Impossible to forget: a year after the capture of Mariupol, a survivor recalls

Hundred days in hell. Alyona survived the siege of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol by Russian forces with her two children and her husband. A year later, Joe, who decided to start a new life in Russia, is haunted by horrifying visions.

The 35-year-old mother speaks in the present as she remembers the dozens of bodies buried in courtyards of buildings or littering the sidewalks of this port city in southeastern Ukraine, which Moscow conquered on May 20, 2022. significant destruction.

“The smell and these images, these swollen bellies (of the dead), you will never forget them. My daughter, especially. She sees a dog eating a corpse. She asks me: + Mother, what Why does a dog eat a dead body?” Buddy? + And I still don’t know what to say to him,” Aliona sobbed.

She receives AFP at an apartment in the suburbs of Moscow where she lives with her husband and their two young children.

All are miracles of carnage. Alina cries, laughs and talks a lot.

She prefers to speak anonymously, without giving her last name, because she fears trouble if Ukrainians find out that she has decided to stay in Russia.

Aliona and her family were living in an apartment building in northern Mariupol when thousands of citizens like her were trapped in an offensive ordered by Vladimir Putin on February 24, 2022.

For two months, the besieged city was subjected to a barrage of bombs. Without water, electricity or heating, in freezing temperatures, without networks, cut off from the world, residents huddle in basements.

Alina heard the cries of the wounded. “But we couldn’t do anything, we couldn’t get out of the cellars, we would have been blown to pieces.”

She says she “never cried once” in front of her children. “I was a wolf, an iron lady. But, during the night, I froze to death on all four sides. I screamed so much it was terrible, we wanted to live.”

– “We are alive!” ,

Between the beginning of March and the end of April 2022, she lived a “cave life” in a basement with about sixty children. Many times people used to go out to buy food. Nothing returned.

Aliona, an Orthodox believer, clung to repeating the passage from Psalm 90: “I say to God: + You are my refuge and my fortress +.”

In May, when the last Ukrainian defenders were trapped in the Azovstal factory, she managed to contact her mother, Victoria, who was then living in Bakhmut, a town in eastern Ukraine now destroyed by fighting.

“They told me: + We’re alive! We’re alive! + (…) It’s like a weight has fallen off my shoulders”, says Victoria, who has since been in Moscow with her daughter.

With her phone, Aliona filmed the first bombings, burning buildings, from her window. She filmed her children playing not far from small crosses indicating improvised graves.

On June 4, 2022, one hundred days after the start of the Russian invasion, Aliona and her family leave for Russia. She passes through several “filtration” checkpoints, during which her husband is searched by Russian soldiers.

She says that her family did not take sides and passed this “screening” without any problems. Kiev accuses Moscow of violence, even carrying out the death penalty during these “filtrations”. Russia refuses.

– “dropped” –

When asked who is responsible for the Martyrdom of Mariupol, Aliona cautiously dodged: “We do not have access to information about our leaders.”

But she criticizes the Ukrainian government for not evacuating her family: “My army didn’t save me, my country abandoned me.”

Now she wants to rebuild in Moscow. Her husband got a job as an electrician. Alyona, who speaks Russian, says she shares the Russian mentality, religion and language.

According to UN calculations since October 2022, more than 2.8 million Ukrainian refugees have gone to Russia. Many later moved to the European Union, but others remained.

Natalia Mityocheva, 41, an employee of, an NGO providing humanitarian, legal and psychological aid to Alyona, says many Ukrainian refugees, especially families, stay in Russia because “it’s easier for them to adapt”, despite “Minimum assistance” provided by the state.

The survivors of Mariupol are often the most traumatized.

The fight began “When they went to work, to school, they couldn’t believe what was happening. For them, it was an extraordinary shock”, explains Ms. Mityocheva.

Aliona is still scared. When firecrackers go off in her neighborhood in Moscow on New Year’s Eve, she suddenly finds herself immersed in a nightmare of Mariupol. “I packed my suitcase with the kids, I wanted to go,” she says. “I can’t believe they were firecrackers.”

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