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"If God led us out of hell, then he has a plan for us" - parents of five children about salvation from Mariupol

"If God led us out of hell, then he has a plan for us" - parents of five children about salvation from Mariupol

When we hear about the tens of thousands of dead in Mariupol, we understand, that this is not the final figure. When just for a moment we try to imagine the lives of people in catacombs for three months now, under constant fire, without water, heat, electricity, medicine and everything necessary for life - we feel that Mariupol, the city of Maria, as it was called by Pope Francis, has become a hell for people. Natalia, a mother of five children, told the story of a family that managed to escape from hell.


"When it all started on February 24, it was impossible to stay at home and we went down to the basement. Although it seemed to us that the explosions were very close, we later realized that they were still far away. Some days later we learned what is it if the shelling is in your near. Our city has been under siege since the fifth day of the full-scale invasion. First Russian troops cut off the gas supply and then the water supply. We were without heat and water in a completely unsuitable basement. We cooked on fire, distributed the kitchen duties between us. For this we came out for a very short time, and as soon one shouted "air", we rushed to the basement back. Well, as you raced, you were actually thrown there by a shock wave. When the products ran out, the military allowed us to take in stores. We understood that it was looting but had to survive. The same in pharmacies. Only alcohol was not allowed.

There was a large basement under our house. There were about 70 people on one side and about 120 people on the other side. There were a lot of children. And we had a pregnant woman. The basement was not suitable for life at all. It was extremely cold. We took blankets from home and anything else possible to keep warm. But we were lucky, we had a toilet. It was a youth center, so there was a toilet in the basement. Rainwater and snow were collected so that the toilet could be flushed down. When the water settled, the dishes and hands were washed, because there was no hygiene. We were black there like devils… Once it flew into the roof and hit the chimney, and soot flew there. Night. We lit flashlights, swept everything, and in the morning, we went outside and we were all in soot. The way the devils in the hell, our hands were black, the clothes was black… We were sleeping while walking... God, what a sound. It was terrifying right above us. The children were very scared. Vanya shouts "give me a whistle." We agreed that the whistle should always be near, that if we are covered with debris - we will have to whistle to dig us up. He shouted very loudly: "Whistle, whistle!". Vanya is our fourth, he is 7, the eldest Vlad is 22, Thaia is 15, Sofia is 8 and junior Nazarchyk is 5. My mother and I all moved to the basement from the first days. At first, we alone, and then with the dog, it was increasingly difficult to get to him to feed. It was flying from morning till night… bombs and rockets, it's very scary. Just after we took the dog to basement, the next day it came to our yard. The funnel was 40 centimeters in diameter and a depth of one and a half meters. The windows were out, the wall cracked, and the car seemed to be bent. The husband only took the battery out of it, which survived, for charging the phones from it.


There was something like a well around us, there was technical water. But we cooked and drank it, because there were no other options. The children had to be fed daily. Everything was cooked on the fire, we had a cook, she used to work on the ship. But that's right, 4 seconds after the "air" signal - and you leave everything and ran away. The signals were given by one who first heard the plane, or the sounds of a rocket. The children were so frightened that they were not on the fresh air for two weeks. There was no bread. We made pancakes. Found flour, kneaded. But sometimes you leave the pancake and run to the basement… Everything was so tense, the hearing was so sharp that we were afraid of ant silence longer than 10 minutes. We did not understand where to expect form...

On March 17, our godparents were killed. 9 people died then. Everyone was killed there at once. They did not come to the basement because they had a cellar at home. They sat in the cellar all the time, went out only to eat and to the toilet. That day they prepared food and sat down at the table. And an air bomb arrived. Three houses were leveled with the earth. Of all of them, only one woman survived, she was like a sieve, but she was saved. The vet sewed her up. God, he sewed under a flashlight in the basement. Everyone shone as much as he could. The water on the fire was heated to wash away at least a little blood. She was all in shards. And it turned out that her liver was pierced. She vomited bile for 2 weeks. When we were able to escape later, she was taken to the Crimea and operated there. And she says: "Why did I survive, no husband, no children… She had two girls: 15 and 19 years old. And her friend's husband and 12-year-old son also died then. All together with neighbors - 9 people were killed. When I saw what their house looked like, I don't understand how they were found there. It was said that her daughter did not reach the cellar for two steps… Nobody buried them. They were brought to the cellar, covered with linoleum and that was it… On the streets there were corpses laying for weeks. Such was the shelling that it was impossible to go out to bury.


We still stayed in Mariupol. And then we realized that there is no hope anymore. We are covered with fire around the clock. Our basement is shaking. I covered the children with icons and prayed that God would preserve them. No one slept at night, we sat praying with icons and whistles in hands. When we decided to try to break through, it was hard to even cross the threshold. Everything is buzzing there, and you have to get out. It was very scary. I could not open the door and go outside with the children. Before my eyes was a case when a girl in her 30s came out of the basement, something fell near her and blew her hands. The men ran out and started to bandage her to stop the bleeding… So, she's alive - and there's nothing we can do to help her. There is nothing to get to the hospital and to treat. That's how she died. We couldn't bury her either. There are a lot of dead people on the streets. The maximum was pushed away from the road, it was not possible to hide. That's how you go out for groceries, step over people and leave, because you have to find something for the children.
We had a pregnant woman in the basement, who had to give birth on March 11 - she gave birth the 6th of March. We miraculously managed to take her to the hospital, and she gave birth in the maternity hospital. And then she was brought with our breastfed baby to our basement again, as we learn that the rocket arrived to maternity hospital on March 9. God miraculously saved this mother and child. We were at the epicenter. Everything is destroyed there. This is the Central district, a little below the drama theater. By the way, when a bomb was dropped on the theater on March 16, we heard everything. There was no connection, we do not know who died there and whether there is somebody. When my husband told me that it was no longer possible to stay, I understood that, but it was still very scary to leave. When we left, we later learned that March 21 it shelled our house, leaving not a stone. We have nowhere to go back. I sometimes tell my husband, I want to go home so much, and then I remember – nowhere to go anymore…


