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Journalist shares harrowing diary of life in besieged Mariupol

Ukrainian journalist Nadezhda Sukhorukova escaped the besieged city of Mariupol on 19 March. Her diary describes the horror of watching her home destroyed

Nadezhda Sukhorukova
22 March 2022, 3.58pm

It is estimated that 2,500 civilians have been killed in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol

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Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters/Alamy

The seaport of Mariupol in south-eastern Ukraine has been under Russian shelling and besieged for weeks.

Some residents were able to flee in convoys of cars from 16 March, but there are still an estimated 300,000 in the city with no electricity or running water.

Food is scarce and aid shipments have been prevented from entering the city. Ukrainian officials estimate that at least 2,500 civilians in the city have died. Several thousand residents have been forcibly evacuated to Russia.

Journalist Nadezhda Sukhorukova managed to leave Mariupol on 19 March, having spent days hiding in a basement with her relatives. Posts from her diary of the siege have been widely shared on social media.

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The name Nadezhda means ‘hope’, and the hashtag #nadezhda is both her signature and a call for hope.

openDemocracy publishes Sukhorukova’s Mariupol diary in two parts.

18 March 2022

#mariupol #nadezhda My neighbour said that God has left Mariupol, as he was frightened by everything he had seen. She said this a week ago.

The day before yesterday, just before our departure, she ran into our basement announcing that an apartment building one away from ours was on fire. “There are some strange orange flames,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Girls, please pray.”

We didn’t know then that in half an hour we would leave this city and this reality. We sat and prayed. I said the Lord’s Prayer and for some reason I had forgotten the words. My husband taught me this prayer. I haven’t seen him since the start of the war. I had gone to visit my mother, and then I couldn’t go to him. I really want to hear his voice. I want one more little chance. To say the most important words. Which, for some reason, I didn’t say when the phones still worked.

I am sure I will die soon – it’s only a matter of days. Everyone in this city is constantly waiting for death

Every day in Mariupol we waited for things to improve. We believed that the war was about to end and that everything would be as it was. Just a week ago, we were still out in the street. Once, between bombings, we went to the Red Cross point at Torhova Street. My friend’s daughter recently gave birth to a son. They named him Nikita and he lived in our basement. We hardly took him outside because of the bombing, and the week-old child did not see the sun at all.

For Nikita’s sake, we drove to the Red Cross point in a friend's car with the word ‘children’ written on it. This inscription did not protect us against anything. On the way, we found a car just like ours, with the same inscription, broken and burned out. It had been hit by a shell.

The ride was very scary. But some of the houses were still intact. The maternity hospital had not yet been hit, my colleague’s husband had not died, and, in our area, there were lonely pedestrians walking through the streets.

We arrived at a street that was no longer there. There were ruins instead. Instead of a large store, a huge pit. Down from it, not a single building remained intact. I didn’t recognise this part of the city. The people who cleared the rubble said an aerial bomb had fallen there the day before. Guys from the Red Cross were collecting glass. Among them was a young woman, who seemed surprisingly calm.

I asked: “How are you?” and she answered: “Everything is fine,” and smiled. It was so strange. We haven’t smiled in days.

A local resident who seeks refuge in the basement of a building during Ukraine-Russia conflict is seen in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 18, 2022

A woman emerges from a basement, where she had been seeking refuge, in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol

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Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters/Alamy

They didn’t have any formula milk or nappies. We were told that everything had been sent to the hospital. We decided that we would go there the next day.

My friend’s daughter said that the doctors and nurses were living in the hospital around the clock – they hadn’t gone home.

It was dangerous, and there were no replacement staff, but women were giving birth – without electricity or water, in a cold delivery room and under bombardment. When the department ran out of food, the doctors began to give their supplies to the women in labour. Everything they had. The head physician brought cheese and sausage sandwiches. There was no bread. There was simply nowhere to buy it. There was absolutely nothing to buy. At first, the shops were closed, then they began to be looted.

There were no pharmacies open. These were also looted. I was running short of pills for my heart and a harsh alternative lay ahead: die from a projectile or from cardiac arrest, neither of which I really liked.

An unknown woman helped. A neighbour of our friends. I think her name is Lena. She gave away some of her medicines for free.

At the point when people ran out of water, it started to snow, then it rained. Mum said: “Nature is helping us.” The shooting in our area was not so intense then, and two groups of neighbours gathered near the apartment building entrances. Some cooked food on a fire, others stood under the drain pipes with buckets.

We were still talking to each other then. And I found out that someone was bringing water to the corner of one of the streets every day from the city water canal. An ordinary city resident carried it in a huge barrel on his own initiative. He comes every day, and then stands under shelling and fills people’s bottles with free drinking water. Every so often, when the shooting gets more intense and it becomes dangerous, people run away from there, then they argue with each other for a place in the queue, and the water carrier silently fills their containers.

I don’t know the name of this man and I hope he gets out of this hell alive. I really want him to read these lines and hear my thanks, which I didn’t have time to give him then.

19 March 2022

#mariupol #nadezhda I go outside between air raids. I have to walk my dog. She whines constantly, trembling and hiding behind my legs. I just want to sleep all the time. My yard, surrounded by high-rises, is quiet and dead. I’m no longer afraid to look around.

