Victoria, 24 y., Mariupol, housewife on a maternity leave Dmytro, 27 y., Mariupol, worked at “Azovstal” plant Artem, 6 y., son Nastya, 2 y., daughter

Interviewed on April 5 2022

Noone would have thought that there would be nothing left from a big and beautiful city…

We lived in hell for a month. I was ripped off everything: I don’t have a house anymore and I don’t know where my close ones are. I only have my children and my husband.

Our house was in a private neighbourhood. On February 24 I woke up as usual and began preparing the children for kindergarten. A neighbour called and told me that the war had begun. We had no basement in our house. There was only an unfilled pit in the yard, because we had fixed the water pipes recently. When I heard the first explosions at 9am, I began hiding the children in that pit, covered with a bathtub.

With the first powerful attacks I took the children and went to the Drama Theater, because there was supposed to be an evacuation organized. We stayed there from March 5 and untill the Theater was bombed. The basement was already filled, so we stayed in the corridor. The first day there were 1500 people, during the next day the number of people went up to 3000 people, according to the theater coordinators. There was practically no food, the water we drank was so bad that it remained gray even after we boiled it. We cooked on the street by burning the theater decorations and whatever branches we could find. The money did not cost anything, they were like paper we could use for campfires. We slept on the floor, using a curtain instead of the bed. The younger daughter fell ill with pneumonia, and that’s why we later received a separate place on the second floor, at a projector room.

During the avia attack, when the theater was bombed, me, my children and one more boy who came to play with my son, were in the room. My daughter was completely covered with the broken wall pieces, and I was thrown down with the explosion wave. I hurt my face and back. The boys started screaming at once, but the daughter remained silent. Then I thought that I would still take her out, whether she was alive or not. I realized no one was there to help the children but me, and it helped me to carry on. When I was pulling my daughter out, the first thing I saw was her face. It was clean, because she fell with her face down. She screamed “Mommy!”, she was alive! And those feelings were indescribable. Then we went down to the first floor. We stepped over some people, not knowing whether they were alive.

Once I took my son out for the first time in a long while. He was very scared from the shootings, so he asked me to take him back to the building. All of a sudden, two pigeons landed onto the roof of the building. They were sitting and looking at us. The son told me they were our guardian angels. That same day, he asked us to take him out of the city.

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.