We continue the cycle of publications of the work of the Mariupol journalist Ivan Stanislavsky, who lived at the besieged Mariupol for 20 days, documenting what was going on.
Part 1: Mariupol, the point of no return. My 20 days of war
Sunday, February 27. Day 4
It becomes obvious that we are fighting not with a powerful country but with a terrorist organization à la ISIS. Unable to defeat the army, the opponent has been bombing villages, schools, kindergartens, and shooting buses with civilians. It’s a war of different world outlooks. One doesn’t need to blame Putin for everything because it’s not him who pulls the trigger. We’re constantly flooded with bullets. We need to take it just like a plumber takes the flooding of a clogged toilet bowl. The Israeli model will be relevant here: the war is like a job, and a job is like a war. I almost have no doubt that it’ll take a long time. Our quick defeat has not happened but our quick victory will not happen either.
In Mariupol, two problems have resurfaced, which should have been solved a long time ago. Back in 2014-2015, it became clear that shortages of drinking water and bread could be a problem in the city. The tap water quality is only good for watering flowing. There are deposits in tanks placed in pharmacies and stores. But now one can see people with empty water containers who are scurrying along the streets because most small businesses stopped working.
Small bakeries are also closed. The central bakery has long been razed to the ground. So, the tenth-largest city in Ukraine cannot provide bread and water.
In the morning N. went home but then she returned immediately. The minute she entered her apartment, the neighboring tram depot was shelled heavily. N.’s husband went to the railway station to find out how to evacuate to Lviv by train. He’s a citizen of Ecuador, and his consulate promised to help him leave the country. The trains were still available yesterday but the invaders damaged the rails in Volnovakha, a station at a railway crossing. It looks like the three of them had to stay with us.
I’m worried that there is no normal shelter. I am 100% sure that it will be needed. At the corner of my residential building, an entrepreneur bought the ground floor with the plan to remodel it into a shop. But it seemed he had disappeared. We removed the lock and brought pallets and carpets. The door was a joke; no lights and no emergency exit. There was no place sit down or lie down. But it was still better than nothing.
The part of the city on the left bank of the river is being destroyed. The “Grad” multiple missile launchers (illustratively named as “hail” in Russian) is pounding all morning, with shelling sessions of 10-15 minutes. Short breaks – and again. People are being evacuated from the Eastern and Sartana townships. They get settled in dorms and beach hotels (I know that “Chaika” received them). Sartana residents filled our three dorms near the market. They are easy to recognize – with empty eyes, some with a bandage, some dirty in soot.
Someone from the village of Zapadny sent a photo of making Molotov cocktails. Well done! But it’s a question if they’d use it because the artillery seems to decide everything. I have no oil or gasoline in my garage. Except in the gas tank. I decided that using it up for the cocktail would be stupid. In the evening there were rumors that bombers were flying from Yeisk in Russia to Mariupol, and we should use masking light. The street lights went out but were turned back on soon. What, they aren’t flying anymore?
Shock! Russian troops captured Berdyansk without resistance, no one defended the city! How to understand it?! And no official reaction. The mayor is as good as ever.
Government channels broadcast about the fighting near Melitopol. Mariupol is in trouble. We may be surrounded in the coming days!
Monday, February 28. Day 5
It seems that fighting has already begun on the western outskirts, perhaps somewhere near the Agribase. Mariupol is besieged. Again, no official information on whether anything is being done to avoid the encirclement. This silence is terrible. Even a military “expert” like me understands that the encirclement almost always means a defeat. It is clear that all resources go to the defense of Kyiv because that is where the fate of the whole country is decided. But we fall into a deadly trap, and that’s the feeling that dominates.
The Internet is working poorly, mobile coverage is also unstable, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find out things. In the morning, I wanted to donate blood. My friend V.D. got involved. I even found my donor book. That’d be my 41th time. As soon as I opened the garage, V.D. called and said that it was better not to go in that direction. V.D. is at the Civil Defense office, and they received a warning signal. On social networks, they write that a hostile Diversion Group is at neighborhood #17. Yes, I already hear explosions from where I am. I’m coming back home. I’ll try tomorrow.
The traffic lights were turned off.
Finally, the bomb shelter from the official list that is under the neighboring house got open. I went to check it out. It is a large basement throughout the house. There used to be a shop warehouse here. Now gas station “ATB” took over. In the basement, I see all sorts of junk, wooden window frames, a lot of old carpets. That’s good – let’s lay it on the concrete. Everything is covered with a layer of dust. The basement consists of several large rooms, it is relatively warm, normal doors, it is possible to make a water closet. There’s access to communications. I helped to get the light and electricity working. A concrete parapet 40-50 cm high stretches along the perimeter of the two rooms. You can sit on it and even arrange places for lying down. Someone brought mats and blankets. This is a five-star hotel compared to the basement of our house.
Before it got dark, I went to see my grandfather. I called my brother on my way there. His life depends on the medication, and he understands what a vulnerable situation he found himself in. My brother is in a good mood as always. But his humor added more blackness than usual.
