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Stories that you confided to us

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Evgeny Sosnovsky

"First a sniper killed the son and then the father"

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The story of photographer Yevhen Sosnovskyi from Mariupol. The window glass in the house shattered after the first shelling attack. They realized that the next missile could hit their house. Russian tanks stood nearby and fired at a high-rise building. The fourth floor caught fire. The invaders broke into the entrance hall. Yevhen saw how their neighbours jumped out of the windows and died.

We followed everything that was happening in Ukraine, every news report. We realized that the overall situation was becoming more tense every day. When the videos of the convoys coming from Belarus appeared, when Kharkiv was already being bombed, when people on the Kharkiv ring road began… the Russian military appeared. I have many friends in Kharkiv and they wrote that there was shooting near them.

First a sniper killed the son and then the father

It was something new for Kharkiv. While Mariupol was already used to it, then Kharkiv was not.

I calmed them down, saying, “Guys, all this will end quickly.” I was sure that it could not be for a long time, but nevertheless the situation was getting more and more tense, and in the end, it all reached Mariupol.

We gradually realized more and more that they began to lay siege to Mariupol. When we watched how they entered Ukraine from the Crimea unhindered, it still remains a mystery to me. Why were they let through there? Why they were not stopped on the isthmus and freely entered the south of Ukraine and occupied Berdiansk without any fight? They moved back and forth and, in fact, there was no serious resistance anywhere. So, in this way they reached Mariupol and the events that we all witnessed began. As far as I remember, the first shelling in our district was on 3 March, when Svitlana and I were at home.

At some point, we heard some very loud sounds and explosions. The window glass in our house began to shatter – we hid in the hallway, this was the place the furthest from the windows.

It was very creepy. There was just a terrible moment when we heard that missiles were flying nearby, and we understood that the next one could fly into our place.

Although we lived on the east side of the house, and the missiles flew from the west, it was still very scary. Ringing sound, falling pieces of broken glass... It did not hit our house, but the neighbouring houses, 50 metres from us, and those houses were badly damaged. There were incoming shelling attacks, some apartments were hit, some cars in the yards burned down. The next day, Svitlana and I went there. We took a camera with us and I took some pictures. As we were told, a man and a child died on the first floor of a neighbouring house, and the child’s mother was in a severe condition in the hospital.

And as we were told later, their bodies lay there for a long time. This was the first shelling, well, but as it turned out, the worst was yet to come and much more terrible things awaited us ahead. Although in my opinion, our yard was holding out well until 20 March. It remained practically intact, while there was a lot of damage around. But in the morning of 20 March, I went out into the yard and saw that the houses along Metalurgiv Avenue were already burned down. Our house and the house next door were still intact. Then, at around 2 o’clock, the shelling began. We thought that was the outgoing shellfire from us because the sounds were very loud and the house was shaking. We thought that a tank was probably near the house, as Russian tanks were already standing there. And we thought that they were shooting out from us. It turned out that those were the shots hitting our house, but from the backside, from the western side, and the fourth floor caught fire. People began to panic and someone shouted, “Let’s try to put the fire out!”

First a sniper killed the son and then the father

At that moment, Chechens broke into the entrance hall and broke into the apartment. They immediately grabbed me by my hands to check if I was not a military man by any chance. They did not let us pack up our things. We took our documents, laptops, and photographic equipment. A few days before, we were at our grandmother’s house in the private houses’ area. I repaired the windows there, broken windows. The ceiling was damaged after the shelling. I just finished my work and the shelling began in that area. The grandmother lives right near Azovstal steel plant. I ran into the house and asked, “Is Svitlana here?” I wanted to run outside to find out if she came under fire or not.

I ran out to the veranda and at that moment, a shell struck right into the veranda. Nothing was left of that veranda.

I was covered with cinder blocks and wooden boards. Everything fell on me, but I turned out to be alive. I started to get out from under those fallen blocks. I turned out to be alive and could move around, and as it turned out, I didn’t have a single scratch on my body. Someone was guarding me carefully. I got out alive, but I could not hear anything. I went to a neighbouring house. There were three houses in our yard. The grandmother, her son and our niece lived in one of the houses. I went there. It turned out that they hid there. They did it just in time. They were glad when they saw me, as they thought that I was gone because the volley hit right at the grandmother’s house. This time everything ended well.

The second time, the next shelling attack didn’t end so well. Our niece Olena, her children and Svitlana’s brother suffered. They hid in the bathroom during the shelling, and a shell hit the bathroom. Olena was badly wounded, the boy was wounded, and the girl’s head was cut.

