While the cruelty toward Ukrainian civilians projected through photographs and news segments bewilders the world, the continuing siege of Mariupol continues to be essentially the most shocking in its levels of destruction and absolute disregard for human life.
The remaining residents of the once-thriving southern port city of 432,000, encircled and continually shelled by the Russian forces, have been facing starvation, thirst and the cold for nearly eight weeks.
Alina Beskrovna, a 31-year-old finance expert and Mariupol native, survived the primary month of the siege in the town, managing to unexpectedly save herself, her mother, and their three cats in late March.
The time she spent there was all about surviving, she told Euronews.
“I focused on just survival. We didn’t know if it will be possible to ever leave. I didn’t consider escape can be possible,” Beskrovna said.
“So my biggest fear, my absolute fear was twofold: one was being raped by Russians. The opposite was being taken to Russia by force or being forced to live within the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic without the opportunity of ever moving,” she recalled.
Now in Copenhagen and on her approach to Canada as a refugee, Beskrovna described the harrowing month of life under constant shelling in horrendous conditions, punctuated by having to bury people she had never met, all civilian victims of the siege.
“They shelled the food market nearby. Not everyone managed to flee. They shelled the nine-storey constructing across the road from us. Some people were sleeping of their apartments at night and got killed.”
“They shelled the private houses behind our cottage complex. People got killed. And we buried them,” Beskrovna said.
Situated on the northern shore of the Azov Sea, Mariupol has been a trading and manufacturing hub ever because it was founded on the positioning of a former Cossack encampment within the 18th century. Today, the town, its history, and its culture are largely gone.
In his each day address to Ukraine’s residents, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated on Thursday that Mariupol has now been “completely destroyed”. Some 95% of the town is in ruins, with large portions completely uninhabitable.
About 21,000 residents were estimated to have been killed in the town, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said on Wednesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in late March that the bombardment would only end “when Ukrainian troops fully give up Mariupol”.
The Ukrainian forces, trapped in the town along with the civilians, proceed to refuse to put down their arms, despite reports of them running out of ammunition and other supplies.
Waking as much as war
An exchange student in her teens, Beskrovna went back to the US to get her MBA and returned to Mariupol three years ago, working in startup development, attempting to use her knowledge of finance to assist the startup scene.
“I stayed in Philadelphia for 2 years after getting my degree, but I felt that with the opportunities that were appearing in Mariupol, I must be there. Because that’s the place to make essentially the most impact with my background, so I just moved back.”
“We recently launched the primary enterprise studio, and we were helping startups connect with foreign investors,” Beskrovna said.
To Beskrovna and her compatriots, 24 February is etched in memory as the start of the war’s next phase.
Although this time the Russian forces attempted to seize the whole country, Ukraine has been at war since 2014 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, followed by the outbreak of the conflict within the Donbas, she explained.
Nevertheless, the primary day of the invasion caused each shock and surprise even for those in Mariupol, despite the town’s proximity to the war zone within the Donbas, making it briefly come under the so-called DNR’s control in 2014. Town also needed to endure several skirmishes on its outskirts and outright assaults from DNR since.
“We count the war from the day ‘Little Green Men’ with no insignia appeared in Crimea, so that is the third stage of the war.”
“I used to be actually attempting to help foreign journalists who were flocking to the town, so in my spare time, I’d translate for them, fix for them, find contacts, create itineraries, stuff like that.”
“In order that night, we were out with a Brazilian crew, finalising the itinerary for the subsequent day, and having sushi and wine downtown at an awesome hip place that doesn’t exist anymore. We dropped them off on the hotel, I went back home.”
She woke up at around 6 within the morning — a really unusual time for her — after she felt a blast nearby.
“I woke up due to a weird feeling that was like whenever you go to the films and watch an motion movie or a war movie, and also you sit way too near the speaker. And it deafens you and it reverberates through your body, right?”
