Mariupol, the point of no return. My 20 days of war

From We are starting a series of diaries of Mariupol journalist Ivan Stanislavskyi, who lived in a city blocked by Russian troops for 20 days and recorded what was happening.

I was born and lived all my life in Mariupol. It so happened that almost all my activities were connected with this city. I worked in a football club called “Mariupol”, published essays on local history, took photographs, researched artistic heritage, and conducted thematic tours. I knew my city very well and tried to increase my knowledge.

But the most important task for me has always been to interest others in Mariupol because Mariupol is worth it. I thought so before and I think so now. This is an amazing city with a complex past and an even more complex present. Naturally, I connected my future with the place where I was born, and I didn’t imagine any ​​other options.

On February 24, Russia attacked Ukraine and started a meaningless, barbaric war, causing a catastrophe for our city that is incomparable even to the consequences of World War II. The city I loved so much is totally ruined, ruined by those who call themselves our brothers.

Photo: Ivan Stanislavskyi

After 20 days of war, I was evacuated with the understanding that I had been “liberated” not only from 35 years of my past. It is possible that any future connected with Mariupol is no longer possible. New houses, hospitals, fountains and a theater can be built on the ashes, but not everything can be rebuilt. In the mental sense, there is a limit at which the connection between the past and the present is broken, and a void is formed between them that can never be filled. Many Mariupol residents are already feeling this. I sincerely hope that Mariupol will rise from the ashes like Phoenix, and I will be lucky to return to my homeland one day. However, the former Mariupol – it seems that it has already disappeared with thousands of dead citizens, only memories of whom remain.

February 24. Day 1

I slept through beginning of the war. I woke up at seven from my wife’s call. Complete disorientation, hung up on the phone, trying to understand what was happening in the country and the city. Early in the morning, the enemy fired on the Mariupol airport and a number of military facilities throughout Ukraine. I took out a bag with which I go on a business trip. Some things were already in it, I threw something in, mechanically, without realizing whether it was necessary or not. Collected documents. Thought: maybe go to the village, away from the city?

I. went to work, as usual, and on the way they were sent back. Couldn’t this have been done earlier, as the attacks started at five in the morning?! I ran to the garage to pick up I. from work, because there was no regular transport from there. The Internet writes that a Russian landing party has landed from the sea. This means that some roads may have been cut. By the time I got home from the garage, I. said she was halfway there. I’ll wait at home. I. returned. She says they were told to work from home – to pull their tails. What a delusion, who needs it? We quarreled. Everyone is nervous. We decided not to go to the village. Yet.

It is clear from the news that a full-scale war has begun. The invaders are advancing in several directions at once, the worst predictions have come true. This! Throughout the previous month, foreign media came to report on how Mariupol was preparing for war, and were surprised to find almost no preparations. I also thought the threat was exaggerated

At 8:30 a.m., something very loud exploded near the airport. Metinvest reported on the preservation of production at the city’s enterprises. Somehow too fast. Obviously, they were preparing for this in advance, the decision has already been made. Rumors of a landing from the sea turned out to be a lie. Somehow it lay down. We watched the mayor’s appeal, as always, pathetic and almost meaningless.

Photo: Mariupol City Council

V.K. is already in Zaporizhzhia. He left at five in the morning, in the first minutes of the war! What a quick man. Together with V.D. we scoffed at this. Curfew was announced from 22:00 to 6:00.

I rushed to work to pick up a camera bag with a lens. The gate is locked, there is no one in the office. Why didn’t I pick up that bag yesterday? I didn’t want to take it, because I went to A.Ch. to show him the final layout of my book. I’ll pick it up tomorrow, I told myself. Who knew there would be no tomorrow? Yesterday I talked to A.L. regarding work in the agency, they agreed. Now, it seems, everything is gone. How can you check-in and receive a press card? No way. The book was also gone. Nonsense, but I feel a little sorry about the bag. Cellular communication is unstable, I talked to my parents. I tried to calm them down, instead I inflamed myself. From the east it “thunders” incessantly. It’s scary to stand on the street in front of the office.

Arrived home around noon. Queues to all ATMs, gas stations, supermarkets, pharmacies. In general, everything works as usual. For the first time, sirens sounded at about three o’clock. They say they have been before, but nothing can be heard in the apartment. You need to open the window. We did not go anywhere where the shelter is, we have no idea.

Photo: Ivan Stanislavskyi

I. found a list of vaults, there is an address next to us. I checked to see – there is a lock hanging. From the east you can hear the “Grad” arriving. I remember this sound well since 2014. I thought I had forgotten – no, this can’t be forgotten.

We learned that the same houses were damaged in the Vostok district during the first shelling as in January 2015! This is a fate! From the left bank of the D.B. writes that shelling is close. They fled from an apartment building to the basement of their unfinished house. Later, a worker came to them to plaster the walls. Both funny and sad. All evening on the phone – news, news, news. Fighting on the outskirts of Kiev, Gostomel airport attacked, the occupiers are trying to capture the bridgehead to attack the capital. Then they write that it is reflected, then it is captured again, it is reflected again. Some crazyness. Kharkiv, Sumy, Henichesk were attacked. Russian troops are attacking Chernobyl, they are really crazy! Battle on Snake Island. The first day of the war – and such a heroic episode immediately! It seems that there will be no repeat of 2014, when there were many traitors among the army and law enforcement officers. There will be a fight!