It was early in the morning when we were going to them. We came and Olena opened the door, which was all covered in dust. Olena and her children were covered in blood. She did not yet know that her leg was bleeding all over, and they said, “We have been attacked by shellfire.”

We started to clean the wounds, as best as we could, so that to give them aid, and to put a bandage. When we opened those wounds, it was a terrible scene. The wounds were very deep. We are not paramedics, but we managed to get over ourselves somehow and treat the wounds. Volodymyr, Olena’s father, was also covered with a lot of rubble, and [received] a lot of fractures. We could not help him. She brought the children to us, but we could not get to Volodymyr in any way. He got such a wound that he lived for one week, and unfortunately, he died then. We could not bury him on the same day because of the incessant heavy shelling. We buried him the next day in the garden, as we could. There was no other way, and Olena and her children stayed with us at home.

Two days passed, and on 20 March, the Chechens came and kicked us out of the house. But where were we to go? Shelling and shooting was everywhere. We asked people from a neighbouring house if we could come to their basement. A man who was standing said, “Come on in.” There were chairs on the way down near the lift. Well, we sat down. We were sitting there and thinking what to do next? An hour after we came there, we heard some screaming outside in the street – a woman was screaming, “Why have they come out!? Why have they left?” We understood that something had happened. It turned out that a shell hit this house and an apartment caught fire.

A young guy, Denys Medvedev, ran out of the entrance hall to see which floor was on fire. A sniper killed him. The guy’s father ran up to him, thinking he could help. He was shot dead immediately. A young woman, Anzhelika, who was the guy’s wife, remained alone with their one-year-old child.

They had an apartment upstairs but it was impossible to be there and they stayed with us in the basement all the time.

Later, we were told that there was a room where eight people lived. They gave us that room, a VIP room, as they said. We settled there and spent two weeks in that room. On the first day, when we woke up, we had absolutely nothing to eat. I went around to check the basements. Children – they needed to eat, so I scouted around the basements. In some places, people left moving to some quiet districts. It was creepy there in the basement. We were in the epicentre of the military hostilities. I found a piece of butter. I came out of the entrance door and saw a damaged balcony. Some walnuts fell out of it. I collected those nuts, cracked them and gave to the children.

We gave the children a spoon of butter and a nut, a spoonful of butter and a nut as a titbit. They were still happy because we did not really have anything else.

Then on the same day, I went out. It calmed down a bit and I decided to go to another apartment. We had another apartment near the chess club. My wife’s grandmother died and left her flat to Svitlana. It was nothing special. The grandmother’s flat was intact, but now it’s gone too. I decided to go and check. Maybe I could find some food there... I went up Metalurgiv Avenue and reached a bakery, the family bakery. It was destroyed too. I looked at the floor and saw some two candies there. I turned around and a machine gun was pointed at me.

Chechens were standing there, “Come over here! What are you doing here?” I said, “I am looking for some food for the children. I have two wounded children in the basement. That’s all I have found.” Well, they said, “Take off your clothes.” It was cold. I took my clothes off. They checked if I was a military man. They were looking for some specific bruises and signs. Well, it seemed they didn’t find anything and said, “Get dressed and disappear really quick so that we don’t see you here.” I got dressed and went up the avenue. What I saw was a real Armageddon, as they say.

Everything on Metalurgiv Avenue was damaged. I walked on to Myru Avenue and everything was damaged there too. Well, I got to that chess club. At that time, the building was still intact. There wasn’t much food there. We had not lived there, so there was only half a bottle of water. I walked down the street past the water tower. I thought there would be no one there, but I was wrong. They were there, Chechens again. “What are you doing?” – “Well, I am walking around. I have taken some water for the children.”

They asked, “Don’t you know that we have an order to shoot without warning?” They had such an order, as it turned out, to shoot without warning. I said, “Guys, I didn’t know. You see, I have hungry children. They need to be fed.”

They said, “Take off your clothes.” I said, “Your guys have already checked me there, a block away” – “Have they? Okay, show us your hands. If someone asks, tell them that Sifula has already checked you.” This was a kind of a password and if some questions arise, the “benefactor” already checked me. I went further, brought that water, a couple of candies and some other stuff.

And literally the next day, the tenants who stayed with us for the night (their apartments were intact, but they still stayed in the basement for the night), the next morning, they brought us a bowl of soup. We were very grateful for the fact that they sheltered us, gave us an oil lamp, and then fed us a bit. Then they also gave us some porridge in the evening. They helped us very much in the first days. One house remained intact in the yard where we lived. And there were [enemy] soldiers there. They had a field kitchen and people went there to get some food.

So I also had to step over myself, despite my attitude to those bastards. I had to do it because I had to feed the children.

