Escape From Mariupol Part 2: Exodus

“They wiped it off the face of the earth.”

Picking Through Bombed Out Apartment of Sergiy’s In Laws as Russian Jets Can be Heard Overhead

Yesterday we published Part 1 of Sergiy’s story about the relentless Russian attacks and siege of the city of Mariupol as experienced by him and his family and friends. In Part 2 of Sergiy’s story he describes his desperate attempts to find an escape route out of Mariupol and their subsequent exodus as the city descended into a living hell.

Sergiy’s Story Part 2

Sergiy Stands Amidst the Apartment Rubble in Mariupol

In Search of an Escape Route

During all the days of incessant airstrikes, I continued to look for a route to leave Mariupol. My friends told me how they had tried to leave by one route but at the checkpoint they were stopped by an enemy column, who didn’t let them pass.  They waited out the night and tried again in the morning, but the Russians again wouldn’t let them pass, and they had to come back with their gas tanks empty.

Another group of friends managed to leave, but their journey was difficult. They had also stumbled upon an enemy column and they had to hide in a nearby street. Then they went around the troops and then a Russian aircraft overflew over them.  But in the end they finally managed to escape.  I understood that I couldn’t go on such dangerous routes.  I couldn’t put my family in such danger, so I continued to look for a safer option.

Mother Feeds her Daughter in Mariupol Basement Bomb Shelter

A Rare Cellphone Connection and Getting the Word Out

I was still looking for a (cellphone) connection, since there was practically no signal in Mariupol. When I contacted my friends (elsewhere), I realized that they didn’t completely understand what was happening here. They thought that we were simply cut off from water, gas, heating, and electricity here.

Mariupol Resident Scramble to Charge Cellphones From a Lone Power Strip in the Snow

We were cut off from water and electricity, but while we could deal with that, it was impossible to deal with the fact that we were being bombed. They were killing us, and no one talked about it. My friends said “be patient, help is on the way.” I replied that it was impossible to be patient, we were being bombed by aircraft and there was nothing we could do about it. My friends said that they didn’t know anything about this.  After that they connected me with our ICTV channel and I recorded a voice interview with them. It was important for me to tell everyone what was really happening here.

Searching for Belongings Amidst Apartment Rubble

Bombed/Mined Abandoned Russian Checkpoint Discovered

I continued to look for a route to leave Mariupol. Friends of some guys who lived near Mariupol contacted me and they told us that we could leave the city on foot, that they would pick us up by car, because there were Russian military around and they weren’t letting anyone leave by car, only on foot.  But I had no idea how we could get from the city center to the outskirts with these bombings.  We had small children with us. Then, the guys I knew told me that one of the Russian checkpoints had been bombed and it was possible to leave through it, but the only caveat was that it was mined. I didn’t even consider this option, because I couldn’t put my family and friends in such danger.  I considered it complete madness.

Unexploded Russian Shell on Mariupol Street

The next day, I got the contact information for one woman who had already left Mariupol by this bombed-out checkpoint route. I contacted her and she explained to me how to go along this mined route, which streets should be bypassed.  Because the route was completely bombed out there was simply no road there.  She described how to bypass this mined part of the checkpoint. On March 14, there was a (cell) connection near the Drama Theater.  I stood there on the square and saw how planes were flying overhead, tracing loops in the sky. At that moment, I felt safe there.  I couldn’t even imagine that someone could think of bombing the square where there were so many people.  But we all know what happened a few days later.

After talking with the woman who had left, I immediately ran to people who also wanted to leave to share information on how to do it. One of my friends said that we needed to go today because tomorrow we wouldn’t have the opportunity. I agreed with him in spite of the fact that just the evening before I had thought the idea was crazy, as did many people who didn’t want to walk through a minefield.

Mariupol to Berdyansk to Tomak to Zaporozhye

I started the car, took my family and friends and everyone who wanted to leave, because many people either didn’t have cars, or their cars had been destroyed. Jumping ahead, those people who thought I was crazy that I had decided to go on such a route also left a couple of days later, explaining to me later that they were convinced that it was safe based on my example.

Sergiy’s Family’s Escape Route from Mariupol to Berdyansk to Tomak to Zaporozhye

We managed to leave for Berdyansk, which was occupied, but we knew that at least it wouldn’t be bombed. After we arrived, we saw on the news that the Berdyansk-Tokmak-Zaporozhye routes were open, but there was a clarification that there was no safe humanitarian corridor established; that everything you do is all at your own peril and risk. This “humanitarian corridor” still doesn’t exist. Now it is even more difficult for people to get out of Mariupol.

Saying Goodbye to Mariupol

Even when we were in Mariupol and after we left it, I tried to set some goals for myself trying by best not to drown in my feelings of fear, confusion and panic. A few days after we left I realized the full import of what really happened, what we had experienced. I received a message that our house exists no more, that it had been destroyed. I wasn’t even very upset because I had mentally said goodbye to it back in early March after seeing how my parents’ apartment was bombed and the level of destruction all over the city.

Abandoned Sneakers on Mariupol Street

“They Wiped it Off the Face of the Earth”

A few days ago I realized that I wouldn’t be able to return to Mariupol because there was nothing left. They wiped it off the face of the earth. This is no longer a city, only a ruin. I would like to return, because back in 2014 I didn’t leave the city, even when it was restless back then, but now I have nowhere to return to.

A Bombed-Out Bridal Gown Shop in Mariupol

The People Who Remain

I want to believe that one day I will be able to return, but I realize that it will probably be easier to build a new city nearby than to restore Mariupol, it is so completely destroyed. The people who still stay in Mariupol, they are surviving in the basements of burnt houses, they live underground, there are no residential buildings left where anyone could exist.

Mariupol Girl Huddles by Candle Light in Basement Bomb Shelter
Women and Children in Basement Bomb Shelter in Mariupol
A Mariupol Cat Saved by Rescue Workers in the Earlier Days of the War