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Stories that you confided to us

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Oleksandr Shabanov

"If you leave Azovstal, you will get killed in action"

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Oleksandr Shabanov from Mariupol told us how the first Grad MRLS rockets landed near his house and how he survived in the Azovstal bomb shelter.

“At first it was safe, 70 people, 18 children aged from 3 months and older. We had refrigerators from a canteen and could preserve some food thanks to them. We used a diesel-engine power generator. The supplies of water in the workshops were very large. Our workshop had antiseptics and facemasks in abundance. We also had a shower”, Oleksandr says.

Artillery shells were flying overhead. Shelling intensified, but it was not possible to leave the steel plant. We had three very difficult weeks. We were waiting for the evacuation. People had panic attacks. Both exits were blocked after the structures collapsed. We got out through a hole in the wall. We managed to come out thanks to it.

I think that no one had an understanding of the scope of that tragedy. On 24 February, everyone came to work and all the talks there were about the outbreak of the armed hostilities and about the shelling attacks. We spent almost a day at work, getting the bomb shelters ready there in case the personnel would have to work further, but could hide in a bomb shelter if necessary.

After that, the work in the following days was cancelled. We were told to wait it out for a few days, to be on stand by and available by phone and so on. Well, that was basically the end of our work.

The shelling of the city’s left-bank part intensified, and Skhidnyi district of Mariupol was the first to come under attack. My wife and I lived in the centre of the left-bank part, on Morskyi Boulevard. Well, there were some distant cannonades, and we still had lighting, electricity, Internet and gas. It seemed that nothing meant any major troubles. Naturally, the stores were already empty; the fuel stations were empty too. In this format, an idea to leave did not come to our mind immediately, and there were interruptions in supplies of fuel, gasoline. The car was left with almost empty fuel tank.

Well, it is always like that, when you have a relaxed peaceful life. You think that gasoline will be delivered again soon and we will re-fuel the car later, but it did not happen.

On around 2 March, shellfire began to move closer, and Grad MRLS rockets started to land closer to our house. Windows in our flat and in other flats in the building began to shatter. During this period, we began to go down to the basement of the house from time to time. Families with small children had already lived there for some time; they lived right there, they cooked food at home and then went downstairs [to the basement]. We were there from time to time, that is, in this manner: we stayed at home for the night, cooked food at home, and acted according to the periods of shelling. By certain time, we were ready to go down to the basement.

On 5 March, it seemed to be calm and quiet. The day was basically no different from the previous days there. It was quiet, but then a very sharp shelling started, and mines or shells landed very close by. Because of that, the windows also shattered on the other side of the house. That is shells were now flying from both sides, and were also getting into our flat.

So, my wife and I decided to move to a bomb shelter, to Azovstal Steel Works, as Azovstal was not shelled at that time, and there were bomb shelters there that had been provided with dry rations and water supplies even before the armed hostilities.

Roughly speaking, one could stay there and wait it out for a week-long period. So once the shelling subsided, my wife and I, taking just a few things with us, one bag and our documents, quickly ran to the eastern security gates of the plant. Then we got to the converter shop. At first, it was quiet at Azovstal. While moving around in the open area, we felt that it was more or less safe. There were about 70 people there, some 17 or 18 small children (if I remember correctly), at an age from three months and more, just an infant in arms.

We began to set up our housekeeping there. We made beds from wooden pallets, and just arranged our living there as best as we could. Food. Meals – that is, those food products that were stocked as non-perishable, like dry rations, we tended to save them, leave them for later, just in case. Plus the canteen, which was located in the administration and amenity block, had its stocks of food too. This played its role, so to say. We were able to preserve the food thanks to the refrigerators from the canteen I mentioned earlier. We took them from the canteen and connected to the electricity source – there was a generator there.

On 9-10 March, my wife and I though decided to get out of Azovstal, to walk to the garage with a car, which was nearby, and then to sort out the question with fuel and move to the city centre.

But we could not get out, because before we reached the eastern security gates, some servicemen the military stopped us at the exit and said that if we leave, we will get a two-hundredth status immediately (which in military lingo term meant “killed in action” or dead).

That is, no one forbade us, no one grabbed us or held us by the hand. You can go, but it is your own decision. Basically, it had an effect. We returned, and upon our return, a fighting broke out there – shells were flying over our heads. This saved us, in fact, and this was, basically, the end of our quiet life there.

The shelling intensified and turned into permanent military action. As Azovstal had the production process including hot workshops, metallurgical conversion cycles, the supplies of water in the workshops were significant. This was carbonated bottled water, which was found in all workshops, even in some garages, in some technical premises of the workshops. So the supply of water was sufficient for cooking and drinking, also for making tea.

We had plenty of carbonated water, so it was fine here. In addition, the earlier activities related to the COVID-19 pandemic played a positive role. The workshop had a stock of antiseptics, facemasks and all sorts of other things in abundance. We had a shower; we had antiseptics for washing hands, and alcohol-based antiseptic for general usage. So for two months, there was not any problem with that... We got used to it, and now we feel like we miss it. This, surely, played a role in our survival.

When the shelling intensified, the damages to the workshops were quite severe, so it became more and more difficult and not safe to get water somewhere and bring it to our place. Well, we had a lot of people, so the consumption was significant.

