Hello, my darlings, I am alive, and now I have a long life to live. While my city is dying in an excruciating death. And me too, I’d been dying along with my city for twenty days. I was in hell. I’m no hero, I’m an ordinary human being, and I was terrified of dying. The last three days were the days of incessant shelling. Every minute.
The buzz of the plane engines would send chills down my spine. Everyone in our basement was praying that the bomb would miss its target. The earth would shake, and we would breathe a sigh of relief. But missing its target doesn’t mean flying into the void. Missing its targets means hitting someone else.
You know the feeling when people are plunged into the pitch darkness of the basement, and only a dim flame is flickering, and you yourself wonder if it’s day or night. When it takes considerable courage to go outside the block. And you’re rushing to everyone from the outside asking about the news.
You hear a monotonous account that building number 105 on our street received a direct hit. The second block is in flames up from the third floor, and soon the fire will engulf the upper floors; meanwhile, ashes and glass shards are scattered everywhere, and so are the plastic bags from rubbish containers, towering up to the sky darkened with smoke — no one has collected the garbage for more than 2 weeks.
But who gives a damn about them, containers? No one takes out corpses of your neighbors and acquaintances. The dead are sprawled in entrances, on balconies, in yards. And you aren’t scared a bit. Because your biggest fear is the nightly airstrikes.
Do you know what nightly airstrikes look like? They look like death — the one tearing all the guts out of you. You should not sleep at night. You see dreams about your peaceful life. You plunge out of your dreams only to immerse into the nightmare.
Sound comes in first. Sickening iron noises, as if someone was turning gigantic compasses and measuring the distance to your shelter. To hit more accurately. Then, there goes the shell. You can hear a tremendous hammer hitting the iron roof and then — a deafening screech as if a tremendous knife was cutting through the soil, or a huge iron giant in hobnail boots was trading on your soil, stamping his feet on houses, trees, and people.
You are sitting down, aware of the fact that you can’t move a bit. You can’t run away, screaming is pointless, hiding is pointless. It’ll track you down if it wants to.
And then the silence descends. Dead silence. We’re anticipating what will fly next. And if the new sounds are audible — we become petrified: we do not know what they mean. Instant death or a dreadful and excruciating one?
Looks like we’ve been guinea pigs to every possible weapon. Does it really matter what weaponry kills us? But no, manslaughter is like art to them, it must be varied. I wish I were a single pea and could roll away in the cracks of the basement. Perhaps, there could be a chance to survive then.
I learned to live without light, gas, and power. I didn’t want to eat, I tried not to waste a drop of water: the mere thought of going outside for water made me terrified. Ordinary people would deliver and distribute water — all for free. A weirdly-dressed lot would line up in endless queues, — and only when they heard mines whistling above their heads, they would scatter around.
I guess none of us had examined ourselves in the mirror for the whole time. Frankly, I couldn’t care less about being beautiful then. I lost any interest in my looks. There was a strong probability that in a minute you will be dead, and your appearance will make no difference.
My hair turned into a nightmare. It transformed into an untidy mop. It didn’t bother me either. Everyone around was wearing hats. Hats were pulled on eyes — no one would waste precious water on such trifle things as washing faces. I had but two dreams then: for the shelling to cease and for the chance to take a hot shower before death.
Guess what I saw, when my friends took me away and were driving out of Mariupol? I saw some other city — not my Mariupol. I spent too much time in the basement, and the city had been ultimately devastated by then.
I saw dead houses, charred walls, uprooted trees, cut wires with flags and corpses on the road. But the worst of it was still to come.
We were driving by a 15-story building with broken windows. Curtains and drapes were fluttering outside. At first, the building didn’t seem to suffer much damage. We took a turn around it.
The outside wall was torn down, balconies were ripped with shell fragments, windows were blasted away. What I saw was a shape-shifter of a building. A building like a dead man covered with makeup. Seemingly alive from afar, but dead at a closer look. And there were hundreds of them.
I must admit, I let down my little orange Yosef. Out of fear. I left him behind at home. Didn’t have the time to take him along. Didn’t have the guts to go up to my apartment. On the eve of my departure, I didn’t take him along to the shelter, because he could get lost there. He’d better be lost there, in the basement. I left my kind and gentle pussy in sheer hell. Because I broke down. I shudder to think how he is doing there. I’m a cowardly traitor. And there’s no excuse for me.
There are people left behind in hell. They can’t leave. They all were let down. They are innocent people, like my little orange Yosef. Don’t be cowardly traitors. I beg you: even if we can’t save Mariupol, help to save the people of Mariupol. Hundreds of thousands of people. They want to live.
March 8 at 12:13
Russian Text by Nadezhda Sukhorukova, translated into English by Ukrainianvancouver team – Mar 27, 2022