Well, there were some sensible individuals among them. In particular, the cook was quite a reasonable man. He was not stone-cold. He understood what it meant to have children. He gave us some condensed milk, some stewed canned meat and cookies. That is, the word “children” meant something to him. While this meant nothing to the Chechens. Wounded children did not bother them. He gave us some food and life became a bit easier. Then this kitchen closed and opened in another yard. And then everything calmed down relatively.

It calmed down a bit on that street where our grandmother used to live and we moved there. We began to catch some Ukrainian radio on medium waves and heard that today at 14:00 o’clock there was a corridor and evacuation from Port City. We agreed with a neighbour as he had a car. We packed some things, took a loaf of bread, got into the car and drove to Port City. We waited there until half past six in the evening – there were no buses. Then some evacuation corridors were announced two more times.

One day we stood in the rain. Then we came again and decided to look for our own way to leave Mariupol.

We left by some roundabout routes, some yards, bypassing the checkpoint, without any filtration. He took us out somehow. And as for the filtration, you either wait for a very long time or pay 100-200 dollars. But this man took us out avoiding any filtration procedures. The only thing was that he could not take us to Zaporizhzhia, but this was not his fault. We stopped in Tokmak.

I evacuated all my photos taken starting from 2014. I evacuated my entire archive. I also took out some [fresh/recent] photos that I took. Well, not so many, because I could not really take photos then.

I can tell you about one episode that was not really good. I took some pictures after the first shelling: how people organized themselves and how they cooked on fire, but some people turned out to be “well-wishers”. When the “DPR” people came and their “MGB” (“Ministry of State Security”) began to walk around the yards, like some kind of their special service, Svitlana and I left the basement in the morning. A neighbour from one of the entrances called us up and said, “Evgeniy, come here. These people want to talk to you.” And some military guys from this department were standing near him. He said, “You took some pictures. Tell them what you photographed.” He just ratted me out straightforwardly. I said, “I photographed how people were cooking food on fire, and then I didn’t photograph anything else because there was nothing to photograph, and my photo camera burned down.” Not all of them burned down, in fact. Two cameras burned down, but one remained. I hid them in the basement. I thought they would be intact, but there was nothing left. Everything burned, even the jars with homemade pickled food melted. So strong the fire was...

We had a man on the seventh floor who was bed-ridden. His children came at least to find the body, but he burned down completely. One man ran out when he was already on fire and burned down right next to the entrance. One person jumped out of the window. There are thousands of such stories from Mariupol.

In Tokmak, a woman told us how she dug out her own child’s dead body from under the rubble. Well, it’s creepy, just creepy. I don’t know when it will end. But I really hope that it will end, and it will end well for us. I cannot say that this is ending well for us now because each of us already has a lot of losses. But I hope it will not get any worse. Let me read Yegor’s diary to you. Here is his photograph. An eight-year-old boy. Here he is, our Yegor. This is his…, well, the wound is already healing up. It’s already been a month. This is what he had on his back. At the beginning it looked really creepy. As I understand, he wrote this on Sunday

First a sniper killed the son and then the father

“I had a good sleep. I woke up, smiled, got up and read up to 25 pages. As I understand it, my grandfather died on the 26th,” he put a sad emoticon. “I have a wound on my back. My skin was torn off. My sister has a head injury. My mother had a piece of flesh torn out on her arm and leg. I am 8 years old, my sister is 15 years old, and my mother is 38. We need bandages to be changed – mine first, then for my mother and my sister. By the way, I have a friend Vika. She is nice. Her parents are our neighbours. The 4th of April, Monday. I woke up and smiled, like yesterday. Grandma went for water. And by the way, it’s my birthday soon,” – another page. “My two dogs died. It was during the shelling. The dogs died, as well as my grandmother Galya and my beloved Mariupol, starting from 24 February. Our beloved city of Mariupol has died.”

These are the pictures he drew. We accidentally discovered his diary. He drew it all for himself.

Mariupol... I will still remember it as a nice and beautiful city. I hope I will remember it like that. I don’t want to remember it the way I saw it lately. And I really hope that the city will become like that again, and maybe even better. I really hope. I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime or not, but I can’t believe that we have lost Mariupol forever. This simply cannot be true. We will return there. And it will be restored. And maybe even the photos of that beautiful Mariupol will help restore the city. Maybe they will be of help. That is why they have their own value. Although there is definitely value in these photographs too – to show the whole world what really happened in Mariupol, as seen through my eyes.

Mariupol 2022 Video Civilian's stories men moving destroyed or damaged housing psychological injury shelling loss of loved ones job loss safety and life support housing internally displaced persons the first day of the war shelling of Mariupol Food 2022
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