“I used to be hoping that the neighbour closed the metal garage doorway too aggressively. So I went on Facebook and scrolled down my newsfeed and I couldn’t consider my eyes.”
All of her friends and acquaintances on social media from Ukraine reported being woken as much as the Russian invasion. “Blasts, fire, shelling right next to them. That’s how the war began.”
A friend’s basement offers shelter from the shells
In the primary couple of hours and days, people were completely oblivious to the situation, laughed it off or couldn’t consider it was happening, Beskrovna said. In Mariupol, most individuals believed it was one other Donetsk-like scenario and that it was not within the Russian interest to destroy the town.
Others who had the means to flee — especially those with cars — left the morning of the invasion. A friend from Donetsk, an internally displaced person in Mariupol, called her instantly and warned her that things didn’t look good and that she should leave.
But Beskrovna didn’t have a automobile, so she couldn’t go along with the primary wave.
“What happened to us was, a friend of ours lived on the opposite side of town and he lived in not the Soviet-type apartment constructing. He lived on this Yugoslav-style sort of cottage, with each cottage having 4 floors and people buildings had proper basements,” she described.
“After I say proper — they were dry and you may rise up in them. In order that was luxurious.”
Beskrovna took him up on his offer to shelter there, immediately moving her mother and her cats.
She couldn’t come up with her father, 66-year-old Oleksii Beskrovnyi, since 26 February. He is taken into account to be missing.
“We agreed that if something happens, he would walk over to where we were sheltering. But I never heard from him since.”
“He wouldn’t take the situation seriously. He would laugh it off, he would make jokes. I couldn’t get through to him, he wouldn’t understand what was happening.”
“He just got here back from travelling throughout western Ukraine — this big two-week journey — and he kept saying he’s positive and he’s doing his laundry. Then he would send me pictures of his basement to supposedly console me that every part is positive.”
Beskrovna’s father is Russian, hailing from a village within the Kursk region. But he became increasingly angrier toward the invading Russians within the two days they were involved.
After Oleksii went missing, she reached out to his brothers and sisters, who all live in Russia, and considered one of her aunts told her that the last time they spoke, he said, “in the event you jerks show up on my land, I is not going to take a look at you being relatives, I’ll shoot you point-blank.”
Stripping people of their dignity
Realising you might be within the midst of war didn’t occur overnight, Beskrovna explained.
“At first, every part gave the look of a weird slumber party at your friend’s place. We had electricity, the general public transportation was running in the town for the primary two or possibly three days.“
After which, one after the other, all signs of civilisation were deliberately destroyed by the Russians. First, they targeted the electrical grid, she said.
“Unexpectedly you wish matches to light your gas stove, your boiler isn’t working, you don’t have any hot water. Your wifi is down so that you’re completely depending on the cell phone network. You don’t have a approach to charge your phone or your laptop. That’s whenever you start pondering ‘Oh I would like matches, I would like candles, batteries,” Beskrovna remembered.
Then, the Russian troops bombed the water supply infrastructure, with the closest source of potable water just a few kilometres away. “We thought, well, a minimum of we now have gas, after which they bombed the [main] gas pipe. Which implies you might have to gather wood, you might have to cook on the open fire outside, and the shelling kept approaching.”
As they ran out of options to evacuate, Beskrovna and others on the shelter understood that they were trapped in a situation that was becoming increasingly dire.
“At this point, people realised that it wasn’t just the strategic military objects that the Russians were destroying. It was a deliberate sort of complete destruction of the whole district stuffed with people.”
“And residents were getting used as hostages or human shields by the Russians since it’s something that could possibly be used for possible negotiations — to sell this concept of ‘possibly Mariupol must be occupied by Russia simply to spare the lives of tons of of 1000’s of civilians.”
Her shelter also found itself in between the Ukrainian forces and the Russian army, backed by DNR troops and the Chechen units of Ramzan Kadyrov.
The 32 people in her basement, six of whom were children, realised they’d to concentrate on survival.
