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Sergei Kalinichenko

"We learned some lessons previously and made some stocks of water and food at Azovstal in advance"

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Serhiy Kalinichenko, the head of Azovstal’s heavy plate workshop survived in Mariupol together with his family. He was engaged in the temporary shutting down of the workshop and attended his workplace until 6 March. There was no electricity, no water, no telephone signal and no gas. His flat was shelled several times and the building collapsed. There was no evacuation. When he decided to leave on his own, he was almost taken a prisoner.

On 24 February, I was at my work, in my workshop, together with my colleagues, fellow Azovstal employees. People were coming to work and saying that rockets were landing. But the supervisor’s task was to calm everyone down and raise morale, which is what we did together with my assistants.

At that time, I worked as the head of the heavy plate shop. The shop operated at full steam, as they say, at its full capacity, everyone was at work. Well, and then we received an instruction to suspend the production process and shut down, to make shutting down of our section. For the head of the shop, it was very difficult to fulfil this, while understanding that we were shutting down for an indefinite period. Nevertheless, we did everything as required by the rules. There are some special plans for response to emergency situations. We shut off the heaters and stopped the rolling mill, all conversion units, all sections, and waited for further instructions.

Then, until 6 March, we went to work every day, staying on duty shifts, securing the workshop and safeguarding the property and assets. In addition, both the plant’s staff members and civilians from the city began to come to our bomb shelter. Thank goodness, starting from 2014, we learned our lessons, learned from experience.

We had our bomb shelters fully prepared; we had a strategic supply of food and water there – all the conditions for people to ensure their safety and life activities.

After 6 March, we could no longer, I could no longer get to work because shelling continued and it was just impossible to get to work.

Then, I lost contact with my family, I was in Skhidnyi district. This is the outskirts of the city, the first milestone. The house was on the east side, so I could see the whole city from my balcony, from Leningradskyi [avenue], this is the left-bank part of the city, I could see the left-bank square, my dear Azovstal plant, and the right-bank part of the city too, including Ilychivskyi district and Ilyich steel plant.

Every day everyone hoped that it all would end very soon, that everything would calm down, our defenders assured us of this too – that they were side by side near us, that they were in the fortified positions.

But the situation worsened every day; the telephone connection disappeared.

I forgot to say that at the beginning of March, electricity disappeared, first in the left-bank part of the city, then water supply stopped, and then gas supply was cut off too. The bad thing was that our wives, our children were with us, and there was nothing we could do but cover them with our backs. There was no evacuation, nothing.

Well, then someone in the yard… said that Kyivstar signal re-appeared – on the upper floors the signal was literally for an hour or two at noon. I tried to save my phone battery to turn it on later and find out at least something…

There was not any information in the city, like what to do, where are the evacuation routes, where to go.

Once a week I called my friends, family, relatives, I called to Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv and Uzhhorod. I wondered what was happening in the country in general. Then, on 21 March, by pure chance, I managed to get through to my colleagues from the plant and they told me how to get out of Mariupol, without thinking long, because there was already direct artillery shelling of residential buildings. I just realized that a shell could hit our flat at any moment.

By that time, we had already lost our flat. First, it was destroyed by shellfire – the entrance to the building burned down completely. Then later, the house was gunned. I don’t know exactly, either from tanks or howitzers. The house began to collapse. And the most astonishing thing is that it was still standing and serving as a defensive barrier. My parents lived in the neighbouring house. We tended to stick together with them. Well, but then, when the house was a shooting target, we clearly realized that once it was down, the next house would be shot at point-blank range.

We decided to leave. The exit routes were in two directions. As far as we knew from local talks, it was through the St. Michael Church on the city’s left bank. Well, but people said that snipers worked there, and the outcome could be as luck would have it. I was told to go through the left bank past Azovstal plant along the embankment.

