“I felt a minute from death the whole time”
After being trapped in besieged Mariupol for 56 days, the Grinchuk family had two hours to make their way from the ruined building where they were taking shelter to the evacuation point on Taganrog Street.
Ryna Grinchuk, a 47-year-old woman who is holding two Chihuahuas, credits a tiny transistor with allowing her family to flee.
“It was our only link to the outside world,” she said, from a processing center for Ukrainians fleeing the invasion.
However, it would be another 24 hours before they made their way to safety, navigating a gauntlet of more than a dozen Russian checkpoints along a “green corridor” to the southeast Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia.
They were among 79 people who arrived in the first evacuation convoy to leave Mariupol since last week.
Ukrainian authorities had hoped to rescue up to 6,000 people – including civilians trapped at the Azovstal Steelworks, the last bastion in the stricken port city still defended by Ukrainian forces.
But difficulties in negotiating with Russian forces and communicating with the civilians trapped in the city – some estimates put the number as high as 100,000 people – meant only a fraction of those wanting to leave the city were able to do so.
“We were scared to do that ride, we knew Russia had promised green corridors (and) then shot at buses. But we were cut off from civilization for over 50 days, we decided to take the risk,” Iryna said while her dogs Tyson and Nike slept on her lap.
This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Mariupol had been “liberated” and ordered his army not to storm the Azovstal fortress but to seal it off in an apparent attempt to free Russian troops for other locations in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian fighters entrenched in Azovstal could exit the plant if “white flags” were raised “along the entire perimeter or in specific areas” of the plant, the Russian Defense Ministry said yesterday.
Video later emerged of Chechen fighters with the Russian army standing amid the city’s bombed-out concrete ruins, with fires still blazing in the background.
“Today we can say with certainty that the city of Mariupol has been completely cleaned,” the men shouted.
“Russia is the power!”
Ms Grinchuk described surviving in “apocalyptic” conditions in basements and ruined buildings as fighting raged around the important port city whose capture would provide the Russians with a land bridge between annexed Crimea and their small towns of breakaway Ukrainian territory in Donetsk and Luhansk.
“The whole time I felt a minute away from death,” she said.
“The most difficult thing to bear was helplessness in the face of danger.
“For two weeks we stood in the crossfire between Russian and Ukrainian forces at the place where we hid.”
As the fighting approached, they had to flee from a basement to another building, where only one apartment remained undamaged by the bombing.
“People from the DPR (the Russian-backed separatist Donetsk People’s Republic) came to where we were staying and told us to go – they didn’t care where – because we were in a combat zone.”
After previous attempts to organize evacuation routes had failed since the weekend, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko spoke on the radio on Wednesday to urge residents who are able to make their way to a pre-arranged evacuation point. to encourage it.
The Grinchuks listened to the broadcast.
The pickup point was a 30 minute drive away and they didn’t have a car.
Iryna’s 72-year-old mother Valentina would be too far to walk.
Miraculously, Iryna found a woman with a Lada car that still had gas.
“I begged her, I had to pay her 400 hryvnia (about 12 euros). If I hadn’t convinced them, we wouldn’t have made it in time,” she said.
They showed up in one
Hellscape of overturned cars and destroyed buildings.
“I love my hometown, but now it’s in ruins. It’s worse than Grozny (the Chechen capital),” Irynya said.
They walked with the clothes they wore. For Valentina, these were slippers and a black fur coat. She was carrying an old sequined purse with a broken zipper.
After eating her first meal in over 24 hours at the reception center, she stuffed her bag with biscuits and pastries before securing it with a safety pin.
“I’m an optimist, so I’m fine,” she said while enjoying a hot coffee.
“I believe in the best, so I don’t get scared and I don’t panic. That was very important to get through it.”
At the same table in a tent at the processing center, brothers Bohdan and Ruslan Kagadi, ages 17 and 16, ate biscuits and spoke animatedly about their ordeal.
“We haven’t had a chance to leave yet,” Bohdan said.
“It was dangerous to go alone as the road passes the Azovstal Steelworks.
“Some people dropped out in mid-March, but nobody from our district has dropped out since.”
The boys lived with their aunt and uncle while their mother lived in another apartment a mile away.
Her mother’s home was hit by four grenades, Bohdan said. “Two hits from the north and two from the south. It’s a miracle she survived.”
The boys finally decided to flee at the first opportunity.
“There were supposed to be three pickup locations on the evacuation route, but only one worked,” Bohdan said, describing himself as happy to have made it at all. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 2022)
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/i-felt-one-minute-from-death-the-whole-time-41579275.html “I felt a minute from death the whole time”