Leaving the basement to walk for mere 20 metres could easily be life-threatening due to potential bombardment. The low temperatures and gusts of wind meant everyone was continually freezing.
Just getting the water to boil on an open fire would take hours, and sometimes they’d to risk their lives watching over the meal, even under shelling. With all of the uncertainties, that meal might have been the last one shortly, Beskrovna recalled.
“Our survival relied on cooperation, and that’s what we did. We built an outhouse, we built a hearth pit, we had a team of two, sometimes three guys fetching water for us, sweeping the asphalt by the entry by the doorway to eliminate all of the shrapnel.”
“But you don’t know what day it’s. You don’t know what time it’s,” she said.
“You reside and sleep in the identical clothes day in and day trip for a month. You’ll be able to’t take a shower, you appear to be a hobo and also you haven’t washed your hair in a month. But everyone seems to be identical to you so nobody cares anymore. It’s a life-style I’d never think possible within the twenty first century in an industrial, booming city.”
The gamble of leaving a besieged city
Beskrovna and a few others from the basement managed to go away the town after a rumour spread that it is perhaps possible for some civilians to flee through the checkpoints. She and just a few others decided to check their luck.
“People were attempting to get out in columns. They’d get together at 6 am, put white strips on their mirrors to point out that they’re civilians, write ‘Children’ and go and pray that they’d get out alive because there was no green corridor — you may be shelled, you may be killed, you may be stuck within the crossfire.”
Fuel was in extreme demand in the town by this point, she recalled, with the costs reaching $10,000 per canister, however the friend who initially invited them to share the basement with him had about half of his tank left. On 23 March, six adults and 4 cats crammed into his automobile and left for the checkpoints.
It was the primary time Beskrovna saw among the extent of the damage and the sheer size of the Russian army’s presence.
“We crossed two Ukrainian checkpoints and sixteen Russian checkpoints in between. The Russian ones were eerie. They weren’t hiding their attitude. They were mocking us, looking down on us, making fun. Just having a great time.”
“A few of them looked like they didn’t need to be there, but then, they were there,” she remembered.
The Russians made the lads strip, in search of anything in the colors of Ukraine or national symbols just like the trident, which they believed was proof of their relations to the armed forces or “Nazi-leaning tendencies”, detaining those they didn’t like.
The trip from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, which normally takes about three hours, took 14.5 hours along what Beskrovna describes as a hellish landscape of dead bodies, torn-apart civilian cars and Russian tanks blown into pieces, all signs of heavy fighting.
Ukrainians remain united regardless of Putin
Finding her approach to safety, Beskrovna left Ukraine for Denmark through Zaporizhzhia and Lviv. She highlighted that she, her mother and their cats were made to feel welcome and helped along the best way. And to her, it is an indication of national unity that Moscow’s aggression provoked in her compatriots.
Beskrovna is a speaker of each Russian and Ukrainian. As someone with a Russian background, she is adamant that the problem of differentiating between the 2 groups — something that Putin has emphasised, particularly in his speech on the eve of the invasion — is non-existent.
“Ever since 2008 or so, the Kremlin ramped up this rhetoric of how Russian speakers are stripped of their rights and hunted down, and prohibited from expressing themselves, and I remember pondering ‘I’ve never in my life experienced that.’”
The fierce resistance to Russian troops in cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol, where the Russian speakers comprise a big majority, proves that Ukrainians are united of their desire to stay outside of Russia no matter their heritage, she said.
“The language shouldn’t be a problem because that’s what Putin is attempting to do, he’s attempting to monopolise the language and the claim is that whoever is a Russian speaker is theirs. And we just refuse to play together with that,” Beskrovna explained.
“Although we now have been affected by the Russian empire for hundreds of years, we still have this freedom-loving, self-organising, self-governing component of the Ukrainian Cossacks. We aren’t serfs, we aren’t slaves, and we is not going to tolerate being treated as such.”