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The story of Katerina Yerskaya

I arrived from Mariupol on March 17, I ended up in the city a week before the New Year, so I didn’t really get to know the city and I think that, unfortunately, no one will be able to see the city as it used to be.

When I moved, I planned to stay in Mariupol for months or even years. For a long time I could not choose an apartment for myself. I didn’t like either the area or high-rise buildings, but as a result I found an apartment on the square near the Drama Theater. This is the cultural center of the city, various concerts and exhibitions were held there, people organized actions. Before the new year, a skating rink worked, there were a lot of festive illuminations, snow fell, people walked and enjoyed life. This place can be compared with the Independence Square in Kyiv or the Opera House in Odesa.

All this time I continued to work in journalism, writing about culture and society, filming commercials and videos. I sometimes had a rather interesting, but rather boring and monotonous life. In general, I thought that I would live very calmly and measuredly, do yoga, run, fly somewhere once a season. But one day in February, I woke up to a very strange sound. At one time I lived near a construction site, and I thought it was the sound of a construction site, as if a stove or something heavy had fallen there, but this sound was repeated several times. Then I read on social networks that it was a shelling. It turned out that the left bank of Mariupol, about 15-20 kilometers from the center, was constantly shelled from the side of Sartana, and this continued for years. The people who lived there got used to the constant shelling from the side of the so-called “DPR” and did not pay attention to them. But since I heard it for the first time, I was very surprised.

After that, many media began to write that Ukraine should prepare for war, that Russia would attack. I myself work in the media, I read this news and tried to check the facts, tried to analyze the information. The confidence that war cannot be avoided grew stronger in me every day. In the end, one day I collected an alarming suitcase, put all the most important things in it. The understanding that sooner or later I would have to pick it up and leave the city became inevitable.

On the morning of February 24, I woke up from a call, my friend told me that the Russians had crossed the border of Ukraine and the invasion had begun. At that moment, I experienced calmness and even understanding that now the war has begun and there is no need to wait for it and it is clear what to do - you need to protect Ukraine, change your shoes from a journalist who writes about culture and society into a volunteer, paramedic or someone who can be useful to Ukraine, who can defend Ukraine, do what is in his power.

In the first few days, I took part in the evacuation of people who wanted to leave Mariupol. I decided to join a volunteer organization that arose spontaneously, it included several public associations. Today I learned that the building where we were based was burned down. I don't know what happened to the people who stayed there. I hope they managed to get out, because we thought of several escape routes.

We fed the displaced people, provided them with medicines, helped people who were left without their homes, and there are a lot of such people in Mariupol.

The city is practically wiped off the face of the earth. The phrase that Mariupol no longer exists is not a metaphor, the city no longer exists. There is no Drama Theater near which my house was located, there is no post office, the bridge was blown up, the left bank and the village of Vostochny were literally wiped off the face of the earth. The people who lived there, lived, perhaps remained alive in the cellars. But who will extract them from the rubble, since even rescuers cannot get there.

More than 80% of the buildings are damaged, but it seems to me that all 100% are damaged, because I did not see a single whole window, not a single whole house, they all suffered from shelling, air bombing. Some of the buildings were destroyed, some were looted, because the city is in a state of blockade, a humanitarian catastrophe, and people had no choice but to look for food and medicine. People literally drank water from puddles. I saw how my neighbors hunt pigeons and then cook them on fires in our yard.

People who needed insulin were left without it. People who needed cancer treatment were also left without chemotherapy. Hospitals were overcrowded, they were constantly shelled. When the women from the bombed-out maternity hospital were transferred to another building, it was fired upon again. It seems that the enemy deliberately fired at peaceful objects, in which there were a large number of civilians.

There are street fights in the city. The city is constantly shelled by artillery and aviation, people literally live in basements, go out into the streets only to cook their own food over a fire, because there is no connection, no light, no gas, no water supply, no communications work. It's just a stone age, the worst thing is that the city runs out of food, there is no water supply. There are no sick people treated, emergency services are not working. Fire trucks and ambulances sometimes travel through the city, but do not reach many areas where injured people and dead bodies are left lying on the streets.