When we left, there were no safe corridors. We went at our own risk. The factory was not far from us, so we found ourselves in the epicenter. We understood that if we stayed, we would die for sure, if we tried to leave, there was a chance to survive. In front of us, people also heard somewhere about a safe corridor - and then it turned out that it was not there. We walked 20 km to the village of Melekine, then another 10 km before leaving. There were 12 of us in one old car. With bags, dogs. We leave - the bombs fall. Just before our eyes hit the hotel Spartak. We needed to get a few blocks out of this hell. The planes flew every 2-3 minutes. There was not even a breath. Our car was on gas, and we filled it with gasoline, drained from somewhere. It explodes everywhere, and we can barely move. There was no road to go. I have never prayed "Our Father" so many times in my life before. Children were closed from the windows: mother on one side, me on the other. And so we were driving. Everything was removed from the phones so that there were no photos of the war or shelling. No weapons… My daughter had a picture on her phone where we were at sea, so we thought we would be shot for this. We thought there was a drone and there was a seagull. They undressed the boys, seeking for a trident tattoo.

My friend's son was moving and they found a photo of him, then he was almost shot with a machine gun… Just miraculously released. A woman with a child was almost shot for a 5 seconds of video. They were afraid that these cadres would not get to Russia. We drove to the exit, then handed over the car, took the bags and 7 km with the children in our arms and the old mother, we went to the village Melekino. It was so cold that my mother had already said she had better stay there. Such was the cold wind, cutting like a knife. But we got there. We were then picked up and taken to Urzuf, also a village. We spent the night there. We had to get to Berdyansk, then to Zaporizhia. Only women and children were transported by one humanitarian column. They said: "The men will walk 35 km to Berdyansk." I did not want to leave my husband. But by a happy coincidence, the volunteers dropped us off. Berdyansk was already occupied. We were given the opportunity to stay at school, and we did not wash for a month. For 10 days we lived there in hope of humanitarian buses. We went with our bags to a certain place and waited. We sign up, and buses are not let. It was very cold. A lot of soldiers everywhere, we were scared, and we had 15-year-old girls. We spent the night at the gas station in the middle of the field, and in the morning, we went to the exit ring so that someone could pick us up. A minibus was driving, and we were taken to Melitopol.


There is the same story. Same thing again. Occupied. Nothing to leave with. It is good that the owner of the hotel let us live for free, there we washed for the first time that month. Can you imagine what we were like? The hair was like a doll, even hairpins were not needed. There we tried to sign up for evacuation, we went every day to learn how to get out. The woman who wrote the lists was taken away by the military. Then they said that there were no lists for evacuation. I was already crying… And the Chechens came into the hotel and asked the owner if there were any girls here, he said no. So we, living with the Chechens on the same floor, hiding our children…
Then I remembered that my husband and I were filming in the project "Dad's House" and I called the screenwriter and through her the famous people helped us to leave. The column was private and there were places they booked them. The column decided to go through Orikhovo, a very long way of 13 hours. But we did not get there. The shelling began in Polohy. Less than 2 minutes to the checkpoint and hail fire began. The road to the last checkpoint was mined. The children's lips turned blue with fear when they saw the explosions again.

We had to turn on the narrow road and not hit the mines. I tell the children, "Don't be afraid," and I can barely contain my panic. I kept thinking, have we really left the hell to explode on a mine here. But God saved again. When we entered Ukrainian territory, we kissed everyone we saw, hugged everyone who was there. It was such happiness! Everyone was crying. 18 people and everyone is crying. We have been waiting for this for 16 days. After leaving Mariupol for 16 days, we tried to break out of the dead end. There is nothing we can do like in the labyrinth. Then we got to Lviv by evacuation train, volunteers met us and brought us here to Caritas Spes.

It's a miracle, the children are happy, playing football and drawing. The food here is excellent, they try to provide everything we need, things that are needed. Take, choose for each child. So many gifts were made to us. People are so open; they understand that we have grief that we have nowhere to go. Generous people are open-minded and don't demand anything in return, they just say rest, get away from it. Take a walk ... We are thankful to God that we came here. Here, even children quickly recovered from stress. The teen's daughter is recovering harder. Although she is optimistic, but sometimes I go into the room, she sits crying, says: "As I remember Veronica I cannot find my piece." Veronica, this is her friend who died with her godparents. They were friends from kindergarten. Everyone dreamed of who would be what after school… And I tell her that we will be fine, God saved us from this, so he has a plan for us. All will be well if God so commands.


This story would be enough for dozens of lives, but it is the story of one family. Almost 100,000 people have passed through the centers for displaced persons under the care of Caritas-Spes Ukraine, and each has his own pain and his own history of war. Today, more than 1,500 people are permanently housed in the Mission Centers under the auspices of the Mission. We thank our partners who help us.

Help us help others.

26 April 2022
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