The AS2 neighborhood is tightly barricaded. In the area of Slavutych Market and ATB, Peace Avenue is full of trucks, old buses, concrete blocks and slag heaps. Our military is everywhere. Is this where they are preparing for the decisive battle for Mariupol? Standing in groups, they talk as if nothing is happening. Residents walk here and there freely through these positions. My grandfather was not at home. A neighbor said he was in a store near the house. I found him in the line. He is small, gray-haired, with an empty water canister and a bag. He wears my old shabby leather jacket. I tell him that there is no water for sale anywhere, I have to go to a humanitarian center – to a kindergarten on Zelinsky Street. We chatted a little. He wants to buy any food, he says he has stocked up a little. I gave him one loaf of bread, which I miraculously bought in Dzerkalny.
In the evening the light went out, and with it, the water in the tap disappeared. Apparently, the pumping stations are without electricity. We’ve been running to the basement several times during the day. As per the airstrike alarm signal, N. is getting ready to go to the shelter with her child but she takes too long. There is little sense in leaving so late. We decided to spend the night at home. Although it’s scary. We hear the hits not only from the eastern but also from the western outskirts. Ukrainian authorities have begun negotiations with the invaders- criminals. Journalist Hanapolsky rightly noted that a Russian defeat in this war could cause a wave of revanchism, making parallels for Russia with the First World War for Germany. It feels like a stalemate in chess where we lose even when we win. The task of the whole world now is to learn the lessons of history and make the political consequences for Russia similar to those for Germany after the Second World War.
Tuesday, March 1. Day 6
The first day of spring. However, no spring weather yet, no luck this year. I remember the end of February 2017 when it was 10-15 degrees C already, and the grass was green all around. Today it is gloomy and cold. You have to wear everything you can. I hear that the power supply has been restored in some areas. The mayor heroically reports that repair work is underway. He looks as if he’s fixing those lines himself. There are rumors that he fled from Mariupol a long time ago. I asked acquaintances from the City Council. They answer: “He is in a secret shelter in an undisclosed location.” Looks like he really ran away. There is a video on social networks about the mayor of Dniprorudny township meets the invaders’ tanks. That’s my type of mayor!
The sirens of the airstrike alarm disappeared with the blackout. I always believed that these systems should have autonomous power source. It doesn’t make sense otherwise. It turned out my rational assumption was wrong. I went for a walk. Most stores are closed. I met A.L. from the Terra Incognita Theater who says that they now have a shelter. Many people. A.L. stayed home in the downtown.
Strange feeling of time. I photographed their show only last week but it seems like it was a long time ago, at least a few months ago.
There is a lot of water and food left in N.’s apartment on MZhK. We will have to go there, because it is becoming more and more difficult to buy food. The morning and day passed more or less calmly. Shelling thereafar. They cooked food, sat at home. After lunch, the hits can be heard closer and closer. Shelling is far. We are ready to run to the shelter.
It was almost dark in the evening. It hit very close, the closest so far. I ran out first and I saw the door of the shelter locked with people near it. How can that be! I meet my neighbor S. on the staircase. He says that he took his family to the shelter at Terrasport because it is not clear who and when opens this basement. He offered to take us there as well. I agreed. What else can we do. There’s a feeling that we have ‘run out of gas’ emotionally.
Terrasport has a hub for victims and refugees. Hundreds of people from Sartana, the East and other devastated areas are housed in large gyms. Zheka nicknamed Coach manages all of it. He’s a middle-aged guy who worked here as a coach before the war. He gathered all the newcomers in the lobby to explain the rules. There is an improvised kitchen, showers, humanitarian aid from volunteers and even a guard. Me and S. signed up to stay on duty. But then it turned out that it was not tonight, but the next night. Where will we be tomorrow?
A woman complains that red caviar on sandwiches is not real, but imitated! The atmosphere is depressing. Someone is silently looking at the wall, someone is roaring loudly. A lot of children. In front of us is a grandmother with a missing look holding a baby. I have been watching them for some time. They sit very quietly and hardly move, like a sculpture. Her eyes are on me, but she sees nothing. It seems that they are just the two of them, this baby does not have a mother. We were taken by two mothers in the last hall. I used to come to this very gym with a football team. I memorized motivational slogans on the walls. Again, I have a feeling that these are some false memories, phantom ones.
There is electricity, I am charging my phone. S. says that our electricity has also been restored. Good news. We stood in line to get took tea and we talked. The paradox of city life – he and I have lived in adjacent apartments for several years but we know almost nothing about each other. S. is from Donetsk. He had his own business. In 2014, everything turned upside down. He moved to Mariupol and started the same thing from scratch. After several years, he made it and bought an apartment. And now, it’s deja-vu! Will he be able to make it again? It seems that he has big doubts. But a person in a hopeless situation can turn into a superman because there is no other choice.
We sleep in the basement gym. Warm, even too hot. Too many people, no vacancies. The situation is toxic. Someone is constantly gnawing at each other in one corner, then in another corner. Some guy needs to hear a white noise to fall asleep. A TV set was placed next to him. This triggered a verbal fight. A woman shouts that she is going crazy now. But everyone is crazy here, why shout? The sounds of explosions from above do not reach us here. So, we can still relax despite all this.
To be continued.
Ivan Stanislavsky, Journalist (Mariupol)