In front of me, the entrance to apartment block number 105 is still burning. The flames have already devoured five floors and are slowly chewing through the sixth. In one room, the fire is burning neatly, like in a fireplace. The black windows are charred ash. The glass is gone. Curtains gnawed by fire are flickering out of apartment windows like tongues. I look at it all, calm and resigned.

Local residents cook outside a residential building during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 18, 2022

Cut off from electricity, Mariupol residents cook on fires outside their homes

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Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters/Alamy

I am sure I will die soon – it’s only a matter of days. Everyone in this city is constantly waiting for death. I only hope it won’t be too awful. Three days ago, a friend of my eldest nephew came to see us and told us there’d been a direct hit on the fire station. Some of the firefighters were killed. One woman lost her arm, leg and head.

I hope that, even after an aerial bomb explosion, my body remains in one piece. On the other hand, I’m not going to be buried if I die while hostilities are still going on. That’s what the police told us: we stopped them in the street and asked what to do with the dead grandmother of our friend. They advised us to move her to the balcony. I wonder how many dead bodies are lying on people’s balconies?

Our house on Myr Avenue [Peace Avenue] is the only one that hasn’t taken a direct hit. Shells have fallen nearby a couple of times and blown the glass out of some of the windows, but there’s very little damage and, compared to other buildings, ours looks pretty lucky.

Our courtyard is completely covered with layers of ash, glass, plastic and metal debris. I notice someone’s face in a window on the third floor, and I flinch. I am now afraid of people who are alive, it seems.

People are still hiding in basements. Each day is harder than the one before. They have no water, no food, no electricity

Whatever life is left in the city is now smouldering in its basements, like the candle in our part of the basement. It takes nothing to put it out. Any small wind or movement and darkness falls. I try to cry but I can’t. I feel sorry for myself, my family, my husband, neighbours and friends. I return to the basement and sit there listening to the vile screech of metal. Only two weeks have passed, and already I don’t believe that life has ever been different.

There are people still hiding in basements of Mariupol. Each day it is harder for them to get through than the one before. They have no water, no food, no electricity. They can’t even go outside because of the constant shelling. The people of Mariupol must survive. Help them. Talk about them. Let everyone know that civilians are still being killed.

19 March 2022

#mariupol #nadezhda If we hadn’t left this morning, we would be dead. Our neighbours in the basement had been disappearing one by one, whenever someone would find gas or friends with a car. Nobody said goodbye or packed supplies – they just dropped everything and ran to the exit.

By the evening, more than half the people in the basement had left. Our neighbours were also planning to leave but the shelling kept preventing them. The ground was trembling four, five, sometimes six times every five minutes. They bombed us with all their might, as if they wanted to bury every house, every tree underground, to trample every soul into one huge crater.

Civilians who had been sheltering in subterranean bomb shelters emerge with their possessions and prepare to flee the city on foot, 17 March

Mariupol citizens who had been sheltering in basements emerge with their possessions in trollies, hoping to flee the city on foot, 17 March

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SOPA Images Limited/Alamy Live News

We did not sleep for several days. Or maybe our state could be described as half-sleep. The day merged with the night and our eyes were constantly half-closed but our bodies still alert. All the tall apartment buildings nearby had been bombed. For some, only half a building remained.

I did not know if there were people in those buildings’ basements. And if there were, what were they feeling? I felt almost nothing. It seemed to me that it wasn’t happening. That I was seeing a hellish dream. That soon I would open my eyes in bed, wash my face and drink some tea.

And then the giant clanged his iron again. He walked on my land. The sound before the shelling drove me mad. It was as if someone was moving something in metal, massive and scary. What could it be?

I started to feel completely numb. I was afraid to move. There was no toilet in the basement. People were still using the bathrooms in their flats. I had to go up to the fifth floor but I could not force myself to move. I had to get out of the basement and go to the building entrance. I didn’t have the courage to do it.

A long line of cars queues to leave the heavily damaged town of Mariupol following a recent lull in the bombardment in the north of the city, 17 March

Cars queues to leave Mariupol during a lull in Russia's bombardment of the city, 17 March

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SOPA Images Limited/Alamy Live News

My little nephews were lying on somebody else’s mattresses, covered with blankets from different sections of the basement. They were wearing jackets, hats, scarves and shoes. Before we came, an Azerbaijani family stayed here. They had 11 children. They left the city a week ago. People say they reached a safe place. We received the news from another basement when our neighbour took a risk to go outside to heat up some water on the fire. There was a short break. They didn’t bomb us for a whole 15 minutes.

I felt terribly sorry for the children. They hardly talked. Nobody talked. We were listening to the aeroplanes. They were flying really close by and endlessly dropping bombs.

The ground was bending, the house was trembling, someone in the basement was screaming out of fear. I was afraid to even imagine what it was like outside. It seemed to me that the house was standing in the centre of everything and bombs were exploding all around it. Everything was covered in craters and debris. When I saw what remained of our yard in the morning, I didn’t have a single emotion left. I was just standing there and looking. This was not my city.

Volunteers report that between 20,000 and 40,000 people have left the city. At the moment about 300,000 people remain in Mariupol. They are still being killed. Please tell the world about it. People want to live.

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