Photographer Sergey Makarov recounts the terrifying escape from Mariupol

On February 24th, I woke up to a friend calling me. He said that war started. He suggested that I move with my family to Ivano-Frankivsk. I refused. For us, Mariupol is a safe place in this moment. A lot of Ukrainian military and defense equipment has appeared since 2014.

Then on February 26, air raid sirens began to sound in the city. The suburbs are on fire, but the city center where I live is quiet. I thought it would be like in the 2014 war – two houses would take damage and it would be over. In those days, many people passed away. You have no idea how jealous I used to be for them.

Things were starting to heat up. Every day gets worse.

On March 1, I realized that leaving Mariupol was becoming increasingly difficult. The Russian army began to control the roads from the city.

On March 3, electricity and water were turned off. I haven’t washed my hands since March 4. Since then we can only wash our hands with cold water. Cellular connection is gone. We cannot communicate. And we were forced to walk to each other and share information.

The looting has begun. In the early days of the war, I bought food and about 100 liters of gasoline. This is what ultimately saved us. In the early days, I helped people move from the outskirts of the city to closer to the center.

On March 5, the gas supply to the homes was cut off. It was the only thing we had left to light and warm. Before it gets cut off, we can at least warm ourselves up with tea. Then the nightmare began. It’s -9C (about 16F) outside at night. In the afternoon, -2 or -3C (28 or 27F). At the same time, we were hiding from bombs and air raids in a bomb shelter. We cooked food on the stove. Trees were sawed in the front yard. We cannot become warm. No words can describe how it is.

People cook on March 11.

People charge their phones with a Red Cross generator on March 9.

At first, there were only residents of our house in our shelter, but then more and more people came. There are 100 people in a 150 square meter space, including small children.

It was a concrete basement with no light and no ventilation. As long as we can, we burn kerosene and candles. Luckily we had a toilet.

All this time, I’ve been trying to get in touch with people outside the city, charging my phone from a Red Cross generator. Many people accept the fact that the connection is gone, but I am not ready to give it up yet. From March 6 to 9 there was no connection at all. For a moment, I thought we were forgotten.

On March 8, the worst began. Russia began to conduct air strikes. First with an interval of several hours, then every minute. Many times we didn’t make it to the shelter in time and fell to the ground to save ourselves.

Damaged storefronts are seen on March 9.

The city was under constant shelling for weeks.

I wanted to take my family out, but I only tried it once. If they stop us and send us back, there won’t be enough gas to go out a second time. Those who were evacuated on March 5 spent the night in their cars and then returned to Mariupol. They’re back and there’s no gas.

On March 13, my friends told me that it is possible to get out by the old road to Berdyansk. But there is a checkpoint mined and you have to drive around the mines. We decided we’d rather take the risk than stay and die in the city.

On March 14 at 12:45 pm, we left in a column of eight cars. There wasn’t any baggage, just people and animals. There were six people in our car. Along the way, we saw landmines and carefully avoided them.

Inside a damaged building on March 13.

A woman pulls a car on a snow-covered sidewalk on March 9.

At one of the Russian checkpoints, the soldiers told us mockingly: “It’s your own fault that this happened to Mariupol. You don’t have to brag.”

We had to spend the night in Berdyansk. The Russians at the checkpoint told us the city was under curfew, “Moscow time.” So we couldn’t leave.

On March 15, we left Berdyansk for Zaporizhzhia. There are about 20 Russian checkpoints along the way. They checked our luggage, phones, messages, laptops.

In a few hours, we reached the Ukrainian checkpoint and were free. Now we want to go as far west as possible.

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