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Fleeing Mariupol: ‘I cried like I never cried before in my life. Despair took over’

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Olga Krivtsova

Olga Krivtsova

Olga Krivtsova, her dog Alex and the Mini Cooper which she drove from Mariupol to Ireland

Olga Krivtsova, her dog Alex and the Mini Cooper which she drove from Mariupol to Ireland

Olga Krivtsova outside McKevitt's in Carlingford where she works one day a week

Olga Krivtsova outside McKevitt's in Carlingford where she works one day a week

Olga Krivtsova and her family were reunited thanks to the Irish Red Cross

Olga Krivtsova and her family were reunited thanks to the Irish Red Cross

The apartment block where Olga lived in Mariupol which was bombed by Russian troops

The apartment block where Olga lived in Mariupol which was bombed by Russian troops

The block where Olga's mother lived in Mariupol

The block where Olga's mother lived in Mariupol

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Olga Krivtsova

argus

The 24th of February 2022. I will never forget that morning. A so-called “Special Operation”. I hadn’t yet realised that we had been prescribed the death penalty.

The first thing I saw from my apartment`s window was the sky covered with heavy smoke.

The thunderclaps of artillery and air strikes every half hour. This is how our liberation looked according to Putin`s word.

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On the second day of the war all the lights were extinguished. On the fourth day the heating stopped working and the gas was cut off. It was minus 8 degrees Celsius outside. Then the mobile phone networks went down. It was impossible to get petrol or medicine anywhere in the city.

The heavy explosions were getting closer and closer to our house. We went outside in the street and decided to take a risk and walk to the opposite side of the city to find out what had happened to my mother. When we were running in the midst of an artillery attack from house to house. I felt like an animal escaping from a hunter and couldn’t believe it wasn’t a dream.

We were not alone. People were panicking in the streets. A group of people were driving a car with a sign that said “children”. People blocked the road and begged to help them escape. Some people`s mobile phones had found the signal. We had an opportunity to listen to the news about what was happening in Ukraine.

Everyone had only one question: “Was there a way to get out?”

A car came with Ukrainian soldiers. They told us that there would be no “humanitarian corridor” and we all had to stay underground.

There was a moment when I turned my head towards our shopping mall. There was black smoke coming out. My heart shrank. I realised that my shop was on fire. Later I was told that two bombs had struck there.

The soldiers and police came. They opened the door to a food store. They wanted people to get some food. But it ended up been looted. The crowd started robbing electronic stores and clothes shops. I still don’t understand why people were not punished for looting. It made decent people scared.

We ran to my mum`s house. It was across the road from a maternity hospital - the same hospital that the whole would soon be speaking about. It was quite quiet in this part of the city. My mum`s house had nine floors. I grew up there. All my schoolmates lived there. Our destiny brought us together again. Everyone was friendly.

We organised a sleeping place underground. We used a barrel filled with snow as a fridge. We put all our reserves together and organised a kitchen. Men were making firewood and brining water. Women were cooking.

I still recall one particular morning. The bombing didn’t stop for a minute. And we were baking pancakes, hiding temporarily underground when the bombing got too close.

Money had lost its value. We were trading bread for water, potatoes for rice, and baby food for a phone charger. The value was in humanity. There were old sick people coming from nearby houses to get a plate of porridge and some water, and to make themselves warm. I don’t know how they would have survived without us.

We stayed less and less underground whenever we heard the sound of a plane and explosions nearby. We started to get used to it. Only at night when the bombing was crazy, women were crying, and men started to pray.

I understood with my whole being we had to get out of there. The circle was getting smaller and smaller. Every five minutes we heard the bombs. It was impossible to get water.

One soldier came to visit us from time to time. His family used to live in our house. They escaped one day before the nightmare had started. Whenever we saw his car, we always surrounded it, begging him to take the children out of this hell. His answer was: “Keep up! We are waiting for backup.”

We were in a middle of constant military battles. And the only protection we had was the cold dark basement of our house.

On the 17th of March we saw a car with a sign that said “children” and we were told that there was only one place that we could escape through. But it wasn’t a humanitarian corridor. We had to take a risk. All our team, around 40 people started to get ready to leave. My apartment and my car were on the opposite side of the city. The Russians were already there. I had an old car near where we were hiding but it had no petrol.

Nearly everyone had left that night, but we stayed. And it was the most horrible night since the war had started. I cried like I never cried before in my life. Despair took over. My man promised that we would escape. And he kept his word. Some strangers shared petrol with us. We got into the car - my mum, myself, and our dog. I started the car and we sped out of there. And we didn’t stop until we reach Ireland.

I wish to thank all my new Irish friends for their help and support.


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