Photo: Mariupol City Council

February 25. Day 2

Last night was nervous, the night is relatively quiet. We slept without undressing. In our apartment, as, probably, and in all Khrushchev walk-ups, except a corridor, there is no place where it would be possible to hide. Everywhere you are near the window, and there is only one load-bearing wall inside the apartment. The mattress was moved from the bedroom to the corner of the hall. At least on one side there will be a strong wall. From the east. It is from there that remote cannonade can be heard all morning. Sometimes single explosions are heard quite close, from the airport or checkpoint on the Mangush road.

I taped the glass and barricaded the windows with books. I never thought I would use my library like that. It’s good that I have a lot of books. Enough for all the windows. Art literature is best suited for this. The format is large, the paper is thick, each is like a brick. For some time I looked at the collection of works by Strugatsky, which inspired memories of my student times. Oh, how hard it was to get those 10 volumes then. The Encyclopedia of Ukrainian Rock Music – a unique edition, Zhadan’s autographed poetry. Science fiction above. What happened yesterday is also fantastic, but not sci-fi.

I went to the supermarket. I bought pasta, rice, butter. Found water for bottling in the village on the way from the garage. Life hack – it is easier to buy in small shops than in large supermarkets. As yesterday, giant queues at ATMs and pharmacies. The excitement in food has decreased, but the shelves with bottled water, bread and cereals are often empty. ATB is generally half-empty, “Gracia” has products – prices have increased significantly. Local bastards in their repertoire, national retailers still somehow keep within. Bought a bag of potatoes at the store below. Caucasians who hold this basement are the only ones who have not raised prices at all. Gasoline is already UAH 38.’

Photo: Ivan Stanislavskyi. Text: Dear customers, сash register is temporarily not working

There are problems with non-cash payment. However, the supply is going on, if you look for bread, you can buy it, water is delivered. Public transport is available. I saw a money transfer car which was loading money. I joined the queue. More than a hundred people gathered in two or three minutes. I’m third. The ATM gives a maximum of UAH 1,000 and a limit of three transactions. I rented 3,000. Unbelievable luck – I bought some food and withdrew money.

At the stop I see a group of Indian students. Near the dormitory of Donetsk Medical University. Trying to leave. Bad luck. They thought to save up on study. They came from somewhere and got into such trouble here.

Evening. We almost never let go of phones. Complete information dependence. Viber is slowing down more and more, only Telegram is working stably. The occupiers are already in Melitopol. Sartan is said to have been bombed from a plane. Somehow I can’t believe it! Maybe a mistake? Around 19:00, the left bank was heavily shelled again. We could hear very well. Social media writes there was a shelling near the school number 48, and a nine-storey building collapsed somewhere in the square, some say it is the mayor’s house. It turned out that the house did not collapse, but still hit by “Grad”.

Сартана після обстрілів
Sartan after shelling. Photo: Pravda Gerashenko

February 26. Day 3

The third day of the war with Russia. The city was shelled again, there are victims. The battle has been going on since morning. Artillery can be heard loudly, and for the first time I hear aviation. Apparently, the air strike on Sartan is true. What a horror! Is the bombing of a Greek village really necessary to protect the DPR (“Donetsk People Republic”)? It is impossible to understand.

My colleagues from FC Mariupol are stuck in Turkey. The team was to depart from Istanbul on the morning of February 24. The flight was canceled when they were already at the airport. Everyone was returned to the hotel. Fortunately or unfortunately? Fortunately, they are far from war. Unfortunately, many have families left, in the Eastern, in Sartan. I, too, could go to that meeting and get stuck in Antalya. Fortunately, I am next to my family, in Mariupol, in the middle of the war.

The food panic did not subside. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find bread. I bought some rolls and wanted to take them to my grandfather. It turned out that my mother took her last half of the loaf from the other side of town. Why? It is difficult to buy fuel. Diesel is still available, and to fill up with gasoline, passed seven gas stations. While standing in line, you can clearly hear the sound of the plane. Whose? I hope ours. And do we have aviation at all? I do not know. Anxiously. Some couldn’t stand it – they left. I raised the glass and turned on the radio – so you can’t hear anything. Limit – 20 liters, price – 40 UAH. It was about 15 liters, so the tank was almost full. The computer shows that 500 km is enough. Fine. If anything, it will be enough not only to get the village.

Photo: Ivan Stanyslavkyi

The civil protection system in some densely populated areas does not seem ready to protect the population. Even at officially announced addresses, there can be nothing found – it’s either closed or completely unusable. All social networks are flooded with such messages. Sometimes they say that they may not let you into the shelter if you are from another house. What a hogwash. The basement in my entrance is the name itself, it is impossible to hide there. The saleswoman of the basement store with vegetables says that if something happens, they are open. This seems to be the best option.

Photo: Ivan Stanyslavkyi

The heating in the apartment was turned off, probably yesterday, because today is already noticeably cool. V.D. (she works in the heating network) says that the boiler house operates normally. N., I.’s sister, came with her child and husband. They are scared at home. Their 14-story house stands out almost on the edge of town like a stick in the middle of a field. From it you can clearly see the western approaches to the city and the surrounding area of ​​the airport. Strategic position – can come under fire. We dragged our mattress back to the bedroom with the windows to the east. Being there is very uncomfortable – it booms. I learned that the bridge near Komyshuvaty was blown up. It seems too late to run away to the village.

There are a lot of photos of Russian columns moving from Berdyansk to Mariupol on social networks. Entrances to the city have already been barricaded on the western outskirts. Mountains of slag were piled up and roads were filled with old buses and trucks. I hope that the occupiers will be burned on the march and there will be no city battles. The course of events at the front suggests that our army seems to be fighting not only heroically, but also effectively and professionally. This is no longer the naked and barefoot army I saw in 2014 at checkpoints near Mariupol. It seems that the blitzkrieg has been broken – we believe in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Photo: EPA/UPG