Interview with Olena Yakusheva from Mariupol, featuring in 'In Ukraine: As My Heart Yearns' curated by Ira Lupu, part of the free Wembley Park Art Tra

Olena Yakusheva from Mariupol

Olena Yakusheva, 60y., Mariupol. Retired, used to work at “AzovStal” plant.

Interviewed on April 6, 2022

My 60th birthday I met on March 10 to the sounds of explosions.

Mariupol will probably be no more. It is not a city, it is a cemetery…

The first day of war we were let off work, and I immediately went to my mom to the opposite end of the city. Mom is 83 years old and I could not leave her alone. By the moment when the war actions moved to our neighbourhood, we had already been shut off from electricity, gas, heating and water. We were hiding in a common corridor with the neighbours. We had to go get water from a well, and to stand in line accompanied by the missiles whistling. Everytime I went there I thought “God, I hope I’ll get to the well”, and when I returned I told myself “God, I hope I will manage to bring the water home”.

On March 11, the explosions became more intense. At some moment we had a feeling that the house flew off the ground and landed back down. When I looked out, I saw that the fire went up to the 5th floor - the missile hit one of the cars. There were three more cars nearby, and all of them had tanks full of LPG gas. We went down to the first floor. When I peaked out, the second car exploded. I was thrown about 3 meters to the side. When we went out of the building and turned around the corner, the third car exploded. We moved to the neighbours’ basement. It was so cold there; it seemed that I had never experienced such coldness in my entire life. We cooked food on a campfire, and cooked whatever minimum we could find - we sifted the flour from glass and made unleavened bread.

I couldn’t get used to what I had to see each time we left our shelter trying to get some connection. People were buried in the yards, on mowns. Throughout the pavements there were people’s bodies wrapped in carpets. Some of them had files with notes on them, most likely with a surname and dates of birth and death.

I could not leave the city not knowing what was going on with my beloved ones. I did not know what happened to my younger daughter and my granddaughter. I walked to her neighbourhood. The first time the soldiers did not let me pass. They told me the fighting was too intense there and that I should return back. The next day I took another route. The closer I got to it, the more I realized that I should not go. At best, I would manage to get there, but not back. At worst, I would not even get there. So I returned. I managed to get there from the fourth attempt. There were enemy’s tanks, APC, russian soldiers all over the yard. I got up to her apartment. I was afraid to open the doors to the room, because I was afraid to see the most scary things. When I saw the toys were missing, I understood that they managed to save themselves.

Yesterday my daughter sent me a photo of my house. It is gone. Our family owned four apartments, and now we have none. But we have to live on.

In Ukraine: As My Heart Yearns curated by Ira Lupu

“In Ukraine: As My Heart Yearns,” is a continuation of an international photography series started in March 2022 showcasing Ukraine’s past and present and includes pastoral archival imagery and recent refugee portraiture by Yana Kononova, Ira Lupu, Paraska Plytka-Horytsvit and Elena Subach and Helen Zhgir. It also features the work of internationally acclaimed documentary photographer Yelena Yemchuk.