At that time, frosty weather came, as bad luck would have it. So warm clothes, Metinvest’s overalls, which were in the administration and amenity block, came in handy. There were also the bathing facilities there, so it was easier... The first shell shattered the windows and broke the boxes. Thus, we had access to overalls, and there were also new overalls in the warehouses. That is, we could put on those overalls and survive the frosts. Until the last days, it was cold in this bomb shelter, and no one went to bed without wadded pants and a jacket, because it was very cold there. There was practically no heating in the bunker.

The shelling of the building also intensified over time. Our power generator was all the time hit by shell fragments. We tried to protect or shield it somehow, placed some packs of bricks and the like. This helped, but not always, so we suffered. The cooling radiator was also pierced with a splinter. It was either this or that... We had to fix something all the time.

We had some handy men there who dealt with this and they did it almost under shelling. That is, mine attacks were in progress, but we had no choice. They went there to start it up, to re-fuel and maintain the generator. In most cases, this also happened under shelling. Nevertheless, no one was hurt, none of our people was injured, or, what could be worse, killed. Well, I think we were just lucky.

This continued for the whole period. Let us say, from the first month, everyone had the only thought about the evacuation, about moving from there to a safer place.

The city was not fully occupied yet, but it was problematic to get out and go on foot, especially to walk about five kilometres to the central security gates. The shelling did not end, and at any moment, Grad MRLS rockets flew somewhere, something exploded, then rockets landed, anything could happen. That is why we asked the military, those who stayed there, or came for a visit, or those we could meet somewhere: how [to get out], what [to do]? At your own peril and risk. That is, there is no silence (ceasefire). As luck would have it. You either escape it or not. Well, I do not know about the deaths of any civilians there in the process of leaving the place. I did not hear about it and I did not meet such cases.

Three weeks there were difficult ones, at least in terms of morale, because they promised us the evacuation, they told us to wait for two weeks – this matter was to be decided. Okay, two weeks, and then another two weeks. Some people even had panic attacks. Morally it was very difficult for sure.

We started to cut notches in wood. Everyone had a smartphone and could charge it, but still, with those notches, we could tell at least visually that the next two weeks were coming to an end.

There was no one to ask about information, and it was not easy to call or go somewhere. We could not go anywhere, could not call anywhere. We were waiting for someone from the military to drop in and tell us at least some news. Even more so, many of them were cut off and without news too. Once the military came in, and they were surprised to find us there. Many of them did not know that there were bomb shelters and people were there. They had their own positions there, which I cannot comment. We gave them the phone numbers of our relatives and asked to let them know that we are alive.

They had Starline there – they had a network and so on. So they informed the people’s relatives. The military then returned and reported if they managed to get through by phone, and at least informed the relatives that we were alive for a month and a half. It was some relief for us. And then a video was shot. Everyone saw it, probably. We have not yet seen this video. I know that they saw it in the bomb shelter itself.

And due to the fact that we had many children, we were the first in line for the evacuation. There were people in other bomb shelters too. I do not know the number, so it is difficult to tell how many were evacuated and how many remained.

On 30 March, at 7 o’clock, it was silent. The silence was an indication for us. If there was silence, then something was happening. It did not happen that, let’s say, a full day is quiet. This did not happen. Something moves on, that is why it is quiet. We were waiting in hope, and then at around 7 o’clock the military appeared. They said that we had 10 minutes for packing our things. The first group, women and children – 20 people – to be ready for the evacuation.

Another interesting point was that before that, after a severe shelling, both exits to the bomb shelter were blocked. That is, the entrance and the emergency exit – the staircase flights collapsed. But due to the fact that a rocket damaged the wall and there was a hole in the wall and a heap underneath it, we could get out crawling up that heap. There is probably also a video showing how we used it in order to get evacuated.

So, at 12 o’clock the military appeared. We had 10 minutes for the evacuation and half an hour for driving. So the first group of evacuees was taken out and accompanied by the whole bunker, in the emergency mode. The military also helped – they ran up this heap, and the bus was some 200 meters from the building, because there was not any other passage further there. They disappeared quickly and literally at 6 o’clock in the morning they said that if everything is fine tomorrow, they will come to take us out. Well, we had some 17-18 people left.

At 6 o’clock we were ready, our bags were packed. We went through our belongings ten times in order to leave something behind, in order to have fewer things to carry with us. At 6 o’clock, the soldiers appeared again. We were ready (prepared in advance), so we came out without any rush and went off. Later, 10 or 11 people joined us in the bus. They were taken from the timber yard, from the bomb shelter. Some people still remained there. I don’t know their number. So, within this team, that is, our group and the group from the timber yard, we went further.

This is a tragedy not only for Ukraine, but also for everyone. Let’s say, for many countries. I don’t even mean someone’s victories and so on. I won’t even go into details. Well, there are many tragedies in families, tragedies because so many people went missing, so many dead. Confirmed deaths among civilians. So in any case, the war will end with these tragedies for everyone.

Mariupol 2022 Video Civilian's stories men moving destroyed or damaged housing psychological injury shelling safety and life support water sanitary and hygiene housing internally displaced persons the first day of the war shelling of Mariupol Food 2022 occupation
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