Fleeing Mariupol Teenagers Tell Of Destruction And Shattered Dreams
Yuliia Karpenko, a 17-year-old-high school student in Ukraine’s city of Mariupol, had been looking forward to getting her high school degree this year – she just was not quite sure if she would go for sociology or languages at university.
But now her life is in tatters after she fled from death and destruction in the besieged port city, which local authorities say has been all but flattened by heavy Russian shelling.
“All my plans were ruined,” Karpenko said in a phone interview from a shelter in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are seeking refuge away from the frontline of the war.
“I am hoping to go to Germany now. I want to keep studying.”
Karpenko, her mother, who is an English teacher, and her stepfather escaped on March 15. She said their building had been hit by a Russian air strike, and with the flat next door burning, they decided it was time to go.
“All the windows were shattered,” she said. “We were afraid because our flat was badly damaged.”
Some 400,000 people have been trapped in the strategic port city for over two weeks, sheltering from heavy bombardment that has severed central supplies of electricity, heating and water, according to local authorities.
Russia denies bombing residential areas or targeting civilians.
Mariupol council said the physical damage to the city has been “enormous”. It estimated that around 80% of the city’s homes had been destroyed, of which almost 30% were beyond repair.
“It’s awful,” Karpenko said. “Houses are burning, all the shops are closed and hospitals have been bombed. There aren’t enough doctors to take care of people. I saw a man dead on a bench for four days, he was an alcoholic and froze to death, there was no-one around to help him.”
On Thursday, Ukraine said a powerful Russian air strike hit a theatre where more than 1,000 people had been sheltering.
Human rights official Lyudmyla Denisova said 130 survivors had been rescued from the rubble, but said there was still no information on the fate of the hundreds of others believed to be inside. Russia has denied bombing the building.
Karpenko said that since Wednesday she had had no news of her grandparents, who are both in their late 70s and decided to stay behind in their own house in Mariupol. Mobile phone and internet connections have been cut off by the fighting.
“Old people like them, they don’t want to flee and they don’t want to go the shelter. Anything could have happened to them,” she said.
The city council warned Mariupol was running out of its last reserves of food and water last Sunday and has said it is unable to properly treat or tally casualties from the shelling. The Ukrainian authorities estimate over 2,500 residents have been killed in Mariupol since the start of the war on Feb. 24.
Speaking on national television on Friday, Donetsk region governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said around 35,000 had managed to flee the city in recent days, many leaving on foot or in convoys of private cars.
One of them was Karpenko’s friend Rostyslov Nepomniashchyh, also 17, who left in a small convoy a day before her, on March 14. He said the journey took them 10 hours, past Russian checkpoints and along escape routes that had been mined on the roadsides.
Like Karpenko, he is also preparing to leave the country for Poland, and then Germany.
While he hopes to return to Ukraine, he does not see himself going back to Mariupol for some time, if at all.
“There is no point in going back to Mariupol for me. I have no flat, I have no place to live in Mariupol and the city is basically dead and ruined,” he said.
“I don’t see any point in returning. It was a really beautiful city, I loved living there. I’m glad I spent my childhood there. It was a good life there. But…”
His voice trailed off.