Refugees from the besieged city of Mariupol have survived unspeakable horrors, including more than a month of non stop shelling, and then life under the Russian occupation in the city.
One refugee recalls sharing a basement with 106 others during the bombardment of Mariupol. One day, she told volunteers: “It was warm and the sun was shining and we all left the basement to breathe fresh air and cook outdoors. Suddenly we see a few men passing by the yard. They were dressed entirely in black with balaclavas on their faces. They started filming us on their phones and laughing.”
“Seconds after they left, shells flew directly into our yard. We ran but were thrown by the shock waves from the explosions. The guy who was cooking had his legs badly injured, with chunks of meat torn off his legs. Another person’s shoulder was badly cut, so we sewed it up with regular sewing thread since we had nothing else for it. We don’t know what we did to provoke the attack, we were just laughing and cooking.”
Forced Evacuation into Russia
For many refugees in occupied zones, the only means of escape is evacuation to Russian territory. It is estimated over a million Ukrainians were loaded on buses, detained in filtration camps, and relocated to Russia, presumably to resettle them there. Those allowed to leave find themselves trapped deep within Russian borders with no place to go.
Volunteer crews in Russia have stepped up to evacuate many of these refugees to safety across the border to Latvia and Estonia, despite the personal risk of arrest. The German nonprofit organization Rubikus, with funding by Nova Ukraine, coordinates housing and transportation from the Russian border to final destinations in Europe. The volunteers work with each family to develop individualized travel plans.
Refugees who make the journey to Russia describe passing through “filtration camps” — usually Russian-run police stations — where they are fingerprinted, interrogated and debriefed to ascertain their political loyalties. Families are separated, and some refugees are stripped naked and examined for pro-Ukrainian tattoos and military scars.
For the past few months Helping Hand has tried to rebuild people’s shattered lives one brick and one home at a time. The volunteer crew of construction workers funded by Nova Ukraine go home to home in villages and cities in the outskirts of Kyiv, assessing the damage and rebuilding homes. They also remove debris and alert authorities of unexploded ordnance.
This time, they removed a slightly more unusual piece of debris from someone’s yard: a bombed Russian tank.