued. Many residents still remained in the city. They are looking for each other; they still do not know who is dead and who is alive.
– You saw people dead on the streets of the city. What did they do with them when they buried them?
– They took their acquaintances to relatives and buried them, and the rest slept there day and night, put them in garbage bags and buried them wherever they could. Today Mariupol – the city of heroes – is called the city of the dead. We would like to continue living in our city with our loved ones, but now it is a heroic city, but there is nothing there. But who would want to live there? In the 21st century, the city should be like a flourishing garden!
– What did you do when you met the separatist soldiers?
– What is the difference between Russian soldiers or separatists? When they met with us, they checked us. On the way from Mariupol to Lviv, we were stopped 15 times, so we took so long. There were about 3,000 people in 50 buses, so we waited 2 hours to check them all. They first closely monitored young women and men under the age of 60, if they had a sniper. They also checked the coaches.
– How did you understand that when they said they wanted to release you?
– What did they want to release us from? It was enough to look at their faces with no kindness. Usually women and men were silent when asked questions so as not to say unnecessary words.
– Did you feel any inappropriate behavior by Russian soldiers before the war?
– I have not had such meetings, but my friends in the village said that Russian soldiers were occupying their better houses, treating them badly, threatening them with forced labor.
– How do you feel and how is the society in general?
– Our society is divided. He has different assessments of the president, the war and related situations. Some people left Ukraine before the war, so they have no idea, for example, that I, like me, personally survived the war and I am still going through it. There should be no war in any nation. We must respect and be kind to each other, whether we are Russian or Ukrainian, Polish or German … I cannot hate Russia (I grew up there, I worked there, my relatives are there) or Putin. I hate his power: he is like Napoleon! I am shocked that in 8 years no one has found a way to change it. I am ashamed of this situation, I am worried about my relatives living in Russia, what will happen to them?
O, Fr. Jacek Zdzieborski, SDB