The train heat was thicker than the anxiety. The last minutes of their ride to safety were spent by the Ukrainian survivors of the most brutal sieges of modern history .
Some people carried nothing but what was necessary to flee the Russian bombardment of Mariupol. Some fled so fast that their relatives, who are still trapped in the freezing city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, aren’t even aware they were gone.
Marina Galla stated, “There is no place anymore.” She wept as she walked through the doors of the crowded train compartment, which was heading into Lviv in western Ukraine.
She felt relief at being freed from weeks of threats, deprivation, and seeing bodies on the streets. However, she was also saddened by the thought of her family members who had died.
She said, “I don’t know anything about them.” “My grandmother, grandfather, and father. They don’t know we are gone.”
Her 13-year old son, seeing her in pain, offered comfort by kissing her repeatedly.
Mariupol authorities claim that nearly 10% of the city’s 430,000 inhabitants fled Mariupol over the past week. They risk their lives by setting up convoys outside.
Galla finds the memories too fresh.
She and her son lived for three weeks in the basement of Mariupol’s Palace of Culture. They were able to escape the constant Russian shelling. After the sky turned black, they moved underground.
She said that they had no water, light, gas or communications. They prepared meals outdoors with wood, even under fire.
As they tried to escape Mariupol and reach the westbound trains, Russian soldiers stopped them at the checkpoints with a chilling suggestion. It would be safer to visit the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula or the Russian-occupied Melitopol.
This suggestion was made by residents after Russians bombed Mariupol’s theater, where children were sheltering, on Wednesday. Authorities also said that a Mariupol art school housing hundreds of people had been targeted on Sunday.
Survivors shared their stories with other passengers for hours during Sunday’s train ride. Mariupol is a terror apart for residents of other Ukrainian cities, who have been occupied or battered by the Russians.
Yelena Sovchyuk (a Melitopol resident) shared a train compartment and a Mariupol family. She said she bought them food. They only had a small bag.
Sovchyuk stated, “Everyone is in deep shock.”
She remembered seeing convoys of the city under siege on the road. She said, “There is a way to distinguish a Mariupol vehicle.” They have no glass in their window.”
Sovchyuk expressed deep disapproval that Russian soldiers, amid such destruction, were still encouraging Ukrainians in Russia to return to their homeland, claiming it would be for the safety of their lives.
Mariupol City Council claims that thousands of residents were forced to flee Russia over the last week. The Russia-backed separatists of eastern Ukraine claimed that 2,973 people were “evacuated from Mariupol” since March 5. They also stated that 541 people were evacuated within the last 24 hours.
On Sunday afternoon, the survivors made their way to the central station Lviv. This is the city close to Poland that has taken in an estimated 200,000 fleeing from other parts of Ukraine. Some Mariupol survivors wept as they climbed into the arms and embraces of their loved ones after weeks of fear for their lives.
A mother hugged a young boy, red-faced and tearful, at the feet of the steps. A woman aged in her 70s, wearing a kerchief, helped the train to stop and walked away in complete silence. One of her companions stood still among her bags, staring through thick glasses. The neighbor fled with her and described the cars in their convoy being shot at.
Olga Nikitina, holding her hair, cried on the platform.
The young woman stated, “They began to demolish our city, complete, house after house.” “Battles were fought over every street. Every house became a target.
The windows were blown out by gunshots. Her apartment was below freezing when the temperatures dropped. Nikitina moved in to live with her godmother who is ill with cancer and cares for her elderly father. Later, Ukrainian soldiers arrived and warned them that they would be under attack.
The soldiers advised that one could either hide or go.
Nikitina fled. Others were too fragile for her to flee. She doesn’t know what will happen to the others, just like many Mariupol survivors.