I had two cars. One was my wife’s car and the other one was mine. The bigger one, KIA Sportage, was damaged, it was riddled. So the six of us, including the children, a daughter and a son, got into Volkswagen Jetta. We drove along the embankment, past the gunned down tanks, past the shot cars, in zigzags, getting out of that area. While driving, I cast a quick glance at the plant and at the city and noticed the scale of destruction at 23 March. Miraculously, we got out driving across the wrecking iron bridge. There was one road track still left there. Then we moved on, past the harbour towards the Vodnykiv Hospital. We drove up to Peschanka, and left the city.

Just outside the city, those who call themselves the “liberators” stayed on their positions. We drove through Prymorske to Mangush, and in Mangush, they did not want to let us go and kept us waiting for two hours. They said that they had all the information about us. It was useless to lie, to think out some legends as well. They said that as a Metinvest employee I would be useful for them staying there, that now their MGB (the so-called Ministry of State Security), or FSB, as they are called, would take me to Donetsk and would continue to work with me there.

My father, who is 69 years old, my mother, my wife and two children, 9 and 10 years old, remained in the car. I understood that they would simply not be able to go anywhere without me.

An interrogation lasted for about two hours. Then they finally decided, they said… I asked, “Allow me at least to leave this place, Mangush, because there is shellfire here… So that we could at least get to Berdyansk. We will be staying there then.” After persuading them that I was going to Berdyansk, we were released.

In Berdyansk, we spent the night at some place offered by people completely unknown to us, who understood what people in need, people in trouble means, and who knew how to help.

For the first time in a month, we washed ourselves, and for the first time we spent the night in warmth, in a warm room. We then left Berdyansk for Tokmak, and from Tokmak we moved to Vasylivka.

It was on 24 March. We were allowed to leave Vasylivka. We came there at 10 in the morning. They said, “We will not let you out today. People are let go through Orikhiv.” We returned to Tokmak, and from Tokmak we turned to Polovitsy to go to Orikhiv.

There were checkpoints there. They asked, “Who sent you here? There will be no going out today.” We returned to Vasylivka. It was at 4 o’clock. Then we waited until 8 o’clock. There was a humanitarian convoy, some buses from Zaporizhzhia. There were representatives of the State Emergency Service who accompanied those buses. There were also some church officials who also took part in it, and we were not let out that day.

We made a stop for the night right near Vasylivka, at the entrance to the village, and in the morning of the next day, we passed through a thorough check-up, which included us fully undressing. They looked for tattoos on our bodies and searched the car.

On 25 March, at 9 o’clock, we were released – we drove off in a caravan along the road of life. It can probably be called this way. We drove through some valleys, off the road, because the bridge was blown up. So we were making our way to this side.

I got used to looking at death, at the killed people in the yard. The most important thing was to keep a sober mind and a clear memory, so as not to go mad. Well, and the main thing is that, with God’s grace, we need to raise our children and make them stand on their own feet so to speak, that is why I tried my best to ensure their safety, although the children and we… there was nothing to eat, we had nothing. My children and I went foraging for water. You have probably been told already that we looked for water in the basements and boiler rooms, wherever one could find it.

There was one case… when the temperature outside was still 10 degrees below zero, everything was frozen, and we were once in the boiler room… Utility workers set up a shower in the boiler room in order to wash after work. There was a tank in the shower, and an engineering thought prompted that there might be water there. I climbed up and there was some frozen water in the tank indeed. My son and I were busy for several hours cutting off those pieces of ice. We found some buckets there and brought pieces of ice home… We believe in it, but we just wanted it to happen faster.

Previously, while at work, we helped the military in various ways. We produced special anti-tank hedgehogs and barriers for them. The books about the war describe everything differently, and the war movies show it differently too. They are not the same as things happening in real life. Well, when we learn information from social networks, when we watch the news, we see how they [the invaders] have gone belly up. Nothing worked out for them in two or three days. They are not so strong and not so brave.

The most important thing is that our morale is much stronger, because we are on our own land, and we will be on the winning side.

Mariupol 2022 Video Civilian's stories men moving destroyed or damaged housing psychological injury shelling job loss safety and life support Job internally displaced persons shelling of Mariupol 2022 shelling of "Azovstal"
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