Ukrainian couple say they escaped Mariupol’s ‘real hell’
A Ukrainian man who escaped from Mariupol has described life in the city as “utter hell” after witnessing blood and body parts covering its streets and Russian bombs destroying his neighborhood.
Victor Mayevsky, 62, is now safe in Poland with his 63-year-old wife, Valentina, after enduring weeks of ‘constant shelling’, freezing temperatures and severe food and water shortages in the beleaguered city of southeast of Ukraine.
The couple woke up at 5 a.m. to the sound of explosions on February 24, the day of the Russian invasion, and the shelling of their home neighborhood of Levoberezhny continued for weeks before fleeing.
On the morning of the second day, the couple hid in a windowless hallway of their home after seeing missiles hit houses and buildings just 300 meters away.
On February 28, a missile landed three meters from their home but did not explode. He was later removed and neutralized by Ukrainian emergency services.
“All these days the shelling did not stop, sometimes there were breaks from 11:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. (and) during this time we tried to sleep, but sleep did not come easily,” he said. declared.
“The night was moonless, there were no street lights, but the sky was red from the boathouse on fire…it was pure hell.”
Mr Mayevsky said the strikes hit an electrical substation on February 27 and by the end of that day he and his wife had no light, water or heating.
With temperatures of minus 5C, the couple slept wearing “several shirts, sweaters and a jacket” and used their gas supply to cook and keep warm by warming metal buckets of water.
With his internet access limited to nearby pockets of phone signal, he was left in an “information vacuum”, using an old battery-powered AM radio for wartime news.
One day, Mr. Mayevsky managed to find a signal with his mobile phone and reach his daughter, who lives in Odessa, saying: “We are alive”.
On the morning of March 5, his daughter informed him that a ceasefire had been declared and that a corridor would be set up to allow civilians to evacuate Mariupol.
“I immediately went to the garage for the car, noticing that the battery was nearly empty…how happy I was when it started!” he said.
He and his wife loaded two bags with clothes, food, money and their passports and drove through shrapnel and burned-out vehicles to the city center where an evacuation column was underway of training.
But, despite the supposed ceasefire, the Russian shelling continued and the evacuation was quickly halted.
Unwilling to return to their ‘very dangerous’ home neighborhood, the couple instead stayed in a flat with Mr Mayevsky’s 86-year-old aunt in the city center – where a bomb hit a few days later.
“One of the days around noon… an explosion of enormous force sounded near us: all the windows opened, from the street we heard the piercing cries of people,” he said.
“Through the window I saw… there was blood all over the street, there were body parts of people, as well as fragments of the wall of the house… it is difficult to say how many people were killed and injured.
“A minute later a neighbor came who was on the street at the time and saw what happened… (she) was in shock, she had difficulty breathing and speaking, we tried to calm her down, gave her hot water.
“Later, the municipal service arrived at the scene of the explosion and took away the bodies of the dead…in town, the dead were buried in the courtyards.”
The day the couple arrived in the city center their gas supply was destroyed by Russian bombing, leaving Mr Mayevsky and others to stay there to cook on fires built in the courtyard of the building – but supplies quickly ran out.
“We were lucky the snow fell, so we scooped it up into buckets and fed it on the fire to get water,” he added.
“Those who lacked water went to the source…it was 20 minutes from our house and it could cost them their lives.
“It was scary to go there, and near the spring itself there were dead who had not yet been removed.”
He and his wife spent their last days in Mariupol sleeping in a basement with 19 other people in freezing temperatures.
“Every day it was getting more and more difficult: food was running out and humanitarian aid could not reach our city due to the constant shelling of the green corridor,” he said.
“It seems that the Russian occupiers wanted to increase the death rate among civilians in Mariupol…it’s terrible to realize that all these terrible things are happening in the 21st century, in Europe, in a country of 42 million people, in a city with a population of 500,000 people.
One day the couple got hold of packets of breadcrumbs and then filled them with water for a meal which they said was “something like semolina” – which they ate twice a day.
“But there was no feeling of hunger, there was also no panic, the thought that life could stop at any time did not go away,” he said.
On March 15, Mr Mayevsky visited the Donetsk Regional Drama Theater in the city center – which would be bombed by Russia 24 hours later – to ask for information on how to leave the city.
They were then able to join a convoy out of town, join a friend in Berdyansk who sold them fuel, before heading to Zaporizhzhia in central Ukraine and then fleeing to Poland.
Russian shelling hit many civilian areas in Mariupol, where 100,000 people are still trapped, and Mr Mayevsky added: “My aunt is 86… she often asked the question: ‘Why all this shelling, who needs it? ? Why?
“’During the Second World War, during the occupation of Mariupol, there was no such horror!’
“‘Even Hitler did not allow such atrocities as the Russian army (does) now!'”