Corpses in the street and burned buildings: the odyssey to escape alive from Mariúpol

For three weeks and one day he witnessed the systematic destruction of the city where he was born, a city of almost half a million inhabitants bombarded by land and air relentlessly, and strangled by a site which is on its way to swell the most barbaric episodes of the war history. In those 22 days she learned to interpret the artillery metric to slip away during their silences through gardens and vacant lots or to sleep in a bathtub so as not to freeze to death. She got used to dodge bodies lying on the sidewalks and to feed on stale bread. “People expect me to cry all the time and tell them that I spent my days in the bunker& rdquor ;, he says now Diana Novikova from a safe place. “But is not the case. All those days I just thought about escape from Mariupol and in taking my grandmother with me & rdquor ;.

At 29 years old, Novikova now lives displaced in the house of a former student of hers in Lviv, from the days when he taught young prodigies at a leadership school in Mariupol. His hometown, where his family moved from Russia St. Petersburg in 1981, it has become the symbol par excellence of the atrocities committed by the troops from Vladimir Putin on Ukraine. Much of the city has been razed to the ground, as happened to Coventry, Aleppo or Guernicaand there are so many dead that it is burying people in parks and gardens. “Your task is simply wipe the city off the face of the earth, including its inhabitants & rdquor ;, its mayor, Vadym Boychenko, said on Monday.

The strategic importance for the Kremlin of this port and metallurgical city no one misses it. He would allow his army to fully control the sea ​​of ​​azovfrom which part of the Ukrainian steel and grain is exported, and establish a land bridge between the pro-Russian separatist republics of Donbas –Mariupol is part of the Donetsk region– with the peninsula of crimea. But it is still failing, despite the blockade that has been imposed on the city for a month and the indiscriminate bombing that is destroying it.

Beginning of the humanitarian disaster

The artillery began to punish Mariupol from the beginning of the invasion on February 24 and, four days later, Russian columns were approaching its gates from the north and south, after taking Berdyansk with hardly any resistance. “That’s when the panic began to unleash& rdquor ;, recalls Novikova that, by then, she had managed to get her grandmother to move with her to her downtown apartment. “People bought as much as she could, more than she needed, and everything became scarce. That was the beginning of humanitarian collapse”.

That February 28, the city experienced the first supply cutswhich would be permanent as of March 2. No water, no electricity, no heatinga return to the Neolithic, with temperatures down to 10 degrees below zero. Shortly after, the gas would also fall. A sector of the city was bombed for 15 hours uninterrupted. “To protect us we went to sleep in the hallway because the bunkers were full of people and it was atrociously cold & rdquor ;, he affirms with enormous integrity and a story that is more factual than emotional, even though sometimes he lacks air when breathing.

On March 3 the city becomes completely surrounded, with the railway lines also dynamited. There is no other way out than the sea. Namely, no exit. But far from succumbing to fear, Novikova joins a volunteer center that distributes medicine and food. And, starting at five in the afternoon, she rushes out to fulfill the curfew.

constant bombing

The bombings – with artillery, tanks and Grad missiles— intensify on March 5, after a short break for the first humanitarian corridor, and from the 7th, “they start to be constant”. The chaos is absolute. There is hardly any information about what really happens. A bunch of Tank trucks they try to supply 450,000 inhabitants. And many turn to the snow to survive.

Novikova embarks on a perverse routine under the rain of fire: He leaves the apartment, crosses a checkpoint to find a point with a telephone signal, attends the meeting of the civil forces that defend the city together with the Ukrainian army and ends the day in the social assistance center. “Every time I went out I didn’t know if I would ever see my grandmother again. By then it was clear that the russians were behaving like fascists. They didn’t respect anything, but I wasn’t afraid. My only goal was to find a way out & rdquor ;. There was no food left in her house. And for 10 days neither she nor her grandmother –her parents passed away years ago– will eat nothing but bread and cookies.

On March 13 a shelling blows out the windows of his apartment. Her grandmother is fine, but everything becomes “scary and dangerous & rdquor; due to the frigid temperatures. That night they sleep in the bathroom, the only room without windows, and the next day they walk 15 kilometers between “burnt buildings and corpses thrown in the street & rdquor; to take refuge in a friend’s house.

Humanitarian corridors, the only way out

The humanitarian corridors are becoming more frequent, even though they are attacked intermittently. Novikova looks for her opportunity. Some relatives of her friend have a car. She tries to convince them to leave together. But they give him long arguing that her building is intact. “That was the first time I cried since the beginning of the siege, I couldn’t believe it & rdquor ;, she remembers her now.

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He didn’t give up. The next day 20,000 people managed to flee Mariupol in the most crowded corridor until then. “The decency of each one was evident there. Some cars were loaded with people; others did not let you go up because they took the television on their backs & rdquor ;. But then a woman started yelling at him: ‘I have room.’ Both for her and her grandmother. And avoiding roads strewn with craters they managed to reach Berdyansk and then to Zaporiya, the first city under Ukrainian control. “I have never been so happy to see a flag of my country & rdquor ;, without the slightest hint of victory on the face.

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