On March 15, the first humanitarian corridor from Mariupol along the route Mangush - Tokmak - Vasylivka - Zaporozhye began to operate. I left the next day, March 16th. On this way, people had to overcome about 15 enemy checkpoints, where the Russians stood, proxies from the "DPR", Chechens, Buryats, mercenaries who were sent. When I looked at them, I understood that these are people who not only lack dignity and conscience, but also their Motherland, their country, and they came to destroy ours.

Hundreds of cars with children are constantly moving along the humanitarian corridors. They are wrapped in white ribbons, but they are constantly fired upon. On the day when I was leaving, they fired at the convoy that was driving ahead of us, and they also fired at my car. I had a 12-year-old girl, the child was injured and now she is in a stable, serious condition in a hospital in Zaporozhye. I know that yesterday they fired at a column of buses with children. That is, despite the fact that these are humanitarian corridors, there are always wounded and killed people there.

Why was my car shot at? We didn't do anything, we just drove. There is no need to look for any logic in the actions of the enemy, because we rely on common sense, on humanity, and these are people deprived of moral principles, deprived of elementary values. That is, we are dealing with some kind of absolute evil, and we are trying to find some logic in its actions. There is no logic in killing children.

When we reached the first Ukrainian checkpoint, I got out of the car and walked 800 meters to it, to be sure that Ukrainian troops were already stationed there. I have never been so happy with the Ukrainian flag as when I saw it in Zaporozhye.

The great Russian writer said that "nothing is worth a child's tears." Now they have stepped over it, they are killing civilians. They do not destroy military infrastructure, but shoot at residential buildings. No Azov battalion will set up a base in a nine-story residential building, because it makes no tactical sense.

The Russians are just shooting at people. Their goal is to demoralize us, to make people suffer, to give up.

I talked with people, each of whom I wanted to shake hands and thank. I worked in a volunteer organization, we helped everyone, including our soldiers - border guards, marines, policemen, the National Guard, everyone who defends the freedom of Mariupol and the freedom of Ukraine. Maybe because I'm a girl, they all said optimistic and good things to me. It is clear that I met people who were wounded, upset by the death of their comrades, suffered morally or psychologically and worried about their families. But I did not see broken people, people who lost heart, I saw evil people, people who feel righteous hatred. I was lucky, I did not see panties, they say that they are in every army, but I have not seen them in the Ukrainian army.

The city holds on despite the fact that there are street fights. I am very sorry for Mariupol, it seems to me that the city cannot be restored in the form it was before the war, that a new city will need to be built there.

You have no idea what this city was like when I saw it for the first time before the New Year. The main street was made pedestrian, there was a Christmas market on it, it was all in illumination. Mulled wine, Bavarian sausages, the spirit of Christmas, it was so cool, Christmas songs sounded from everywhere. Then I went to the pier, they built a very beautiful pier, similar to the Odessa embankment, and there the seagulls ate bread from their hands. There were many adults and children there, everyone was feeding the seagulls and in the cafe they offered dry bread to feed the seagulls.

It seems to me that this city cannot be returned, because the tragic seal that it now has, all the grief that Mariupol experienced, it will experience for many more years. And even if it is rebuilt, it will not be so soon.

I know that Mariupol was awarded the title of Hero City. I want decades later, when Mariupol is rebuilt, people will remember how heroically he held the blockade. The city has not yet been taken, despite the fact that it is surrounded, our military personnel, our policemen, rescuers, doctors still remain there. Many of them were captured, but they did not leave the city, they stayed there to help people. The feeling of pride and fear that I feel when I think about these people, they are proportionate.

Now, when a real full-scale war is going on in Ukraine, I believe that not a single person can remain on the sidelines. We cannot hide at home, cover ourselves with a blanket and wait for this to pass. It will no longer be possible to wait. Anyone who can do something should do it.

If you are not a military man, you can cook food, volunteer, sort out humanitarian supplies, distribute medicines. There are no more small things. Every business is a big deal, it is a part of our victory. This is the only way Ukraine will win. Glory to Ukraine!

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