I was dreaming in the basement. Especially the days right before the flight. I was sitting on an old chair, listening to the plane rearing and dreaming of a miracle. A bomb dropped by a Russian pilot will fly back to his plane. It will explode right in the air and burst into small pieces over the sea.
In recent days, I was totally frozen and indifferent. The only feeling that was overfilling my entire body was animal fear. I was doomed. Do you want to know how I lived through the shelling? Me, a grown-up woman, was holding my mom’s hand during the bombing, and clinging to her like I used to do as a little girl when I wanted to hide after a scary fairy tale.
My life turned into a nightmare. My city’s life turned into hell. Everyone around became a hero. Except for me. I was weak and exhausted. I struggled with panic attacks and blamed myself for everything. I was scared to admit to others that I was scared. I wanted to be useful to at least someone.
A week before that, Natasha came to me. My colleague. With her husband and son. They were wandering around the city making videos. They wanted to show that nightmare to everyone. I asked her, “What can I do?” And she said, “You need to survive, Nadia. We all need to survive.” I asked again, “How can I help my city?” “I don’t know”, she answered.
The three of them went to the children’s intensive care unit where doctors worked day and night, took phone numbers of their loved ones and sent messages during those rare times of cell connection. They wrote that everyone was alive and well.
After that, two mines flew into her apartment and her husband died. That was the first death of someone we knew. We saw the man only a day ago. Alive. Healthy and strong. Calm and confident that he will live for a long time. And now he’s gone. Just because some asshole shot at an apartment building.
On the last day before we left, they bombed non-stop. We were thinking about how to leave. We were not quite sure if we still had a car. Nine people and a dog are to be taken out. And minimum chance to reach the garage. It was near the school, fired by every possible weapon. The occupiers did what they wanted. They chose a certain small area and smashed it into the tiniest pieces.
They hit the same multi-storey building numerous times. I swear, our military has never been there. Not one. Only civilians who hoped that bombing would stop, and they would go to take some water or cook food on an open fire. A dozen shells flew into these houses. The Russians hit a backhand. We listened to these sounds in the basement and gasped with horror. They were like slaps in the face. Just like those houses were hit with a huge whip.
The sounds of war were playing a symphony of death. The gnashing of the giant’s huge teeth, followed by banging on an iron roof. It was just a warm-up, I guess. Someone was preparing for the show. Then the melody of Grads started. The ground was shaking, and the walls were shaking. Huge blind killers were flying through us. We couldn’t figure out which way. People were everywhere. For some of them, that music was the last thing they heard. For me, the roaring aeroplanes were the scariest. I’ve never seen them before. Maybe if I did, I wouldn’t be so terrified. I covered my head with a pillow and dreamed of becoming deaf from a heavy hit on the ground. The ground buckled, and the plane went on a second circle, and we died again, until the next explosion.
On March 15, on my son’s birthday, I sobbed sitting at the entrance to the building because I couldn’t call and congratulate him. So silly. I was crying not because of the non-stop bombing, not because people were dying, not because there might be no tomorrow, I was sobbing because I couldn’t call and talk to my son.
And a small miracle happened. A mobile connection appeared right at our entrance. My basement neighbours told each other that Kyivstar was totally ruined by bombs, but someone from the company turns off the generator from time to time and refuels it with petrol so that people could talk for at least a minute and find out the news. Calls in Mariupol were impossible, but we could tell the news about us to our relatives in other cities. Thank you, an unknown person who gave Mariupol people the chance to say a single word “alive”, once a day, to those who were going crazy from uncertainty.
It was on March 15 that we heard new sounds from the symphony of death. They were unlike any other before. Two strong, powerful explosions. They turned everything inside upside down, the head became huge and empty, the walls of the basement vibrated for some time afterwards. I decided it was a weapon of mass destruction. And I was terrified to go out and see what happened outside.
Later, people from the village near Mariupol told us that Russian warships were shooting at the city. We were killed from the ground, from the air and from the sea. We were being killed from everywhere. My city was being ruined, building by building.
We came out of the basement less and less often. And on the second last day, before the curfew, Lyosha came to us. He started to drink heavily after going to his kids on the Left Bank. When he came back from there, I was sure he was not scared. But at the entrance to the basement, he told us how he fell when the mines arrived. “I couldn’t hear a sound, but I saw them bursting around.” I then confessed to him that I was terrified. “Tell me about that,” he replied. I was glad to know that he was not a hero, he was just a regular man who was scared as well. He just didn’t show that. He is still in Mariupol. Sitting in the basement of our nine-storey building. He can’t leave until he finds his kids.
I am currently in Chornomorsk near Odesa. At my son’s. It was very hard to leave. And not only because of bombing, leaving in a broken car without windows and with holes from shells. We were all shocked then. In the car, everyone was praying that we would get there and not be killed by shells. The occupiers stopped us and asked some questions. They all sounded like mockery. For example, they asked if our kids are not cold without windows. Close the windows, your kids will catch a cold. Caring bloody beasts. They bombed our houses, they launched rockets on residential areas, bomb shelters with women and children, and now they are worrying about Mariupol kids catching a cold. My guts were turning over, just like from gunshots.
For some time I thought that everything will change if I start writing. But unfortunately, no one takes people out of Mariupol, no one closes the sky or declares a regime of silence. I don’t understand who the Russians are fighting with? Women and kids? Why are they killing civilians? Why are they destroying the city? I’m desperate. Thousands of people are suffering from disasters and dying in Mariupol. Please help them survive.
March 24, 15:07
Russian Text by Nadezhda Sukhorukova, translated into English by Ukrainianvancouver team – Mar 26, 2022