Evacuees From Mariupol’s Steel Plant Tell of Horrors and Survival

“I was in Azovstal for two and a half months and they slammed us from all sides,” said Olga Savina, an elderly woman, as she emerged from a white city bus provided by the Zaporizhzhia authorities for the evacuation.

As she spoke, she repeatedly cast her gaze down to the pavement, explaining that the sun burned her eyes after so many days underground.

From the evacuees a picture began to emerge of life in Azovstal. The steel mill was like a small city, with roads and buildings dating to the post-World War II era, when any big Soviet construction project included reinforced bomb shelters equipped with everything needed for long-term survival.

Evacuees described bunkers, most housing 30 to 50 people, with kitchens, bathhouses and sleeping areas. The shelters were spread out around the grounds of the complex, so there was little contact between groups hiding in different places.

There in the dark, a semblance of day-to-day life took shape.

“We got used to it being very dark. We had to economize food,” said Dasha Papush. “The soldiers brought us what they could: water, food, oatmeal.”

“We didn’t eat like we did at home,” she added.

Many of the evacuees had been underground since the earliest days of the war. For a woman named Anna, 29, who placated her young son, Ivan, with a lollipop, it was 57 days. While there, she was separated from her husband, a fighter in the National Guard, by a brisk, 15-minute walk through the factory ruins, though visits were rare because of the shelling and constant fighting.

Leaving the safety of the underground shelter was treacherous, but necessary for survival.

“The guys who are with us went out under fire and tried to find us a generator and fuel, so that we had electricity to charge our flashlights,” she said. “We of course had to search for water.”

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